Drawing Lessons from the Studio to School Initiative

OCF launched the Studio to School Initiative in 2014 to learn what it takes to design, implement and sustain community-supported arts education in schools across the state.


Student work from Peninsula School and Caldera project in Portland.

The Initiative provided five years of funding to 18 arts education projects, each a partnership between a local arts organization and school or school district. Project teams expanded and improved arts education in their communities with a special focus on middle school, which typically offers the fewest opportunities for students to engage in arts learning.

In addition to building community-based arts programming—and to advance the Initiative’s focus on learning, risk-taking and innovation—the 18 project teams participated in a statewide learning community. All 18 teams gathered at least once a year to showcase creative communities across the state and engage in art-making, appreciation and learning.

To support the learning community and Initiative development, an evaluation team (led by and mainly comprising OCF research staff) conducted a robust and responsive evaluation. The evaluation approach mirrored the Initiative itself, incorporating creative, reflection-based and improvement-oriented practices. This site provides information about what we learned together through the evaluation.

Project teams work on a collaborative sculpture at a learning community rendezvous, burning words and symbols onto driftwood.

The Studio to School projects had meaningful impacts for students, teachers and schools.

Through the Studio to School projects, an estimated 22,000 Oregon students participated in arts education over five years. Many were students of color, students from low-income households and students from under-resourced rural communities.

The evaluation demonstrated many positive outcomes, including:

  • Students gained artistic skills and knowledge and saw themselves as artists, musicians and creatives. They built vital cognitive, social and emotional skills, explored identities and expanded their interests. They felt a sense of engagement and belonging within schools and communities and made their voices heard on issues they care about.
  • Teachers improved their teaching practices and gained new skills and knowledge, capacity, confidence and creativity.
  • Families and community members connected to schools and shared a sense of pride, celebration and belonging.
  • Schools embraced the arts as a part of school identity.

Studio to School principles

The learning community worked together to identify and explore common elements that contributed to the success of each project. Through a collaborative process, the learning community turned these common elements into the Studio to School principles, a framework for high quality in arts education.

Oaklea Middle School teacher reviews draft principles and feedback.

These principles reflect the work of every project team, bridging diverse community contexts, arts disciplines, and the factors that make each project unique. Central to the principles, and to each of the Studio to School projects, is the desire that all students have equitable opportunities to learn in and through the arts.

The seven Studio to School principles are:

Applying what we learned together

Through Studio to School, we learned a lot about what was possible in arts education and about many of the underlying issues which prevent arts education from thriving statewide. Here are some of our key takeaways:

  • Incredible, multifaceted and revolutionary arts education is happening in communities across Oregon, driven by visionary and dedicated champions. Arts educators, arts organizations and school leaders are providing exemplary arts education opportunities in a wide range of community-specific ways, shapes and forms. Across the state, champions are building on the strengths of communities, centering students and families and getting creative to make it all work.
  • Oregon has a long way to go to advance equity in arts education. The projects demonstrate how access to the arts varies across communities. Though efforts are underway to improve data collection (especially in particular parts of the state, such as Portland and Lane County), we still don’t have clear data to help us understand or address disparities in arts education statewide.
  • Change takes time and ongoing dedication. Shifting school and community systems requires long-term commitment, intense focus and patience, balanced with eagerness to learn and willingness to adapt to changing community priorities and needs.

A model of Elkton, Oregon, created by the Ethos, Inc. and Elkton Charter School team during the first learning community rendezvous.

We believe that every child should have opportunities to participate in arts education in school. The Studio to School projects illustrate 18 approaches to improving the accessibility and quality of arts education.

Making the broader, systemic changes necessary to remove barriers and provide high-quality arts opportunities to all students will require support from families, students, teachers, school administrators, community organizations, artists and leaders at all levels and in all types of communities throughout Oregon.

See Moving Forward for detailed recommendations and considerations based on what we learned through Studio to School.