This paper reports a research study into the effects of rich,sustained visual arts instruction on 103inner city 9-year-olds in two major US cities. We use the lenses of social learning theory, theories of motivation and self-efficacy, and recentresearch on artistic thinking to investigate the programs' effects on children's self-beliefs and creative thinking. The study enlisted a pre -- post measure,treatment-comparison group design along with structured observations of participant andcomparison group classrooms. The arts students made significant comparative gains on a selfefficacy scale and on an 'originality' subscale of a standard creativity test. These effects are attributed to children's engagement in art and to the social organization of instruction includingreinforcing peer and student -- adult relationships. Relationships between self-efficacy beliefs andtendencies to think originally are explored.