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Creative Access

Idaho Parents Unlimited

Throughout 2017-2018 Idaho Parents Unlimited’s Creative Access Artist in Residence program provided arts education curriculum for students across Idaho in community centers, special and general education classes. Our steadfast commitment to providing high quality arts education for students with disabilities and special health care needs continues to be our primary focus. Our mandate to promote inclusion opportunities for students of all abilities alongside non-disabled peers underpins the configuration of our residencies. Universal Design for Learning guides access to curriculum and ensures learning outcomes for all students.
Eighteen residencies took place at 12 schools and 2 community centers in visual, performing, literary and media art. Residencies were linked to Idaho state standards for Arts and Humanities; individual residencies were also linked to state standards for biology, physical education, and English.  The residencies are designed to meet the diverse needs of students with disabilities and address their IEP goals for motor skills, social skills and academic requirements. Students ranged from kindergarten to extended 12th grade encompassing varied intellectual, physical and developmental disabilities. Our program also served isolated rural students, children with cancer, homeschooled youth and high school students with developmental disabilities.

The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:

How does art impact the quality of students’ lives? In what ways does art extend our perceptions?

Art impacts the quality of students’ lives by making meaningful connections between subjects and shedding light on cultural norms and personal experiences. Art offers students kinetic engagement, strengthening concepts and illuminating new perspectives. By participating in design choices, exploring interests, and problem solving in arts experiences, students’ critical thinking and resilience is enhanced. Arts education experiences fortify quality of life by providing context for information and improving their ability to exercise reason and empathy. Students are motivated to participate and create when academic subjects come to life through artistic activities, settings and discussions thereby expanding their thinking processes. Students with disabilities are over looked in independent choice making due to a slower learning pace. Current academic climates often focus on testing, leaving out the exploration of ideas and materials where students can engage deeply in subject matter. Our residencies provide students the time and space to truly engage in the creative process. The benefit is a global learning experience via the frontal lobe and cerebellum of the brain where executive functioning transpires. Forming these neurologic connections is important for all students, but it’s a particularly effective tool in reaching children with disabilities who may not learn efficiently in the traditional educational models.

At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:

Residencies include Idaho state standards in visual, literary and performing Arts and Humanities, interdisciplinary, as follows:
Goal 2.2- Engage in discussions about arts and humanities issues
Goal 3.2- Communicate in the humanities discipline through the application knowledge and skills
Goal 3.3 -Communicate in the humanities discipline through creative expression

Our population is comprised of hundreds of students with disabilities, many of whom have speech delays, challenging their ability to respond to questions in the traditional academic framework. However, evidence of learning was apparent when students responded by showing excitement and enthusiasm about their art residency and participated to the best of their ability. Students demonstrated learning by making creative contributions, following instructions and performing in final showcase events.

At the conclusion of a residency in a special education classroom at Whitney Elementary, students demonstrated learning by teaching and leading a dance class for a class of 23 preschoolers. (Goal 3.3 -Communicate in the humanities discipline through creative expression).

At Capital High school students responded to Goal 3.2- Communicate in the humanities discipline through the application knowledge and skills, by parlaying their printmaking and graphic design residency into posters for a variety of student clubs and events which they posted in the schools halls and on social media.

At Notus Elementary fifth graders engaged in a residency focused on writing descriptive essays about places and personal events, reciting them for parents and classmates at a final showcase event. (Goal 2.2- Engage in discussions about arts and humanities issues).


The impact of our program is demonstrated by students’ improvements in artistic skills, critical thinking, and knowledge of related subject matter. Teachers reported increases in vocabulary, visual acuity and motor skills during the residencies. Gains in motivation, focus and engagement in the learning process was also evident during arts education residencies. Communication increased between students, expanding capacity for learning and skill building through engagement in the arts and correlating them to other core subjects.
Our inclusive residencies also impact how society views people with disabilities. Arts integrated learning is a forum for creativity and collaboration and breaks down barriers between people and perceptions. Many students with disabilities/ special health care needs find a voice in the arts which enhances their ability to communicate. James Castle is Idaho’s most famous artist with a disability.  Through Castle’s exploration of materials and visually expressions, Castle was able to find his artistic voice and leave a lasting impression on the art world. Castle serves as an example of what is possible by communicating through the arts

By including and engaging students in the arts, we are planting the future seeds for inclusion, collaboration and expression. The impact of creative and innovative thinking are critical for students in today’s schools, yielding innovative thinkers for the future. People with disabilities have a unique and important role to play in the world of innovation, technology and design of tomorrow, offering input and creating items that are more accessible and user friendly to everyone.


One out of every five students has disability or health issue, yet many are not able to fully engage in the school curriculum and activities due to lack of resources, understanding and underfunded schools. Our program addresses the need for every child to participate in creative arts learning and expression. Our community-based residencies are held specifically to reach students who are homeschooled or undergoing active treatment. Our public school residencies take place in rural, urban and suburban settings across Idaho, reaching as many students as possible with arts education curriculum. Our aim is to reduce and remove barriers to the greatest extend possible for our students. Although we have been administering residencies for more than 20 years, we witness new and surprising benefits for students each grant cycle.  Sparking interest in students has revealed significant learning outcomes, increased attendance and cooperation. Our program involves many types of visual and performing residencies, and is broad reaching because the population we serve is neurologically diverse. Our residency sites yield a bouquet of diverse learning outcomes, offering continual insights into how engagement in the arts produces powerful learning results for students. Our emphasis on disability and inclusion underscores a wide range of both expected and unexpected positive outcomes. Our reports show that our students gained substantial increases in learning, ability and motivation. Our residencies include participants from kindergarten to extend high school across the state.  We served both non-disabled students as well as those with an enormous range of abilities and disabilities. This inclusive aspect of our program fosters understanding, tolerance and comradery. We have found that by elevating diversity within the student population and providing opportunity for engagement, all learners will rise to the occasion.