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How To Use the Arts To Boost Communities

A Principal Foundation-funded arts education program cultivates real-world skills for students.

How To Use the Arts To Boost Communities

A Principal Foundation-funded arts education program cultivates real-world skills for students.

Published 09-19-23

Submitted by Principal Financial Group, Inc.

Young adult in art studio holding a paintbrush and getting ready to work on a large painting canvas.

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The positive impacts of arts education for students of all ages have long been acknowledged—improved engagement, setting goals for higher education, and cognitive empathy, to name a few.1

However, access to arts education is often limited: The students who could benefit the most from it are often the least likely to receive it.2

“Studies have shown that art is a way to enhance the educational experience—to engage students, encourage them to persist, and help set them upon the path to financial security that they wish to walk,” says Jo Christine Miles, director of Principal Foundation®. “Art is also known to create community, which is something all students need to foster growth and help them become productive community members.”

To expand those pathways, Principal Foundation has funded a collaboration between the Des Moines Art Center and the Des Moines, Iowa-based By Degrees Foundation. Called My Voice, the partnership took place during the 2021–2022 and 2022-2023 school years.

Supporting students through arts education

The By Degrees Foundation, which works with public schools on the city’s north side, selected 12 elementary, middle, and high school students each year to participate in the My Voice cohort. Arts educators from the Art Center developed a curriculum on how to view, discuss, and critique art, intended to help develop critical thinking and vocabulary skills. “Art can inspire us,” says Mia Buch, Des Moines Art Center museum educator. “This program really allowed the curiosity of these students to shine in the things they care about.”

The students made multiple visits to the Art Center for tours with an arts educator. As a capstone project, each student selected a work from the museum’s permanent collection and responded with original artwork of their own. “Throughout this process I learned many new skills and information about my background,” says Karla, an eighth-grade student who participated in My Voice. The piece she created “influences my future artworks by telling a story, not just a big idea, but what’s behind it.”

Building community through art

Statistics demonstrate the value of arts education to students—and those benefits extend far beyond schoolhouse walls. Support for the arts unifies communities, boosts local economies and businesses, and sparks innovation.3

“Art is a universal language,” Miles says. “Pick a country, pick a time period, pick a piece of art, and you will see something, learn something, and understand something.”

Principal Foundation funding for My Voice extended to include the publication of four Art Center video “toolboxes” for educators, parents, and students. The topics include what to expect when visiting a museum, how to prepare for a museum visit with small children, and how to invite curiosity into the museum experience.

The efforts fit neatly into the wide-ranging support that Principal Foundation provides across the globe for basic needs, financial literacy and health, and the arts. “Art brings people together physically—at galleries, museums, performance spaces—and culturally, through its capacity to tell a community’s shared story, to inspire reflection, and form connections that transcend differences,” Miles says.

For students, the impact extended beyond the classroom. “I loved My Voice,” says Eh, a ninth grade student. “It made me proud of my work, my family loved my piece, and [it] made me happy. I also loved seeing artists from different backgrounds come together because of art.”

Learn more about Principal Foundation grants and priorities.

1Journal of Policy Analysis and Management

2The Arts and Public Education, American Academy of Arts & Sciences

3Americans for the Arts

Principal Financial Group Foundation, Inc. ("Principal® Foundation") is a duly recognized 501(c)(3) entity focused on providing philanthropic support to programs that build financial security in the communities where Principal Financial Group, Inc. ("Principal") operates. While Principal Foundation receives funding from Principal, Principal Foundation is a distinct, independent, charitable entity. Principal Foundation does not practice any form of investment advisory services and is not authorized to do so.


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Principal Financial Group, Inc.

Principal Financial Group, Inc.

Principal Financial Group® (Nasdaq: PFG) is a global financial company with 18,500 employees1 passionate about improving the wealth and well-being of people and businesses. In business for more than 140 years, we’re helping more than 51 million customers1 plan, protect, invest, and retire, while working to support the communities where we do business, and build a diverse, inclusive workforce. Principal® is proud to be recognized as one of America’s 100 Most Sustainable Companies2, a member of the Bloomberg Gender Equality Index, and a Top 10 “Best Places to Work in Money Management3.” Learn more about Principal and our commitment to building a better future at

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