The Right Brain Initiative


Our summer symposium kicks off June 21.

January 29th, 2016 by Rebecca


Save the date! It’s been confirmed that our next Imagine This! symposium is scheduled for June 21-23, 2016 at the Portland Art Museum. We’ll post updates on speakers and sessions as they become available.

Join our email list to receive alerts delivered directly to your inbox.

To learn more about this program, please check out these links:


Be part of our three-day hands-on learning experience for educators this June! Photo by Cecily Caceu.

Year-End Fundraising a Success!

January 7th, 2016 by Kelsey Gray


Happy New Year! We’ve had a smashing holiday season here at Right Brain and want to share our gratitude for all the support we received during our year-end giving campaign. Between the Willamette Week’s annual Give!Guide and our own online donation portal, individual donors raised us $20,269, equipping Right Brain with the funds to serve four more schools in the coming year! 

On New Year’s Eve, we wrapped up our sixth and most successful campaign with the Give!Guide. This year, thanks to the 279 donors who gave through the guide, we were able to raise $17,440, plus an extra $1,000 for rallying the most givers under the age of 36 in our category. 


What do these numbers mean? In the coming school year, hundreds more students will be exposed to meaningful arts-integrated classroom experiences, and their teachers will be equipped with the game-changing tools of Right Brain’s professional development sessions. This is a huge deal! Right Brain sends a heartfelt thank you to all those who support us in any capacity – your investment in the Initiative has a lasting impact on kids in our community.


We also want to give a shout-out to the winner of our weekend in the wine country getaway, Alex Blue! Here’s a sweet pic of Alex and her daughter – thanks Alex! Hope your weekend away is one for the books.


Right Brain Teacher Profile – Megan Smith

December 30th, 2015 by Kelsey Gray

The following profile on Right Brain teacher Megan Smith is included in our new 2015 Progress Report, one of four teacher testimonials featured in this latest update on our work and achievements over the past year. Check out what Megan has to say about the eye-opening experience she’s had with Right Brain.

megan smith profile

1st grade teacher Megan Smith radiates with energy when she talks about her classroom. But her mood softens when she reflects upon her experience with arts education. She likens it to the black-and-white instruction one would usually associate with a math class. “I made mistakes,” she said. “In class I would be told, ‘A tree does not look like that…’ So I just said, ‘Nope, the arts are not for me.’ “

Megan admits that she didn’t see the value of Right Brain in the first couple of years her school partnered with the program. “I didn’t get it. I was like, ‘I don’t know how this is going to be useful and I just don’t have time.’”

Things began to shift in the spring of 2014, when Megan worked with Right Brain teaching artist Nikki Flinn of Acts of Wonder to integrate theatre with literacy. Students used principles of performance to dig deeper into the meaning and characters of classic fairy tales. By physically embodying the characters of these stories, she saw her students more engaged in the classroom than ever before, learning and making sense of the content in profound new ways.

Watching Nikki work, Megan experienced a radical shift. “What Nikki did in my classroom is literally the most amazing thing I have ever seen. It has totally changed my perspective on my own teaching,” she said. “I used to say, ‘The kids don’t have time for drama, they are supposed to be reading!’ Now I know that the more they play when they read, the more they read. I am now a believer in drama.”

Megan gained concrete tools from Nikki and a structure that allowed her to feel safe trying new things on her own in the classroom. “I would have not even known how to take that risk before Right Brain. Now I can say, ‘It’s not scary!’ If it doesn’t work, I can make a mistake in front of these kids and it’s totally cool, we will move past that.”

Ultimately, she was surprised that she was able to get the same results that Nikki did. And she was able to translate theatre to the students’ writing process. The kids embodied a character through theatre and they wrote from the perspective of that character with added depth.

Based on the success of these experiences, Megan totally re-envisioned the structure of her school year. She made plans to start with theatre. “The arts are not a distraction. They really aren’t. I have no idea how I have time for this, but I’ve made time for it because it actually works. It’s had a major impact. Major.”

megan smith quote

This year’s report is filled with stories of our impact upon teachers and schools, and Megan’s is one in a series we’re posting on the Right Brain blog! Read more about the transformative and personal impact we’re having upon teachers and within schools in our latest progress report, and find out more what Right Brain has been up to over the past year.

