An Inside Perspective from CAP’s President & CEO

Arts Education: A Lesson in Respect

October 2, 2017
Kimberly L. Hyatt, President & CEO

The average life span of great civilizations is 215 years.[i] A first-rate arts education is one of the best means left to save our American experiment, now 241 years old. I’ve come to this conclusion over 15 years working with the Cathedral Arts Project, an organization whose mission is to enrich our quality of life through unleashing the creative spirit of young people.

When I first took this role, I didn’t give much weight to how the arts bolster our ability to see the world from other perspectives. Back then, the ways arts education improved academic achievement was top of mind. I assumed the increasing diversity of our society would automatically generate broader understanding and mutual respect. I was wrong.

Today, my perspective has changed. I have witnessed firsthand the transformative power of the arts for students, families and our community. Students who participate regularly in the arts show marked improvement in class participation, task completion, peer communication, and conflict management – but they also gain the insights, empathy and language needed to understand each other and, just as important, to understand themselves. As we celebrate National Arts & Humanities Month, it is my hope that the unique potential of arts education will help us achieve our country’s promise of E pluribus unum – out of many, one.

Seventy eight percent of Americans believe disrespect and political dysfunction prevent our nation from moving forward.[ii] A meta-analysis of 72 studies of 14,000 American college students between 1979 and 2009 revealed a drop of 40% in empathy scores.[iii] Since most of the drop occurred after 2000, the decline is undoubtedly steeper today.

It’s hard not to see a possible correlation between these findings and decreased access to arts education over the past several decades. Arts education has the potential, like nothing else, to mold both brains and hearts and open us to meaningful encounters where we look to not only our own interests, but also the interests of others.

Students in CAP’s ARTS Ignite! afterschool program begin each class by reciting a creed that involves five promises, the first of which is to “respect others and their ideas as I respect myself.” For our democracy to flourish, we must revive our ability to reason together and not merely tolerate, but respect one another – no matter what. As John Dewey put it, “Imagination is the chief instrument of the good.” How we treat another person and their ideas, he noted, is dependent upon our power to put ourselves “imaginatively” in another’s place.[iv]

In contrast, what lesson are we teaching our children when they see us unfriend someone on Facebook simply because we disagree with a post? That their perspective has no value? That they do not deserve our friendship, much less our respect?

While we can homogenize the opinions that show up on our social media feeds, living together peaceably and productively in the real world is only going to get more challenging. If Census Bureau estimates hold, in just 27 years, one-time minority groups will comprise the majority of Americans.

Arts education demands that we study what life looks like, sounds like, and feels like for others. It provides a structure to come together while holding different perspectives. In theatre, we walk in another person’s shoes. In visual arts, we study familiar images from unfamiliar perspectives. We learn to pause and look deeper rather than defaulting to lazy, habitual ways of seeing.

There is always another perspective, another interpretation, another form. Students learn not only through their own cognition and creative process, but also through their peers.

Arts education promotes ways of thinking that support curiosity and openness. As we grow older and become set in our ways, this shift can often feel like too much. But if we encourage children to think this way – before rigid, binary ways of seeing the world in black and white take hold – it’s a mindset that will stay with them the rest of their lives.

Furthermore, through arts education, we learn the important life skill of critique. Can you imagine what it would be like if a critical mass of us knew how to give and receive respectful, constructive feedback? It would surely be a significant step forward in our life together where basic human decency is often hard to spot.

While a healthy democracy requires strong convictions and healthy debate, it requires much more. Arts education is the key. Aristotle said we need art because we have not lived enough. The arts can reposition us in others’ worlds, or even our own, long enough to glimpse something we hadn’t noticed before. And that just might be our salvation – as individuals and as a civilization.

[i] Samuel Arbesman, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

[ii] National Institute for Civil Discourse, The University of Arizona, 2017.

[iii] Changes in Dispositional Empathy in American College Students Over Time: A Meta-Analysis,” Sara Konrath, University of Michigan, 2010.

