The Right Brain Initiative


Give the gift of creative play!  

December 8th, 2014 by Dorit Harvey

Brain Food Photo

Our Brain Food decks include fifty cards with creative challenges to engage imagination for children of all ages! Many of these activities are perfect for chilly days spent staying cozy indoors or bundled up outside, which is why we are so excited to be selling them around town this holiday season. Check out all the ways you can purchase Brain Food:

As the winter months wear on, we could all use more light! For especially dreary days, we highly suggest Activity 8 in which you collect sources of light such as flashlights, glow in the dark items and strand lights to explore with brightness and shadow.  Or, you can create your own food cart with Activity 14—check out the results on Flickr from this activity created by children and families at Art in the Pearl this August.



Brain Food is a wonderful gift for right-brain and left-brain thinkers alike to develop whole-brain thinking skills through arts integration! All sales fund The Right Brain Initiative’s arts programming in local public schools. The Brain Food deck was developed by local educators, designers and artists as a partnership between AIGA Portland Design for Good and The Right Brain Initiative. Please put Brain Food on your shopping list this holiday season!

Announcing The Right Brain Initiative in the Willamette Week Give!Guide

December 2nd, 2014 by Dorit Harvey


During this long Thanksgiving weekend, we spent time thinking about what we are grateful for: 

  • OUR STUDENTS This year, The Right Brain Initiative will reach 20,000 students. The joy we see in our students’ faces when they participate in creative exploration is why we do this work.
  • COMMUNITY SUPPORT: Our principals, teachers, parents, districts and community leaders are imperative to the success of our program. These local supporters advocate for the right of every student to an arts education, representing a major commitment from our community.
  • OUR DONORS: It costs $55 per student served to sustain our program. With a $15 per student investment from school districts, this means we must raise an additional $40 per child each year, and our donors help us make it happen.

We are also extremely thankful to participate in the Willamette Week Give!Guide this winter to grow our individual giving. The Right Brain Initiative grew by 40% in this year alone. As we continue to reach more and more students, the need for individual giving rises. The Give!Guide is also a great opportunity to earn rewards for your gifts. 

The Give!Guide offers incentives from local businesses for individuals who donate to local non-profits.  Starting at $10, you receive freebies and discounts all around Portland from businesses such as Salt & Straw, Stumptown Coffee Roasters, ¿Por Qué No? Taqueria, Portland Center Stage, Music Millennium, and many others. Watch our Twitter feed for updates on Big Give Days. Giving as little as $10 on these days enters you to win prizes such as:

  • TODAY! December 2: Enter to win a Trek Allant 7 bicycle from Bike Gallery
  • December 11: Enter to win an ice cream party for 200 from Salt & Straw
  • December 18: Enter to win a case of spirits from Rogue Distillery

In addition to these incentives, The Right Brain Initiative offers more reasons to give:

The Give!Guide is our biggest fundraiser of the year. Our goal for this year is to raise $17,000 from 300 donors by the Give!Guide deadline of December 31st. The McMenamins challenge offers an extra $1,000 to the organization with the most donors age 35 and younger in each category. Give today to help us reach these goals and bring us one step closer to our goal of bringing arts integration to all students in the region!



Growth in The Right Brain Initiative for 2014-2015!

November 6th, 2014 by Dorit Harvey
Students at East Orient honed their listening skills in a residency with Jan Abramowitz. Photo by Allie Maya.

Students at East Orient honed their listening skills in a Right Brain residency with Jan Abramowitz. Photo by Allie Maya.

As the fall leaves turned their brilliant oranges and reds, The Right Brain Initiative also grew more vibrant for the start of a new school year. This year we will bring high-quality arts-integration programming to 20,000 students! This is an increase of over 40 percent from the 14,000 students served last school year.

More schools and more districts means we are reaching more students than ever before!

More schools and more districts means we are reaching more students than ever before!

We are beyond pleased to welcome the Estacada School District as our seventh district in the program. We will also be partnering with new schools in the Portland Public, Oregon Trail, and Hillsboro School Districts to make a total of 59 partner schools for the 2014-2015 school year.

Below is a list of new schools added to our program this year. Check out a full list of current schools on our website.
NEW SCHOOLS 2014-2015

Clackamas River K-6
Eagle Creek K-6
Eastwood K-6
Evergreen 7-8
Groner K-6
North Plains K-6
West Union K-6
Welches K-8
Abernethy K-5
Faubion PK-8
Vernon K-8

First graders at Quatama collaborated with My Voice Music to create sound waves. Photo by Juanita Martus.

First graders at Quatama collaborated with My Voice Music to create sound waves in this music-filled residency through The Right Brain Initiative. Photo by Juanita Martus.

