Interview with Art-Ed Hero Ellery Nief

Where do you teach and what grades do you teach? I teach at Inskip Elementary School in Knoxville. I have around 530 students from Kindergarten through the 5th grade.

How long have you been teaching art? I am in my fourth year teaching art; I have been fortunate enough to teach at the same school for all four years.

What is your favorite time of the school day and why? My favorite part of the school day is when students share their artwork with their class. I try to allow time for students to get to share their artwork with the class’ undivided attention. It is amazing how students will come out of their shells for the opportunity to share something they worked hard on.

Is there always a class period regardless of the year and the group of kids that feel similar? Every year when Kindergarten starts a couple of weeks after the rest of the students, I am reminded of how young they are. Many of my kindergarteners come to the first day of kindergarten with no experience in a classroom setting. It is always a challenge to take a step back and remind myself that they are still learning how to be at school. Even though this is a challenge, their eagerness for learning and their amazement in new materials always makes the challenge worth it.

What is your favorite lesson or concept to teach? My favorite concept to teach my students is idea generation. Through my district’s curriculum and the new Tennessee Visual Arts Standards, my students are gaining idea generation strategies that help them to create artwork that is personally relevant and engaging. It is such an enjoyable concept for me to teach because it gives me a chance to hear all of my students’ great ideas for creative and innovative works of art. My favorite strategy to use with them is a collaborative brainstorming list where all the students are throwing out ideas making a huge inspiration list. Most of my students end up creating art from ideas that didn’t make the list but are proof they are taking this strategy from a teacher-led activity to an artistic habit.

What has you underwater right now? What has me underwater right now is the lack of time in the day. I have many duties in my school and in my district and even though the days seem long, most days do not have enough daylight. School-wide scheduling difficulties make it hard to get everything done during the day. The populations I teach require me to be at my best when I am at school, so a work/life balance is super important to me and unfortunately hanging student artwork is sometimes the first to give. It breaks my heart because I believe hanging student artwork throughout the hallways is one of the most important parts of being an art teacher and when the school day is scheduled to the second, it makes it hard for me to get that done without staying hours after work.

What is saving your life in the classroom right now? I am privileged enough to have an intern (student teacher) this year. Katy O’Dell is an art education teacher candidate at the University of Tennessee. She has been such a great asset to my classroom. She was quick to jump in and get to know the students and they love her for it. With a busy daily schedule, new curriculum, and new state standards, it has been so great to have a second pair of hands and another brain to problem solve within the room. With this being my fourth school year, I am still a new teacher myself and I believe we have both learned so much from each other, at least I hope so!

Who is your favorite artist to teach kids about? I love to pull in artists as the students are working. With a choice-based curriculum, I am not spending a ton of time making sure students recognize famous artists. I have been really pushing the exploration of materials with my students. Sometimes they are hesitant in working with materials in an exploratory way instead of immediately making an image. It always gives them a boost of confidence and freedom when I show them work by artists like Cy Twombly or Helen Frankenthaler.

What does your studio practice outside of the classroom look like and how does it make its way into your classroom? My studio practice is a juxtaposition of so many different mediums. I work primarily in mixed media collage and pull in anything that lends itself to the project I am working on. I have most recently been working with gel printing plates and collaging the prints I make. Through my own studio practice and my training as an art educator, I have gained at least a basic level of knowledge in so many mediums that I feel comfortable bringing many new materials and tools in my classroom. My students are definitely gaining skills in experimentation and exploration and they think of ways to use materials that I would have never thought of. They teach me as much as I teach them.

If you had the stage in front of administrators and art policymakers, what would you want to say about why art education is essential? If I had the stage in front of administrators and/or policymakers, I would encourage them to visit their local art classrooms more frequently. I would encourage them to talk to young art students and teachers. I would encourage them to volunteer and be a substitute in an art room. It is one thing for art teachers and art education researches to tell administrators and policymakers the importance of art education, but it is a completely different thing for them to step into art rooms and experience the benefit of arts education.

What would you tell a 19-year-old who is thinking about becoming an art educator? I would tell a 19-year-old art education student to create a network of colleagues. When you find a job, if your district does not provide opportunities to be around other art teachers, create your own, look online, reach out to other schools near you, and call your art education classmates. There is power in a community of fellow art teachers. Take advantage of every opportunity you have to see other art teachers at work, get into their classrooms, go to conferences, and share lesson plans and resources. Your art teacher friends and colleagues can be your greatest asset.