[iv] John Dewey, Art as Experience, p. 362

The Arts Influence Mental Health

July 9, 2018
Kimberly L. Hyatt, President & CEO

Everyone I’ve ever known who is raising a child longs for three things above all – for their child to be healthy, safe and happy.

But no matter how well families provide for the children entrusted to their care, there are no guarantees. Being a kid has never been easy, but to speak of adolescent drama today means something completely different than it did not that long ago. No child is exempt from the fear of school shootings, the anxiety of testing or the competitive comparisons of social media. And it’s taking an increasing toll on our community’s youth.

According to the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey of Duval County students administered by the CDC:
• More than 1 in 3 high school students experienced depression, a 24 percent increase since 2013.
• 1 in 4 middle school students seriously considered suicide, 1 in 5 made a plan and 1 in 8 attempted to die by suicide, a 21 percent increase since 2013.
• 1 in 5 high school students seriously considered suicide, made a plan and attempted to die by suicide.

It’s not only depression, of course. The CDC reports 1 in 5 American children ages 3 through 17 have a diagnosable mental, emotional or behavioral disorder. However, 80 percent of these children are not diagnosed and therefore don’t receive the help they need, even if they had access.

Now more than ever, it’s important that kids be equipped to utilize the visual and performing arts as a means of self-expression, perseverance and finding purpose. Young people often feel safer expressing traumatic experiences and uncomfortable feelings through the arts than through traditional therapies.

When kids get to experience the arts, it changes their experience of life.

When kids see that they can create something – whether it is a monologue, movement with their body, a piece of art or a musical performance – that sense of self-efficacy increases their self-worth, resilience and determination to keep putting the pieces together to create meaning and positive change.

When kids aren’t sure of what they are feeling, the arts provide a vehicle for them to explore, process and express a whole range of emotions. The arts help children find their voice and use it wisely.

Neuroscience shows observing or participating in the arts increases dopamine and activates reward centers of the brain. Blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, which regulates our feelings, thoughts and actions, increases when participating in the arts. That which stirs the soul literally stirs the mind.

Anyone who watched the drama students who survived the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., perform at the Tony Awards last month saw how they drew strength, comfort and hope from participating in the arts.

At their worst, the arts can be reduced to decoration and sentimentality, but at their best, they can be a transforming force. The arts possess the power to do in us what we sometimes simply cannot do on our own.

The Arts Prevent Summer Learning Loss

April 2, 2018
Kimberly L. Hyatt, President & CEO

Between undergrad and graduate studies, I took six years off to work. I’ve never forgotten going back to grad school and realizing I had to catch up with my younger classmates who had just graduated from college. I had to refresh my memory and also learn how to study again.

Something similar happens to kids during the summer. The summer slide, as it is called, refers to the phenomenon of students starting a new school year behind where they were when they finished the previous school year. This is especially evident among lower-income children who are more likely to spend their summer vacation in unstructured activities than their more affluent peers who get to take advantage of a growing number of educational resources and experiences.

This is nothing new. In fact, studies have measured summer learning loss for over a century. According to the National Summer Learning Association, most lower-income children lose two months of math skills during summer vacation and up to three months of reading skills. When school resumes in the fall, nine out of 10 teachers must spend three whole weeks re-teaching material students learned the previous year.

These learning losses have a cumulative impact. By the time they reach fifth grade, lower-income students are two to three years behind their higher-income peers. When they enter high school, over half of the achievement gap can be attributed to summer learning loss during their elementary school years.
So how can we prevent the dreaded summer slide? A solution is readily available – providing structured learning through so-called summer camps and other summer learning programs.

Just as the arts are an essential part of a child’s K-12 schooling, so are arts learning opportunities essential for the summer break. Arts learning matters every single day. It develops important skills like creative thinking, perseverance and self-discipline that help students succeed.

And among many other lessons, arts education helps children learn how to learn. Through studying the arts, children develop the attitudes and skills that can make learning anything fun and, therefore, successful.

When children can see that dedication to learning and sustained attention to a goal helps them learn to play an instrument or perfect dance moves or act in character or create a piece of art, they come to realize they can approach their school work the same way.