To kick off our new partnerships and to strengthen continuing relationships, we have been busily running Professional Development sessions for educators and teaching artists. The enthusiastic professionals in these sessions show us that we are in for a truly brilliant year filled with new experiences and collaborations between passionate educators, artists, and students.


The Brain Trust Inaugural Gathering: Join Today!

October 23rd, 2014 by Dorit Harvey
Image by Robb Cummings

Image by Robb Cummings

As guests entered the Witherspoon Building for the inaugural gathering of our Brain Trust donor incentive program last month, they were invited to help create a mural responding to the prompt: “What does a creative classroom look like?” Responses included:

“Freedom to color outside the lines,” “A safe, energetic, inspirational space,” “Interesting prompts to stimulate imagination”, and “Room to run, dance,  and sing.”

Image by Robb Cummings

Image by Robb Cummings

Through this mural, guests were able to envision the classrooms they are helping us create through The Right Brain Initiative. The creative classroom allows imagination and expression to thrive and opens new avenues for exploration. By supporting the work we do, members of the Brain Trust are transforming our schools into a space where all students’ unique strengths and perspectives are valued.

Image by Robb Cummings

Image by Robb Cummings

Image by Robb Cummings

Image by Robb Cummings

Throughout the evening, we enjoyed music performed by members of the Metropolitan Youth Symphony and heard testimonies from staff and parent advocates. Guests also took part in a photo booth where they were invited to blow bubbles at each other or at the camera. The resulting images are fantastic and full of smiles.

Image by James Evans

Image by James Evans

Image by James Evans

Image by James Evans

In addition to releasing the Brain Trust donor incentive program, we also released the most exciting data we have to date on our program. This data, collected in partnership with Wolf Brown and Portland State University, connects our program with an increase in student test scores. In the first year after partnering with our organization, students’ average annual increase in math and reading scores more than doubled. Scores continued to rise as schools deepened their level of engagement in the program. The most dramatic gains were seen in English Language Proficiency, where gains increased at least ten times more than before joining with our program. See our findings featured in the Huffington Post!


As we begin our seventh year, The Right Brain Initiative will reach approximately 20,000 students in 59 schools across seven districts in the region. We aim to provide access to high quality experiences in the arts in all 25 districts across the tri-county region. At full capacity, we will reach a total of 110,000 students. This means we need to grow!

Image by Robb Cummings

Image by Robb Cummings

During this past year, individual giving accounted for less than five percent of our funding. We are ready to expand our impact in the community and for that we need to expand our base of donors. Brain Trust donors receive rewards for every level of donation to The Right Brain Initiative. Donations of $250 or more which are made through the Brain Trust will receive a full match by the Maybelle Clark Macdonald Fund.

Please join us today to show your support for the right of every child to a whole-brain education. Join the Brain Trust!

Image by Robb Cummings

Image by Robb Cummings

We would like to thank all of our donors, supporters and volunteers, and a huge thank you to our event sponsors, who made this gathering possible:
Parliament and The Witherspoon Building
Winderlea Vineyard and Winery
Soter Vineyards
Lompoc Brewing
WillaKenzie Estate Winery

Dorit Harvey is the current outreach apprentice for The Right Brain Initiative and a future elementary educator. She grew up performing and attended an arts magnet high school where she experienced the positive impact of arts integration firsthand. As a teacher, Dorit plans to integrate dramatic activities and the arts to create a classroom community of critical thinkers.

Historic news! Right Brain linked to an increase in student test scores.

September 11th, 2014 by Rebecca


This week, we released some incredible news in our 2014 Progress Report: Researchers have identified a strong correlation between our program and an increase in student test scores.

Dennie Palmer Wolf of the national consultancy WolfBrown, worked with the Portland State University Center for Student Success to access standardized test scores from all 18,711 students who attended Right Brain partner schools between 2008-09 and 2012-13 school years.

They looked at the average increase in scores for these students before working with the Initiative, and found the rate of increase jumped dramatically after their schools joined the Initiative, and scores continued to rise the more deeply engaged a school became with the program.

This is what the increases look like for (left to right) reading, math and English language proficiency, as schools advance through the phases of program engagement (click on the chart to see a larger version):


Left-hand chart: Before schools partnered with Right Brain, the average annual increase in reading test scores was 2 points (gray bars). The first year that schools joined the Initiative, students experienced a jump in test scores of 6.8 points. We can infer that 4.8 points on top of the standard 2 point increase is linked to students’ work with Right Brain. What’s more, as schools progressed along the phases of engagement with Right Brain, reading test scores increased by 7.5, then 8.2, and continued to rise as schools moved closer to full program engagement. The rate of increase was even higher for math scores (center chart), and highest for English language proficiency (right).