Who was your art-ed hero growing up? My art-ed hero has always been my family. I am a fourth-generation artist and have been fortunate to grow up in an environment that values the arts and supports any creative endeavor. My family serves as a constant source of inspiration for me. Both of my parents attended art school at different points in their lives and my dad has a custom woodworking business, Wood Designs by Glenn G. Nief. Both of my paternal grandparents worked in the arts, my grandmother worked as a cartoonist for General Motors, and my grandfather was a freelance window display artist and sign painter in Detroit. One of my great grandfathers was a design engineer for Ford Motor Company. My aunt, Jan Heaton, is a watercolorist based in Austin, TX and Laguna Beach, CA, and a cousin, Christine Vaillancourt, is a painter out of Boston, MA. In addition to an artistic family on one side, the maternal side of my family is full of teachers. I am lucky to have too many art-ed heroes to name, but can’t forget to shout out to all of the art professors I had at the University of Memphis, they have been so integral in who I am as an artist and art educator, I think about their influence daily.

Interview with Art-Ed Hero Nichole Rich

Where do you teach and what grades do you teach? I teach at Mt. Pleasant Elementary School (PreK-4th Grade) in Mt. Pleasant, TN.

How long have you been teaching art? This is my fifth year of teaching art.

 What is your favorite time of the school day and why? The mornings are my favorite time of the school day because I have the most energy. Also, I teach kindergarten in the mornings and I love their enthusiasm. Also, I love to teach kindergarten because I love being the one who gives my student’s their first experience with art.

 Is there always a class period regardless of the year and the group of kids that feel similar? All my classes have a similar feel to it in which I’m always promoting my students to use their imagination. There is not one project that looks like another one. I think it’s very important to keep my student’s artistic choices authentic and original.

What is your favorite lesson or concept to teach? I love to teach papier-mache with fourth grade. I have it down to a science now. Also, I love teaching first grade about craftsmanship, I have an acting bit in which I faint and fall to the ground on purpose. I start off with showing students works of art that are messy and boring. Then I teach my students how to create art that is complete, neat, and creative. Also, I love to teach kindergarten rotating creative centers. This is where I teach a concept, element of art, or skill and have students work in rotating centers. For example, I will teach a lesson on shapes (two tables will draw shapes, two tables will build with shapes, two tables will practice cutting shapes).  After 5-10 minutes, the students will switch their supplies to another table and so on until every student has had a chance to use all art supplies. And of course, after a fun day of rotating centers, we have to have a 2-minute dance party with a disco ball to celebrate our fun time in art.

What has you underwater right now? Surprisingly I would have to say myself. I know sometimes we like to put the blame on others. But at the end of the day, I always reflect and say to myself “did I handle a situation well?” Now I’m not saying that I constantly am hard on myself, but there are days in which I do feel like I’m underwater and I start to think about if whatever I did was the root cause of why I feel like I’m underwater.

 What is saving your life in the classroom right now? ORGANIZATION, ORGANIZATION, ORGANIZATION. I literally have everything in my classroom color-coded and labeled. I also teach my students about organization. I don’t get out supplies for first-fourth grade and sometimes kindergarten. Their job is to get supplies on their own from the supply station and put them away on their own neatly. I do not have table captains or supply managers. I think it’s important for every student to be responsible for their supplies and know where they go.

 What is your favorite memory of a student you taught whose older and is no longer in your class or school? My favorite memories are when my former students bring me their art and write letters to me via their younger siblings. It makes me so happy to see that I’ve made a difference in their life and that they still think about me.

Who is your favorite artist to teach kids about? Crazy to say, but I really don’t like to teach much about artists. I just see my students as the artists and we all learn from each other and get inspired from each other’s artistic style. However, if I must choose an artist, I would pick Frank Stella. He is a great introductory artist for abstract art and you can always incorporate math into his lessons.

What does your studio practice outside of the classroom look like and how does it make its way into your classroom? I’ve recently got into visual journaling. I use my journal to not only create art in it, but I use it as a gratitude/prayer journal. This journal translates into my classroom because it seriously helps me, especially during the hard days. It helps me to find something positive about the day and it helps me to pray for anyone or a situation. I’ve noticed a big change this year in my teaching by writing and creating art in my visual journal daily.

Do you let people borrow your glue guns? I’m nice. I’ll let anyone borrow it. However, I do make sure to write my name in big bold lettering, so I don’t lose it.