Students experience in very real ways the truth that practice is necessary and that it pays off if they work hard enough. They learn that they can develop their abilities and get better at things they never thought they could do. This sense of self-efficacy, knowing that they can accomplish difficult things if they put their mind to it, will carry a child through school and through life. They develop the growth mindset that will set them up for success in school, on the job and in life.

Any subject or problem is more fun – and thereby more engaging – when you see yourself making progress and capable of continued progress. Short term, high-quality arts camps and programs are an excellent way for children to discover how to learn and have fun doing it. Not just in the summer, but all year long.

Camp Encore, presented by the Cathedral Arts Project, offers 6- to 11-year-olds the opportunity to discover new passions and grow their creativity. Campers of all experience levels will enjoy one-of-a-kind instruction in dance, music, theatre, and the visual arts, led by qualified teaching artists. CLICK HERE for more information or email


Your Brain on Arts

March 5, 2018
Kimberly L. Hyatt, President & CEO

Americans of a certain age spend an estimated $1.3 billion annually on brain training games such as Lumosity as we grasp for anything that might slow the changes that occur as our brains get older. We invest time and money even though there is no real research to support the notion these exercises work.[i] What research does show time and time again, however, is that arts education accelerates positive brain development when started at a young age.

Anyone who thinks the arts are extraneous need only look at images of brain scans to find the strongest of evidence to the contrary. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans literally show one’s brain light up when participating in a visual or performing art form.

While a human brain changes throughout life, its development is front-loaded and will take on a different structure if engaged in arts learning from a young age. Our brains quadruple in size during the preschool years and reach 90% of adult volume by the age of 6. However, structural changes continue well through childhood and adolescence, largely in response to either enrichment or deprivation of inputs.

Music is typically the first thought that enters our minds when thinking of arts learning and brain development. And there’s good reason. Scientists believe music stimulates more areas of the brain than any other function and spurs different parts of the brain to communicate with one another.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

In the same way that weight lifting changes the shape of our muscles, musical training does the same to our brains – it changes its very structure. Neurological studies using fMRI have found a host of differences between the brains of those with musical training compared to those without, including the growth of the cerebellum, the size of certain areas of the brain, plasticity and the density of both white and gray matter. Whereas playing video games results in a loss of gray matter, playing musical instruments increases it.

In addition to these structural changes, music education influences networks in the brain associated with motor skills, cognitive processing and the so-called executive functions – the ability to concentrate, see a task through to completion, self-regulate and think ahead.[ii][iii][iv] A plethora of studies show a correlation between musical training and verbal and nonverbal reasoning, language learning and mathematics proficiency.

But it’s not just music. The brain looks and acts differently when engaged in any art form. Additionally, multiple studies show these changes that occur after arts training during childhood will stay with a person into adulthood.

An ounce of prevention is surely worth a pound of cure, but children can’t be responsible for ensuring their own access to quality arts education. That’s up to us, the adults. We owe it to today’s children whether they ask for it or not.

Even children who are no more interested in playing an instrument or drawing than they are in cleaning their rooms need these opportunities throughout their childhood. Their developing brains need the arts. They may not know it, but we do.

While we are right to worry about the impact of sports trauma on young brains, we should be equally worried about the deprivation of arts learning on those same brains. And we should do something about it while there is time. Because we can.

[i] No Effect of Commercial Cognitive Training on Brain Activity, Choice Behavior, or Cognitive Performance, Journal of Neuroscience, Joseph W. Kable, M. Kathleen Caulfield, Mary Falcone, Mairead McConnell, Leah Bernardo, Trishala Parthasarathi, Nicole Cooper, Rebecca Ashare, Janet Audrain-McGovern, Robert Hornik, Paul Diefenbach, Frank J. Lee and Caryn Lerman, 2 August 2017, Vol. 37, Issue 31.

[ii] Coyle, D. (2009). The talent code: Greatness isn’t born. It’s grown. Here’s how. New York, NY: Bantam.

[iii] Hutchinson, S., Lee, L., gaab, N., & Schlaug, G. (2003). Cerebelllar volume of musicians. Cerebral Cortex, 13(9), 9437-949.

