Partners in the Arts

Integrating Community & Culture into PK-12 Instruction through the Arts & Technology

Puzzle icon

Integrated Instruction

We empower and support educators with experiential and interdisciplinary instructional practices in all content areas, at all levels, and for all students.

People icon

Levels of Expertise

We connect students, educators, community experts, and arts & cultural institutions to improve academic outcomes and social emotional learning.

Lightbulb icon

Professional Development

We train educators, teaching artists, and community experts side-by-side through customized, experiential workshops and courses.

Expand All
  • What is Partners in the Arts?

    Partners in the Arts (PIA) was founded in 1994 as the education arm of the Arts Council of Richmond. It is a membership consortium consisting of the Richmond region’s public school divisions, independent schools, and the arts and cultural community. The PIA Board of Advisors includes representatives from the City of Richmond, Chesterfield, Goochland, Hanover, Henrico, and Powhatan county school divisions, and community partners and stakeholders. The founding mission of making the arts integral to learning in all classrooms through training, in-school project implementation support, and advocacy continues today.

    Consortium member school divisions and institutions contribute funds or in-kind support to continue the work of Partners in the Arts. This support provides all educators and administrators in each school division access to PIA resources, and eligibility to participate in PIA programs at a discounted rates or free of charge.

    PIA provides research and evidence-based programs and has benefitted from three federally funded grants supporting the initial three-year pilot (NEA 1994-1997), the Teacher Training and Project grant (NEA 2005-2007), and the development and research of the Arts Integrated Learning Certificate (USDOE 2017-2022).

  • What does Partners in the Arts do?

    We are the Richmond region’s premier resource for integrated learning and teaching in PK-12 classrooms. We provide a spectrum of services to regional educators.

    Professional Learning

    We provide workshops and professional development for educators in PK-12 at the division, school, or class level as well as training for teaching artists and community experts. Workshops, courses, or seminars can be customized by content area, delivery method and length, and credentialing. As a program at the University of Richmond, we provide professional certificates, VDOE recertification eligible certificates, for-credit courses, and an Integrated Learning Certificate. Our flagship Joan Oates Institute occurs each summer.

    Consulting & Instructional Coaching

    We consult at the individual, organization, school, or division level. Our staff can help educators and artists address content, a classroom concern or need, develop instructional practices, or plan an integrated community- or project-based unit. Our PIA-trained instructional coaches can provide online or in-person support through classroom observations, group coaching, one-on-one coaching sessions, and contributing to the continual refinement and expansion of educators’ expertise.

    Implementing School-Based Projects

    We support interdisciplinary projects that integrate creativity in the classroom while serving as models of partnership among schools, artists, arts and cultural organizations, and community professionals. Our projects provide opportunities for teachers to provide deeper learning for all students across content areas, while developing critical thinking, creative thinking, collaboration, communication, and citizenship skills.

    From 1994-2021, we awarded project implementation support and funds through the PIA Awards and Engaging Creative Thinkers (ECT) Awards. In the summer of 2022, we transitioned to the comprehensive Joan Oates Institute for Integrated Learning (JOIFIL) model, where teams of teachers and teaching artists train, plan, and implement what they design over the summer together in-school with their classes. Our projects can engage a class, grade-level, or whole school to connect teachers, students, families, and the community.

  • How can I get involved with Partners in the Arts?

    Whether you are a student, educator, teaching artist, arts/cultural organization, community expert, or community stakeholder, we have opportunities for engagement, learning, support, and new partnerships!

    We’d love to work with you if you are...

    • an educator interested in professional development or project support.
    • an administrator looking for training for your staff, instructional coaching, or curriculum consulting.
    • an artist or expert excited to hone your teaching skills and work with students.
    • a cultural organization hoping to partner with us.
    • a community stakeholder who can support our program or contribute to our work.
    • a student or community member seeking internship or volunteer opportunities. 

    Please fill out the contact form on this page, learn more on our Engage with Us page, or email and our staff will reach out to you shortly.

  • Who was Joan Oates?

    Joan Oates headshot

    Joan Oates was an educator, artist, and philanthropist who believed that the arts have no boundaries, that arts are a universal language among all people, and that the arts are integral to learning all subjects. She was humble, kind, patient, and empowering, and as she worked throughout her life to make the arts accessible to everyone, she always had a twinkle in her eyes and a smile for all.