How often do you collaborate across disciplines and what is a collaboration you are excited about right now? We have weekly data team meetings and classroom teachers send the activity teachers lesson plans, so we know what concepts they are teaching that we can bring into our own instruction. I don’t have anything huge going on right now with collaboration, but in the past, I’ve collaborated with our high school and my 4th-grade RTI enrichment group and we worked on a tiny house project, which was awesome. I took my students on a walking field trip to the high school to check out their mechatronics program and see how they’ve designed their own tiny houses. I also love to incorporate STEAM into my choice-based art program. For me, STEAM comes naturally. It’s not anything I think about for days or months to come up with a project. How I think about STEAM and my choice-based art instruction, in general, is by asking one question: what do my students need to know for the future? As for someone that has never had art until college, I’m constantly thinking about how I can grow my students to carry art into their adult lives. I always think what do my students need to absolutely know before they leave elementary school. As art teachers, we must understand and know that our students might not have art after they leave us. In my situation, I think what if my students move to an area that doesn’t offer art, how can I teach art in a way that can be carried over with them when they move onto their next school. I also know not every student will choose art as their elective when they get older. So, it is up to me to teach them how art can be carried over into real-world situations. I love to teach group projects, design, animation, etc. I think about different careers my students are interested in doing when they grow up. A lot of my students want to be YouTubers, doctors, vets, builders, firefighters, photographers, fashion designers, bakers, etc. I do whatever I can to teach students the skills to think beyond the basic art skills and help them to be exposed to the creative skills and communication skills they will need to take along with them for the rest of their lives.

What would you tell a 19-year-old who is thinking about becoming an art educator?Being an art teacher is one of the most rewarding careers. However, before you begin teaching, make sure that you are comfortable with who you are. Also work on creating good habits to take care of yourself mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. In addition, know that compassion is a four-letter word spelled L-O-V-E. Love is the key that will keep you focused during the good and not-so-good days of teaching. Learn to be calm no matter what and give your students grace. And most importantly, have fun…you’re going an art teacher for crying out loud! You’re going to be the rock star of your school…so own it.

Who was your art-ed hero growing up? Surprisingly, I’ve never had art until I was in college. I went to school in a county where they only provided music…and yes, I was a band geek, a clarinetist to be exact…no shame.  I don’t even really know how I got into art education, but I always had an appreciation for art and loved how art made me feel and how it can change people’s lives. I don’t know if I could pick an art-ed hero, but I will have to say I was inspired by all my teachers in grade school that promoted creativity in their lessons and I was also inspired by my art professors in college.

Interview with Art-Ed Hero Brandon J. Donahue

Where do you teach and what grades do you teach? I currently teach at Tennessee State University

How long have you been teaching art?  I have been teaching at the university level for 8 years. Before that, I taught private and public airbrush workshops.

What is your favorite lesson or concept to teach? No favorite. I think all of my concepts and lessons link back to problem-solving whether it’s drawing, painting, or basic design principles. Lately, I’ve been really excited about teaching and assisting in mural painting.

What is saving your life in the classroom right now? Students who are self-motivated and push themselves beyond the lessons that I teach are life-saving. They inspire me to work harder in my own studio work.

Who is your favorite artist to teach kids about? Top 5; Jacob Lawrence, David Hammons, Yayoi Kusama, Jannis Kounellis, and Joseph Khalil

What does your studio practice outside of the classroom look like and how does it make its way into your classroom? My practice outside of the classroom is made up of collecting materials that I transform into other things. Either through reconstructing or painting. I airbrush, paint murals, well as sculpt from time to time.

Do you let people borrow your glue guns(or art supplies)? Yes. I have a bin of coloring pencils, crayons, markers, and construction paper that I have available for people to use. I do keep some supplies strictly for myself.

How often do you collaborate across disciplines and what is a collaboration you are excited about right now? Very Often. I’m excited to be working with the University of Tennessee on a student exchange program.

What would you tell a 19-year-old who is thinking about becoming an artist or art educator? Do it only if your heart is into it. Do not do it with money as the main goal!

Who was your art-ed hero growing up? Tanya Armstrong, Mr. Greenwell, Tony “Fuma” Tunstall, and Tim Hammond Sr.

