Dennie Palmer Wolf honored by National Guild for Community Arts Education

On November 2, 2013, the National Guild for Community Arts Education awarded WolfBrown’s Dennie Palmer Wolf with its 2013 National Guild Service Award. Elizabeth Whitford, Executive Director of Arts Corps, made the following remarks in presenting Dennie with the award.

“The National Guild Service Award was established in 1989 and is conferred annually to an individual who has given exceptional service to the National Guild and to community arts education. Some of the prior recipients of the Award include: Margaret Perry, Michael Yaffe, Kalman Novak, Alice Pfaelzer, Azim and Lolita Mayadas, and Betty Allen.

The recipient of this year's award is a leader in our field for whom I have great admiration. I am proud to present the 2013 National Service Award to Dennie Palmer Wolf in recognition of her lifelong dedication to advancing access to arts education and building the capacity of the community arts education field to increase its impact on the lives of students and communities.Dennie is a principal researcher at WolfBrown, an international arts research and consulting firm. She has a doctorate from Harvard in developmental psychology, and she served as a researcher at Harvard Project Zero for more than a decade.

At WolfBrown, Dennie pioneered evaluation that builds the capacities of schools, cities, and cultural organizations to support young people's development as the next generation of thinkers, innovators, and creators. In recent years, Dennie particularly focused on supporting a number of city-wide and regional consortia and initiatives that build systemic efforts designed to support critical and creative learning in and out of the school day.

I first met Dennie a few years ago when I had a special opportunity to tour the Weill Music Institute's Musical Connections program, for which she was serving as an evaluator. My first impression of Dennie was that she was cool. You know, like "New York cool."

My second impression was that she was really smart. She was developing a rich, full-spectrum approach to evaluation in areas many of us doubt can be measured: the impact of a one-time, powerful music experience during a time of duress; the way arts learning might impact the activities a young person chooses to engage in throughout their day.

My final impression from that first meeting, perhaps counter to my stereotypes of "New York cool" and Carnegie Hall, was that she was completely unpretentious and accessible. I saw her on the floor engaging with kids naturally, welcoming of critical feedback and never defensive.

I was able to confirm these first impressions and get to know Dennie much better when I asked her to come help Arts Corps with some work we were doing to expand classroom-based arts assessments to include 21st century skills for Seattle Public School arts classes. This effort is part of our city-wide arts education initiative now called the Creative Advantage.

A significant part of this work involved collaborating with district arts teachers; some of whom, after years of feeling professionally marginalized, initially approached the task with wariness. We knew that one of the most important tasks of the project was to build trust with the teachers, and Dennie was able to do so quickly through her special mix of expertise, openness and responsiveness.

Dennie also proved to quickly learn our school district's unique context and to be pragmatic without sacrificing quality. My initial inclination was that we needed to dump the old arts assessments and start anew. Dennie helped me recognize the value of what was already in place, and instead, look to build off of those strengths.

Through Dennie, I learned to strive for incremental changes toward greater depth and quality in instruction and learning when working in a large system, such as the school district. And, through relationship-building, pragmatism and responsiveness to the context in which we were working, we have in fact exceeded our expectations around the level of quality of the new arts assessments in Seattle Public Schools today.

I know that many of you here today have also had the great privilege of working alongside Dennie, and I have no doubt there is much more you could add in celebration of her incredible service to this field. So without further ado, please join me in congratulating Dennie Palmer Wolf.”