Jessica Hoffmann Davis has published and lectured extensively on the role and promise of arts learning. She draws not only on her own and other current research, but also on personal experience as a visual artist, writer, and educator. Enriched by these various sources, her popular book, Why Our Schools Need the Arts (Teachers College Press, 2008), proposes a new and unapologetic approach to advocacy for the arts in education. A recent sequel, Why Our High Schools Need the Arts, (2011) , considers the alarming drop out rate in American High Schools and the potential of the arts to make a difference on that front.
At Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, Dr. Davis was the founder and first director of the Arts in Education Program, a senior lecturer, and the first appointee to the Bauman and Bryant Chair in the Arts in Education. In that capacity, and over several years, she developed a core course of ideas, information, and issues, central to the arts in education. The content and structure of that course inform Framing Education as Art: The Octopus has a Good Day (Teachers College Press, 2005), a book in which Davis challenges non-arts education to be more connected to and like the arts. More recently, the book Discourse and Disjuncture Between the Arts and Higher Education (Springer, 2017) contains essays that include her account of the founding of the program.
Much of Davis’s research was conducted at Harvard’s Project Zero, a place where the arts are explored as vital arenas for meaning making and reflection. There she led a national study of educational effectiveness in urban community art centers* where artists serve disenfranchised youth and provide models of process based education, administration, and self-assessment. This work is described in several monographs (President and Fellows of Harvard College) including: Safe Havens (1994), Another Safe Haven (1996), and The Wheel in Motion: The Co-Arts Assessment Plan from Theory to Action (1996).
A collaboration with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston evolved into a unique broad based exploration of teaching and learning in the art museum. Project MUSE** (Museums Uniting with Schools in Education) connected researchers with museum educators, classroom teachers, and principals in this country and abroad. Through independent pilot testing and guided reportage, a set of accessible learning tools (The Generic and Entry Point Games) was developed to facilitate inquiry-based learning in art museums. Davis presents the findings and products of this study in The MUSE (Museums Uniting with Schools in Education) BOOK and GUIDE (1996).
Believing in the narratives that emerge from and frame our professional lives, Davis has investigated and employed the qualitative research methodology known as portraiture. In studies of community art centers and schools that focus on the arts, she led researchers in the development and writing of research portraits that strove to be both nuanced and readable (like art) and informative and reliable (like science). Davis’s study and use of portraiture is addressed in her co-authored (with Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot) book, The Art and Science of Portraiture, (Jossey-Bass, 1997) and represented in Passion and Industry: Schools that Focus on the Arts (President and Fellows of Harvard College, 2001).
Dr. Davis holds a Doctorate in Human Development and Psychology and a Master’s in Teaching, Learning, and Curriculum Environments from Harvard University. Her widely cited doctoral thesis focuses on children’s development in graphic symbolization and features a comparison between the drawings of young children and professional artists. Davis has been honored to serve as an advisor to the President’s Council on the Arts and Humanities’ At-Risk Youth Project and to the Arts Education Partnership’s Committee on Higher Education Collaborations. She is the proud recipient of the Irene Buck Service to Arts Education and Sesame Workshop Sunny Days awards.
Jessica Hoffmann Davis retired from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2005, in large part to focus on a book about her mother and the extraordinary school she directed for almost four decades: the Hoffmann School for Individual Development in Riverdale, New York. Davis’s educational memoir, Ordinary Gifted Children : The Power and Promise of Individual Attention, was published by Teachers College Press (2010).
Davis lives with her husband in rural New Hampshire where recent writing has included four plays, wRites of Reunion (2010), Houseguests (2013), The Salon (2015), and Dearly Beloveds (2018) put up (directed by Davis) at a local community theater. She is ever grateful for her own education in the arts and persistently believes that all children deserve the chance to think of themselves as artists, shaping and changing their own and others’ views of the world.
*Funded by the Cummings, Dodge, Ford, Julian, and Warhol Foundations.
**Funded by the Bauman Foundation.