    As founding co-chair of Partners in the Arts (PIA), Oates worked with the Arts Council of Richmond’s research team, Arts Market Consultants, and school divisions to develop the vision and mission of this unique arts-in-education program. The Arts in Education Plan developed from 18 months of research that included over 150 schools and community members, and received the highest non-museum grant awarded from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Oates was instrumental in obtaining an additional NEA grant for PIA in 2004, supporting teacher training, assessment, and projects in schools.

    Following the 1994 inaugural year of PIA Awards supporting arts-integrated projects in schools, the first PIA summer institute was held in 1995 on the University of Richmond campus. In 2009, Oates worked with then-President Ed Ayers to bring PIA to the School of Professional and Continuing Studies (SPCS) permanently. She endowed the summer institute, which became the Joan Oates Institute, with the largest individual gift to SPCS.

    Guided by Oates’ vision, PIA has trained over 1,200 teachers and the PIA Awards have supported over 200 projects, awarding $1.2M to teams of teachers and artists for projects in Richmond-area schools. Her support and passion impacted many of our regions’ best projects, such as the Richmond Ballet’s Minds in Motion program, which started as a PIA dance grant.

    Oates was a unique artist and educator, and a rare individual who lived by example. Her name was rarely in the newspaper, except when she was asked to write articles on the arts. She was as comfortable speaking with political representatives as she was sitting on the floor teaching first graders. Oates epitomized the “servant leader,” someone who leads through helping others.

    The YWCA honored Joan in 2007 as one of Richmond’s Outstanding Women. She also received the Central Virginia AFP Chapter Individual Philanthropist of the Year award in 2013 and was selected among 2013 Women in the Arts by Style Weekly. Oates is a member of the University of Richmond Quatrefoil Society as a benefactor whose transformative philanthropy over time has helped shape the University.

    The legacy of Joan Oates lives on in the Joan Oates Institute, in the curricula of hundreds of teachers trained through PIA, and in the educational experiences of thousands of local students who benefited from high-quality integrated instruction.

    Give to the Joan Oates Fund

  • What is the Integrated Learning Certificate?

    In 2017, Richmond Public Schools, in partnership with the University of Richmond’s Partners in the Arts program, was awarded a $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to support our commitment to transform instruction in schools. The grant funded the pilot Arts Integrated Learning Certificate program, allowing two cohorts of select RPS educators to earn a 180-hour professional certificate in arts integrated learning from the University of Richmond. PIA Director Rob McAdams co-authored the grant and led the implementation and research as Project Director and Principal Investigator.

    The Integrated Learning Certificate uses the Partners in the Arts instructional framework to build competencies in integrated teaching and learning. The certificate requires the following three courses, a capstone project, and can include ongoing instructional coaching:

    Joan Oates Institute: Foundations of Arts Integration

    In this foundational course, teachers develop the tools to:

    • Build a learning community based on equity, trust, and candor.
    • Understand and communicate the research supporting arts integration pedagogies.
    • Align arts and non-arts standards through content, modalities, and evidence.
    • Design and implement strategies to build a student-centered learning community through culturally responsive teaching and learning.

    Telling the Story of Learning: Peformance-Based Assessment

    Learning side-by-side with teaching artists, teachers are guided through the process of:

    • Using the arts as creative assessment strategies to facilitate deep and experiential learning.
    • Partnering with teaching artists to bring arts expertise into the classroom.
    • Applying the “teacher as curator” model to provide ongoing capture of evidence of learning.
    • Developing a feedback loop for reflection of both student work and teacher’s practice.
    • Empowering students to construct and demonstrate understanding through choice.

    Making the Connections: Collaborative Unit Planning

    Teachers bring together everything they’ve learned and experienced to:

    • Develop collaborative relationships with community expertise and learn to navigate Richmond’s rich regional arts and culture resources.
    • Connect students to their local and global communities and establish connections between real-world experiences and curricular content.
    • Plan, implement, and reflect upon an integrated unit with a community partner.
    • Explore content through the lenses of multiple disciplines for improved student engagement and understanding.