Find out more about professor Donahue’s at www.brandonjaquezdonahue.com

 

Interview with Art-Ed Hero Beth Reitmeyer

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Where do you teach and what grades do you teach?
I teach all over. I’m an Artist Mentor with the Frist and working with K–4 Art Teachers and their students. This year I’m at Rosebank, Inglewood, Eagle View, Amqui, Dodson, and Ida B. Wells Elementaries. With Turnip Green, I teach after school art clubs at Valor Collegiate and Warner Elementary. This fall, I was a visiting artist at Pegram Elementary. I also teach two art classes for home school elementary students in Murfreesboro. In the past, I taught Foundations classes to art students at Western Kentucky University.
How long have you been teaching art?
6 years
What is your favorite time of the school day and why? Any time a student has an “A HA!” moment. When they get a concept or figure out an art skill, there is so much joy. It’s amazing.
Is there always a class period regardless of the year and the group of kids that feel similar? The kids are the same and they are different. But I guess no. My teaching schedule is not the same from week to week.
What is your favorite lesson or concept to teach? I love to talk about color: color with pigments and color with lights. Seems so basic. But lots of “A Ha” moments with teaching it, because everyone assumes they know enough about color. And they don’t. And color is so magical when we get working with it and experimenting with it. Oh, and this is true from my littles to my college freshmen.
What has you underwater right now? Traveling from school to school — some days I’m at as many as four schools. It’s tough keeping it straight.
What is saving your life in the classroom right now? Holidays and talking about them and incorporating favorite things about holiday into art.
What is your favorite(or a memory you cherish) seeing a student you taught whose older an no longer in your school? 
It’s Fall graduation time at WKU, and several of my students are graduating from college. Most were freshmen when they were in my classes; many had me their first semester of college. I’m so proud of my graduating students. Today one of them wrote me thanking me and telling me that I was one of her favorite professors. Another one of my students now works as one of my studio assistants. It has been amazing to her work and to see her practice grow. Excited to see what she makes in the future.
Who is your favorite artist to teach kids about? At the moment: Kehinde Wiley
What does your studio practice outside of the classroom look like and how does it make it’s way into your teaching practice? I’m an installation artist, and I make large, interactive environments based on landscape forms. I do a lot of work with the Nashville band, ELEL. I love to make lighted sculptures with my students. For OZ Arts Family Day in August 2018, we installed a school of 250 fish kites made by my students at Pegram Elementary. Each kite shared something special about its student artist. I’m basically making stuff and tinkering with stuff all the time, and in the classroom, it’s more tinkering and experimenting. The difference is that in the classroom, I listen closely to the students and ask them lots of questions about what they want and are trying to make. And then we figure out how to make it.
What’s your least favorite thing you get asked to do by your colleagues?
Reports. With budgets.
Do you let people borrow your glue guns? No. But glue guns are $5 at Walmart, so they are great gifts. Really good scissors are good gifts, too. Oh, and I teach my students how to use glue guns — if they demonstrate that they respect my other materials. They take it seriously and beg to use them. I have about 10-15 small glue guns, and I keep them in an Easter Basket.
How often do you collaborate across disciplines and what is a collaboration you are excited about right now? There is a big STEAM focus within Metro Nashville Public Schools, because the district was awarded a Federal grant to create STEAM schools. Lots of integrating of Science, Math, Technology. The program with the Frist focuses on Art and Literacy, showing how key concepts are integrated into both.
What would you tell a 19-year-old who is thinking about becoming an art educator or artist? For those thinking about art education: there are currently lots of art teacher jobs available within the public schools, so you will find a job. If you like kids and art it’s a great choice. If kids drive you crazy, try another major. These jobs are hard but can be rewarding. The system is broken, so you have to be ok working within challenging and odd situations. Some of the situations with the kids will break your heart. But you will also impact the lives of thousands of people. For those thinking about becoming an artist: you don’t become an artist, you are an artist. It is a lot of hard work and hustle. A lot of your time will be spent sucked into it. It’s rewarding. You’ll meet interesting people and see fascinating things and hopefully make cool stuff along the way. But it will probably take you at least 10 years of practicing and tinkering to be able to make what is in your head a real deal thing. That’s ok. If you’re lucky, the thing you make will be better than what you envision in your head.
Who was your art-ed hero growing up? My high school art teacher, Dennis Whitehouse. He showed me lots of things: for example, he taught me value and color mixing (both blew my mind). He was so fun, too. He really liked hanging out with us. And he had us all making different stuff, whatever, based upon each student’s interests, skills, and work ethic. My mom also taught me how to sew, and I made a lot of my toys based on Better Homes & Gardens articles. My 4th-grade teacher, Ms. Needleman, let me create all of her bulletin boards. I drew all the pictures and letters, carefully cutting them out and stapling them to the wall. I was making pretty big drawings before I was 10.
Any last thoughts?
 I love to make art and I love to make art with people. I consider myself an artist who teaches, more than an art teacher. I have an MFA and no art ed degree, so I’ve had to be creative about ways to make as much art as possible. I’ve discovered it’s amazing to be able to help people make stuff. I’ve been pretty lucky.
Find out more about Beth Reitmeyer:

