When Everyone Owns the Place of the Arts

Boston is known as the “birthplace of public education” in America, so it’s only fitting that the Boston Public Schools (BPS) was celebrated at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) with an opening reception and ribbon cutting to highlight its student art exhibit, A Brighter Boston: Inspiring Creative Minds. The exhibit, now in ED’s headquarters, features 68 2-D and 3-D pieces from K – 12 students representing 17 Boston public schools. BPS received over 125 entries from teachers, which a panel of judges adjudicated.

U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. delivered the opening remarks. King was a teacher and an education leader in the state, having cofounded Roxbury Preparatory Charter School, a Boston middle school that became Massachusetts’ highest-performing open-admission urban middle school. In his remarks, King stressed the importance of the arts for providing a well-rounded education, acknowledging that there is not enough emphasis on the fact that “a well-rounded education is an excellent education.” This echoed his messages earlier in the month, at Las Vegas Academy of the Arts, to advocate for a well-rounded education for all students.

U.S. Secretary of Education John King delivers opening remarks.

In Boston, the arts have become an integral part of the academic curriculum and school culture. Seven years ago, Myran Parker-Brass, BPS’ executive director for the arts, was hired to help enrich the presence and experience of the arts in the district. BPS has since increased the number of art teachers in the schools by more than 100 percent, the k–8 weekly arts instruction from 67 to 93 percent, and the budget support for the arts by nearly $9 million. Doug Herbert, ED’s Arts in Education acting team lead, described Parker-Brass as “a triple threat – the artist, the educator, and [the] natural leader.” In fact, this year, Education Week named her one of the 13 District “Leaders to Learn From.”

Myran Parker-Brass, executive director for the arts, discusses the growth and impact of the arts in Boston Public Schools.

In her remarks, Parker-Brass described BPS as having a “strategic leadership model … [with] the district, … the schools, … the arts and philanthropic community, … our parents and the broader community … all advocating for the place of the arts in Boston Public Schools.” She added “I don’t have to continue to own the work because it now is beginning to be owned by the teachers, it’s owned by the principals and administrators in our buildings, it’s owned by the parents; and that is the wonderful place we find ourselves in.”

The most significant accomplishment said Parker-Brass is “the growth in the quality of arts teaching and learning that is happening in our classrooms.” This quality was evident at the opening – from the stunning art pieces, to the powerful, internationally award-winning videos that were shown, and to the stellar band performances from the Boston Arts Academy, a performing and visual arts high school. The academy’s Electric Quartet, a highlight of the program and comprising four seniors, performed three upbeat selections: Autumn Leaves by Johnny Mercer, Red Clay by Freddie Hubbard, and Actual Proof by Herbie Hancock.

The Boston Arts Academy Electric Quartet performs a selection.

The musicians all expressed their passion for the arts. Bassist Muneca Diaz said, “There is no other feeling like playing in a band in front of others, it’s an amazing feeling.”

Kemet Crayton, the drummer, was introduced to music when his mom “forced” him to play the piano. Crayton found his niche with the drums, he said: “…when I started playing the drums, I loved it!” He also said that playing the drums helped him to stay out of trouble.

All four students from the quartet will be attending college this fall to focus on music.

The event culminated with the traditional ribbon cutting to open the exhibit to the public. The exhibit is open through June.

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The student visual artists celebrate the opening of the exhibit with a ribbon cutting.

Asheley McBride is a management and program analyst for Arts in Education programs in the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education.

All photos are by U.S. Department of Education photographer Leslie Williams.

The Department’s Student Art Exhibit Program provides students and teachers an opportunity to display creative work from the classroom in a highly public space that honors their work as an effective path to learning and knowledge for all. To visit the exhibits or for information about exhibiting, contact Jacquelyn Zimmermann at jacquelyn.zimmermann@ed.gov. Visit the Student Art Exhibit Program at https://www.ed.gov/student-art-exhibit/.


  1. I understand that math and science are a more prominent part of the educational agenda now. Nonetheless, the arts didn’t need to be completely eliminated.
    Douglas Mallach

  2. Kudos to Myran Parker-Brass…..I feel privileged to have known and worked with her during her tenure with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

  3. Art is an important part of our human expression in schools, from the Kindergartener’s first crayon on a blank piece of paper to draw freely, to a University Art’s education graduating the high school student’s dream of a future where they as an artist demonstrates their artistic expression emerging from the Jungian belief of a planetary dreaming mind called the collective unconscious that awakes within us our pathways during our life time. Thank you to the USA Education-ED.gov for supporting the continuation of the Arts in schools.

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