(Because all gray matter matters.)

We’ve launched a new website! A website that has an integrated blog, which means that starting today, you can find all current and archived Right Brain blog content at We’ll immediately retire this WordPress
 address, and look forward to seeing you in fancier digs. In the meantime, read what Lori Jones of NORTH has to say about their brilliant vision for Right Brain’s new digital era.

Here at NORTH, we occasionally get a project that’s more labor of love, a project of passion, than a job. When RACC came to us for help branding an initiative to integrate the arts into Portland-area schools, how could we resist? After all, without creative brains, NORTH would be, well, south.  

The Right Brain Initiative was born two years ago and continues to grow in leaps and bounds, school to school, in person and online. Now NORTH and RACC are proud to announce the launch of The revitalized site is both an explosion of creativity and a hard-working information portal for teachers, artists and supporters. 

In fact, we designed the interface much like a brain – both sides supporting each other to ensure a whole success.  On the left side, we have the logical, linear navigation leading you through the site, step by step. On the right side, the navigation is intuitive and the experience is 360 degrees full-tilt imagination. Look for hidden messages, watch a film and check out the Brain Food section for integrated ideas.  

Please visit and learn how you can get involved. Because now is not the time to cut creative opportunities from our schools, leaving kids half-interested, half-motivated, half-prepared.  We think you’ll agree, no right brain should be left behind.   

Lori Jones is a Writer at NORTH.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In honor of the launch of this site, we’ve teamed up with some of our roster artists to provide arts-focused prizes hidden throughout our bright new digital pages. Look out for the ♣♣  to enter to win tickets and tours from Earth Arts NW, Oregon Ballet Theatre, Oregon Symphony, Portland Taiko and Wordstock. The third person to send an email response for each prize wins!

We officially exist. Right Brain is in The Oregonian!

Photo by Benjamin Brink, courtesy of The Oregonian

Art skills help young minds bloom: The Right Brain Initiative helps fill a funding gap and gives area students a leg up.

So reads the headline for Right Brain’s first feature in The Oregonian, as published on the cover of the Metro section.

Meanwhile, the online version, employs the title: The Right Brain Initiative returns art to classrooms. We’ll take it!

For this story, we connected reporter Candice Ruud to a 1st grade classroom at Lincoln Street Elementary in Hillsboro. There, Right Brain teaching artist Elizabeth Burden of BodyVox taught students about the plant life cycle through movement. From Candice’s characterization of this arts experience, she addressed our work’s response to local school systems that have endured drastic budget cuts, our unique community partnership model, our ability to inspire teacher innovation, and our focus on integrating the arts with other subjects. Not bad for a rather short article, really. But we encourage you to bask in this piece of media for yourselves!

Read the full article.

See a complete set of images from BodyVox’s work at Lincoln Street on our Flickr page.

Finding Show + Tell: A Handy Guide to Pod-Catching

This week, we’re launching the final set of autumn sites for our great traveling exhibit experiment. Show + Tell, our “pod,” has been making stops throughout the greater Portland area since June. We’ve learned a lot (from gathering reasons people value arts education, to how to handle unbridled artistic expression on the outside of the exhibit), and hope we’ve been able to inform interested visitors about Right Brain.

While the summer focused largely on reaching out to the general public at street fairs and other open venues, we’re now paying homage to our community partners and advocates who make The Right Brain Initiative possible.

This map is an easy way to check where the exhibit will be in the coming weeks—and where it’s been. The blue markers indicate its locations earlier in the year, the green markers indicate future sites. The pink tack is the current location. We’re excited to round out our school district visits, stop by some of our funding partners, and to show our stuff at the Oregon Art Education Congress!

Staff at Umpqua Bank, Gresham Station enjoying the exhibit.

See the final set of dates and sites below:

Monday, November 1 – Wednesday, November 3 | Umpqua Bank, Gresham Station
Thursday, November 4 – Friday, November 5 | Gresham-Barlow School District Central Office
Monday, November 8 | Oregon Arts Education Congress, Leftbank Annex
Wednesday, November 17 | Hillsboro School District Superintendent Listening Session, Brown Middle School
Friday, November 19 – Saturday, November 20 | US Bank, North Hillsboro Branch
Tuesday, November 23 | Hillsboro School District Central Office

If you haven’t yet seen these other excellent sources of information about Show + Tell and its contents, allow us to direct you to:
Show + Tell online exhibit on Flickr
Photographs of selected past Show + Tell sites on Flickr
See how the pod gets around on YouTube

“You wrote this?” Bringing writers to the classroom

What is the value of bringing a writer-in-residence to a K-8 classroom? We asked teaching artists from Wordstock, our literary arts partner, to comment. Below, Nancy Coffelt reflects on the power of mentorship when working artists engage with students on an extended basis.

Kindergarten through 3rd grades at Free Orchards (Hillsboro) worked with Nancy Coffelt to build vocabulary—and were emboldened to find that any drawing can be conquered with shapes.


