The Right Brain Initiative


Celebrating arts education in Gresham on April 14

March 27th, 2014 by Leah Walpuck
The Right Brain Initiative | Leah Verwey Photo

3rd graders at Hollydale Elementary in Gresham communicate themes from poetry through movement during a Right Brain experience with Subashini Ganesan of Young Audiences. Photo by Leah Verwey.


Monday, April 14, 5-6pm
Gresham Public Library
385 NW Miller Avenue, Gresham

We are excited to announce that the Gresham-Barlow School District is the first district in the Portland area to connect The Right Brain Initiative with every single elementary school. We’re on the hunt to make the arts a basic part of every child’s education—regardless of what school they attend—so this is a big milestone for us, and we congratulate the district for prioritizing the arts in this way.


We’re celebrating this wonderful partnership at the Gresham Public Library on Monday, April 14 from 5-6pm and we’d love for you to join us. Whether you know Right Brain well, or are eager to hear more about what we do, we invite you to take part. See how students in Gresham used printmaking and paper mache to learn about science, and to explore their local community. Watch students perform a movement piece that interprets their own original poems.

We’re excited about the opportunities the future holds as we continue to work to bring whole brain, creative learning to every school in the Portland area. Thanks for supporting us! 

Want to learn more about our work in the Gresham-Barlow School District?

Thank you to Bank of America for serving as a leading private funder for The Right Brain Initiative’s expansion in the Gresham-Barlow School District.

Creative choice-making. It lights your brain on fire.

February 25th, 2014 by Leah Walpuck

A student at Beach School in North Portland is allowed to let his creativity run wild during a Right Brain residency with EarthArts NW. Photo by Allie Maki Maya.

“Here is a pile of scrap materials. Your task is to create your own original robot from these materials and then tell us its story.

Ready? Okay, let’s go.”

This sounds like your typical classroom assignment, right? Maybe not so much as we’d like to hope. More often students hear commands, imperatives, or questions that only allow enough room for a simple yes-or-no answer. When talking about education, we know that teaching fact and skill is important. Kids need to learn multiplication, how to write a well-crafted essay, and the events of history. It is also our duty as educators, however, to teach students how to think, and how to think creatively. 

A large part of the creative process is centered around asking questions. What can you make with these materials? What kind of story can we tell? How will movement impact the way we interpret this piece of music or our understanding of the water cycle? Open-ended questions like these set the wheels turning, begin to generate a deep curiosity in a child’s brain, and consequently, encourage them to begin making their own decisions. They start really thinking.

So, what kinds of creative opportunities are we stifling in a child’s education when we ask fewer questions, when we choose not to incorporate arts-based teaching strategies into our accepted standard of learning?

Last week I had the privilege of pondering this question while attending one of Right Brain’s Professional Development sessions. At these events, teachers, teaching artists, and school administrators come together to learn about incorporating more creative, right-brained thinking into their daily curricula. It was like a great big melting pot of eager, imaginative minds. Throughout the day we talked about teaching strategies, about making art that matters, and about critical vs creative thinking. We even did a little dancing. It was an experience rich with all kinds of important lessons, but the concept I found stuck in my head at the end of the day was this notion of creative decision-making.

Let me pause here for a moment and tell you a little about where I’m coming from. As a kid, I was always the crafty introvert. I wrote emotionally charged poems in my journal and wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. As an adult, I have taught poetry, photography, and art classes in summer and after-school programs. I’ve experienced the magic of the arts firsthand. I know it’s real, and its something that keeps drawing me back. But where does this magic come from?  

When we amplify the number of choices we allow kids to make, they begin to create, to link ideas across different disciplines, to look at a problem from multiple angles. When we put the creative decision-making into a child’s hands they become an active participant in the creation of their own education. They remain more open to new ideas, and they grow more confident in their ability to create something expressive and meaningful. Their sense of curiosity and wonder grows, and their brains light up in all kinds of wonderful ways. That’s the spark, right there. 

What kinds of questions can you start asking to open up those young minds? Because sometimes, when we ask kids the right questions, we’re not always looking for the right answers.

Sometimes we’re just hoping to get more questions.

Leah Walpuck is the current Outreach Apprentice with The Right Brain Initiative. Hailing from Bethesda, Maryland she moved to Portland just four months ago for the food, creative community, and the rain and has not been disappointed. When she’s not wandering, love-struck, through Powell’s or devouring a book on the couch, you can find her in the kitchen, sometimes cooking and sometimes just enjoying a lot of cheese. 

