The Tutor Portland Podcast is a show where we sit down with Portland locals to talk all things education and the arts.

Catch the VIBE with Vibe of Portland Program Director, Dunja Marcum as we discuss equitable arts opportunities in Portland, Oregon!

Vibe of Portland has an amazing mission, to see “arts education fully integrated back into the school day for all students in Portland.” Our guest in this episode, Dunja Marcum, is passionate about this goal and explains how equitable art programs are all over Portland, but many parents and students don’t know where to find them.

Luckily, our interview breaks down the importance of arts education in a STEM-focused world, and teaches our Portland listeners where they can find amazing art programs. We also discuss why the arts are being phased out of standard education and what we can do push back.

Equitable Arts Education with Dunja Marcum

Welcome to this companion article to the Tutor Portland Podcast, where we’re taking a look at the vibrant intersection of education and local initiatives. In this edition, we converse with Dunja Marcum, the dedicated program director for Vibe of Portland. This art and music educational nonprofit is a pillar in the community, committed to ensuring equitable access to arts education.

With a rich background in music education and years of teaching experience, Dunja brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her role. Since joining Vibe of Portland in 2013, she has played a pivotal role in shaping its direction and impact. Join us as Dunja shares her insights on the evolving landscape of arts education, the challenges faced, and the triumphs celebrated in striving to make arts accessible to all.

Dunja’s Journey to Vibe of Portland

Dunja, a passionate advocate for music education, joined Vibe of Portland in 2013, driven by her concern over the declining music and arts curriculum in Portland public schools. Her journey intertwines her personal experiences as a music educator with her advocacy for keeping music and art in schools.

She discusses the founding of a music nonprofit for advocacy around 2011 and her eventual partnership with Laura Stribe, founder of Vibe of Portland. Their shared vision led Marcum to take on the role of music director and later program director, focusing on band camps and continued advocacy.

The Challenges of Equitable Arts

Dunja offers us a glimpse into the multifaceted challenges of creating equitable arts programs in an area like Portland. Dunja discusses the impact of funding and mandates, notably how initiatives like No Child Left Behind deprioritized arts education. However, she remains optimistic, citing improvements such as the Arts Education and Access Fund and the Every Student Succeeds Act, which recognize arts as a core part of education. Despite these strides, Dunja emphasizes the continual need for funding, both for nonprofits like Vibe of Portland and for staffing in schools.

Throughout our conversation, Dunja’s insights provide a valuable perspective on the ongoing struggle to integrate arts education fully into the school day for all students in Portland. Her dedication to this cause, as well as her efforts to adapt and evolve in response to the changing educational landscape, make her a pivotal figure in the fight for equitable arts education.Community Engagement and Partnerships

Vibe of Portland is extensively involved in improving arts education in the Portland community. Vibe’s work with organizations like the Green Tulip Peace and Nurture School and Catholic Charities of Oregon in particular exemplify its dedication to making arts education accessible to all.

Plus, partnerships with Title I schools and local entities in neighborhoods like Montevilla and Southeast Portland are crucial in reaching students who might otherwise lack access to arts education, especially in the post-pandemic world.

Dunja emphasizes that while all partnerships are valuable, the current ones reflect a deep commitment to serving the community and ensuring widespread access to the arts. This approach not only reaches children in need but also continually reminds the educational community of the importance of arts in the school curriculum.

Value of Arts in Education

During our interview, Dunja Marcum speaks to the transformative power of arts in education. She highlights how arts enrich the learning experience, enhancing retention and student engagement, especially in contrast to traditional subjects. Further, she emphasizes the integration of arts with STEM (science, tech, engineering, math) fields, evolving the concept to STEAM (adding an A for arts!).

Through her insights, Dunja sheds light on the profound impact that arts have not only as a supplement to learning but as a vital component of a well-rounded education, essential for the holistic development of students.

Homeschooling and Arts Education

When it comes to integrating arts into homeschool education, Dunja acknowledges the diversity in homeschool philosophies and curriculums, emphasizing that many already include art elements. Dunja highlights the importance of adapting art lessons to suit different family approaches and individual student interests.

