Back to blog

Remembering Dr. James Catterall

Date: 01 September 2017

The Arts Education Partnership (AEP) is saddened by the recent passing of the esteemed Dr. James Catterall, professor emeritus at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California. Throughout his professional career, Dr. Catterall made significant contributions to the arts in education, including his notable work “Doing Well and Doing Good by Doing Art: The Effects of Education in the Visual and Performing Arts on the Achievements and Values of Young Adults”, a book that AEP highlighted in 2009. His dedication to the arts in education and his lasting impact on this field will forever be remembered.

A very special thank you to Sunil Iyengar, research & analysis director at the National Endowment for the Arts, for sharing his personal memories of Dr. Catterall and his work in this blog post.

When I first met James Catterall, I recall thinking he had a slightly abstracted air, but one that held neither aloofness nor idle preoccupation. He was constantly observing, learning and growing, it seemed to me then – a suspicion that was confirmed the very last time I saw him. Earlier this year, in L.A. for an arts data “hackathon” sponsored by the LA County Arts Commission, I saw him seated at a table with other local activists, listening patiently to the menu of data sources at hand. When I caught his attention, he was keen to introduce me to a student sitting next to him.

My first memory of James is his presence on an AEP research teleconference. When he checked in, he told us he was painting while he spoke. For all I know, he was just touching up his back porch, but my conviction at the time was that he was actually painting – as on a canvas – and I warmed to the vision of an educational researcher who exemplified the creativity he was renowned for studying.

Right around then, paging through his “Doing Well and Doing Good by Doing Art,” I realized that it contained the seeds of a government publication that could capture the interest of education policy analysts everywhere. Accordingly, in 2012, the National Endowment for the Arts published “The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Yourh,” based on James’ investigation (with co-authors Susan Dumas and Gillian Hamden-Thompson) of correlations noted in that earlier book, but availing of four large longitudinal databases.

The report became – and remains – one of the “greatest hits” of the NEA’s research office, appearing regularly in news clips and having been cited by other researchers, policy makers and arts professionals, and even by the occasional celebrity, as part of an evidence base supporting robust exposure to the arts early in life. James charmed our National Council with his presentation of the research results, and then-Chairman of the NEA Rocco Landesman requested a mass mailing of the report to education leaders around the country.

I regret not having called James more often, as I frequently left our exchanges with material that, I could not help but feel, offered grist for future studies, if not always for government reports. His was one of the most accessible and rejuvenating voices on the arts education research scene. He will be sorely missed.

To leave your messages of condolence, please click here.

Title: 2280 Pasos Bajo un Cielo Nublado | Artist: Hernán Jourdan | Medium: Film

When I was asked to create a work of art exploring literacy, I wanted to create a dance but I had no dancers or a studio, so I chose to use my own body in the space I had, my yard. Fluent Nature is video of micro-choreography that explores what cannot be expressed with words, how nature has its own language, and how placing the human body in nature changes the story.

Title: What Is Me and What Is Not Me | Artist: Alex Chadwell | Medium: Music

My thinking on arts and literacy centers around the concept of literacies and artmaking as both sense-making and meaning-making processes that organically and inevitably overlap, intersect, and reciprocate. Compositionally, What is me and what is not me is a sound collage of sorts (there is no notation for the piece, and I'd be hard pressed to recreate it accurately) that abstractly and aurally represents the relationships between literacies and artmaking.

Title: A Curious Honeybee | Artist: Gideon Young | Medium: Film

Offering welcome through traditional and digital elements of literacy, A Curious Honeybee provides an experiential learning environment by activating visual, musical, natural, and emotional literacies.

Title: Tercera Llamada | Artist: Karilú Forshee | Medium: Audio

La Carpa Theatre is a project that I am currently directing in the Detroit Latinx community. The project aims to strengthen and uplift youth voices through devised theatre, in the style of the Mexican Carpas. This audio was created in the theatrical environment envisioned for our project. The ways in which literacies are re-defined are at the heart of La Carpa Theatre's mission.

Title: Literaseas | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite and ink on paper with digital edits

Title: A Riddle | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite on paper with digital edits

Title: False Binaries | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite on paper with digital edits