We are particularly excited about the incredible increase in English Language Proficiency scores—they raised at least 10 times more once schools began working with Right Brain.

So, does this prove that Right Brain drives test scores? Of course not. But we are excited to see such a strong correlation. These numbers reinforce what we’ve believed to be true all along: integrated arts education truly drives learning. 

Learn  more:

This news has been featured elsewhere, too!

Morgan uses big brain power to create incredible art!

September 7th, 2014 by Maya McFaddin

We have spent the last few months compiling our Progress Report for the 2013-14 school year. We have enjoyed the process of looking over our highlights from the year, and we are particularly excited to reminisce about an interview with Morgan, a Right Brain student and 3rd grader at Milwaukie Elementary School. Morgan made an amazing robot bird during a Right Brain residency with teaching artist Caitlin Shelman, in which she learned about geometric shapes and 3-dimensional design. Her robot bird is composed of cones, pyramids, rectangles, and cylinders made from recycled materials. Morgan is eager to share the inner-workings of her robot, as she explains, she added moving parts, a password screen, an on/off switch, an Enter and Delete key, and a power source.

Listening to Morgan talk, you understand the level of creative and critical thinking involved in this project. She made creative choices and solved problems to make a really unique beast that looked and worked the way she wanted it to. You can also see how much she learned about geometry through this process, and the sense of ownership she felt over her own educational experience — enough to want to take the robot home and keep working on it! This an excellent example of  Right Brain helping kids learn subjects in the classroom, while also helping them learn to use their minds well.

Enjoy listening! 

Introducing the Brain Trust!

August 13th, 2014 by Maya McFaddin


It is on this very special day that we announce The Right Brain Initiative’s first association of individual donors, the Brain Trust. It is our way of saying thank you! Every donor who makes a contribution of $10 or more to Right Brain will receive a whole slew of perks—think of these as tokens of our gratitude (and check out the specifics below!).

It has been about 5 years since Right Brain’s founding and so far, we have had little history of individual giving. We created the Brain Trust in an effort to expand this part of our program and it has been a exciting project for us. We are eager to share it with you all and hope you like it!

You now have an opportunity to be part of the inaugural giving team and one of the first official members of the Brain Trust. If you join in the next month with a donation of $50 or more, you will receive an invitation to an exciting event at the Witherspoon Building in downtown Portland on Tuesday, September 8th.

Check out the perks below and then CLICK HERE TO MAKE AN ONLINE DONATION and become a founding member of the Brain Trust.


Grassroots Donor Levels

$10–$49: Gray Matter You are the foundation for our work. You receive:

  • Your name listed on the Right Brain website
  • Advocacy postcard to send to the closest Right Brain partner superintendent

$50–$99: Nimble Neurons $50 supplies a modeling clay set for one Kindergarten classroom. You receive all of the above, plus:

  • Your name printed in our annual progress report mailed to your home
  • Digital invitation to public Right Brain events

$100–$249: Flickering Synapses $100 pays for one voice recorder, allowing a pair of 7th graders to explore identity and culture through digital storytelling. You receive all of the above, plus:

  • Update from our schools delivered to your mailbox
  • Printed invitation to a private student art reception
  • Right Brain window decal

$250–$499: Steady Cerebellum $250 pays for one 2nd grade teacher to spend a full day with Right Brain, learning to integrate the arts throughout their curriculum. You receive all of the above, plus:

  • 25% discount on Right Brain merchandise
  • 25% discount on any of our ticketed public programs
  • Reserved seating at free Right Brain events
  • Complimentary Brain Food activity deck

$500–$999: Mighty Midbrain $500 lets one full class of 3rd graders experience math and movement with a Right Brain teaching artist. You receive all of the above, plus:

  • Invitation to our annual spring reflection colloquium for Right Brain educators

Leadership Donor Levels

$1,000–$2,499: Creative Cortex $1,000 enables two 1st grade classrooms to examine physics and three-dimensional design through the creation of kinetic sculptures. You receive all of the above, plus:

  • Invitation to a school site visit
  • Private lunch with founding program manager Marna Stalcup

$2,500–$4,999: Lobe of Imagination $2,500 takes five 5th grade classrooms through an exploration of colonization, the Declaration of Independence, and social justice with writing and printmaking. You receive all of the above, plus:

  • Complimentary arts workshop at your home, event or office
  • Invitation to Right Brain professional development for teachers and artists

$5,000–$9,999: Radical Right Brain $5,000 allows an entire elementary school full of children to engage creative and critical thinking skills in the classroom. You receive all of the above, plus:

