Drawing Lessons from the Studio to School Initiative

Studio to School Principles

The learning community identified and explored common elements that contributed to the success of each of the Studio to School projects. Through a collaborative process, the learning community then turned these common elements into the Studio to School principles—a framework for high quality in arts education.

Studio to School Principles. Video by Open Signal.

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 every Studio to School project, is the desire that all students have equitable opportunities to learn in and through the arts.

The seven Studio to School principles are:

  • Cultivate a school environment in which arts learning can thrive.
  • Create a shared vision for arts education programming through an inclusive and ongoing planning process.
  • Foster mutual commitment and responsibility in collaborations between arts organizations and schools.
  • Understand and respond to evolving community contexts, including histories, strengths and needs.
  • Engage and support experienced and skilled arts educators.
  • Provide varied, relevant and high-quality opportunities for students to engage in arts learning.
  • Build appreciation and support for arts education in schools and communities.

The principles are guiding statements that create a pathway for success while leaving room to adapt to varying contexts (Patton, 2018). Although often presented as a list, the principles are deeply interconnected and not necessarily sequential.

It can be helpful to think of principles as the key ingredients for projects: the elements that make them strong, successful and equitable. Across projects, the principles may manifest differently. They are like a common set of ingredients for a dish with countless regional recipes.

Each Studio to School project team contributed to the development of the principles and relied on them as they established and strengthened arts education in their own communities. The Studio to School principles are reflected in each project’s impact on students, teachers and school communities and how they achieved specific impacts.

Students use paint to explore their thinking at Woodlawn School (Portland Children's Museum).

Why create principles through Studio to School?

Educational, programmatic and artistic quality are complex concepts. It is logical that high-quality arts education would be more beneficial to students than low-quality arts education, but what does “high-quality" mean? What does it look like?

Several frameworks for high-quality arts education have been developed, often based on research with arts education programs and schools in specific urban communities (e.g., Los Angeles). We know from existing research that “what constitutes quality can and should vary across settings, depending on the purposes and values of the program and its community” (Seidel, et al., 2009).

Students build puppets during an artist-in-residence workshop in Harney County.

Frameworks can take the form of principles that include components like arts programs take place in dedicated, inspiring, welcoming spaces and affirm the value of art and artists (Something to Say) or build on what youth value, and understand and encourage voluntary participation (Coming Up Taller). They can also comprise sets of quality indicators like “artistic rigor” (Arts for All) or “principal leadership” (Turnaround Arts Initiative). These options are discussed further in Striving for High-Quality Arts Education, a report sharing what we learned from our review of existing quality frameworks during the Studio to School evaluation. (The report also includes an earlier draft of the Studio to School principles that were further refined after publication.)

While many frameworks share common elements, no single definition of “high-quality arts education” is shared by arts education programs statewide or nationally. So, building on existing research and on the collective work of Studio to School projects, we decided to create our own framework to help the learning community understand and improve high-quality arts education and to give us a common language and a set of unifying elements.

How were the principles developed?

Karena Salmond (Caldera) talks with others at the final learning community rendezvous.

The Studio to School principles were developed through a collaborative, iterative process facilitated by the evaluation team. They are rooted in the experiences of the 18 Studio to School project teams and informed by existing research about high-quality arts education.

Over 100 people were engaged in identifying, developing and refining the principles over five years, including school administrators, arts organization leaders, arts educators, other arts education stakeholders, the evaluation team, other foundation staff, and members of an evaluation advisory group. Many were longtime arts education champions. Others were newer to the world of arts education but also contributed valuable insights and fresh ideas.

To develop and refine the principles, the evaluation team facilitated many meetings and activities, starting with a brainstorming session at the first gathering of project teams in August 2014. The principles were greatly informed by multiple site visits with each project to observe programming and interview staff, as well as reports provided by teams to share what they were learning as they worked to build and improve their programming.

How did we work with the Studio to School principles during the Initiative?

In addition to developing and refining the principles, Studio to School teams also used the principles to reflect on their work and plan next steps. The evaluation team supported this process through the following methods.