[iv] Wan., C., & Schlaug, G. (2013). Brain plasticity induced by musical training. In D. Deutsch (Ed.), The psychology of music (pp. 565-581). Waltham, MA: Elsevier.

Arts Education and Civil Rights: Can the Arts Improve Race Relations?

January 8, 2018
Kimberly L. Hyatt, President & CEO

No one is born a racist, but it doesn’t take long to develop racial and ethnic biases. By the time children are 3 years old, they can recognize differences in skin color and other physical traits. By the time they are 5, children can already develop negative biases toward others based on these differences. By the time children are in middle school, these biases have likely been reinforced by those around them and/or what they see or read online such that bias becomes the default lens through which they see others. 

There is room to debate how the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned his dream to be realized so that children would, in fact, be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. There is room to debate how much progress we in the United States have made toward this vision. But there is no room to debate that racial tension is more pronounced now than at any time since the Civil Rights Movement. American children of color are experiencing more harassment and anxiety than they have in generations.

One factor contributing to this animosity is the increasing segregation of K-12 schools. According to the Government Accountability Office, from 2000 to 2014, the number of K-12 public schools that were high-poverty and comprised of mostly African American or Hispanic students almost doubled from 9 percent to 16 percent. The number of students attending these quasi-segregated schools more than doubled. And the increasingly popular charter schools are the most segregated of all.  

It’s hard not to attribute the resurgence of racism among young white students at least in part to the increasing segregation in K-12 education. If children do not grow up and learn alongside peers who represent diversity of culture, race and ethnicity, how can they possibly determine the content of their character? All they have to go by are default stereotypes and biases formed, in many cases, before kindergarten.  

But the good news is that even though children develop negative biases quickly, once they are exposed to diversity, those prejudices can be unlearned. Arts education is an incredibly viable way to combat prejudice, especially when works of artists from diverse backgrounds are given equal billing in the curriculum on an ongoing basis throughout the school year. 

Nothing more aptly defines what it means to be human than our creative potential. So how better to encounter and learn about others’ character than studying the output of their creative thinking? Because in life as in the arts, there is always more than meets the eye.  

In the visual arts, students learn to look beyond surface impressions and examine formal elements and technique, as well as concepts and possible meanings – its character. Similarly, an individual trained as a musician hears more during a symphony performance than someone who hears only the top-line melody. They hear the character of the composition. It stands to follow that studying the work of diverse artists is at least a start toward developing a deeper understanding of diverse others.  

Through works of art that reflect the creative thinking of diverse peoples, children come to see their story from different perspectives. They also learn the stories of others from diverse backgrounds. The arts help children look more closely at both our differences and that which we have in common.  

As we remember Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday this month, let us consider how race relations would improve if a critical mass of students engaged in ongoing study of the works of artists, musicians, dancers and playwrights of color. At the very least, they could use the arts as a stepping stone to walk toward those they may not walk toward on the playground. 

A Champion for the Arts: Jacksonville’s Superintendent Search

December 4, 2017
Kimberly L. Hyatt, President & CEO

Policies at the district, state and federal levels all speak to the critical importance of quality arts education if we have any hope of preparing students to succeed in school and in life. What the children who attend Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) need now is a superintendent who will bring those aspirations to life and make arts learning central – not only in theory, but also in the reality of students’ daily lives.

The selection of a new superintendent for DCPS will have profound impact for years, possibly generations, to come. I am so encouraged by the School Board’s draft of a new strategic plan, which starts off right out of the gate with a goal to “promote student engagement through safe, nurturing and enriching learning environments.”

This is important because what stands out when one analyzes education systems in countries where students routinely out-perform American students and where there is less of an achievement gap among children of different socioeconomic backgrounds is that all these other countries make arts learning central to the school day every day. They utilize the arts to effectively promote student engagement.

As Yeats so beautifully put it, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” That’s what arts education does. Learning in the arts lights a fire and engages children in their studies, teaching them how to think, analyze and problem-solve.