  • Invitation to an annual funders event
  • Framed print of student artwork
  • Invitation to a donor plaque unveiling at a local school

$10,000–$24,999: King Cranium $10,000 gives one elementary school full Right Brain partnership for one year, including visits from a teaching artist to all classrooms, collaborative planning time with school staff, art materials, professional training for three teachers and a principal, and coaching from Right Brain staff. You receive all of the above, plus:

  • Your name listed on a plaque at a Right Brain partner school
  • Private lunch with the school principal

$25,000 and up: Omniscient Right Brainiac $25,000 funds two Portland metro area middle schools’ full partnership with Right Brain for one year, including all the elements listed above. You receive all of the above, plus:

  • Plaque dedicated to you at a Right Brain partner school with an unveiling ceremony in your honor
  • Access to visit this school four times during the year


PSU and Right Brain Collaborate Again

August 12th, 2014 by Colin Staub


On August 2, folks learned to salsa dance to help out Right Brain.

The dance lesson was part of “Ignite Your Passion,” an event hosted by Portland State University students to benefit The Right Brain Initiative. The students were taking a class taught by PSU professor Suzanne Savaria, called “Performing Arts Advocacy.” This is one of PSU’s capstone courses, which are designed to get students out into the Portland community to make a positive difference. Savaria has partnered with Right Brain for several school terms, and students have learned how to advocate for the arts, taking on various projects that engage with Right Brain.

Last summer I took the same course. I was hesitant about the prospect of putting together a fundraiser event—I didn’t have much experience asking for donations. But over the course of four weeks my group managed to put together a house concert, and I was amazed at the generosity people had shown. Everything—venue, music, food and beer—had been donated.

This year I served as a mentor for students in the same class, and gave advice based on my own experience.

“Ignite Your Passion” was awesome. It featured a silent auction, with an impressive array of items to bid on. From gift cards to paintings, baskets of Dave’s Killer Bread to a full-service party at the Billiards Club, there was something for everyone. Some items even led to silent bidding wars.

Then attendees were informed the salsa dancing portion of the evening would commence. I was aware there would be a performance, but I admit I was taken off guard when the lesson began. For an inexperienced salsa dancer such as myself, it sounded a bit daunting. But half an hour later, the entire room was loving it. Our instructors quickly got us up to speed with the music, and even I felt like I knew what I was doing.

Next we switched musical gears, and learned some U-Jam dance moves. This was faster-paced than the salsa dancing, and was quite the workout. Again, I was unfamiliar with the dance style, but with our teachers’ instruction I was able to “body roll” with the rest of them.

U-Jam got everyone energized and ready to make a final bid on the auction item of their choice. Then the auction closed, folks collected their winnings, and the night concluded.

Even though the planning team was small, they managed to put together an outstanding event. The target was to raise $250. “Ignite Your Passion” raised $709.50, which is just short of the total raised by all four groups in the class I was a part of, combined.

Excellent job, capstone students! Thank you for showing how successful and enjoyable these fundraisers can be!

Inspired by the story of “Ignite Your Passion”? Learn more about how you can host your own event!


2014-08-02 19.30.41

One of the many silent auction tables.




Colin Staub is a freelance journalist in Portland. He experienced the benefits of arts integration early on, while attending daVinci Arts Middle School.

Worldbuilding: an Art of Science

July 3rd, 2014 by Jake Turner

When I was little, my go-to game was always make-believe. In the wake of Harry Potter’s colossal popularity, my best friend and I would make believe that we were at a school for wizards. Of course, it wasn’t enough that we just imagined being wizards-in-training, we would take hours to set up our own classrooms for this wizarding school. We’d gather our toys and various crafts from around the house, set up pillows as seats and wear blankets as cloaks. Most often, our play date would end before we even had a chance to finish designing the classes, but sometimes we’d manage to enact our magical education. Potions class would have us tossing toy frogs, toothpaste, and cat hair in the bathtub to make an elixir for controlling the weather. In divination, we taught each other how to read the future from a randomly scattered deck of Pokémon cards. It was never enough to just imagine we were at a wizard school – we had to create rules, use props and costumes to strengthen our belief in the world we had built.

wizard jake

Me as a wizard at age 6.

I still build my own worlds, but instead of gathering solid objects to make them more believable, I gather details and facts to create imaginary planets and write stories about them.

As a kid, the toys and the blankets and the pillows were real, they were tangible and I believed in them because I could understand them in a certain way. Now the things I use as my toys and blankets and pillows can’t be held, but they are still believable because of how I understand them. My new “toys” are facts about how the world works and how the pieces of the universe fit together to create the place in which we live. To build my own imaginary worlds, I take details from the real world and rearrange them so they seem more magical.

