Amanda Koonlaba | April 2019

Pitching the Arts

A little less than a year ago, I started a visual arts program in my hometown of Tupelo, Mississippi. I’d been blogging under the umbrella of Party in the Art Room for many years, but decided to open up a physical space to house actual arts programs as well. The name Party in the Art Room comes from the notion that there should be joy in teaching and learning, and I can’t think of a party without thinking of something joyful.

We provide after-school and homeschool art programs with a specific curriculum taught through a specific methodology that focuses on developing creative and critical thinking. We also work with local teachers and schools to provide arts integration and visual arts training and instruction to students. As we grow, we are getting opportunities to work with local daycares and even being asked to bring what we do to other parts of the state.

This has been an amazing adventure! The initial idea was to develop something cohesive in our community for the visual arts for children. We have incredible dance, theatre, and music programs, but the visual arts have never had as much presence for the children here. As this project has grown over the past few months, we have begun to see an even bigger picture emerge. We are supporting young people as they grow by teaching them to think creatively, interact with others, and solve problems. Those are skills that are highly valuable in the workplace and transfer into all other areas of one’s life, even into the understandings they develop in other academic areas. This can have long-term, positive economic and social impacts on our community.

A Realization 

A couple of weeks ago, the local newspaper reached out to me to ask if I would do an interview and photo for an article about this endeavor. Of course, I was thrilled for the chance to share with an even larger audience what we are doing with the arts.

During the interview, I realized I was talking to someone who did not have a background in education or in the arts. I was talking about how students care about what they are doing because it is engaging and fun. If they care about the artwork that way, a teacher can use that to get them to care about a related math or science skill as well. I am willing to bet the audience reading this article completely understands that concept. I would also bet there is an immense understanding and great respect for the notion that creativity happens during the process of creation. It is not housed in a cute final product, although that is always a plus to the experience.

My experience in that interview made me start to think of what kind of elevator pitch I could use when I need to get someone with no background in the lingo of the arts or arts integration to understand what we do. And, I realized that it doesn’t just apply to me in the context of my local arts school. It applies to what I do with EducationCloset, as well as with every interaction I have on a daily basis. The light bulb really came on when I realized that every other teacher in this line of work could probably benefit from having an elevator pitch as well.

Elevator Pitch

I’ve been brainstorming ideas for my own elevator pitch. I want it to ooze everything that I know about what the arts can do for everyone. And not just students, but humanity as well. I can talk and write about it for hours on end, but I need to be able to communicate with people I meet on a daily basis quickly. So that they hear everything I say, I need to be able to hold their attention. I also need them to be able to understand what I am talking about. This is a daunting task!

I’m going to share my brainstorms with two goals in mind. First, I would love feedback. I would love to hear your thoughts on these ideas. It will help me further refine my elevator pitch. Second, I want to help you get started on your own elevator pitch so you can effectively communicate with the people you meet about the amazing work you do with arts education.

So here’s what I do. I…

… teach through the arts to help people develop creative and critical thinking skills so that they can be successful in other areas of their lives.

… coach students through creative thinking processes as they create works of art. This develops critical thinking and problem-solving skills that can be used in other areas of their lives.

… provide high-quality arts instruction and experiences to students to enable them to develop critical thinking skills that are transferable to other academic areas.

… use the arts to make students smarter by coaching them through creative processes.

… coach students through creative thinking processes that are highly engaging which makes them more likely to succeed at higher levels in other areas of their lives.

The Power of the Arts

As a side note, I would also like to add that my idea of needing an elevator pitch to help people quickly and clearly see what we do for a living is not about repeating the definitions of arts integration or STEAM. Those definitions are edu-speak. Educators understand that lingo. I’m looking for something that I can say to the server at my favorite restaurant, to my hairdresser, to the mayor, etc. I’m imagining how powerful it would be if everyone could understand what we do when we teach in, through, and with the arts. People would be begging for more!

So, what’s your elevator pitch? Do you already have one? Have you ever thought about something like this? What am I missing in my brainstorm? Let’s chat! I’d love to hear your ideas and get feedback on my own! We are all in this together, and together we can be a powerhouse.

About the Author

Amanda Koonlaba, Ed. S. is an educator and educational consultant with over 12 years of experience teaching both visual art and regular education. Her career has been driven by the power of the arts to reach all learners. She is a published author and frequent speaker/presenter at education conferences. Amanda was named the Elementary Art Teacher of the Year for the state of Mississippi in 2016 and received the Arts Integration Service Award from the Mississippi Whole Schools Initiative (Mississippi Arts Commission) in 2015. She holds an Elementary and Middle Childhood Art certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. As a coach for The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM, Amanda is on a mission to ensure every student in America has access to a high-quality arts-based education. She blogs at