Brain Food is here and available online!

February 6th, 2014 by Leah Walpuck

Brain Food Photo

Looking for something to do on a rainy Sunday? Tired of playing the same old games with your kids or students? We have good news for you. Brain Food is finally here.

After three years of hard work and much anticipation, we are excited to announce that our Brain Food activity decks are completed, assembled, and ready for you to purchase online.

In the classroom, Right Brain strives to create a learning environment that integrates arts-based teaching strategies across all curriculum. Now, our Brain Food decks, filled with 50 fun and stimulating activities, bring this kind of interdisciplinary learning right into your own two hands.

So what’s stopping you? Go feed your brain. Build a fort. Create your own textbook. Find your voice. Become your favorite animal. With Brain Food, it doesn’t matter how old you are or where you come from, the creative possibilities are endless.

In addition to encouraging you to go pick up your own copy of Brain Food, we’d like to give some big thank yous. Firstly, to AIGA Portland’s Design for Good committee, for partnering with Right Brain to turn this dream of an activity book into a reality.

A second thank you to the incredible artists who did the illustrations for Brain Food. You can learn more about them and their work by clicking on their names below.

Josh Balleza
Allison Berg
Halle Cisco
Melissa Egan
Jamie Letourneau
Forrest Martin
Sara Sjol
Jenny Tiffany
Tom O’Toole
Brooke Weeber

And finally, thank you again to all of our Kickstarter donors. We would be nowhere without your generosity and support.  

You can purchase your own copy of Brain Food at All proceeds from the sales of the Brain Food decks benefit the work we do in public schools. Now’s the time. Go get your own Brain Food deck before they’re gone and start creating!

Give!Guide Record-Breaking Success, Everyone Wins

January 16th, 2014 by Leah Walpuck

Image by Leah Verwey.

We did it. You did it. After two months of fundraising and many generous donations from over 240 donors through Willamette Week’s annual Give!Guide, The Right Brain Initiative is delighted to report that this was our biggest, most successful Give!Guide campaign ever. We not only matched our goal of raising $13,000 , but we far surpassed this number, coming in with a grand total of $14,287. We also received an additional $500 for recruiting the most donors age 35 and under in the education category. 

This was a big year for Give!Guide in general, with a record 7,427 donors contributing $2,453,083 to various nonprofits throughout the Portland community. It was truly an inspiring campaign.

So in light of all of this generosity, we’d like to say a big thank you. Really. 

Thank you for your support and your dedication to The Right Brain Initiative. Thank you for being a part of our mission to bring the arts to every K-8 student in the Portland area, and for understanding the immense potential that the arts bring to a creative, young mind. We look forward to seeing what opportunities the new year brings, and are happy you’ve come along for the ride.

We’d also like to thank our many committee members and, in particular, the amazing members of our Grassroots Fundraising Task Force (scroll down at this link to see the names of these excellent individuals), who provided support beyond belief.

Donors—look out in the next couple of weeks for a thank you letter and your coupon for a free ice cream scoop at Ruby Jewel

Leah Walpuck is the Sprinter 2014 Outreach Apprentice for The Right Brain Initiative.

Trail Blazers legend Jerome Kersey endorses arts education!

December 30th, 2013 by Rebecca

“A lot of kids are brought out through the arts and through music….
They discover talents they never knew they had.”


We’ll admit it, most us at The Right Brain Initiative are essentially PE class-rejects and art nerds, but we’re Portlanders first and foremost. So, when it comes to the Trail Blazers (particularly when they’re on top!) we get wrapped up in basketball fever, just like everyone else. That’s why we’re particularly proud to share this video, featuring one of our favorite players from Blazers history as he advocates for the power of the arts in schools. We watched Jerome Kersey score when the Blazers played the NBA Finals in the early ’90s. But did you also know that he’s a great advocate of the arts?

A former trombone player in school, Kersey understands that arts education is not as much about breeding a new generation of artists as it is about helping kids discover their passions and strengths. It’s about helping them learn to think well and to learn what they’re curious about. When the arts are integrated with other subjects, they can help students make new connections, allowing those who typically don’t feel successful in the classroom to see themselves as smart and capable. In our new video, he spouts gems like:

“When you start taking these studies out of school—drawing, painting, or playing an instrument—kids that don’t learn the way other kids do, you take away that room for them to grow.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

This video, like most everything we produce, is first meant to be useful to anyone who advocates for the presence of the arts in schools. But, let us be clear, this video is also a direct call-to-action for folks to contribute to the final days of our Willamette Week Give!Guide campaign. We’ve raised just past $11,000 now and need to raise an additional $2,000 by 11:59pm tomorrow to make our goal. 

