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Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto

Urban Arts High Schools Project

From Fame to Glee, from High School Musical to MTV’s Taking the Stage, the lives of high school students involved in the arts have captured the public’s attention. Reinforcing ideas of artistic eccentricity and individual talent, these popular movies and TV programs have provided audiences with a cinematic window into the lives of youth in unique educational environments dedicated to the arts. In the last twenty-five years there has been a veritable explosion of specialized arts programs in both Canada and the United States. Often the rationale for these specialized programs is that they prepare talented students to become artists in the future. The literature is abundant regarding the importance of such programs for student learning, yet, there is little research done on the public role that these programs play or their significance for influencing educational reform. What public roles and responsibilities will these future artists fulfill? How might the experiences of students and teachers working in these schools inform the development of other arts programs in urban centres? The Urban Arts High Schools Project is a comparative research study that explores students’ experiences with the arts in the context of contrasting specialized arts programs in public high schools located in urban regions across Canada and the US. The project examines how experiences with the arts are situated in specific institutional arrangements within which youth engage the arts through particular practices that reflect the broader social and cultural context, but that are neither static nor predetermined. The project will: (1) document how specialized arts programs are implemented within different policy contexts; (2) examine how diverse students experience these arrangements in relationship to contrasting goals and conceptions of the role of the arts in education; (3) consider how social and cultural practices related to race, class, gender, and sexuality shape how arts programs are implemented and how students experience them; (4) compare the ways students from different social and cultural backgrounds experience these programs and whether and how they come to identify themselves as artists. This research explores the strengths, challenges, and tensions that arise from offering “specialized” arts programs within public education systems, while illuminating how experiences with the arts are situated within particular cultural contexts and influenced by complex social dynamics. For further information, contact Rubén Gaztambide-Fernández.

Urban Arts High Schools Project Website


[ Project Report ]