The details can be how wolves affect the flow of rivers or how the moon stabilizes the seasons on Earth; these elements fit together because of what we know through science.

We can observe what we know of the universe – observe how planets are affected by gravity and what role each animal plays in their ecosystem – and come up with rules for how everything interacts with everything else. This observation and cataloging of rules is the essence of science and the building of imaginary worlds simply borrows the rules and turns them into a game.

It’s all still about making believe. I like to imagine wild and magical things and I like to imagine that they’re real. By looking at how the world works today, I can imagine things moved around and changed and come up with something that is astonishing but believable because it fits laws such as gravity and thermodynamics.

To justify imagining a wizard into my world, I think of what their magic is. Does a wizard that controls fire simply have the ability to excite particles around themselves, creating heat and fire? Do they hold technology that nobody else understands? Or is all of their “magic” just illusion and sleight of hand? By answering these questions, you can begin to see what kind of environment a wizard would fit into. Though there are no wizards on Earth, we can use the rules of our planet to believe they could exist.

Worldbuilding is all about asking questions. It is an art of constructing a country or a planet or a universe by asking questions of our own world and piecing the answers together to make something new. In doing that, we also learn more about the world in which we live.

In a classroom, allowing imaginative play through worldbuilding can reinforce the lessons of science and bring an opportunity for personalized learning  to every child.

Jake Turner is an actor, educator and student in the Performing Arts Advocacy capstone class at Portland State University. 

The Imagination Fund: Reaching Challenges, Extending the Arts

June 30th, 2014 by Meredith Wong

Earlier this school year, we introduced the second round of our fundraising campaign—The Imagination Fund—to raise $25,000. As a part of this campaign, the Maybelle Clark McDonald Fund agreed to match each contribution, dollar-for-dollar, if we hit $25,000 by June 15th. Needless to say, we reached our goal!

Earning this match was a joint effort between Right Brain staff and the Grassroots Fundraising Task Force, community members, and volunteers. Throughout the year, we organized regular neighborhood events and activities, such as trivia nights and dinner parties hosted by individuals. 

Through our collective time and effort, these funds will help support arts education programs for K-8th grades in the tri-county area. We are also especially thankful for our gracious donors and event hosts, who helped make this match possible!

  • Individual Donors: Nancy Archer, Sylvia Ashmore, Melody Bridges, Verlea Briggs, Greg Chapman, Carson and Sela Cies, Jodi Delahunt Hubbell and Todd Hubbell, Cameron Drilling,  Michelle Eraut, Savannah Gilmore, Gary Hartnett, Marvin James, Joe and Flizita Kaiser,  Kenzo Kubo, Michael Maas, Joe Mabe, Ashley McClellan, Josie Mendoza, Cate Millar, Robert Nicholas, Frank Palacios, Dorothy Piacentini, Geoff Phillips, Carla Piluso, Wallace Preble, Melissa Ranucci Soll, Emily Ritter, Elizabeth Rusch, Steve Seabold, Tyler M. Smith and Melissa M. Smith, T.A. Smith, Nick Walrod, Donna Allen Wardenaar, Thomas and Jodi Watson, Dan Wieden, Sadie Yudkin

  • Pooled Gifts from Hosted Events: Alan Alexander, Kaitlyn Allegretti, Marina Barcelo, Danielle Bastien,  Bruce & Julia Brown, Tamara Bruketta & Justin Yngelmo, Teralyn Bruketta, Thomas Bruketta, Marilyn Couch, Matt & Lara Drouhard, Westie Freeman, Wayne Harvey, Marcy Haugh, Sarah Knuth & Kurt Weller, Martha Koenig, Kenneth Kolarsky & Cynthia Gladen, Parker & Katherine Lee, Nora Lehnhoff, Christine Lorenz, Jeremy Marks, Genna Martin,  Gavin McCardle, Ron Miller, Caprice J. Neely, Edwin Perry & Deborah Peterson, Cynthia Pease, Jerome Rillera, Allison Rueckl & Liz Donovan, Randy Short, Jamie Smeland, Colin Staub, Carol Triffle & Jerry Mouawad, Ricardo Vasquez, Barbara & Karl Wetzel, Annie Wilkins

Although we reached our goal, the challenge grant continues! We have now entered the third and final year of the Maybelle Clark McDonald Fund, so be sure to keep us and our students in mind by donating here.

Meredith Wong is the current Development Apprentice for The Right Brain Initiative. She is a graduate student in the Arts and  Administration program at University of Oregon.