Strategic Vision

The arts stretch our thinking. They have the power to help us learn in new ways. Art brings people and communities together.

ArtsSmarts used the arts as a canvas for impacting student learning and building a more inclusive educational system. Learning became a creative process, nurturing students’ development as critical thinkers and agents of change.

ArtsSmarts demonstrated how together creativity and community engagement can paint a brighter future for our students and schools.

About the program

ArtsSmarts launched in 1998, at a time when support for arts in public education was in decline. The program went against that trend. Using art, it aspired to stoke a national movement for innovation in education. It brought artists, teachers and students together into the mix to create something powerful.

Imagine music being used to teach mathematics. Or mural-making applied to the study of history. 500,000 students took part in, and benefitted from, ArtsSmarts projects like these over a decade. The program’s positive impact on student engagement and teacher practice was demonstrable.

ArtsSmarts is now a network of arts, education and community organizations. They operate locally, regionally and provincially. Together they act as a forum for research and innovation, idea and mentoring exchange, as well as for securing private, public and academic participation.

ArtsSmarts tools and resources continue to be stewarded on ArtsSmarts Open, which is supported by the Arts Network for Children and Youth and a pan-Canadian 16-member coalition.

Granting Total: $10.7 million

Key Lessons from ArtsSmarts

  • ArtsSmarts is a catalyst for engaging students. Its impacts are seen in higher rates of academic performance and school completion.
  • ArtsSmarts is a dynamic levelling tool for today’s diverse classrooms. It enables students of varying abilities to learn together.
  • ArtsSmarts’ projects are co-created among teachers, artists and students. Often they include unique local content. It’s the opposite of ‘pre-packaged’ programs with cookie cutter content. This bespoke and flexible approach ignited enduring interest among local partners. They often become passionate advocates for the program.
  • Students help to craft ArtsSmarts projects. Often they document personal perspectives on environmental and other issues. This helps to shape student’s understanding of who they are in relation to the world.
  • ArtsSmarts went from a concept, to a set of demonstration projects and eventually, became a national program. This offered valuable insights for developing other programs.
  • ArtsSmarts attracted over 450 funders and sponsors at the local and regional levels. Finding national partners proved to be more difficult.
  • ArtsSmarts holds lessons for working with intermediaries to manage programs and build networks. While intermediaries made valuable contributions to the program, it wasn’t the optimal model. The partners concluded that ArtsSmarts needed to become a separate organization to work best.
  • ArtsSmarts has also been a force for change outside of the classroom. It can be applied to broader community development purposes. Educators in Saskatchewan adapted the ArtsSmarts approach to create “TreatySmarts”. This program exploring Canada’s treaty process uses, as core elements, experiential learning and artistic co-creation.
  • A paradoxical outcome occurred in the early stages of one project. In a Métis school in Northern Alberta, academic results initially declined considerably. This happened even as anecdotal evidence indicated that the program was generating beneficial impacts on student self esteem, and school and community culture. Here’s the lesson we learned: Change sometimes creates “noise” at one level. That can obscure deeper shifts in a system. Eventually, the school went on to become the most improved in the District, and a model for Indigenous schools across Canada.
  • The Canadian Council on Learning awarded ArtsSmarts a Researcher in Residence position. This enabled the program to carry out groundbreaking research on student engagement. This research also holds implications for knowledge management in other domains, such as community service learning.