Social Circus Network Overview

Social Circus

Over the last 17 years, AYCO has learned about the power of circus arts to play an effective role in accelerating youth and community development. We call this work Social Circus. We define social circus is a social change intervention that uses the circus arts as a tool for fostering personal and social development of identified “at-risk” individuals. The primary goal of social circus is to help participants achieve personal and social development by nurturing their self-esteem and trust in others, teaching them social skills, inspiring them to become active citizens, and helping them to express their creativity and explore their potential. You can read more about the definition of social circus in this article written by one of our Social Circus Network Members.

Social Circus Network

AYCO has created a national network of social circus programs that offer cost-effective, evidence-based approaches to help people overcome the barriers they face. The misson of the Social Circus Network is to provide pedagogical, capacity building and professional development support to individuals and organizations pursuing and engaging in social circus work as well as to support the sustainable growth of social circus in the United States.

Social Circus Initiative

In 2015, AYCO launched a multi-year initiative to support growth in social circus across the USA.

Phase 1 drew to a close in February 2016 and achieved the following objectives:

  • – Provided organizing support for social circus programs within AYCO
  • – Established good practices for social circus programs
  • – Recognized social circus programs that currently employ good practices
  • – Identified needed capacity-building assistance for social circus projects
  • – Created a plan to provide this assistance
  • – Developed materials to help social circus programs to build capacity

Learn more about the initiative here, in a slideshow presented at the AYCO Festival in August 2015.

Phase 2:

The AYCO Social Circus Impact Study launched in October 2016.  This is a research project, conducted by the David P Weikart Center for Youth Program Effectiveness. The study involves 8 Social Circus Network members over the course of one year.  Measurements include observation by external evaluators, assessments by program staff and youth questionnaires.  Results will be available in Q4 2017. The project is jointly funded by Cirque du Soleil, the James E and Diane W Burke Foundation and participating organizations.

The 2017 American Circus Educators conference included a specially designed Social Circus track, based on the needs expressed by Network Members.  We held 15 sessions in this track including:

  • – Three-part series on goal setting, data collection and evaluation
  • – Cultivating individual donors
  • – Panel on Social Circus challenges
  • – Circus and Occupational Therapy
  • – Circus and Accessibility

Cirque du Soleil provided a three-day pre-conference training for Program Directors, focusing on developing systems to support program growth.  This included training in staff and curriculum development.