Turning it around with the arts

Turning it around with the arts

Taking another person’s photo is a complex task. You need to be able to communicate effectively, both as a photographer and the subject, in order to capture the individual in their element. You need the right lighting, focus and composition for the photo to turn out right. You need to snap the photo at just the right moment to catch the perfect look.

Sound difficult? Now imagine a 1st grader tasked to capture a portrait of another 1st grader.

Our Right Brain residencies challenge students to think more critically, to question more deeply and to engage their creative muscles to solve problems. That’s exactly what happened when we sent Portland’s Creative Laureate, photographer and teaching artist extraordinaire Julie Keefe to Martin Luther King Jr. School this past spring. Keefe and teachers in King’s 1st and 2nd grade classrooms collaborated to create a photography project based in literacy. Students were introduced to digital photography, some for the first time, and asked to photograph each other. They were also encouraged to think about community—how they fit into their community and what others in their community thought and felt.

The kids at King have a pretty unique community. They attend one of the nation’s lowest-performing schools, but they are literally turning things around through the arts.

King, along with seven other schools across the U.S., has been designated a Turnaround Arts school by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. The Turnaround Arts initiative works based on recommendations from the committee’s 2011 report, which found  that arts education had the power to make huge positive impacts on the nation’s struggling schools. Turnaround Arts schools are working to improve their schools’ high dropout rates and low test scores through a renewed dedication to comprehensive arts programming. With help from federal funding, King is building the arts into their school community to help students engage with their school, with their studies and with each other. 

King students aren’t worried about test scores and dropout rates. They’re too busy being kids. When asked to write personal statements to be displayed alongside their portraits, the students wrote about what they do care about: their family, their friends, laughing, playing, exploring. Flying. 


Right Brain is so proud to be a part of the great arts-based learning transformation happening at King, and other local schools like it.

You can see more of the King students’ work at the North Portland Library later this month. The exhibition will open with a reception, and you’re invited!

Tuesday, July 23, 5-7 p.m.
North Portland Library
512 N. Killingsworth

Join Right Brain staff and partners, and interact with the students themselves. We’d love to share this work with you.

See images of King 1st graders at work during this Right Brain experience on Flickr.

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