She also touches on Vibe of Portland’s offerings for homeschoolers, like process-based art classes that encourage personal expression and creativity.

Vibe of Portland’s Approach to Teaching Arts

Here’s what sets Vibe apart from traditional public and private school systems: Dunja highlights the organization’s dedication to smaller class sizes, personalized attention, and a focus on process-oriented teaching. She discusses how Vibe of Portland caters to the individual needs of each student, offering a more personal and engaging learning experience. This approach allows children to explore their interests in specific art forms, providing a creative and stress-free environment distinct from their regular school setting.

Dunja emphasizes the importance of this tailored approach in fostering a deeper connection between the students and the arts, making Vibe of Portland a unique and enriching presence in the community.

Advocacy and Parental Involvement

During our enlightening conversation, a key theme emerged around the power of advocacy and parental involvement in arts education. Here are the key messages about parents’ role in equitable arts education.

Parental Advocacy for Arts in Schools

Dunja Marcum highlights the influence parents have in school decision-making processes, particularly regarding arts education, encouraging parents to stay informed about potential cuts to arts programs and to actively advocate for these programs in school agendas.

The Impact of Community Engagement

Dunja discusses the importance of community support for arts education, noting the positive changes in Portland’s public schools due to increased parental involvement. She underlines the idea that advocating for arts education benefits not only individual students but the entire student body.

Ensuring Equitable Access to Arts Education

Dunja also touches on the need for equitable access to arts education, a cornerstone of Vibe of Portland’s mission. She points out that while public schools are the ideal platform for equitable arts education, organizations like Vibe of Portland play a crucial role in reaching students who might otherwise lack access.

Advice for Parents and Educators

Dunja suggests parents and educators engage with school administrators and be the “squeaky wheel” that demands attention to the arts. She stresses the importance of viewing arts education as a right for every child and encourages parents to advocate not just for their own children but for the broader school community.

Arts Education Post-Pandemic

In this crucial segment of our conversation with Dunja, we delve into the transformative role of arts education in the aftermath of the pandemic. These effects extend beyond the pandemic, and can play a role in aiding distress from a variety of sources.

Dunja emphasizes the potential of arts education to help children process their feelings and experiences during the pandemic. She points out that the pandemic has had a profound impact on the mental and emotional well-being of children. In this context, art becomes not just a medium of expression but also a crucial channel for healing and understanding.

Acknowledging the trauma experienced by children and adults alike, Dunja highlights how engagement in the arts can offer a sense of normalcy and a safe space for expression. Art can allow children to express and process feelings of depression, loneliness, and loss. It provides children with an outlet to articulate emotions that might be difficult to express otherwise.

Looking ahead, Dunja is optimistic about the impact art educators and programs like Vibe of Portland can have on youth. She envisions a future where art is integral to the healing process, helping children and the community at large to emerge stronger from the pandemic.

Accessibility and Future of Arts Education

Dunja discusses Vibe Portland’s efforts to reach children in various corners of the community, emphasizing the value of art in enhancing student engagement and retention. She believes that art can be a powerful tool for children to express their feelings and connect with others, underscoring the need for more awareness and support for arts education programs.

Dunja also addresses the challenges of ensuring equitable access to arts education and the role of educators and the community in fostering a supportive environment for it. The discussion concludes with a hopeful look at the future, where arts education is not just an extracurricular activity but an integral part of every child’s learning experience.

Takeaways and Resources

Dunja’s passion and dedication to ensuring equitable access to arts education shine through in her discussion of Vibe of Portland’s mission and community engagement. Her insights into the challenges and opportunities in arts education, especially post-pandemic, offer valuable perspectives for parents, educators, and students alike.

For those inspired by Dunja’s commitment and looking to learn more about Vibe of Portland’s programs or to get involved, definitely visit their website at They also maintain an active presence on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram (@VibePDX), where you can stay updated on their latest initiatives and offerings. To catch the whole conversation with Dunja Marcum, you can listen to the podcast episode here on this page of the Tutor Portland website, or over on Spotify.