#WeAllDeserveArts: Jeff Poulin, Educator, Non-profit Administrator

#WeAllDeserveArts: Students deserve arts education now more than ever

#WeAllDeserveTheArts So We Can Change the World

May 29, 2020

Written by Jeff Poulin, Educator, Non-profit Administrator

We Need a New Language

On March 24, 2018, I stood in my apartment in Washington, D.C. as the city was abuzz with the nation’s latest protest – A March for Our Lives. Since fall 2016, Sunday morning protests had become a regular occurrence in the wake of the presidential election; people were mobilized. However, this march seemed different. In fact, it was different – it was led by students: young artists, creatives, and activists. I stood in awe as I watched a group of young people raise their voices to change the country for the better.

This moment started me reflecting on my work advocating for equitable access to arts education for America’s learners. What I came to realize in my reflection is that we have bungled the talking points for years; as an arts education field, we were not accurately representing the powerful work happening in classrooms and communities around the country.

Arts education did not increase just test scores or lower dropout rates, as national advocacy narratives often declare. By learning in and through the arts, young people in many communities have developed the creative capabilities to creatively think, to be culturally conscious, to connect with others, and to serve their communities and the world.

We, arts advocates, need a new language – So I got going.

Changing the Narrative

As a research nerd, I dove into the literature and proposed a solution: the language of the “Creative Generation.” This is a term taken from consumer marketing and repurposed in the arts/culture and education sectors to describe an intergenerational group of people who share certain creative capabilities. These capabilities, I would argue, are the new shared language we need to describe the outcomes of arts and cultural education today:

  • Creative Thinking: the ability to identify challenges, and employ creativity to envision solutions;
  • Cultural Consciousness: the process of understanding of one’s own cultural identify and a developing a respect for, and often participation within, other diverse cultures;
  • Connectivity: a commitment to remaining engaged with peer or social groups regardless of time or location, through virtual and interpersonal means; and
  • Concern for Community: acting as a servant leader, regardless of means, to strengthen the communities to which one belongs.

I took the concept on the road, and workshopped it through a series of 30 case studies in 24 nations, shared it at the World Alliance for Arts Education and the World Youth Forum, and began to re-think the narrative.

A New Approach

Our end result – which anyone who is reading this blog is welcome to use, re-purpose, share, or whatever – is a new campaign, we launched in 2020: Arts and Cultural Education is a Fundamental, Civil, and Human Right.

I spend my days now, working with the next generation of educators, policymakers, and young creatives to make the necessary changes we need in the world – focused on the logic above. It’s filled with lots of policy documents, research papers, global Zoom calls at all hours of the night to accommodate myriad time zones – but the real focus of this work is every student and every learner who can become our leaders and changemakers of tomorrow. We must keep them central in this work.

A Call to Action

#WeAllDeserveTheArts so that we can all participate in civil society, so that we may all be engaged in civic discourse, and so that we all may lead in our communities, nations, and the world.

This week, from May 25-31, the World Alliance for Arts Education and UNESCO will celebrate International Arts Education Week. Together, as a field, we will be celebrating through social media using #ArtsEdWeek and #ArtsUniteUs, learning together through an incredible webinar series, and sharing our work to foster a global community of practice. I invite you to join.

Let us take local action to tackle national or global problems. Let us redefine our language for justifying the impact of arts education. And let us continue to work with young leaders in new and different ways. Especially during these trying times, we – the arts educators – are resilient, innovative, and feisty – it’s our time to shine as we continue to develop the creative capabilities of the next generation.


Jeff M. Poulin is an American educator, non-profit administrator, and social entrepreneur whose work is grounded in social justice and seeks transformative solutions to the world’s greatest challenges. With over a decade of experience in the fields of cultural policy and education, Jeff leads Creative Generation, working to inspire, connect, and amplify the work of young creatives and those who are dedicated to cultivating their creative capabilities.

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