  • Ideating and reacting with dot voting and sticky notes. In year 2, one of the first ways project teams engaged with the draft principles generated by the evaluation team (based on learning through site visits, project reflections and other year 1 activities) was by using dots to vote for the principles most relevant to their projects, and by sharing examples of what the principles look, sound and feel like in their projects via sticky notes. Principle text, dots and sticky notes were displayed on posters to allow for a “gallery walk” that encouraged participants to learn about the principles’ relevance across projects. These examples also helped us improve the principles’ language, descriptions and related materials.
  • Individual and team reflection. As year 3 got underway, we asked team members to reflect individually on draft principles, and then to share those reflections within project teams to explore differences in perspective. To do this, the evaluation team developed a simple worksheet and set of stickers with images that represented the extent to which a principle was “in practice” in a project: 1) this principle is growing and thriving in our project; 2) my team is experiencing challenges with this principle; and 3) my team is not working on this principle right now. Not surprisingly, many participants got creative, splitting stickers in two or piecing two or more stickers together where they didn’t feel a single category was adequate. Team discussions illuminated important similarities and differences in perspectives within teams. Throughout the Initiative, the evaluation team incorporated reflection on one or more of the Studio to School principles in conversations with project teams during learning community events and site visits. Many project teams also facilitated their own reflective conversations, often to support worksheet completion of worksheets or in response to prompts from the evaluation team.
  • Rubric development and use. In years 3 and 4, the evaluation team worked with a group of interested project team members, the evaluation advisory group and other arts education experts and stakeholders to develop a rubric that would better articulate what the principles look like in practice. Several workshop sessions were held in Portland, Eugene and Hood River to maximize participation, including a session with E. Jane Davidson (an evaluator with expertise in rubric use).

Projects then piloted the draft rubric, considering how one or more principles looked for their project. Teams submitted responses to reflection questions and feedback about the rubric tool and piloting process. The evaluation team incorporated this feedback, and made other adjustments based on conversations with the project teams, for the second iteration of the rubric. In the final year of the Initiative, teams used the rubric to reflect on the principles they deemed most relevant to their projects.

Workshopping a draft of the Studio to School principles at the Portland Art Museum.

Learn more about these and other evaluation activities in About the evaluation.

How else have we used the Studio to School principles?

Foundation staff have also used these principles to structure and center explorations of program quality and improvement in arts education. We have offered the principles as a resource to a group of arts education advocates who are working to determine how best to bolster education through the arts in Oregon, as well as to individual arts education programs (largely through the Improving Arts Education Initiative, which began in 2019).

Through the Improving Arts Education Initiative, nine arts education projects received two years of funding to use the principles to help deliver and improve arts education. While the projects were able to use the principles in goal-setting and planning, their efforts were unfortunately disrupted—in some cases significantly—by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response, the Foundation eased requirements for Initiative participation while continuing to provide funding. Instead of requiring periodic progress reporting on the principles specifically, Arts & Culture and Research staff hosted reflective interviews and group conversations while also providing targeted resources and peer support as needed. We anticipate sharing lessons learned through this process—including how the principles have and have not been useful for grantees—in late 2021.

While we have not been able to test the principles to the degree that we originally planned, we are encouraged to hear how Improving Arts Education Initiative project team efforts intersect with the principles; similar details are reflected in conversations about reshaping arts education. We have also heard that the principles continue to resonate with arts education leaders, particularly those who were engaged in the principles’ development, even as they grapple with the realities of conducting arts education programming during a pandemic.

How can others use the Studio to School principles?

The Studio to School principles are a framework for what high-quality arts education can look like in school settings and the conditions that support high-quality arts learning. They are intended as guideposts to support reflection and improvement of arts education programming.

