Get involved

Side x Side, USM Awarded $1.9 Million Grant for Arts in Education in Portland Schools

PORTLAND, Maine – Youth in Action: Side x Side, a Portland-based arts-education organization, and the University of Southern Maine (USM) announced today that they are the recipients of a joint million-dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

Youth in Action: Side x Side and USM have been awarded a $1.9 million Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination (AEMDD) grant to use for a four-year-long, arts-education program, titled “Project Imagine,” in the Portland Public Schools.

It is the first time that Maine has been awarded the highly competitive grant. Only 18 out of 105 applicants in the U.S. received the award for this year, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

“We are ecstatic to receive this support,” said Beth Wilbur Van Mierlo, Side x Side executive director. “Funding is essential to supporting teaching and learning that is relevant and comprehensive for today’s schools. We look forward to bringing artists and teachers together to engage and excite students across Portland.”

“USM and our Department of Art are delighted to be a part of Project Imagine and the AEMDD grant,” said Kelly Hrenko, USM assistant professor of art education and USM Art Education Program coordinator. “Our USM Department of Art will support the professional development of teachers, and our art-education and general-education students will receive direct, engaged experience working as interns to develop curriculum. This is all part of our continuing mission as ‘Maine’s Metropolitan University.’”

“With all the pressures our classrooms are under to meet different standards, it’s important that we don’t forget about the importance of creativity in the learning process,” stated U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree. “With the help of this grant, this partnership between Side x Side and the University of Maine will help develop new ways to integrate the arts seamlessly into the school day.  I think it will help our students not only become more creative, but also improve their learning across several subjects.”

“The world is changing around us, and it is important to think about how we can restructure our fundamental approach to education,” stated U.S. Sen. Angus King. “What worked forty years ago isn’t necessarily going to work today. It is imperative that we equip our students with the skills necessary to compete in the 21st century, and Project IMAGINE recognizes that critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration are at the top of the list.”

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said: “This is fantastic news for everyone who is working to improve educational outcomes for students in Portland. The arts, while conveying essential content and skills, are extraordinary vehicles for learning and fostering creativity across all disciplines — world languages, social studies, science, math and more.”

“This grant is a wonderful opportunity for Portland Public Schools,” stated State Sen. Justin Alfond, Maine Senate president. “The arts, creativity and critical thinking are all integral components of education. I’m excited for our students and teachers to implement Side x Side’s programming in our schools.”

“Whenever our educators and our community members collaborate to support our students’ creative and academic growth, we all benefit,” David Galin, Portland Public Schools chief academic officer, stated. “Portland Public Schools’ students and staff will continue to develop a more creative Portland.”

Side x Side was established in April 2013 by Wilbur Van Mierlo, who also founded Oak Street Studios, and Annette Kraus, a Reiche Community School parent. The organization grew out of efforts to infuse the arts into the curriculum at the local Portland school.

Side x Side was started as a way to ignite academic excellence through arts-based programs. By forging community partnerships with USM, local artists and arts organizations, architects, authors, marine biologists and other professionals, Side x Side has engaged Reiche students in higher learning through hands-on projects.

The organization’s goals are to strengthen student achievement, facilitate teacher development and intern practicum, build community partnerships and enhance career development for students.

Under the AEMDD grant, Youth in Action: Side x Side and USM will receive one-year funding of $360,946 for a proposed four-year total of $1.9 million. The funds will be used in four Portland schools (Reiche, Ocean Avenue, Riverton and East End), serving 1,700 students and 80 teachers.

Under Project Imagine, the grant recipients will design, develop and test a set of comprehensive arts programs that will be integrated with the K-5 curriculum and also offer professional development for the local teachers. The goal is to increase proficiency in math and reading and to strengthen learning for all students while supporting educators.

USM will offer a professional-development workshop this summer and in successive years for teachers at the study schools, facilitated by the project team and teaching artists and experts. USM art-education and general-education students will be placed at the schools as part of their professional education training.

Wilbur Van Mierlo said that several pilot projects were initiated last year at Portland schools, including an ocean-studies program for elementary-school children and an art-electronics program, called “Artronics,” for high school students at Casco Bay High School.

Plans now are to review and adjust those pilot programs, develop more arts programs and to begin professional development for the teachers and interns, she said.

“We are excited to get to work and put these new programs in place in our schools,” Wilbur Van Mierlo said. “We hope to have a significant impact and enrich the learning opportunities for all our children and teachers.”

For more information about Youth in Action: Side x Side, go to

For more information about the USM Department of Art, go to

For more information about USM’s College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, go to

For more information about USM, contact:
USM Office of Public Affairs


Comments are closed.