Interview with Art-Ed Hero Tina M. Atkinson

Where do you teach and what grades do you teach? How long have you been teaching art? I teach at Percy Priest Elementary School in Nashville, Tennessee. I have been the art teacher there for 21 years! I have also taught some art education classes at Belmont University.

What is your favorite time of the school day and why? One of my favorite times of the day is called “Open Studio”. During my planning in the morning, my 4th graders have their 1st recess. I open the art room so they may choose to create, especially in the winter when the weather is poor. It is fun to have the students come in and work, help each other, chat about events. I don’t teach during this time, so the students have to work independently and coach each other. I love it because if you can teach something, you have really internalized the information, so

What is your favorite lesson or concept to teach? I love to teach clay and weaving. Weaving is great in the winter when everyone is so busy. I let students choose their own seats to weave so they can chat about all the exciting things happening this time of year.  Clay is great because it is so very different than what the students are used to and they are so excited about it! I’m really silly when I teach clay so it adds to the fun!

What has you underwater right now? Dipping all those clay projects in the clear glaze and getting them fired before the holidays. I also use Artsoinia.com, which is an online art gallery. By the end of the year, the students and I will have uploaded almost 6,000 works of art. Right now I am behind with photographing and uploading all those clay projects!!

What is saving your life in the classroom right now? The last week of the semester I set up Free-Choice Art Day. It is a time for students to create what is inside them and apply some of the skills they have been learning. I give the directions and then they can move from table to table making and cleaning up. While they work and listen to music, I am working too, putting away all of the random supplies we used but did not have time to repack. I place odds and ends on the collage/recycle table too which always spark creativity! It is the student’s favorite day of art and I love to see what they create with the materials and what they have learned. Parent volunteers and 4th-grade helpers are also lifesavers this time of year. I put them to work taking pictures of clay projects so they can get home before the holidays!

Who is your favorite artist to teach kids about? Leigh Alfredson! She is a street-painter friend of mine who works out of state. Every year she comes to my school and does a workshop with my 2nd graders. Seeing the students learn about and from a live artist (because I don’t count)  is really an amazing experience that they will always remember.

What does your studio practice outside of the classroom look like and how does it make its way into your classroom? I am a mixed media artist. That sounds so much better than being an artistic magpie! I love to make and I attend lots of workshops and classes (such as TN Art Ed. Association conference and community classes at The Clay Lady Campus here in Nashville) in which I get to learn new processes! Once I have a collection of creations, I combine them to make one cohesive piece. I am usually working in a theme so each small piece is a part of a larger idea that will be combined to illustrate my message. I include meaningful found objects and a lot of symbolism to create my pieces. Currently, I have been creating works of art that bring awareness to those who silently suffer from digestive issues, so the objects I use are very textural, like nails, gravel, barbed wire, satin, metal, clay and so on. Most of my pieces are about hope and offer a sense of community for those you needlessly struggle alone.

What’s your least favorite thing you get asked to do by your colleagues? My colleagues are very respectful of my time and resources. It helps that I foster a culture of collaboration. A phrase I have used for years is, ” I am happy to advise you on your fabulous project!” By becoming the consultant, it allows people to feel comfortable asking for help and advice and absolves me of the responsibility of not meeting someone else’s expectations because it makes each petitioner the leader of the project.

Do you let people borrow your glue guns? Yes…well, I am always willing for people to bring something to the art room during my planning or after school that can be glued. I encourage teachers to keep their own mini low temp glue gun in the classroom. I keep the high temp one in the art room and they are welcome to visit it when the room is open.

