Helping communities harness the power of the arts

Published 09/16/22

Proposed by Principal Financial Group, Inc.

Originally posted on

The positive impacts of arts education for students of all ages have long been recognized – improved cognitive and critical thinking skills, higher test scores and graduation rates, and reduced disciplinary infractions, to name a few. -ones.1

However, to access to arts education is often limited: the students who could benefit the most are often the least likely to receive it.2 To widen these pathways, the main® The Foundation funded a collaboration called My Voice between the Des Moines Art Center and the Des Moines, Iowa-based By Degrees Foundation during the 2021-2022 school year. Its goal was to demonstrate how intentional and purposeful arts education can enhance the educational experience of students.

“Studies have shown that art is a way to enhance the educational experience – to engage students, encourage them to persevere, and put them on the path to the financial security they want to take,” says Jo Christine Miles, Director of the Principal Foundation. “Art is also known to create community, which all students need to foster growth and help them become contributing members of the community.”

Supporting students through arts education

The By Degrees Foundation, which works with public schools on the city’s North Side, selected 12 elementary, middle and high school students to participate in the inaugural My Voice cohort. Art teachers at the Art Center have developed a curriculum on how to view, discuss and critique art, intended to help develop critical thinking and vocabulary skills. Students made multiple visits to the Art Center for tours with an arts educator. As part of a flagship project, each student selected a work from the museum’s permanent collection and responded with their own original artwork.

“Art can inspire us,” says Mia Buch, a museum educator at the Des Moines Art Center. “This program has really allowed these students’ curiosity to shine through in the things that interest them.”

Building community through art

Statistics demonstrate the value of arts education for students, and these benefits extend far beyond school walls. Supporting the arts unites communities, boosts local economies and businesses, and spurs innovation.3

“Art is a universal language. Choose a country, choose a period, choose an artwork and you will see something, learn something and understand something,” says Miles.

Almost a century ago, Principal Financial Group® recognized the importance of art in everyday life. In the 1930s, she used art to promote cultural awareness, reach diverse audiences, and promote employee participation in the arts. The program was formalized in 1985 by the then director® CEO John Taylor (1927-2007) and now includes over 700 contemporary works by established and emerging artists from around the world, as well as volunteer employees. The program functions as another element of the main culture, demonstrating a commitment to diversity in thought.

Two different events each fall help recognize the importance of art.

Core Foundation funding for My Voice has extended beyond these dozen students to include the release of four Art Center video “toolkits” for educators, parents, and students. Topics include what to expect when visiting a museum, how to prepare for a museum visit with young children, and how to invite curiosity into the museum experience.

The efforts dovetail perfectly with the vast support the Principal Foundation provides across the world for basic needs, financial literacy and health, and the arts. “Art brings people together physically – in galleries, museums, performance halls – and culturally, through its ability to tell the shared story of a community, inspire reflection and form connections. that transcend differences,” says Miles.

As for these first My Voices students, they were celebrated at an exhibition at the Art Center, with a high school orchestra, members of the public and their works displayed on the walls of the museum. “Before My Voice, these students may have thought of themselves as artists,” says Heather Isaacson, director of the By Degrees program. “Now they know deep in their hearts that they are authentic artists and that their place in this community is important. We are all better for what they create.

“Now [these students] know in their hearts that they are authentic artists and that their place in this community matters. —Heather Isaacson, By Degrees Program Director

Learn more about Core Foundation grants and priorities


2The Arts and Public Education, American Academy of Arts & Sciences

3Americans for the Arts

My Voice, By Degrees Foundation and Des Moines Art Center Museum are not affiliated with any major financial group company®

Principal Financial Group Foundation, Inc. (“Principal® Foundation”) is a duly recognized 501(c)(3) entity that is focused on providing philanthropic support for programs that build financial security in the communities where Principal Financial Group, Inc. (“Principal”) operates. While Principal Foundation receives funding from Principal, Principal Foundation is a separate and independent charitable entity Principal Foundation does not engage in any form of investment advisory services and is not licensed to do so.

© 2022 Main Foundation.

Principal community relations supports communities where Principal Financial Group affiliates®, Des Moines, IA 50392 works. Insurance products and plan administration services provided through Principal Life Insurance Company®member of Principal Financial Group, Des Moines, IA 50392.
Director®Main financial group®and Principal and design are registered trademarks of Principal Financial Services, Inc., a Principal Financial Group company, in the United States and are trademarks and service marks of Principal Financial Services, Inc., in various countries of the world.

©2022 Principal Financial Services, Inc.


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Principal Financial Group, Inc.

Principal Financial Group, Inc.

Main financial group® (Nasdaq: PFG) is a global financial company with 18,500 employees1 passionate about improving the wealth and well-being of people and businesses. In business for more than 140 years, we help more than 51 million clients1 plan, protect, invest and retire, while working to support the communities in which we operate and create a diverse workforce and inclusive. Director® is proud to be recognized as one of America’s 100 Most Sustainable Companies2, a member of Bloomberg’s Gender Equality Index and one of the 10 Best Companies to Work for in Financial Management3. Learn more about Principal and our commitment to building a better future at

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