The district’s new superintendent will set the tone when it comes to what is prioritized in a school day not only by what is messaged as important, but also by what is shown to be important by the allotment of resources – teachers, supplies, space and time for arts learning in every student’s schedule every day.

Our community’s children deserve a superintendent who understands what research shows time and time again – that #TheArtsAddUp to increased graduation rates, a stronger economy and more creative individuals equipped to solve the challenges of tomorrow both in the workplace and our civic life together.

Our children deserve a superintendent who understands why they desperately need an arts-rich education that includes not only visual arts and music, but also dance, theatre and media arts. Our children deserve dynamic learning environments that engage them and draw from all their intelligences.

The School Board’s draft strategic plan also calls for the district to “expand and improve well-rounded opportunities for the development of the whole child.” Federal education law embodied in the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act presents a tremendous opportunity to follow the lead of other countries who are surpassing us by systemically including arts learning in every child’s day. The concept of a well-rounded education, which surely includes the arts, is referenced more than 20 times and included in most of the specific Titles in the Act.

What our children need now is a superintendent who will leverage the possibilities provided by this law and other policies; who will stand up against the “STEM above all else” mentality; and who will advocate, budget, schedule and provide for increased and quality arts learning.

Please join me in helping our School Board bring such a leader to Duval County. Click here to provide feedback and help define the leadership profile of the next superintendent.

Photo credit: Susan Edelman

New Superintendent Needs Support to Invest in Arts Education

May 23, 2018
Kimberly L. Hyatt, President & CEO

Stating the long-term goal should be for every school to have art and music, Dr. Diana Greene made the strongest statement of the three finalists for our next DCPS superintendent in support of arts education as essential in educating the whole child.

Acknowledging short-term adjustments may have to be made considering the $62 million shortfall, she nevertheless put an early stake in the ground for her priorities. She bragged that as soon as Manatee County had a fund balance over 3 percent, she began investing in the arts.

Dr. Greene will be walking into a community eager for investment in the arts. She will be walking into a community rich in educators and community partners eager to serve.

That said, no superintendent is a miracle worker. Dr. Greene needs more than her and our community’s good intentions; our children deserve more.

Dr. Greene and our children need elected leaders, especially at the state level, to adequately invest in public schools and give them similar flexibility given to charter schools.

Dr. Greene and our children need everyone at all levels of our district to consider that lower-income students who regularly participate in the arts have a 96% graduation rate, compared to only 76% among their peers, when making resource allocation decisions.

Dr. Greene and our children need business leaders to take to heart the fact that arts education creates tomorrow’s leaders – empowering them to analyze, problem-solve and innovate. If we really want to equip students for the jobs of tomorrow – many of which haven’t even been imagined yet – we’ve got to do more to cultivate creative thinking and truly engage students in learning.

Responding to a question about the growing school choice movement, Dr. Greene shared how she brought students back to public schools in Manatee by working with principals on curriculum to make their schools the most attractive school they could and engaging students once they enrolled so they would want to stay there.

If Dr. Greene wants to do the same in Duval County, there is simply no better way to attract and engage students than through the arts.

The False Dichotomy

August 6, 2018
Kimberly L. Hyatt, President & CEO

Every now and then, we get an idea in our head and no matter the evidence to the contrary, we won’t change our mind. We’re like those who refused to look through Galileo’s telescope because they didn’t want to see something that conflicted with their worldview.

Too many operate from the perspective that while the arts are important, they are not quite as important as math, science and other subjects. Some even distinguish the arts from academics, as though the arts are but a structured form of recess.

The prevailing perception is that the arts are “less than” other subjects, but in reality, what ends up being “less than” are our children, our schools, our workplaces and our society when we don’t treat the arts as the most important part of a well-rounded education.

Today, narrow career and technical skills are taught at exactly the time we need broad subjects like the arts. These narrow subjects will be obsolete in a decade, if not before. But broad subjects like the arts develop the kind of thinking skills that will be valuable to a student, an employee, a citizen — forever.

