James Catterall: Renowned Researcher Showed How Arts Narrow the Achievement Gap

UCLA Professor of Education wrote extensively on the arts and educational policy.

UCLA Professor James Catterall died on Aug. 23 at the age of 69 in Santa Monica, following a heart attack and massive stroke. He is known internationally for his studies on the cognitive effects of music and the arts on education, and after retiring from UCLA in 2011, founded the Centers for Research on Creativity, located in Los Angeles and in London. Catterall authored the 2009 book, “Doing Well and Doing Good by Doing Art” and the study, “Unpacking the Effects of Music on Intelligence.” His teaching and research interests included the arts and human development; arts and neuroscience/brain structure and function; evaluation of arts integration programs; educational policy implementation; and at-risk students.

“I had the good fortune of working with James going back to my earliest days in Moore Hall, back in the 1980s, and for the last seven or eight years before his retirement, we were neighbors in the corridor right across from the Reading Room,” recalls Stuart Biegel, senior lecturer in UCLA Education and lecturer at UCLA School of Law. “He always embodied the very best that GSE&IS stands for. Dedicated, upbeat, supportive, creative, optimistic. Always a kind word. We all remember him fondly, and rightly so. He will be missed.”

“I can best speak of his constant support for colleagues,” says Professor Emeritus of Education John McNeil. “Among the numerous creative actions taken by Jim was his organizing an extended exchange of his house together with his  family in Topanga with a family living in a red state in order to throw light on the importance of place in forming national political opinion on a key issue.”

“I’m very saddened by the news of Jim’s passing,” says Alexander W. Astin, who is the Allan M. Cartter Professor Emeritus and founding director of the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI). “He was a wonderful friend and colleague. GSE&IS has lost one of its best.”

Prior to arriving at UCLA in 1981, Professor Catterall taught economics of education and a finance seminar as a graduate teaching assistant at Stanford. He was also a mathematics instructor in private and public schools in Oregon and Minnesota.

Catterall was the director of the Center for the Study of Educational Policy in Palo Alto from 1978 to 1981, and edited The School Choice Forum. At Stanford University, he was a Fellow for the Institute for Research on Educational Finance and Governance and a Ford Foundation Fellow. From 1972 to 1973, Catterall served as Chief Committee Consultant on Taxation for the State of Minnesota House of Representatives. He was also a researcher and writer for Minnesota’s Tax Study Commission and a program officer in Budget and Fiscal Planning for the New Jersey State Department of Higher Education.

Upon his retirement from UCLA in 2011, Catterall founded the Centers for Research on Creativity in response to the demand for a more creative workforce from the corporate sector. The Centers are focused on creative development in students; teaching for creativity; and building empathy and collaboration into teaching practice and student engagement. Throughout his academic career, Catterall was a sought-after expert on learning and the arts for the media, with citations, quotes, and op-eds in a wide range of media including PBS, NPR, and many other online sources.

Professor Catterall earned his A.B. with honors in economics from Princeton University; his master’s degree in public policy analysis from the University of Minnesota; and his Ph.D. in educational policy analysis from Stanford. He is survived by his wife Rebecca Catterall, three children Lisa, Hannah, and Grady Catterall; and four grandchildren, Mikal Jacob Pendleton, Addison James Catterall-Pendleton, Phoenix Catterall-Pendelton, and Sage Elizabeth Bloomfield.

To share messages of condolence, visit the Centers for Research on Creativity website.

A memorial will take place at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 16 at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, 1419, N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, Calif.

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that contributions be made in Professor Catterall’s name to Inner-City Arts; donations may be made at this link.