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.
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.
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.
Studio to School Goals
While the focus of the Initiative evolved from its inception, it ultimately aimed to accomplish the following goals.
Project teams received funding to develop, implement and improve arts programming—in a range of disciplines, and using an array of approaches and strategies—during and outside the school day. K-8 programming focused particularly on middle school, where arts learning opportunities are most rare. The Initiative supported teams in making high-quality arts education more equitable by removing barriers to access and proactively engaging students who most often experience opportunity gaps (e.g., students of color, students from low-income families and communities, and students in rural communities).
Expanding and improving arts education went far beyond curriculum. Project teams built and strengthened the scaffolding—people, processes and systems—undergirding functional, high-quality and sustainable programs. Studio to School supported professional development for teachers and artists; investments in materials, equipment, instruments and physical arts learning spaces; and culture-building and community engagement efforts.
The Initiative expanded partnerships between arts organizations and schools or school districts, based on the belief that arts organizations and schools can work together to support arts education for all students. Many Studio to School projects built on existing relationships between arts organizations and schools, while others forged entirely new partnerships.
Recognizing that local communities are best suited to determine their own goals and how to accomplish them, the Initiative encouraged adaptation while promoting understanding of the experiences, accomplishments and challenges shared across communities. Each Studio to School team worked toward programming, systems and structures that are responsive to the strengths, interests and needs of local students, families, teachers and leaders. We also hoped that prioritizing flexibility and responsiveness would help build locally sustainable programming.
Embracing a trial-and-error attitude and a willingness to learn from our mistakes has resulted in a shift in our professional learning model—one that we believe will not only have broader impact but will also lead to greater sustainability of the approach.
Arts Organization Administrator
To create a foundation for locally sustained arts education programming, Studio to School encouraged projects to build understanding and appreciation for the arts in school communities and beyond. Projects were encouraged to engage key community members who could serve as ongoing champions for local arts education.
The Initiative brought arts education practitioners, stakeholders and experts together to learn from and support one another, with the intention of building a stronger statewide network of arts education champions.
The Initiative was about exploring what’s possible when arts organizations and schools work together. From the beginning, Studio to School was envisioned as a learning experience for all: students, teachers, artists, schools, arts nonprofits, partner organizations, and philanthropy. Project teams were encouraged to get creative and try new things, reflect on what worked and what didn’t, and trust their expertise while learning from their community.
Ultimately, we hoped that what we learned together would aid other organizations, schools, funders, policymakers and community leaders in their efforts to improve the equity, quality and sustainability of arts education.
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.
Studio to School Design
The following design elements supported the Initiative's lofty goals and intentions.
Studio to School offered a longer commitment to programs (five years) than funders usually make. This allowed for stronger relationships and a deeper understanding of projects, people and places. We had enough time to experiment, learn and adapt together, along with more opportunities for serendipity and good timing.
OCF invested over $6 million in the Initiative between 2014 and 2019. This includes grant funding for projects as well as funding to facilitate the learning community and Initiative evaluation. To our knowledge, this is the largest, most intensive foundation investment in arts education in Oregon’s history.
Disbursement of grant funding was structured so that each of the 18 projects received $280K over five years, distributed as $70K annually for the first three years and $35K in each of the final two years. We expected that teams would make significant initial investments in materials, space, equipment and structures, and hoped that the large initial investment would also create room and resources for innovation and experimentation. We also hoped that the funding step-down would encourage project teams to right-size their efforts and work strategically toward sustainability.
Studio to School project teams were supported as a learning community, gathering in person and online to learn with and from one another. Central to the learning community was the annual in-person “rendezvous,” which became an August tradition. To reinforce the Initiative’s statewide scope, rendezvous were held in different communities. At each of the six rendezvous, project teams gathered to reflect on their progress, plan for the coming year, learn about one another’s work, and explore arts education program quality. Teams worked through challenges and celebrated successes, engaged in collaborative art-making, enjoyed a wide range of performances by Oregon artists, and got support from OCF staff, the evaluation team and arts education experts.
In addition, numerous smaller gatherings, web-based community-building opportunities, peer visits, and other opportunities connected the projects and facilitated shared learning. Through the learning community, project teams connected personally, formed authentic and caring relationships, and supported their peers as arts education advocates and leaders.
Throughout the Initiative, OCF research staff and partners conducted a robust, responsive evaluation, documenting challenges, successes and lessons to support project teams and OCF staff. The evaluation approach mirrored the Initiative itself, incorporating creative, reflection-based and improvement-oriented practices. As the projects adapted and we learned things along the way, the Initiative and evaluation adapted as well.
A central outcome of the Initiative evaluation was the development of the Studio to School principles, which articulate our shared understanding of what it takes to build and maintain high-quality, equitable and sustainable arts education programs, informed by the experiences and expertise of the Studio to School projects. The evaluation team collaborated closely with project teams and other arts education stakeholders both to develop these principles and to support their use in planning and reflection.
The 18 Studio to School projects were selected based on the strength of their applications and on their potential contributions to a learning community. Projects were prioritized if they served middle schoolers, students of color, students from low-income families or communities and/or students in rural communities.
None of the projects started from scratch in terms of experience or community assets. Participating schools had some existing arts education programming or could otherwise demonstrate their commitment to arts education. Similarly, participating arts organizations had some experience in developing or delivering arts education. Many of the arts organizations and school partners had worked together previously, which meant that all partners would bring expertise not only to their projects but also to the learning community.
Meetings through the grant with a group of creative, determined individuals sparked a vision of the possibilities for arts education in our district.
Arts Organization Administrator
Each project was driven by a small core team who collaborated to establish and work toward shared goals for their community. Core project team members included arts organization leaders, administrators from the school or school district, classroom teachers, teaching artists, and other community members (for example, parents, local artists, or arts organization volunteers or board members). Each project’s core team was required to participate in the learning community and in the evaluation.
[This] being a collaborative project is intentional because it does build community. It makes everyone feel like they had a part in the project. In everything that we've done, it’s been like we're creating a piece that goes to this larger whole.