How often do you collaborate across disciplines and what is a collaboration you are excited about right now? I am often designing trans-curricular units. By planning trans-curricular instead of cross-curricular it allows creativity to remain center stage as students knowledge-build and research through a variety of other academic subjects. Creativity is very motivating and the student is often driven to do more, writing and research to better communicate the idea they are developing through art. Some ideas start as collaborations but end up becoming all mine. One of my favorites is a Greek Sculpture unit in which students explore Greek mythology, design an original character that could be inserted into the mythology. Students then sculpt, paint and embellish the sculpture. The final step is to write an origin story for the new character explaining details about famous relatives or special powers the character may poses. Another unit I have been developing to teach in the spring includes studying plant and animal cells. This unit includes mono-printing cellular structures and then reverse engineering the organism that the mono-printed cell may belong to based on similarities to either plant or animal cells. My target grade is 4th because they missed learning about cells when the science curriculum moved its teaching from 4th grade to 3rd grade. My daughter happens to be in that group, so I decided to fill the gap through art.

What would you tell a 19-year-old who is thinking about becoming an artist or art educator? It is the best job in education! If you are going to teach, teach art. It is challenging and not for the disorganized, but it is the one place kids can still feel like humans. They are allowed to create and express themselves in the art room in a way that is being tested and assessed right out of every other element of education. Find an expert art teacher and spend time in the art room with them. Make as much art as you can, try as much media, pay attention to your education classes because management is important. But…if you don’t believe that by teaching art you can change the world, then pick something else.

Who was your art-ed hero growing up? I grew up about 60 miles south of Pittsburgh, so in high school, we would take a field trip every year to the Carnegie Museum of Art. I fell in love with the art of culture and would read books about the things people made and what they were used for in antiquity and in native people. I really enjoyed trying to figure out what an object was made out of or what it may have been used for in daily life. The stories that the objects told were fascinating to me. I still love to do this at museums and art/craft fairs. I am constantly amazed by what people make and the ideas they have.

What question do you wish I would have asked but didn’t? What is the answer?

If you had the stage in front of administrators and art policy-makers, what would you want to say about why art education is essential?

I would encourage every administrator and educational policy maker to spend some time in an art classroom, not as an evaluator, but to see how this time positively impacts student’s lives. Making art has an amazing calming property that soothes anxiety and pushes worries away for a little while. More than that, it is challenging and fosters students to think about problems from different angles. This ability to approach problems with an attitude of exploration and determination fosters innovation that translates to every field and industry. Creative entrepreneurs, artists, politicians, administrators, teachers, doctors, scientists, inventors, mathematicians, researchers and more all come from the art room where failure is recognized as a sign of fearless exploration, a positive learning strategy that leads to success beyond measure!

Interview with Art-Ed Hero Leslie Robison

 

Where do you teach and what classes do you teach? I teach at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida. I teach all levels of drawing and painting, as well as illustration and a two-dimensional foundations course. I also share the responsibility with my colleagues for teaching the Bachelor of Art and Bachelor of Fine Art senior portfolio classes and I am solely responsible for developing and leading two other courses: Artists in Residence and Socially-Engaged Art.

How long have you been teaching art? I have been a full-time faculty member at Flagler College sine 2006. Before that, I  taught in graduate school at the University of Florida and later I taught part-time at Washington State University, so it’s getting close to 20 years of teaching!

What is your favorite time of the day to teach and why? Usually by 11:00 am, everyone has had their coffee and is ready to work! Or, at least I am.

What is your favorite lesson or concept to teach? I like teaching students about color and value relationships and how these inform our perceptions. But I also really like discussing semiotics (the study of how we make signs and how we construct meaning through connotation). Lately, this has led me to create metaphor assignments in two different classes.

What has you underwater right now? I have so much planned for next semester that I am trying to take care of as much of it as possible now but I am still busy with the end of the fall semester so, for example, I am typing this in between helping my senior students install work in the museum for their final exhibition. And I’ve also been knitting to try and help a colleague’s community yarn-bombing project while starting a new painting of my own.

What is saving your life in the classroom right now? Camaraderie! The students and I need to believe we are on this journey together, or it doesn’t work. This semester, I’ve been lucky to have a wonderful group of students to work with. I think that when students don’t see me as a fellow artist and mentor, but as an authoritarian who holds their grade, they are less likely to stretch themselves and make good decisions for their own sake and in that situation, I don’t have a very good time either- I feel like I am just “at work.”  But enthusiasm is contagious; the more enthusiastic we all are, the more fun it is to put in the long hours.

What is your favorite memory (or a memory you cherish) of seeing a student you taught whose older now and is no longer in your school? I’m always really happy to see my students who have gone on to graduate school.  I love hearing about their experiences and seeing how their work has evolved.

