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When young people are involved with the arts, something changes in their lives. We’ve often witnessed the rapt expressions on the faces of such young people. Advocates for the arts often use photographs of smiling faces to document the experience.

But in a society that values measurements and uses data-driven analysis to inform decisions about allocation of scarce resources, photographs of smiling faces are not enough to gain or even retain support. Such images alone will not convince skeptics or even neutral decision-makers that something exceptional is happening when and where the arts become part of the lives of young people.

Until now, we’ve known little about the nature of this change, or how to enable the change to occur. To understand these issues in more rigorous terms, we invited leading educational researchers to examine the impact of arts experiences on young people. We developed the Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning initiative in cooperation with The Arts Education Partnership and The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities to explore why and how young people were changed through their arts experiences.

We believed that evidence could be collected that would help answer the questions of why positive changes occur and what might be done to replicate them. We expected the work to build on previous research concerning the arts and learning so that similar programs could become even more effective; we also hoped to increase the overall understanding of how the arts can impact learning.

We invited the initial Champions of Change researchers to examine well-established models of arts education. We then added research efforts that looked beyond specific programs to larger issues of the arts in American education. Finally, we expanded our concept beyond classrooms and schools to include out-of-school settings. We wanted to better understand the impact of the arts on learning, not just on formal education.

The Champions of Change Researchers
Over the last few years, seven teams of researchers examined a variety of arts education programs using diverse methodologies:

  • James S. Catterall of the Imagination Project at the University of California at Los Angeles analyzed data on more than 25,000 students from the National Educational Longitudinal Survey to determine the relationship of engagement in the arts to student performance and attitudes. He also investigated the impact of intensive involvement in instrumental music and drama/theatre on student achievement.

  • Shirley Brice Heath of The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and Stanford University, with Adelma Roach, examined after-school programs for youth in poor communities. The researchers were interested in the qualities that made programs in the arts, sports, and community service effective sites for learning and development, and they identified features that made involvement with the arts the most powerful factor to success in and out of school.

  • The Center for Arts Education Research at Teachers College, Columbia University, studied arts education programs within elementary and junior high schools. Researchers Judy Burton, Rob Horowitz, and Hal Abeles created a taxonomy of learning in the arts, and investigated the ways that learning in the arts affected learning across the curriculum and the conditions that made this possible.

  • James Catterall and The North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL) evaluated the impact of the Chicago Arts Partnership in Education (CAPE). The CAPE network of nine neighborhood-based partnerships of 23 local schools, 33 arts organizations, and 11 community-based organizations has pioneered new ways to integrate the arts with learning across the curriculum.

  • Researchers at the National Center for Gifted and Talented at the University of Connecticut examined the Young Talent Program and other offerings of ArtsConnection, the largest outside provider of arts education programming to the New York City public school system. They also created a model of obstacles, success factors, and outcomes for talent development in the arts.

  • Steve Seidel and researchers from Harvard University’s Project Zero examined two education programs of Shakespeare & Company, a professional theatre company based in Lenox, Massachusetts. Researchers investigated the National Institute on Teaching Shakespeare, a high school teacher training program, as well as the Fall Festival of Shakespeare, an annual regional experience that involves teenagers in the study and performance of Shakespeare’s works.

  • Dennie Palmer Wolf and researchers from the Performance Assessment Collaboratives for Education (PACE) of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education examined the Creating Original Opera program of The Metropolitan Opera Guild. This professional development program trains elementary and secondary school teachers in a process that enables young people to create, perform, and produce an original opera.



This research initiative had many champions. We are grateful to them all, and would like to recognize the contributions of several who made this entire collaboration possible.

    First and foremost, we thank the late Ernie Boyer, former president of The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and former U.S. Commissioner of Education, for encouraging us to work together. This partnership has been a highlight of our professional lives, and we will always remember Ernie as an articulate advocate for the role of the arts in young lives.

    Throughout the development and implementation of Champions of Change, several individuals provided critical support and counsel. They included Peter Gerber, Vartan Gregorian, Rich Gurin, Ellen Lovell, Margaret Mahoney, Harold Williams, and Jim Wolfensohn.

    During the research process, we held several sessions to review work in progress and identify questions for the research to be funded. In addition to the artists, educators, and researchers named in this report, we benefited from the involvement of arts and education leaders from across the country. They included Terry Baker, Jim Berk, Bob Bucker, Jessica Davis, Elliott Eisner, Carol Fineberg, Rita Foy, Milton Goldberg, Derek Gordon, Doug Herbert, Sarah Howes, Peter Martinez, Ruth Mitchell, David O’Fallon, David Perkins, Terry Peterson, Jane Remer, Dan Scheinfeld, Josiah Spaulding, Robert Stake, and Louise Stevens.

    Under the leadership of executive director Dick Deasy, The Arts Education Partnership has been a critical partner for the Champions of Change research initiative. We are also grateful to The President’s Committee for the Arts and the Humanities, honorary chair First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, and executive director Harriet Mayor Fulbright for their involvement and support since the inception of this ambitious undertaking.

    Finally, we thank the advisory committees and the boards of our respective institutions whose support made this extraordinary endeavor possible. We believe their significant commitment of resources for Champions of Change will help transform countless young lives for the better through the arts.

Jane L. Polin
The GE Fund

Nick Rabkin
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

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