Helping communities harness the power of the arts


The positive impacts of arts education for students of all ages have long been acknowledged—improved cognitive and critical thinking skills, higher test scores and graduation rates, and reduced disciplinary infractions, to name a few.1

However, access to arts education is often limited: The very students who could benefit from it the most are often the least likely to receive it.2 To expand those pathways, Principal® Foundation funded a collaboration called My Voice between the Des Moines Art Center and the Des Moines, Iowa-based By Degrees Foundation during the 2021–2022 school year. Its goal was to demonstrate how intentional, focused art education could enhance students’ educational experience.

“Studies have shown that art is a way to enhance the educational experience—to engage students, encourage them to persist, and 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.”

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 to participate in the inaugural My Voice cohort. Art 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. The students made multiple visits to the Art Center for tours with an art educator. As a capstone project, each student selected a work from the museum’s permanent collection and responded with original artwork of their own.

“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.”

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


The arts at Principal

Nearly a century ago, Principal Financial Group® recognized the importance of art in everyday life. In the 1930s, it used art to promote cultural awareness, reach diverse audiences, and promote employee participation in the arts. The program was formalized in 1985 by then Principal® CEO John Taylor (1927–2007) and now includes more than 700 contemporary works by both established and emerging artists from around the world, as well as employee volunteer docents. The program functions as yet another piece of Principal culture, demonstrating a commitment to diversity in thought.

Two different events every autumn help to recognize the importance of art.

Graphic of a calendar. The week beginning with the second Sunday in September is National Arts in Education Week. In 2022, the celebration is September 11–17.

Graphic of a calendar. October is National Arts & Humanities Month, a country-wide recognition of the importance of culture in the United States.


Principal Foundation funding for My Voice extended beyond those dozen students 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.

Graphic of quote

As for those first My Voices students, they were celebrated at an Art Center exhibition, complete with a high school orchestra, members of the public, and their art displayed on the museum’s walls. “Before My Voice, these students may have considered themselves to be artistic,” says Heather Isaacson, By Degrees program director. “Now they know in their heart of hearts they are authentic artists, and their place in this community matters. We are all better for what they create.”




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

3Americans for the Arts

My Voice, By Degrees Foundation, and Des Moines Art Center Museum are not affiliates of any company of the Principal Financial Group

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.

© 2022 Principal Foundation.

Principal community relations supports the communities where affiliates of the Principal Financial Group®, Des Moines, IA 50392 operates. Insurance products and plan administrative services provided through Principal Life Insurance Company®, a member of the Principal Financial Group, Des Moines, IA 50392. Principal®, Principal Financial Group®, and Principal and the logomark design are registered trademarks of Principal Financial Services, Inc., a Principal Financial Group company, in the United States and are trademarks and services marks of Principal Financial Services, Inc., in various countries around the world.

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