Remembering Dr. James Catterall


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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.

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