This false dichotomy between academics and the arts places unnecessary limitations on our children’s curriculum and consequently, on their futures. Narrow subjects are preparing kids for narrow lives. Is that what we really want for our children?

We need to teach kids big ideas if we want them to lead big lives. That’s why I am so grateful for Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene and our school board for recommending funding for the arts be maintained at last year’s level, even in the face of a challenging budget. They understand it makes no sense to cut the most important part of the curriculum. In a world of infinite information, we need to cultivate the ability to generate infinite ideas.

Until we give the arts their rightful place and the esteem due them, we are compromising our kids’ futures. The arts cannot be treated as extracurricular time at the elementary level or as electives at the middle and high school levels. High school graduation and college admission requirements need to require as much from the arts as they do from the sciences. Life sure does.

Truth, Beauty and Goodness

January 7, 2019
Kimberly Hyatt, President & CEO

Last year brought more than one occasion to mourn the passing of an era with the deaths of notable figures, from scientists to musicians to elected officials.

These individuals’ ways of making their mark in the world were grounded in virtues not routinely cultivated in schools today. Whether in the lab, on stage or at a negotiating table, they exemplified behavior anchored in an understanding that there are always alternative and valid ways to see the world.

While they were no doubt shaped by myriad forces, arts education played a role. They benefitted from not only the opportunity but also the insistence of serious study in the arts, either in private schools or in public schools before the arts and classics were removed as essential parts of the curriculum. Their education in the arts helped make them who they were.

Whether George H.W. Bush’s manner of putting himself in the shoes of other nations’ leaders or Stephen Hawking’s quest for truth, beauty and goodness, these are qualities arts education develops.

Often, we think of arts education in relation to creative thinking. To many, it is exactly this talk of innovation that stokes fears of overshadowing what was good about the past.

But while arts education powers innovative thinking, the arts are also unsurpassed conservators of the past. There’s nothing better than arts education to reclaim virtues in imminent threat of extinction. Virtues – such as empathy, curiosity and humility – that underpin all true progress. Virtues whose loss should cause us all to fear.

When kids engage in a rigorous study of the visual and performing arts, they develop habits of mind that stick with them for life. As we begin a new year, there’s nothing more important for us to teach students. Nothing.

Gender Equity – Boys Need the Arts as Much as Girls

October 1, 2018
Kimberly L. Hyatt, President & CEO

Moving into fall, you’re just as likely to find girls playing soccer, basketball and any number of other sports as boys. Though athletics used to be the purview of boys, we’ve made strides toward gender equity in youth sports. But when it comes to the arts, we still have a long way to go.

By and large, the arts remain something girls do. This is especially true of certain art forms (think ballet) and certain specialties within disciplines – girls tend to play the flute while boys tend to play the drums.

While families often encourage their daughters to try their hand at one or more art forms, they are not so quick to steer their sons toward the arts. Indeed, at the Cathedral Arts Project, year after year we see families pulling their sons from dance classes no matter how badly the child wants to participate.

The problem with this is that all children – girls and boys – are created with the potential to be creative and the need to be expressive. If we don’t equip our sons as we equip our daughters – with positive tools to give voice to their innate, human needs in healthy, productive directions – these needs will be expressed in counterproductive, and sometimes even violent, ways.

How much more do we need to see to realize we are failing our boys? We are failing them by not raising them up to explore a variety of art forms, just like we used to fail our girls by not encouraging them to play sports.

Growing up today is tough enough without having to deal with the baggage of one’s parents and other adults. And nothing short of adults projecting their own shame, discomfort and fears can account for the message boys receive from society about what it means to be a “real man.”

Why else would empathizing with others, becoming aware of one’s feelings and learning to express what’s inside – all skills associated with participation in the visual and performing arts – be considered negative stereotypes for boys while the characteristics associated with hyper-masculinity continue to be promoted and reinforced?

The arts help boys – just like they help girls – develop essential social and emotional skills. The arts help boys – just like they help girls – explore their feelings. The arts help boys – just like they help girls –express themselves in positive ways, build healthy relationships with those around them and find their place in the world.

In all these ways and more, the arts help boys. It’s time we do too.