If, like Jerome Kersey, you believe in the power of the arts to turn children into confident thinkers and doers, please contribute to our campaign. With your donation, you’ll be entered to win a pair of Club Level tickets to see the Blazers beat Denver (heh) on January 23 (these tickets include wristbands that entitle you to free concessions and buffets). You’ll also receive a free scoop of ice-cream from our friends at Ruby Jewel


For those who donate to any non-profit featured in the Give!Guide, the Willamette Week provides you with a really sweet set of incentives from Stumptown Coffee, Widmer Beer and much more. AND anyone who donates before midnight tomorrow will be entered to win one of five packages, in which you and 10 of your friends will be treated to Kiehl’s skincare and champagne at a local Kiehl’s location.

$10 is the minimum gift, so what are you waiting for? Support our vision of bringing the arts to every child in the region, and take something for yourself, too. 

PS: This is the second in our series of four videos featuring arts education advocates from different sectors of the community. Watch the first video, featuring  former Gresham Police Chief Carla Piluso, and stay tuned for the rest! 

Donate to Right Brain through the Give!Guide and win big

November 27th, 2013 by Elizabeth Midgorden

Students at Lewis Elementary in Southeast Portland engage in theatre exercises (and behold the mighty Give!Guide), with the Northwest Children’s Theatre & School and The Right Brain Initiative. Photo by Leah Verwey.


The Right Brain Initiative’s biggest grassroots fundraiser of the year, the Willamette Week Give!Guide is officially underway. This year, we are aiming to top last year’s campaign by raising $13,000. In order to meet this goal by December 31, we are going to need a few helping hands.

Fortunately, donating through the Give!Guide is completely painless and the best part is, you get more than a pat on the back for your kindness. Your generosity is rewarded with some sweet, sweet prizes:

  • All  donors to Right Brain will receive a free scoop of Ruby Jewel ice cream.
  • All our donors will also be entered to win Club Level Blazers tickets to the Portland v. Denver game on January 23rdClub Level seats not only give you a glorious view of the court,  but the tickets include a free buffet and concessions.
  • The prize train doesn’t end here. Donate just $10 and Give! Guide will reward you (and your stomach) with Stumptown coffee, ¿Por Que No? tacos and Salt & Straw ice cream.

Not wanting to be left out, the kind folks at the Maybelle Clark Macdonald Fund will also match every single donation over $250!

Once again, we are competing for the most donors under 36, a title we have won three years in a row. But we have some tough competition this year in the Education category, so gather all your under-36 pals and help us win the $500 prize.

On the fence about giving? Remember that with every donation, you not only get crazy amazing prizes, but YOU also get to make a difference the lives of Portland area public school students. We think its a win-win.

As Thanksgiving approaches, we are grateful to be a part of the Guide, a crucial fundraiser for us. We are grateful to bring creativity to 14,000 children this year. And we are grateful for the community that rallies each year to help us do this work. Thank you for helping us serve more kids each and every year.

Ready, set, give!

ruby copy

Thank you to Ruby Jewel for sponsoring our Give!Guide campaign by doling out ice cream to all our donors! 

Meet Marina

November 21st, 2013 by Elizabeth Midgorden

Bio Picture

Marina Barcelo is used to diverse and challenging roles. Grant writer, Development Director, dancer and writer, she even took a stab at playing Hamlet once, along with countless other productions.

Her newest role as RACC’s Corporate & Foundations Relations Manager marries her productive history in fundraising and development and her passion for the arts. Marina will primarily work alongside The Right Brain Initiative, whose mission is close to her heart.

Growing up in Monterey, there is not a period in Marina’s life where the arts were not present. “I can’t look back at my years in school without thinking about how important the arts were in terms of shaping me.” But she acknowledges the extensive and life-changing arts education she received was a gift and privilege not afforded to every student, which is why she believes the programming at Right Brain is so important.

Marina holds a B.A. in Philosophy, a M.S.W with a concentration in leadership and development, a M.A. in Gender Studies, and a Certificate in Non-Profit management and Philanthropy from Loyola University Chicago, which gives her a well-rounded background.

