Discipline-Based Arts Education (DBAE)


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Large scale, research based experiment to increase school personnel capacity to teach broadbased arts education.

Getty Education Institute for the Arts (formerly Getty Institute for Educators on the Visual Arts), Los Angeles, CA – a pioneer of the concept, as well as a previous and founding funder of long-term research and development on approach.
Six regional partners through the National Arts Education Consortium.

The purpose of Discipline-based Arts Education (DBAE) was to reform education so a more comprehensive arts-integrated curriculum is taught to all students. DBAE includes four disciplines: arts production, arts history and culture, criticism, and aesthetics.

While this model no longer has one centralized entity directly facilitating a professional development approach, its research base and influence on policy and the education system can be seen in the education standards for music, art, dance, and theatre (National Standards for Arts Education), which philosophically serve as the basis for numerous state standards, and as a result, arts education professional development around the country. The Comprehensive Arts Education approach evolved from this model.

See also Comprehensive Arts Education.

Former Getty Center director W. Dwaine Greer describes the professional development goals arising from a generalist lack of formal art education: 
  • To provide participants with an intensive engagement with the visual arts by teaching them to look at art, use basic studio techniques, and understand works of art within their cultural and historical contexts
  • To inform participants about the theory and practice of art education
  • To prepare participants to implement district wide DBAE instruction by assisting them in developing plan and in selecting curricula and curriculum resources.(Greer) p.60

The DBAE approach moved from what Greer called a “coherent theory” – Hord and colleagues' theories of change based on change as a personal process accomplished by individuals who care about its relevance (Greer) – to a systemic district-wide approach. Originating in the visual arts, and expanding to all four disciplines, DBAE has undergone many changes, but at its core it seeks to broaden the concept of arts education {Hall, Hord, et al. 1987 #951}.

To transform schools, the traditional DBAE approach connects teams of educators (teachers, principals, specialists if available) with the broader world of art through intensive institutes held in artistic locations (such as museums or studios). Institutes guide educators into deeper inquiry about works of art. Before the national standards for arts education advocated a comprehensive arts education, “DBAE” curriculum was provided or developed.

Over its first ten years, the structure of DBAE staff development evolved to include initial 3-week training session for district leadership cadres comprised of a principal, at least two teachers from each of at least two district schools during their first two years of district participation, as well as a two- week training session for school leadership teams made up of a principal and at least two teachers from a school.

During the 10-year exploration period, the Getty’s efforts reached thousands of teachers and administrators in 217 school districts representing over 1.5 million students. With a change in leadership in the late 1990’s, the Getty Trust closed its center for arts education and shifted priorities. Meanwhile, the national standards movement was well underway with the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, reflecting a more comprehensive approach to arts education as the goals for all students (Killeen).

In the late 1990’s, the Transforming Education through the Arts Challenge (TETAC) initiative of the National Arts Education Consortium supported the six regional member organizations, including 35 partners school across eight states and 1,600 teachers. Midway through this project, as a result of ongoing evaluation, the DBAE model evolved into what is now called Comprehensive Arts Education (CAE). The regional organizations offered partnering schools professional development services, such as an intensive institute, and materials to help them understand CAE and whole-school reform. Educators worked to develop plans for realizing and continuing CAE goals.

The J. Paul Getty Trust financed the regional institutes through the Regional Institute Grants (RIG’s) during the mid-1990’s, and also supported the TETAC initiative with $4.3 million through 2001.

Findings :
Source: The Quiet Evolution: 1997 Evaluation of the Getty Regional Institute initiative by Brent Wilson:

The DBAE summer institutes provide cultural context for works of arts – helping educators understand historical and philosophical significance of a particular work of art – and offer intensive experience that centralizes the evolution of DBAE theory and how it is used in practice. These institutes are most effective when teams of educators participate together, coordinating with year-round professional growth opportunities and modeling the practice. It is important that they adapt, responding to and incorporating emerging promising practices from the network as part of an overall education reform plan.