The principles are intended to be useful for school and arts organization leaders in their efforts to plan new arts education programs or to actively improve existing programming. Other scenarios in which the principles may be useful include:

  • For arts organizations to use when shaping or refining goals, or to identify strengths and needs when forging new school partnerships.
  • For school leaders to use as they explore and clarify needs when seeking or establishing partnership with an arts organization.
  • For arts organizations and school leaders to review together as they move toward consensus on expectations, goals, and responsibilities for delivering arts education.
  • For arts educators to use as they set arts learning goals, adapt programming for new settings, or reflect on and improve programming.

Enjoying Music Fest of the Gorge (Arts in Education of the Gorge).

Although students and student learning are at the heart of the principles, the Studio to School projects and evaluation team did not have an opportunity to explore the principles with students directly. We can imagine that it would be very useful to do so. Schools or arts organizations could ask students to reflect on the principles when exploring their needs, strengths and interests, especially when planning for new or expanded programming, or more generally in efforts to champion arts education. Student leadership groups at the local or statewide level may also find the principles useful in articulating priorities or expectations for high-quality arts education.

It is important to remember that the goals, program structure, content, context and other details of a given arts education program matter greatly. It may not be appropriate for a particular program to fully embrace all of the principles. For a given project, some principles will likely be more relevant than others; it’s also possible that specific aspects of principles will be either crucial or unrealistic, depending on the program.

We know from our experience of working with arts education program leaders that it is often best to focus on a single principle at a time. Even focusing on specific elements of a single principle can lead to rich, meaningful reflection and improvement. The interrelated nature of the principles often means that even when the intent is to focus narrowly on only one principle, other principles are often bolstered in the process.

If you are using the Studio to School principles, we encourage you to prioritize them in whatever way best fits your goals, program elements and community context. The principles are intended to be flexible and adaptable for diverse local contexts and varying types of arts education programs. As the principles are used outside of Studio to School, they can and should be adapted further as needed to best meet the needs of arts educators.

For us, the biggest lesson is to utilize the principles to align the school’s desires and interests with our programs to create cohesive vision and goals. When the school is a part of the decision-making process, they are more likely to follow through with agreed-upon tasks and support the teacher, teaching artist and partner.
—Arts organization administrator

A wide range of activities can facilitate reflection and improvement using the principles, including iterations of the activities described above. For example, dot voting and sticky note brainstorming could be used by teams who are trying to prioritize principles to work on. Dots and example instructions could also be adapted for a hands-on team reflection; different dot colors could represent the degree to which a principle is in place, and sticky notes could be used to generate ideas for improvement.

If you use the Studio to School principles, we’d like to hear from you! Please share your insights, feedback and questions with Kim Leonard, Senior Research Officer, at kleonard@oregoncf.org.

Resources to support use of the Studio to School principles

In collaboration with the Studio to School learning community and other arts education advocates, the evaluation team developed a set of resources to support use of the principles. These resources were organized into a toolkit that was provided to the 2019 Improving Arts Education grantees. These same resources are now available for wider adaptation and use as separate pieces or in combination, depending on program goals and needs.

  • Studio to School Principles Overview. A brief, print-friendly overview of the Studio to School principles and how they were developed.
  • Studio to School Principles in Detail. A print-friendly version of the more detailed descriptions of each principle below, including project examples and related resources.
  • Studio to School Rubric. A tool for reflecting on how the principles relate to program work and planning. The rubric describes levels of implementation of the principles, ranging from dormant, where a principle is not yet in place, to thriving, where a principle is embodied in a school or program fully enough to realize benefits.
  • Reflecting on the Studio to School Principles. A print-friendly handout with questions that support reflection and improvement planning relating to the principles. This is an iteration of questions used in both the Studio to School and Improving Arts Education Initiatives.

Cultivate a school environment in which arts learning can thrive.

Learn More

Create a shared vision for arts education programming through an inclusive and ongoing planning process.


Learn More

Foster mutual commitment and responsibility in collaborations between arts organizations and schools.


Learn More

Understand and respond to evolving community contexts, including histories, strengths and needs.

Learn More

Engage and support experienced and skilled arts educators.

Learn More

Provide varied, relevant and high-quality opportunities for students to engage in arts learning.


Learn More

Build appreciation and support for arts education in schools and communities.

Learn More