That’s a common question from children when I visit a school. The book I just read them is suddenly connected to a real life person and I can see by their expression something clicks.

People write books.

And if they’re “people” too, then can’t they write a book as well?

For children it can seem like all those books in the classroom and in the library just magically appeared. There’s no context for how those books came to be. But empowering those children with the knowledge that they too can come up with an idea just as surely as that person, that writer, standing there in their classroom, well that’s a golden “aha” moment.

The excitement I’ve seen in those classrooms could power a city. Kids are buzzing about their ideas – an elephant that wants to dance, the adventures of their pet hamsters, super heroes of all shapes and sizes… And that’s the sort of excitement that can propel them forward into the actual shaping of their stories.

The group process can make for a magical process as far as writing (and illustrating) stories. Children not only benefit from hearing the progress of their classmates’ work but they also get the enjoyment of sharing their own creative endeavors. And that sharing can also show them that others may struggle with trying to complete a story. An author can share their own tales of what they’ve done to help them complete a story – even if it was difficult to do.

“People” have the ability to see a project through.

Young people understand that very well.

Nancy Coffelt is a novelist and illustrator who cites crayons, pencils and felt pens among her favorite childhood possessions. She collaborated with staff at Free Orchards Elementary in Hillsboro in 2009-10 to help students integrate language with images. Read also what Nancy had to say after her first Right Brain professional development session on her blog, Because I Say So.

Want to learn more about our work with Any Given Child? Read this.

Let it be known: The Right Brain Initiative is actively engaged in nationally relevant arts education research and strategic thinking. An article in the latest issue of the Regional Arts & Culture Council’s Art Notes describes the nature of our work with the Kennedy Center’s Any Given Child program and boils down what it means for the future of arts education in this region. Read the full article below or download a .pdf file of Art Notes here.

Right Brain leads regional arts education plan

The community is gathering, with support from the Kennedy Center, to assess and plan for comprehensive, sustainable arts education in the Portland tri-county region.

The Right Brain Initiative collaborates with staff at Beach School and Portland Taiko to engage students in curriculum-integrated creativity.

On October 6, a steering committee of local arts, education and community leaders gathered at Portland City Hall with high energy. This group assembled for the first meeting focused on Any Given Child, a strategic arts education enterprise for the Portland area lead by The Right Brain Intiatiative. Right Brain is a K-8 arts education program managed by the Regional Arts & Culture Council.

On a national level, Any Given Child is an effort conceived and driven by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. With a focus on K-8 education, Any Given Child “seeks to bring access, balance, and equity to each child’s arts education, using an affordable model able model that combines the resources of the school district, local arts groups, and the Kennedy Center.” Selected last June by the Kennedy Center for this program, the Portland metropolitan area now joins Sacramento, California and Springfield, Missouri as the third national participant.

Any Given Child emphasizes leveraging existing community assets to collectively repair the arts equity gap in public schools through increased access to broad creative learning. Due to the closely aligned goals of Any Given Child and The Right Brain Initiative, the team will use the current programming of Right Brain as a foundation for this work. With the support of Kennedy Center staff , the Any Given Child steering committee will conduct an intensive audit of arts education resources in the four districts currently served by The Right Brain Initiative, also co-applicants for the project: Gresham-Barlow, Hillsboro, North Clackamas and Portland Public Schools. The group will then use this data, and public input, to create a customized long-range plan for comprehensive arts education that is equitable and sustainable in this region.

Darrell Ayers, Vice President for Education, The Kennedy Center said: “The Portland area has so many good things happening in arts education—from the work of RACC and The Right Brain Initiative to the plethora of outstanding arts organizations working in the schools/community. It was a natural for Portland to be part of the Any Given Child program. The support of Mayor Adams and the school leadership—from the superintendents to the teachers—has been outstanding. The Kennedy Center is pleased to work with all facets of the Portland area community to ensure that any given child has the arts as part of their education.”

Community leaders on the Any Given Child committee met at City Hall to blueprint the elements of a comprehensive arts education

Community leaders on the Any Given Child committee met at City Hall to blueprint the elements of a comprehensive arts education

In October, the group (at right) met to envision the elements of a comprehensive arts education and to identify which constituents to include in the survey process. During the next sixth months, the committee will create and implement survey tools to tabulate the resources and needs of the current arts education landscape in area schools.

The first set of research findings will be published and available to the public by September 2011. This data will help educate the region about the state of arts education in our school systems, and will be available for all groups and individuals engaged in arts education advocacy.

The completed plan is slated to be finished in 2012. By design, it will then be ready to expand to all school districts of the Portland tri-county region.