Forging connections with people and bringing people on board is what Marina loves most about her job at RACC. “I love being able to share with people what RACC and Right Brain do and watch them go from being an outside observer to actually investing in our program.”

She places value on building and maintaining meaningful relationships. In her most recent position at Chicago Women’s Health Center, Marina made time to rebuild relationships with lapsed funders, even scoring a grant from an organization that had not given in nearly 10 years. During her time at Chicago Women’s Health Center, Marina was also an integral part of a capital campaign, which was ultimately successful in securing a new building for the organization.

Heavy hitters like Groupon, Charter One and Bank of America are just a few of the corporate relationships in Marina’s repertoire. “I have such respect for corporations who self reflect and think about their ability to give back to the community,” she explained.

All roles, whether staff, teacher, or donor are equally important and valuable in Marina’s mind. She strives to show donors just how important their part in the equation is.

Marina has already met with a few Right Brain corporate and foundation funders and is very enthusiastic about expanding this list and sharing the impact Right Brain with members of the community.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to work with Right Brain and bring in more funding and building upon the incredible foundation that is expanding and growing into more schools,” Marina said.

To be a part of Right Brain and help support a program that gives students access to enriching arts experiences that made such an impact in her own life is an exciting role, Marina is more than ready to play.

Get in touch with Marina here.


Woohoo, we did it

November 19th, 2013 by Elizabeth Midgorden


After a nail-biting 36-day Kickstarter campaign, Brain Food will make its way to the creative, young minds of the world, all thanks to YOU. In total, we narrowly exceeded our goal to raise an astounding $7,910 from 179 backers!

We were amazed by the enthusiasm and support for this project. Every tweet you made or friend, colleague, acquaintance and stranger you told about Brain Food, made all the difference.  Seriously.  And a  special thank you to advocates at NORTHSandstromFilter and The New Group, for giving at the business level. We have been working closely with AIGA Portland’s Design for Good chapter for nearly three years to bring to life, so making it to this stage feels particularly sweet.

The next step is to put the finishing touches on the decks, so they are shiny and beautiful before we set them free. Those who backed at the $100 level, we will be in touch soon to get your custom portrait started. And for our $25 backers, get your wrapping paper ready because your Brain Food decks will be on their way shortly.

In fact, here is a list of ALL of our backers, who—much to our delight and surprise—come from Portland and Plano, Pittsburgh and  Phoenix, Jacksonville, Omaha, Charlotte, Honolulu, D.C., and even Melbourne, Australia. Thank you, thank you, merci, gracias and danke!

Aidan C. O’Connor
Allison Arno
Amy Stemper
Amy Turnbull
Andrew Herman
Andrew Twigg
Anna Lemons
Ann-Marie Polozova
April Eidemiller Krubel
Ashley Perlberg
Barbara Scheel
Beth Bundy
Bonnie Paisley
Brandon Littlefield
Bree Goodrow
Breena Wiederhoeft
Brian of Tribute Gallery
Brianne Baker
Brittany Hanson
Bryony Gomez-Palacio
Caitlin Weber
Cary Clarke
Cathi Cannon
Cathy Delzio
Charles Atkinson
Chris Rivard
Chris Weiser
Christi Crowley
Christine Bierman
Christine Flanagan
Christine Gradel
Cielle Charron
Cristy Chory
Crystal Asistio
Crystal Beasley
Curtis Harvey
Cynthia Knapp
Dan Norton-Middaugh
Dan Swanson
Daniel Bissell
Darren Cools
Denyce Biewer
Derek Keevil
Dorothy Loo
Elizabeth Barber
Eloise Damrosch
Eric Gorman
Eric Hillerns
Erin Collier
Filter Portland
Genevieve Margherio
Gina Luoma
Greg Spies
Heather Cummings
Heather Gardner-Madras
James Hersick
Jamie Letourneau
Janae Newman
Jane Harold
Jane Pellicciotto
Jason Duerr
Jeanette Rawlins
Jeff Hawthorne
Jeff Savage
Jen Thomas
Jen Wick
Jennifer Chun
Jessica Caldwell
Joanna Bean Martin
Joe Auer
Joe Sparano
Jordan Harrison
Josh Holloran
Joshua Jabbour
Justin Thiele
Kara Whitney
Karen Kurycki
Kate Begonia
Kathleen Sampson
Katie Mays
Katie Silver, Vitamin T
Keith Daly
Kendra Kimberly
Kristen Gallagher
Kristen Metzger
Kristin Rogers Brown
Kyle Harvey
Kyle T Webster
Lance Larson
Laura L
Leah Wilson-Velasco
Lee Queen Zee
Lewis Winter
Lisa Holmes
Lisa Lessley Briscoe
Lydia Eve Jacka
Lynn Sojak
Mandi Middlestetter
Marcia Ellinger
Marisa Green
Marissa Leitch
Mark Dudlik
Marna Stalcup
Mary Bauer
Mary Cherveny
Matt Blair
Matt Jess Long
Matthew Garboden
Megan Lupo
Melissa Delzio
Melissa Lampe-Galazka
Michael Buchino
Mike Biewer
Mike Bijon
Mike Joosse
Mohd Rafee
Natasha Foote
Nova Newcomer
Otis Rubottom
Patricia Tompkins
Patrick Tomassi
Rachel Dominguez-Benner
Rachel Martin
Rebecca Burrell
Rebecca Felch
Red Yarn
Rob Alan
Ryan Durant
Ryan Finley
Ryan Smythe
Sam Shelton
Sara Misner
Sarah Bailen Smith
Sarah Byars
Sarah Moody
Scott Baker
Scott Benish
Scott Weisgerber
Shabab Ahmed Mirza
Shona Lepis
Shoshanna Lansberg
Stacy Westbrook
Stan Abe
Stefan Shepherd
Stephen P. Anderson
Steve Sandstrom
Susan Everett
The New Group
Theresa Scott
Thomas Gulino
Toni Tabora-Roberts
Tyson Foersterling
Varick Rosete
Wendy Castleman
Wendy J Thompson
Wileen Hsing
Zara Logue