Download full Progress Report here!

Investing in Teachers: Gustavo Molina

December 21st, 2015 by Kelsey Gray


Gustavo Molina is another teacher featured in our 2015 Progress Report, just recently released! Read on to find out about Gustavo’s experience with arts integration in and the creative learning he sees growing in dynamic ways.

gustavo molina profile2

Gustavo Molina was raised and educated in Mexico City, he carries a distinct perspective about the role of creativity in education: “If you know about the culture of Mexico and the history of the Mayans and the Aztecs, they were artistic galore. Building and creating is stuck into our society. In Mexico, there is dancing, poetry, art, all the time in every school.”

Gustavo was trained to teach in Mexico. He later moved to Los Angeles and then Portland, where he found work at Beach, a bilingual K-8 public school in North Portland. He was surprised to discover that in the United States, reading and math are viewed as distinct subjects, isolated from each other and from the arts. “It was a shock for me,” he remarked. “Of course, we know that math and language arts are related to art; you cannot separate them.”

Right Brain and Beach became partners in 2009, and at first, some teachers weren’t sure what to make of it. But as teachers completed Right Brain workshops and collaborated with teaching artists, they became confident about trying new art forms. Through Right Brain, Beach teachers brought an incredible range of disciplines to the school—Ghanaian drumming, Latin dance, digital storytelling. They erected giant murals. “I definitely saw a change in my colleagues,” Gustavo said.

In time, momentum grew to a point that staff formed a coalition to advocate for creativity. “There was an alliance,” he said. “This core of teachers would say, ‘Hey, we need art. It’s an important part of our lives.’”

And what was the result of all this momentum? Teachers saw new things radiating from their students. Gustavo tells a story about one child who entered his class with low self-esteem. The student transferred to the school mid-year with poor Spanish skills; a challenge at this bilingual school. But once he began working with Oregon Ballet Theatre through Right Brain, his behavior began to shift. He went home and taught his little sister what he learned in school about dance. “He was an introvert when he came to my class. When he left, he was totally the opposite. He became more confident. Amazing, right?” Gustavo said. “I see a lot of the students now being more focused and vocal and active.”

Through Right Brain, Gustavo found new teaching tools, colleagues to collaborate with, and validation. “Right Brain gave me more strength to say, ‘You are on the right track. Don’t give up.”

gustavo molina quote2

This year’s Progress Report is filled with stories of our impact upon teachers and schools, and Gustavo’s is one in a series we’re posting on the Right Brain blog. Read more about the transformative impact we’re having upon teachers and schools by downloading the full progress report here!

Investing in Teachers: Karen Murphy

December 2nd, 2015 by Kelsey Gray

Our  2015 Progress Report has hit the streets, and it’s 
filled with stories of our impact upon teachers and schools.

In celebration of this work, we bring you an excerpt—a testimonial from North Plains Elementary School Principal Karen Murphy. Read on as Karen reflects upon the creativity she sees being brought to life through Right Brain.

karen murphy profile

North Plains, Oregon is a remote town more than 25 miles northwest of Portland. Karen Murphy is the energetic principal of the town’s elementary school. In addition to Karen’s work as an educator, she has been a singer with the Dickens Carolers for almost 20 years. “The arts are really a priority for me as a human being,” she says.

When she became principal at North Plains in 2013, she found there wasn’t as much art as she was accustomed to. “It saddened me greatly.”

Because of Karen’s stance on the arts, it’s likely no accident that the school district identified North Plains to partner with Right Brain. In the fall of 2014, three of Karen’s teachers began attending Right Brain professional development workshops. They then designed a residency with Korekara Taiko, a Japanese- American drumming group on the Right Brain artist roster.

This experience was a big deal for her entire school community and her eyes well up when she talks about it: “One child was so insistent that he be here for the Taiko recital, he delayed his family vacation plans so he could participate.”

