Game-Changing Project: Right Brain Initiative

Demonstrating the need for art in the classroom, every day

By Ramona DeNies October 20, 2015 Published in the November 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

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A funny thing happens when Oregon’s elementary and middle schoolers get regular visits from a Right Brain Initiative “resident artist”: their test scores skyrocket. Since 2008, local schools partnering with the nonprofit made marked collective leaps on the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test: six points in reading, nine in math, and nearly 20 for English-language learners.

For RBI, the numbers demonstrate the need for art in the classroom, every day. It’s not just fun for kids, says program manager Marna Stalcup—it actually makes them measurably smarter. And that’s good news for everyone: school districts struggling to meet evolving performance standards; art departments eroded by decades of budget cuts; working artists, like those for hire on the nonprofit’s roster; and, of course, the students, for whom RBI programming means the all-too-rare chance to dance, draw, and imagine.

The Regional Arts and Culture Council manages RBI’s programming—in partnership with administrators, principals, and arts teachers—which extends far beyond Portland. This academic year, RBI has been invited to operate in 63 schools across three counties. And in the future? Stalcup hopes to serve the entire tricounty area.

“We’re not in the business of putting arts teachers out of a job,” says Stalcup, pointing to the program’s close working relationship with artists, school faculty, and district administrators. “We are in the business of integrating art into education.”

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