Help us bring Brain Food to life! And claim a deck of creative activities for your very own.

October 29th, 2013 by Rebecca

At Right Brain, we maintain a bold vision of bright and adventurous classroom learning. We have a vision of educating a new generation of Oregonians who are engaged and curious and creative. Our Brain Food activities help us proliferate that vision beyond the 49 Portland area schools we currently serve. And if you’ve been following us, you know that we’ve been working with the Design for Good committee of AIGA Portland for nearly three years to bring Brain Food to life in a three-dimensional, tactile form.

Through a 50-card deck of activities available at local retailers and schools, we’ll provide families and educators with accessible tools to think in new ways, making connections between the arts and the rest of the world we live in. Imagine building an intricate museum exhibit or designing your own language, and all of the dynamic brain action and interdisciplinary learning that comes along with it. These decks are created primarily for use by kids, but we believe the activities are great creative prompts for people of all ages. And once these decks are complete and available for sale, they’ll provide a legitimate and ongoing funding stream for our program. Brain Food not only helps us share our vision, but these decks will contribute to the sustainability of our work in public schools.

As of today, all 50 activities are written and 10 local designers have donated their time to complete original illustrations. We even secured WCP Solutions to donate the paper for the decks. We just need you to help us cover the printing costs to bring this project to the world.

Contribute to our campaign by November 7! With a donation of just $25, we’ll send a Brain Food deck directly to your home just in time for the holidays, and an additional deck will be donated to an elementary school in the Portland metro area. You’ll also receive public recognition for your efforts and endless adoration from us.

It’s hard to express how meaningful it has been to work closely with the AIGA on this project. Their shared commitment to this cause has enabled us to take on an initiative we never could have mustered alone. It reflects a real model for how a non-profit and a professional association can partner to really make change.

Help us bring this project to life! We’ve come too far to lose it now.

Read more and contribute now!

Get a preview of the Brain Food activities and their delicious illustrations.

Read more about the value of this partnership in my entry at Americans for the Arts.

Right Brain on the small screen

October 3rd, 2013 by Elizabeth Midgorden

The Right Brain Initiative is going to be on the Ellen show. Well kind of. During the month of October, keep your eyes peeled for brand new 30-second ad during KGW programming, including Ellen and The Today Show showcasing the magical work we do at Right Brain.

We cannot say thank you enough to KGW and OnPoint Community Credit Union for selecting us to participate in their Stepping Up for Education Program. The opportunity to share our mission with the community is simply amazing.

Here are just a few of the times you can see Right Brain on your TV screen:

October 3, 8:53am: The Today Show
October 3, 4:13pm: KGW News at 4
October 4, 9:28am: The Today Show
October 4, 3:33pm: Ellen