On the benefits of the Arts to human nature


FOR many education advocates, the arts are a panacea: They supposedly increase test scores, generate social responsibility and turn around failing schools. Most of the supporting evidence, though, does little more than establish correlations between exposure to the arts and certain outcomes. Research that demonstrates a causal relationship has been virtually nonexistent.

A few years ago, however, we had a rare opportunity to explore such relationships when the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened in Bentonville, Ark. Through a large-scale, random-assignment study of school tours to the museum, we were able to determine that strong causal relationships do in fact exist between arts education and a range of desirable outcomes.

Students who, by lottery, were selected to visit the museum on a field trip demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills, displayed higher levels of social tolerance, exhibited greater historical empathy and developed a taste for art museums and cultural institutions.

Crystal Bridges, which opened in November 2011, was founded by Alice Walton, the daughter of Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart. It is impressive, with 50,000 square feet of gallery space and an endowment of more than $800 million.

Thanks to a generous private gift, the museum has a program that allows school groups to visit at no cost to students or schools.

Before the opening, we were contacted by the museum’s education department. They recognized that the opening of a major museum in an area that had never had one before was an unusual event that ought to be studied. But they also had a problem. Because the school tours were being offered free, in an area where most children had very little prior exposure to cultural institutions, demand for visits far exceeded available slots. In the first year alone, the museum received applications from 525 school groups requesting tours for more than 38,000 students.

As social scientists, we knew exactly how to solve this problem. We partnered with the museum and conducted a lottery to fill the available slots. By randomly assigning school tours, we were able to allocate spots fairly. Doing so also created a natural experiment to study the effects of museum visits on students, the results of which we published in the journals Education Next and Educational Researcher.

Over the course of the following year, nearly 11,000 students and almost 500 teachers participated in our study, roughly half of whom had been selected by lottery to visit the museum. Applicant groups who won the lottery constituted our treatment group, while those who did not win an immediate tour served as our control group.

Several weeks after the students in the treatment group visited the museum, we administered surveys to all of the students. The surveys included multiple items that assessed knowledge about art, as well as measures of tolerance, historical empathy and sustained interest in visiting art museums and other cultural institutions. We also asked them to write an essay in response to a work of art that was unfamiliar to them.

These essays were then coded using a critical-thinking-skills assessment program developed by researchers working with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

Further, we directly measured whether students are more likely to return to Crystal Bridges as a result of going on a school tour. Students who participated in the study were given a coupon that gave them and their families free entry to a special exhibit at the museum. The coupons were coded so that we could determine the group to which students belonged. Students in the treatment group were 18 percent more likely to attend the exhibit than students in the control group.

Moreover, most of the benefits we observed are significantly larger for minority students, low-income students and students from rural schools — typically two to three times larger than for white, middle-class, suburban students — owing perhaps to the fact that the tour was the first time they had visited an art museum.

Further research is needed to determine what exactly about the museum-going experience determines the strength of the outcomes. How important is the structure of the tour? The size of the group? The type of art presented?

Clearly, however, we can conclude that visiting an art museum exposes students to a diversity of ideas that challenge them with different perspectives on the human condition. Expanding access to art, whether through programs in schools or through visits to area museums and galleries, should be a central part of any school’s curriculum.

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Brian Kisida is a senior research associate and Jay P. Greene is a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas. Daniel H. Bowen is a postdoctoral fellow at the Kinder Institute of Rice University.


Some music and a poem for my sister celebration



1.- Meditation, Jules Massenet


2.- The Swan, Saint Saens


3.- Robert Schumann, Traumerei/Reverie


4.- Claude Debussy, Clair de Lune


5.- Solveig´s Song, Edvard Grieg


6.- Out of Africa, Mozart, clarinet & oboe concert


7.- Life is Beautiful, Barcarolle, Offenbach,


*       *            *                *           *           *           *

Pablo Neruda

Poema 12

Para mi corazón basta tu pecho,
para tu libertad bastan mis alas.
Desde mi boca llegará hasta el cielo
lo que estaba dormido sobre tu alma.

Es en ti la ilusión de cada día.
Llegas como el rocío a las corolas.
Socavas el horizonte con tu ausencia.
Eternamente en fuga como la ola.

He dicho que cantabas en el viento
como los pinos y como los mástiles.
Como ellos eres alta y taciturna.
Y entristeces de pronto como un viaje.

Acogedora como un viejo camino.
Te pueblan ecos y voces nostálgicas.
Yo desperté y a veces emigran y huyen
pájaros que dormían en tu alma.

