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John M. Eger

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The Right Brain Initiative

Posted: 05/03/11 01:11 PM ET

Yes, something called "The Right Brain Initiative" actually exists.

Many of us have been talking about the right brain and the whole brain and the urgent need to nurture both hemispheres in our young people. Our kids need to have the new thinking skills so in demand in an economy crying out for creativity and innovation.

An Oregon-based Regional Arts and Cultural Council (serving Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington Counties, including Portland) launched the Right Brain Initiative (RBI) in the fall of 2010.

The RBI "is a collaboration among artists, arts organizations, school districts, governments, businesses and donors who are working to integrate arts education experiences into the standard curriculum of every K-8 classroom across the region's school districts. At present, 11,000 children and their teachers will be served in 20 pilot schools across 4 districts." They expect to "roughly double in size each year for the next 4-6 years until every K-8 student... is being served."

They are very clear about what they are doing: "Our vision is to give every K-8 student in the region access to the arts regardless of neighborhood, language, or income. Through an effort that engages the entire community, we're creating long-term, lasting change within our school systems."

Their approach is not more classes, more arts or music, more anything. That would be nice but, frankly, there is not money for doing anything more, only doing things differently. And there is a new (old, really) approach. It's called "arts integration "... using the arts as a catalyst for teaching across the curriculum.

The key is getting teachers and artists working together as a team to develop arts-integrated learning experiences, say experts in the field. Very much like CoTA, a collaboration of teachers and artists in Chula Vista, California, or the Collaborative Arts Resources for Education (CARE) in Balboa Park. CARE involves four premier arts organizations: the Museum of Photographic Arts, La Jolla Playhouse, the Mingei International Museum and the Timken Museum of Art.

However, the RBI is probably one of the largest efforts in North America, involving not just the arts and culture organizations, but all the schools, private donors, artists, local government, cultural groups and everyday citizens within the three counties. Like Thriving Minds in Dallas, Texas, this is an initiative everyone can take ownership of.

To date, the RBI has engaged the enthusiastic support of private and public interests in the three counties, all the schools, and every conceivable art and cultural organization in the region. Importantly, according to Marna Stalcup, program manager for the RBI, there is "a growing awareness and appreciation of our work by the business community... attributed (in large part) to our expanded definition of literacy that includes the 21st century skills of creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking."

Moreover, says Stalcup, "funding sources are nearly 50/50 public (city, county, school districts) and private (foundation, corporate and individual)... (and) corporate contributions have increased an average of 19 percent each year".

As the world map is being redesigned, and it is, this is what all communities concerned about their place in the future need to be doing; or surely they will atrophy and die. Arts Integration, which is an essential ingredient in revitalizing a city, truly works. Only becoming an innovation economy, as President Obama has called for, will matter. This makes efforts such as The Right Brain Initiative vital.

 
 
 

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