Drawing Lessons from the Studio to School Initiative

About Studio to School

The Studio to School Initiative was a bold experiment to bring high-quality arts education to students in communities across Oregon. OCF launched the Initiative in 2014 to learn what it takes to design, implement and sustain community-supported arts education programming in schools.

Students from David Douglas School District await a performance at the Arlene Schnitzer concert hall. Photo by Richard Kobell.

The Initiative provided five years of funding to 18 arts education projects, each of which was a partnership between a local arts organization and a school or school district. Studio to School project teams worked together to expand and improve arts education programming for local K-12 students with a special focus on middle school, which typically offers the fewest opportunities for arts education.

The 18 project teams participated in a statewide learning community, gathering in person at least once a year to engage in art-making, appreciation, reflection and learning. The learning community cultivated a spirit of creativity and collaboration within the Initiative, built shared energy and purpose, and served as a laboratory for innovation. Foundation program and evaluation staff also participated in the learning community as “team 19,” learning with and from project teams.

Through the learning community and an Initiative-wide developmental evaluation, project teams advanced their capacity to plan and track progress while also engaging in reflection, sharing and learning with their peers.

As a learning community, we explored questions like:

  • What would it take to develop and deliver equitable, high-quality arts education that is responsive to local strengths and needs?
  • How can arts organizations and schools bridge their strengths and structures to share responsibility for, and coordination of, arts education?
  • In the context of the Initiative—with time, funding and encouragement to experiment—how would the projects innovate and evolve?
  • How can projects engage school and local communities to sustain arts education programming without foundation funding?

OCF invested over $6 million in the Initiative between 2014 and 2019. To our knowledge, this is the largest, most intensive investment in arts education by any foundation in Oregon history.


Student from Open School North learns videography with instruction from an Open Signal teaching artist. 

Studio to School Origins

OCF staff developed the Studio to School Initiative in response to the long-standing need for equitable access to arts education in Oregon. Staff identified this need through a year-long research process that explored how best to use a generous gift from Fred and Sue Fields, who wanted their resources to support arts and education but left Foundation staff and leaders to determine what that would entail.

This research strengthened our understanding of several important contextual factors, each of which influenced Studio to School’s goals and design:

  • A growing body of research demonstrates that arts education has positive impacts on students, teachers, administrators, arts program staff, schools, districts and communities. The arts can transform learning environments and mindsets, bringing about systemic and cultural change. We summarized our review of existing research on the impacts of arts learning for students in How the Arts Advance Student Learning, published in 2017 by the OCF Research team as part of the Studio to School evaluation.
  • Over the past several decades, our public education system has been shaped by budget cuts and an increasingly narrow focus on core subjects. In Oregon, Measure 5 (1990) and Measure 50 (1997) limited property taxes, an important source of revenue for local schools. As a result of these pressures, arts programming was downsized or eliminated from many Oregon schools beginning in the 1990s.
  • Today, access to arts education varies widely in Oregon, particularly within public schools. Some students have access to multiple, varied, rigorous arts learning opportunities, while others have little or no regular access to these opportunities. Inequities exist across communities and within schools; some opportunities are out of reach to students who can’t afford instrument rentals or other costs of participation. We see these challenges as part of the broader opportunity gap facing many Oregon students, families and communities.
  • In many communities, arts organizations have stepped up to provide arts education to K-12 students, working in close partnership with local schools and school districts to facilitate arts learning opportunities. More about the history of arts education in Oregon—including its funding structure and how arts organizations are working to close gaps—is available in A Snapshot of K-12 Arts Education in Oregon, published in 2019 by the OCF Research team as part of the Studio to School evaluation. Among the report’s conclusions is that existing data is insufficient to fully understand the extent and quality of arts learning opportunities in Oregon.

Music teacher Rebecca Nederhiser from Hood River Middle School shows off a student-made mask used in a school musical.

Studio to School Goals

While the focus of the Initiative evolved from its inception, it ultimately aimed to accomplish the following goals.

Expand and improve arts education opportunities for K-8 students.
Develop and strengthen partnerships between schools and community organizations.
Support community-driven and responsive efforts.
Build greater appreciation for arts education and the arts.
Strengthen the statewide arts education community.
Emphasize learning.

Evolution of Studio to School

Just as it supported project adaptation and learning, the Initiative itself evolved over time. Shifts began during proposal review, before the Initiative funded its first project. The review process gave Foundation staff a better understanding of what community-based organizations and schools wanted to develop together. Our priorities clarified as we considered what projects could bring to and gain from the Initiative’s learning community.

The Initiative’s original goals were:

  • Increase quality arts education opportunities for Oregon’s schoolchildren.
  • Increase the expertise of in-school educators and administrators as well as community-based arts education providers.

As the Initiative launched, with projects selected and plans coming together for how the learning community and evaluation would support the Initiative, these goals were refined:

  • Develop greater appreciation for and understanding of the value of high-quality arts education in grantee communities (culture change).
  • Increase acquisition of art skills, knowledge and appreciation among students who participate in grantee projects.
  • Identify sustainable models for delivering high-quality, community-supported arts education programs with a potential for replication.

The core of the goals remained the same: funding the provision of arts education while also boosting the capacity of arts educators and school and arts organization leaders. The new version of our goals clarified specific outcomes we hoped would result from the Initiative and its programs.

The third goal soon shifted yet again, though it wasn’t formalized until 2017 when the Initiative’s theory of change and logic model were updated a final time. Instead of identifying replicable program models to support scaling the projects and their lessons learned, the team revised the third goal to read:

  • To identify principles for the delivery of high-quality, sustainable community-supported arts education programs. CALLOUT: FINAL GOALS

This change was a response to several related issues. First, we had a growing appreciation for the place-based nature of the projects and the challenges of preparing for sustainability beyond the Initiative, let alone replication and expansion. Second, reading and reflecting on Disseminating Orphan Innovations shifted our thinking about whether it is possible (or wise) to replicate program models at all.

These new ideas shifted our evaluation approach toward developing shared principles for pursuing high-quality, sustainable, community-supported arts education. While the revised goal didn’t name equity explicitly, we had also started to pay greater attention to the relationship between equity and arts education through the learning community, principle development and use, and evaluation more generally; the conclusion of this report includes further reflections about this.

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Studio to School Design

The following design elements supported the Initiative's lofty goals and intentions.

Funding structure
Intensive learning community
Focus on learning and research
Project selection
Project team design