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The Right Brain Initiative

Rather than bemoan the loss of school arts programs due to budget cuts, arts supporters in Portland, Oregon have developed an innovative program that weaves the arts into required school curriculum. Since 2008, the Right Brain Initiative has given teachers tools for integrating the arts into their teaching of core education subjects. When the creative process is merged with learning, students are more engaged with the subject matter, and it helps them to improve their reading ability, critical thinking and social skills.

According to their website, the Right Brain Initiative’s mission is “to achieve a measurable impact on learning by integrating the community’s arts and cultural resources into the education of every K-8 student in the region’s school districts,” and “to give every K-8 student in the region access to the arts regardless of neighborhood, language, or income.” While this may seem a lofty goal, this successful program has benefited 31 Portland area schools and over 11,000 students to date.

The program is a collaboration of schools, teachers, artists, arts organizations, local government, donors and individuals. Approximately half of the program’s funding comes from private donations and half from public funds provided by the City of Portland, the three regional counties, and contributions from each participating school of $15 per student.

Artists and teachers collaborate to develop arts-integrated curriculum meeting the specific needs of each school and its students. The list of participating artists and arts organizations reads like a “Who’s Who” of the Portland art world, including the Portland Art Museum, Oregon Symphony, Oregon Ballet Theater, Portland Children’s Museum, Young Audiences performing-arts program, Tears of Joy puppet theater, the Bodyvox dance troupe, Wordstock (an annual Portland literary festival) and others.

Thanks to the Right Brain Initiative, the future of education and the arts in Portland is looking brighter.