But it didn’t end there. The teachers used this work as a springboard to create full units about the Japanese-American experience. Teachers who attended Right Brain trainings began integrating the arts at a higher level and inspired their colleagues to do so, as well.


karen murphy quote

Karen says the increased quality of instruction is palpable. As she makes visits throughout the building, she uses a rubric to assess the depth of the learning experiences she sees. She noticed that the only time her students achieved the highest level of thinking was when her staff were utilizing Right Brain or other arts strategies.

These days, North Plains has more arts programming throughout the school. One teacher started an after-school arts integration club. Other staff initiated a field trip to see a high school production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. “Our children have never had experiences like this,” she said.

Right Brain has effectively given Karen a structure to help her turn North Plains Elementary into a building where creativity is part of the culture. “Right Brain is a catalyst. It gave us a purpose and a reason to be weaving the arts in.”

This is the first in a series of educator testimonials that we’ll be posting on the Right Brain blog. Check back in for more, and download our full report here.


Donate to Right Brain by December 11, and you could win a wine country package!

November 19th, 2015 by Rebecca


Last week, we announced the launch of our 2015 Give!Guide campaign, and the incredible prizes that the Willamette Week offers to donors.

Now, we want to let you know about a special incentive that we’ve arranged: If you donate $10 or more to The Right Brain Initiative by Friday, December 11th, you’ll be entered to win a weekend getaway in McMinnville’s wine country.

This package includes:

We can already see you relaxing with a glass of wine. But in order to win, you need to **GIVE NOW!**

The 2015 Willamette Week Give!Guide Campaign has launched!

November 12th, 2015 by Kelsey Gray



Follow the #RightBrainConfessional hashtag to keep tabs on our seasonal fessin' up!

Follow the #RightBrainConfessional hashtag to keep tabs on our seasonal fessin’ up!

One of the most exciting times of the year for over 140 nonprofits in the Portland area is upon us! The 2015 Give!Guide has officially gone live, and the giving season is in full swing. The Give!Guide is consistently Right Brain’s most profitable fundraiser, and it truly plays a critical role in sustaining our efforts. Last year we were able to raise $17,000 through the guide, and this year we’re aiming for $20,000! You can help us meet this goal by donating at the Give!Guide’s super user-friendly website. The Willamette Week does the bulk of the work for you, and giving couldn’t be easier – browse the 143 featured nonprofits by category, click, and donate online in a matter of minutes.

What’s in it for you? When you donate ten dollars or more to any organization in the Guide, you qualify to receive coupons to ¿Por Que No? Tacos, Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Sizzle Pie, Salt & Straw, Ken’s Artisan Bakery, and the Chinook Book App (for a full description of and guide to the incentives, click here). Additionally, the Give!Guide sponsors Big Give days where the winnings to be had are extra enticing – and TODAY happens to be a pretty incredible one! Donate any Give!Guide organization of your choice, and immediately you’ll be in the running to win a $500 shopping spree at Powell’s Books! Keep the following days in mind for the chance to win big:

Nov. 12: Powell’s Book’s $500 shopping spree

Nov. 19: Portland Thorns and Timbers ticket package

Dec. 1: Trek Allant 7.2 bike, courtesy of Bike Gallery

Dec. 10: An 80 person Salt & Straw ice cream party at Pip’s & Bounce

Dec. 17: Spirits from Rogue Distillery.

Finally, every year as part of the campaign, the guide puts on the Young Donors Contest, the aim of which is to rally young donors under the age of 35 in the spirit of giving. What it means for the participating nonprofits is a bonus of $1,000 to the organization that receives the most donations from folks in this age group. For the past five years Right Brain has had the honor of winning this generous prize, and now we’re aiming for year six! You can help us win again in the Young Donors category by spreading the word about the Give!Guide to young people you know!


You can check out our regular Give!Guide updates on our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter over the coming months, as well as keeping up with our blog website events calendar. Be sure to visit our #RightBrainConfessional hashtag, and take a peek at our twist on the Give!Guide’s, “Been a little bad? Do a little good,” campaign!

Check out our #RightBrainConfessional series on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, our twist on the Give!Guide's "Been a little bad? Do a little good" campaign.