Despite their strengths, the institutes still need to connect theory with practice, introducing useful instructional models and including the integration of the various arts disciplines, instead of distinct discipline entities. Furthermore, the debate concerning whether works of art or the arts disciplines are most important to DBAE content still continues (Wilson) p.56.

Lessons Learned:
‘…in order to be successful, change initiatives must take place simultaneously at all levels of instruction….(It) requires the coordinated efforts and collaboration of the many individual sand institutions that comprise change communities. There must be a strategic plan that includes initiatives at the national, regional, state, intrastate, area site, school district, school, and classroom levels. Individuals, organizations, and institutions at each level must be stakeholders….” Brent Wilson #562 (Anderson and Wilson)

Educational reform structure shouldn’t be top down. Instead, it should adopt an “interactive-network” network structure (Wilson).

Summary of 1982-1992 Getty Institute for Educators on the Visual Arts by W. Dwaine Greer (Greer):

Institute for Transformation – role of intensive institutes is to provide time and space for individuals and teams to grapple with the new ideas fully, to think differently by working and playing together and connecting the ideas to their own school practices; so they can return to their school communities changed and ready to change. (Wilson) p.57

Use teams to combat isolation, work towards system change. When at its best, DBAE professional development involved teams that included supportive administrators, arts specialists, and general classroom teachers for school level change.

Administrative support critical but challenging. District leadership teams included the superintendent, a school board member, assistant superintendent (director of curriculum and instruction), principals, and teachers. In practice, Getty as an outsider found it did not have the authority to involve the administrators as much as the theory required, even though it brought significant resource. (Greer) Greer reflects, “Where administrators and school board members did participate, the plans made by the institute participants were the most effective, because the plans were developed to reflect more accurately the realities of fiscal and other constraints in the various districts.” (Greer) p.62

“Train the trainer” model requires continued support of the educator leaders. School leadership teams need training and support in order to successfully bring ideas to their colleagues. And, they need time. The outsider can have a difficult time motivating the long-term commitment needed for change. (Greer)

Don’t assume basic arts literacy. Classroom teachers without strong arts backgrounds need the opportunity to learn to love and do the art. (Greer)

Build educator capacity sequentially. By starting primarily with elementary educators and working with districts, Getty found secondary educators developed an interest in the opportunity and requested to be included. The students literate in DBAE were moving into secondary school. This also put pressure on curricula that were out of alignment- some studio based, some discipline-based, with no commercially available secondary curriculum at the time. They commissioned seasoned art specialists to develop sample DBAE units and introductory DBAE curriculum, including assessment tools.

Useful Tools:
General education change management and professional development: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory

Anderson, Jim, and Brent Wilson. "Professional Development and Change Communities." Music Educators Journal 83.2 (1996): p38-44.

The DBAE Handbook: An Overview of Discipline-Based Art Education. Stephen Mark Dobbs. Santa Monica, CA: The Getty Institute for the Arts, 1992. 37-44.

Greer, W. Dwaine. Art As a Basic: The Reform in Art Education. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation, 1997.

Hall, G. E., et al. Taking Charge of Change. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 1987.

Transforming Education Through the Arts Challenge Final Project Report. Donald J. et al Killeen. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University 83 .

National Standards for Arts Education. What Students Should Know and Be Able to do in the Arts. Web Page. URL: http://www.artsedge.kennedy-center.org/teach/standards/introduction  

"Rebuilding Arts Education in Urban Schools: Issues and Challenges." Arts Education Policy Review 101.4 (Mar/Apr2000): 20-25.

Southwest Educational Development Laboratory . "Staff Development and Change Process: Cut From the Same Cloth." Issues... About Change 4.2 (1994).

The Quiet Evolution: Changing the Face of Arts Education. Brent Wilson. Los Angeles: The Getty Institute for the Arts, 1997. 56-79.

Target Population:
Arts Administrators

Arts Specialists

Classroom Teachers

Education Administrators

Other Educators

Other Population


Teaching Artists

Arts Discipline:
Interdisciplinary arts and other subjects

Entry Points:


Education Thread: