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Every Child Deserves an Arts-Rich Education

Joan Katz Napoli, Director of Education and Community Engagement for The Cleveland Orchestra, speaks to the ways the power of the arts can transform lives as a "way in" for students across all demographics and learning abilities to achieve.

Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.


This past Tuesday I was honored to be among those selected as arts education Champions of Change and to have the opportunity to talk with Administration officials from the President’s Committee on the Arts & Humanities and the U.S. Department of Education about the power of the arts to transform lives and ways to advance arts education.

Our group included school principals, arts education providers, and television and movie actors from the Creative Coalition, all of whom believe that a child’s education is not complete without the arts. We were greeted by Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama, joined by Peter Cunningham, Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Dept of Education, and our round table discussion was led by Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell, Vice Chair of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. (Don’t miss the 2011 PCAH report (PDF), Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools.)

The Cleveland Orchestra is known throughout the world but one of its most important roles is as arts educator at home, in Cleveland, a city that has suffered with more than its fair share of foreclosures, job losses, population decline, and a struggling school district.   To help create arts-rich schools while supporting them in reaching mandated state standards, The Cleveland Orchestra created its Learning Through Music (LTM) partnership program in 1997 with Cleveland-area elementary schools, working collaboratively with teachers and Orchestra musicians who serve as teaching artists to integrate music into the curriculum to strengthen teacher training and student learning in science, math, and language arts; engage an underserved population with symphonic music; and provide the opportunity for musicians to contribute to and gain a deeper understanding of the community. What we’ve found is that arts integration’s interdisciplinary approach  is a “way in” for students across all demographics and learning abilities; arts integration inspires educators burned out by teaching to the test; and that arts-rich schools enjoy fewer behavior problems, increased attendance and higher  graduation rates.

Cleveland is home to many other arts education providers including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland Museum of Art, Playhouse Square, Young Audiences and a growing list of community organizations whose arts education programs provide access to quality arts experiences especially for those least able to afford them. An organization I helped found and currently serve as President of, the Cleveland Arts Education Consortium (CAEC), housed at Cleveland State University, convenes more than 60 cultural organizations, large and small, on a regular basis to address critical issues in arts education, share information and best practices, present community-wide events, and undertake joint projects and research to strengthen and promote the value of arts education throughout Northeast Ohio. CAEC’s professional development and networking sessions have become a major asset for arts educators and it supports an annual Creative Voices Arts Summit and Arts Education Luncheon that engages school and community leaders and funders in dialogue with local and national experts, provides a showcase for ‘what works’ and keeps arts education on the front burner in Cleveland.

Every child deserves the documented benefits of an arts-rich education. In-depth collaborations between community arts organizations and schools can make that dream a reality.

Joan Katz Napoli has served for sixteen years as Director of Education and Community Engagement for The Cleveland Orchestra whose education and outreach programs serve more than 70,000 annually.