Arts Education Exchange Program

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Isaac Stern with the Music and Arts Education Delegation
Violinist Isaac Stern meets with the Music and Arts Education Delegation at the welcoming reception at Carnegie Cafe. (1980)

The Center’s arts education exchange with China—which took place in the 1980s—was an unprecedented program aimed to enhance knowledge of the differing approaches to the teaching of the arts in the United States and China. The idea of a reciprocal research project on arts education was developed in 1980 during a visit by the first Center-sponsored Chinese arts delegation to the United States. Talks that year between Chou Wen-chung, director of the Center, and delegation leader Lin Mohan, then Vice Minister of Culture, led to a 1982 arts education conference in Beijing.

In the summer of 1984, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund gave grants totaling almost $500,000 to the Center and its partner, Harvard University’s Project Zero, ensuring continuation of the project for three more years. Project Zero, under the direction of Dr. Howard Gardner, is a research program in psychology within Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, which specializes in the study of creativity in children. The Chinese government funded the Chinese side of the project, which was carried out as a ground-breaking collaboration between two Ministry-level agencies—the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Education.

Robert Redford
Actor Robert Redford greets Vice Minister Lin Mohan and Bian Qingzu, Secretary of Cultural Affairs for the Embassy of the People's Republic of China, at the Sundance ski lodge in Utah. (1980)

Through this program, the U.S. and China exchanged a series of high-level delegations and teams of arts education specialists who spent periods ranging from three weeks to three months observing arts education at selected schools and art centers in the two countries. Whereas the U.S. sent to China mostly scholars, researchers and administrators, the Chinese sent to the U.S. mostly classroom teachers. During their visits to schools, the teams observed music and visual arts classes and researched curricula, teaching training, academic standards, and procedures for evaluating and nurturing the creative potential of children. The observations of the specialists were often combined with teaching and demonstrating. In fact, the highlight of visits abroad for the educators was often the opportunity to practice their own professional skills in another country. The three-year exchange on arts education culminated in a July 1988 conference held at the Tarrytown House Executive Conference Center outside New York City. Participants from the American and Chinese teams discussed their findings, compared ideas on how the arts should be taught, and planned for future work in the field.

The collegiality and professional respect that had developed between these two groups of educators were remarked upon by both delegations. Panel papers prepared for the conference were published in China and in the Journal of Aesthetic Education (Spring, 1989). The conference proceedings were published in a Chinese/English bilingual format and disseminated widely to Chinese-speaking artists and scholars in both countries. This six-year project eventually led to the establishment of the cabinet-level State Subcommission on Arts Education in China.

Delegates in Beijing

Children's drawing

Delegates to U.S.-China Arts Education Conference
in Beijing. (1983)
A sample of children's art seen by the American arts education delegation in Beijing. (1983)

Yu Runyang

C.T. Hu

Wu Zuqiang

Hou Ling

Participants in the Arts Education Conference, from left: Yu Runyang, C.T. Hu, Wu Zuqiang, and Hou Ling (1990)

Arts Education Conference
Participants in the Arts Education Conference, Tarrytown House, Executive Conference Center, New York. (1990)


Wu Zuqiang
Wu Zuqiang with Minneapolis public high school
brass players. (1986)