Check out our #RightBrainConfessional series on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, our twist on the Give!Guide’s, “Been a little bad? Do a little good,” campaign.

Right Brain’s Outreach Specialist wins Skidmore Prize through Willamette Week’s Give!Guide

November 5th, 2015 by Kelsey Gray


This past Tuesday at the Willamette Week’s 2015 Give!Guide launch celebration, Right Brain’s Outreach Specialist, Rebecca Burrell, was one of four recipients of the Skidmore Prize, a recognition of dynamic individuals working in Portland’s nonprofit sector. We’re beyond excited for Rebecca and so proud of this Right Brain accomplishment! To read the full press release on Rebecca’s win, check it out on the RACC website!

This year’s other Skidmore Prize winners included:

Check out their featured bios, along with Rebecca’s, at


Of course, this means the Give!Guide is officially live and ready to receive donations! Every year the Willamette Week sponsors this two month campaign to rally Portlanders in the spirit of giving, and highlights over 140 local nonprofits. It’s a pivotal event for these organizations, and an amazing way for YOU to learn about and support some incredible work happening in our community. This year Right Brain has a goal of raising $20,000! Help us out by donating at this link, and make sure to take a look at all the other inspiring organizations featured in this year’s guide!



Right Brain wins at “Portland Monthly” magazine’s Light a Fire Awards!

October 29th, 2015 by Kelsey Gray


On Tuesday, October 20th, The Right Brain Initiative was honored at the prestigious Light a Fire Awards, Portland Monthly’s annual recognition of some of the most dynamic nonprofits in the city. Right Brain was granted the Game-Changing Project award, which recognizes innovative collaboration between community projects generating systemic and impactful change.

We were so thrilled that arts integration and creative thinking in the classroom were given the opportunity to shine at this year’s event, alongside some other truly remarkable organizations and individuals! Check out the full press release on the Regional Arts and Culture Council’s website, and to take a peek at Light a Fire’s profile of Right Brain, click here!


Right Brain staff Maya, Rebecca, Sinead, Marna, and Phoebe (from left) pose with the night’s emcee, Poison Waters, at the 2015 Light a Fire Awards.

Welcome to Right Brain’s Newest Teaching Artists!

October 9th, 2015 by Amy Botula

Please join us in welcoming four new teaching artists to the Right Brain roster for Fall 2015!


Kanani Miyamoto

Kanani is a visual artist specializing in printmaking. She loves to hear the Oooos and Ahhhs of students when a print is pulled and is eager to both share the magic of printmaking with students and get teachers excited about infusing their core curriculum with the arts and arts instruction. To Kanani, “arts integration has the power of engagement” for every student and is “necessary” because “thinking creatively is a valuable skill that our future generation needs.”



Kathy Coleman, Disability Art and Culture Project

Kathy, a Master of Social Work in addition to a choreographer and dancer, is the artistic director for The Disability Art and Culture Project. Kathy believes that “there is nothing more exciting than watching students transform an idea into movement.” When asked what she’s most looking forward to working as a teaching artist for Right Brain, Kathy replied: “I think Right Brain provides the opportunity for teachers and students to dig deep into creativity and critical thinking which then cultivates new ways of imagining the world.”



Oluyinka Akinjiola

Oluyinka is a choreographer, dancer, and artistic director for Rejoice: Diaspora Dance Theater. For Oluyinka, her role as a teaching artist is to “reveal the power and capacity of the arts” to encompass other disciplines and critical thinking. When considering her work with Right Brain next year, she says “What I love about Right Brain is that every session in every residency will be different…That keeps life exciting and fresh for the students and for me as a teaching artist.”

Oluyinka’s profile will go live on the roster in advance of her return to Portland in January.


Tina McDermott

Tina is a visual artist and certified arts teacher who takes the role of instigating the right kind of questions seriously. As a teaching artist, Tina values the relationship between student inquiry and student learning. For Tina, arts integration holds that relationship together: “When we wonder about the motivation for students to learn, we’re asking them why we look for meaning. We have to use an artist’s toolkit to get a full answer.”

See our full roster of 41 individual teaching artists and arts organizations here.