Pablo Neruda, Poem 12

For my heart your breast suffices,
For your freedom my wings suffice.
From my mouth will arrive toward heaven
what was sleeping above your soul.

Always in you, the dream of each day.
You arrive like the dew upon the inner flower.
You undermine the horizon with your absence.
You, like the wave, an eternal fugue.

I’ve said that that you sang in the wind,
as the pines and the masts do.
Like them you are tall and taciturn.
And you sadden quickly, as a voyage  does.

Welcomer, like an old road.
Echoes and melancholy voices people you.
I awoke, and on some occasions migrate and flee
the birds that were sleeping in your soul.


Do I need an “Internet Vacation”?

twitter fail image

twitter fail image

This last week I have been busy with conferences, other events, and have not been able to “do email” as often. Result: the Inboxes of my four email accounts are “burning” and I have realized that I can´t keep up with four email accounts, my Facebook and Twitter ones, a blog…

I have spent most of my weekend trying to check, organize and respond emails. Certainly, I´d love to have done something more fun or just to have advanced my numerous work deadlines!

That´s why I have thought about unsubscribing of some of the newsletters I receive, and about stopping to do Facebook and Twitter to catch up with friends. Instead, I will try to be in touch through email, text and, above all, face to face: having a coffee, going to an art event, show, etc.

Will I survive our tech-world without the social networks?


“The bridge to your heart”

Not really, I made up the title of this suggestive photograph whose author is Juliana Manara.

She has been one of the winners of the International Fine Art Photography Competition 2013 (Honorable Mention Experimental).


You can check the work of the winners in the following link



“Life is a Dream”, by Calderón de La Barca

Bronze relief representing Life is a Dream. De...

Bronze relief representing Life is a Dream. Detail of the monument to Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600–1681) at the Plaza de Santa Ana (square) in Madrid (Spain), made of marble and bronze by Joan Figueras Vila (1829–1881) in 1878 and inaugurated in 1880. 

I ran into one of my former students a few days ago. He is also an actor and told me that he would be representing “La Vida es Sueño”, well known playwright by Calderón de La Barca…

Introductory Note

Pedro Calderon de la Barca was born in Madrid, January 17, 1600, of good family. He was educated at the Jesuit College in Madrid and at the University of Salamanca; and a doubtful tradition says that he began to write plays at the age of thirteen. His literary activity was interrupted for ten years, 1625-1635, by military service in Italy and the Low Countries, and again for a year or more in Catalonia. In 1637 he became a Knight of the Order of Santiago, and in 1651 he entered the priesthood, rising to the dignity of Superior of the Brotherhood of San Pedro in Madrid. He held various offices in the court of Philip IV, who rewarded his services with pensions, and had his plays produced with great splendor. He died May 5, 1681.

At the time when Calderon began to compose for the stage, the Spanish drama was at its height. Lope de Vega, the most prolific and, with Calderon, the greatest, of Spanish dramatists, was still alive; and by his applause gave encouragement to the beginner whose fame was to rival his own. The national type of drama which Lope had established was maintained in its essential characteristics by Calderon, and he produced abundant specimens of all its varieties. Of regular plays he has left a hundred and twenty; of “Autos Sacramentales,” the peculiar Spanish allegorical development of the medieval mystery, we have seventy-three; besides a considerable number of farces.

The dominant motives in Calderon’s dramas are characteristically national: fervid loyalty to Church and King, and a sense of honor heightened almost to the point of the fantastic. Though his plays are laid in a great variety of scenes and ages, the sentiment and the characters remain essentially Spanish; and this intensely local quality has probably lessened the vogue of Calderon in other countries. In the construction and conduct of his plots he showed great skill, yet the ingenuity expended in the management of the story did not restrain the fiery emotion and opulent imagination which mark his finest speeches and give them a lyric quality which some critics regard as his greatest distinction.

Of all Calderon’s works, “Life is a Dream” may be regarded as the most universal in its theme. It seeks to teach a lesson that may be learned from the philosophers and religious thinkers of many ages—that the world of our senses is a mere shadow, and that the only reality is to be found in the invisible and eternal. The story which forms its basis is Oriental in origin, and in the form of the legend of “Barlaam and Josaphat” was familiar in all the literatures of the Middle Ages. Combined with this in the plot is the tale of Abou Hassan from the “Arabian Nights,” the main situations in which are turned to farcical purposes in the Induction to the Shakespearean “Taming of the Shrew.” But with Calderon the theme is lifted altogether out of the atmosphere of comedy, and is worked up with poetic sentiment and a touch of mysticism into a symbolic drama of profound and universal philosophical significance.