Any Given Child stresses access to diverse arts disciplines for all K-8 children—also in line with the values of The Right Brain Initiative. A community partnership program managed by RACC, Right Brain was brought to life after an intensive series of input meetings with the Portland regional community. The Right Brain Initiative exists to ensure high quality arts education that integrates with other school subjects for all K-8 students in the school districts of Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties. Right Brain launched in 2008, and entered K-8 classrooms in January of 2009. Right Brain’s school programming currently serves nearly 11,000 students and 25 schools throughout the region.

Read more.

What is an Imagination Interview?

Through Imagination Interviews, students like this fifth grader from Whitman Elementary in SE Portland not only provide rich feedback to the Initiative, but get an intensive opportunity to think metacognitively and provide a voice from the participants' perspective.

Imagination Interviews are one of the methods Right Brain uses to gauge the depth of student learning during arts experiences provided in schools. Designed by Right Brain Evaluation Partner, Dr. Dennie Palmer Wolf, the one-on-one interviews between a trained interviewer and a student –fresh from their Right Brain learning experience–give learners a chance to think and talk about their creative process in a flexible and interactive format, giving us insights into their thinking, choices, and learning successes.

Below we share the components of this audio-recorded interview, complete with images, to reveal how a structured set of prompts can encourage students to give their perspectives about their recent experiences thinking artistically.

When the interview begins, the students’ work or images from the residency are spread out to refresh memories of the experience.

Next, we share a set of brain drawings with the students, explaining that they were drawn by adults who wanted to show what their brain “looked like” while they were working on their art. This conversation is both a way of breaking the ice, and reminding ourselves that all brains work differently, and there are no right or wrong answers in these interviews. It also introduces the idea that the interview will focus on their internal life, and not just the concrete step-by-step actions of making or doing something. We use language and questions like, “What do you think this brain was doing or thinking?” When we next turn to their own internal process, we’ll ask questions like, “What did you think, imagine, feel, and wonder?”

Listen as the Whitman student explains the drawings of brains he sees.

A student interprets artistic depictions of brains-in-action as a warm-up for the Imagination Interview. Next he will draw his own brain as he believed looked during his arts experience.

Third, we ask students to  think back to their residency and their own art making and doing. With a range of drawing supplies, we invite students to draw their own brain at work. When they’ve completed their drawing, we encourage them to explain their drawing – why they chose to draw what they did, and then set the image aside to use as needed during the remainder of the interview.
Listen as the Whitman student explains his own brain drawing.

The interview then turns to focus on the details of the experience. As students are encouraged to recall their experience, (“What happened first?”, “What happened next?”) we begin to map out their process during residency, highlighting his or her own thinking and decisions during his or her time with the teaching artist(s).

Listen as the Whitman student explains some of his artistic choices while creating his puppet.

Student details all that he remembers regarding his Right Brain arts experience, while the interviewer transcribes his words onto a process map.

When details have all been notated on paper, and connected with lines as students see fit, we ask them to look at the map, and choose the places where they remember working especially hard, imagining things, inventing something, and mark them with a set of brain magnets. Once they’ve selected the moments, we prompt them further with questions like, “Tell me why’d you put a brain there?” to illicit answers like, “I got stuck and had to change the mouth to be up higher so it would still open.”

Listen as the Whitman student recalls some of what he explored when animating his own puppet character.

Student places brain magnets on the process map where he knows he used his imagination, creativity, and problem-solving skills the most.

Completed process map shows how the whole brain was activated during the arts experience. The audio recording and the map are coded for learning and shared amongst Right Brain teachers, artists, staff, and partners.

With a photograph of the completed map and the audio recording from the interview, we can go back and begin to code the interviews for recurring areas of learning. At the end of every interview, we thank students for their time, and for let them know that their feedback about how they learn and how their minds work will help us to share with teachers and artists how to better teach.

These interviews are made possible only through the dedicated time of volunteers who train to conduct interviews with objectivity, patience, clarity, open-mindedness, and warmth. The example above was done by our amiable Implementation Coordinator, Briana Linden. We seek to increase the number of interviews each year, and would like to recruit interested and talented community members to help execute this work. Volunteers who have a background in education, have worked extensively with children, would be willing to submit to a rigorous background check, and would like to be a part of uncovering children’s learning in the arts, are invited to submit a volunteer application at this link. Orientations will be scheduled shortly.

Right Brain at Trick or Vote!

Still looking for something to do on Halloween? The Right Brain Initiative is excited to join the Bus Project at this year’s Trick or Vote celebration!
Trick or Vote is a fun, all-ages get-out-the-vote campaign that sends volunteers out to knock on doors and remind folks to turn in their ballots. After going out for a few hours, the costumed volunteers are invited to a fantastic party at the Wonder Ballroom with live music, food carts, and games. The celebration is also available to the general public, for a small ticket cost ($12 advance, $15 at door). The Right Brain Initiative will be there, putting on a spooky brain game, and getting the word out about arts education.

If you’re interested in helping Right Brain out, please contact me at for more information about volunteering for a few hours to gain free admission to the event.

Michelle Carroll is an Outreach Intern for The Right Brain Initiative.


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