Who is your favorite artist(s) to teach students about? I think that because I am always trying to get my students to be brave in the face of risk and potential failure, Francis Alys is a good artist to show to them. In Paradox of Praxis 1: Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing from 1997, the artist pushes a huge block of ice through the streets of Mexico City until it melts down to nothing. In 2002’s When Faith Moves Mountains, he gets 500 volunteers with shovels to move a hill (actually, a huge sand dune) a few inches. Watching the videos of these performances also inspires students to put as much invention and investment into their practice as they can manage.

What does your studio practice outside of the classroom look like and how does it make its way into your classroom? I don’t stick to any one medium- I draw, paint, knit, perform, and make videos. I usually have an idea I want to convey and will turn to a particular medium to do it. Once I get involved in working with that medium, I will be led by it to make more work and different choices that lead to new ideas. I encourage my students to try executing the same idea in different mediums, too.

 Another way my work comes into the classroom is by taking my students outside of the classroom and getting them involved in community projects. I have created several works of art for which my students and various community groups are the participants and they are collaborators with me on what the meaning of the work of art becomes. We’ve worked with senior citizens, homeless families, and incarcerated youth on a number of projects.

What’s your least favorite thing you get asked to do by your colleagues? I can’t really think of anything my colleagues do but I do get annoyed by the demands people outside of the Art Department make on us, especially on our students. When I was the Department Chair, I used to get weekly calls from well-meaning citizens asking our students to do all sort of things for free- one even asked me to bring my painting class to their kid’s birthday party to do face-painting. And that just isn’t a part of our painting curriculum.

 Do you let people borrow your glue guns(or any supplies)? I’m a huge sucker for lending things out or giving away my own supplies. If someone can use it or benefit from it, I’m going to lend it out. I go through a lot of paper and charcoal that way. I did pick up a good tip from a colleague, though- he takes a picture of each student holding the book they are borrowing from him and then deletes it off of his phone once they’ve returned the book. I’ve started doing this with movies and books and I am getting them back!

How often do you collaborate across disciplines and what is a collaboration you are excited about right now? The work my students and I do in the community crosses disciplinary borders from art into education, history, and social work. For upcoming projects with an emphasis on social justice, I’ve talked to my colleagues in Anthropology, Art History, Poetry, and Law about involving their expertise and/or their students in the art-making

What would you tell a 19-year-old who is thinking about becoming an artist or art educator? First of all, I would tell them “Congratulations!” because I cannot imagine a better life. I know I’m biased but I am a happy person because there are very few things at my job that feel like work to me. Also, my art practice has allowed me to explore my relation to the world and I think that has made me a pretty well-adjusted and fulfilled human. 

Secondly, I have this list of quick directives: Be brave. Take chances with your work. Make connections with others and create a community of artists and creatives. Say yes to opportunities. And even if you’re too shy to admit it openly yet, believe in your own greatness.

And, finally, pick up a copy of Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by Bayles & Orland. I re-read this book every few years.

Who was your art-ed hero growing up? I remember all of my high school art teachers- Mr. Howell, Mrs. Lewis, Mr. Seward- very fondly. But I think I was just as equally inspired by my 5th and 6th grade teacher, Mr. Wiggam. He had all sorts of ways of making learning fun. I think the first time I ever used a saw was in his class when he involved us all in building a treehouse inside the classroom. It felt like we were breaking some rules there and I don’t know how he ever got permission to do it. But we did have a treehouse. He also brought in one of those old-fashioned bathtubs and filled it with pillows- that was the best place in the whole school to lounge and read.

An interview with Art-Ed Hero Lauren Connelly of Robert Churchwell Museum Magnet Elementary School

 

Where do you teach and what grades do you teach? I teach grades kindergarten through fourth at Robert Churchwell Museum Magnet Elementary.

How long have you been teaching art? This is my fifth year teaching art in a school setting. Before this, I worked and taught at The Frist Art Museum as well as leading groups and individuals through pottery painting at Third Coast Clay Ceramic Studio.

What is your favorite time of the school day and why? My favorite time of the school day is 11:25-12:25. This is when I teach my kindergartners. I love all of the grades that I teach but there is something about the pure joy and excitement of kindergartners that I just love.

What is your favorite lesson or concept to teach?  I love to paint with my students, especially when I teach color families. I love to show students that you don’t need a ton of materials to create art. Teaching the primaries and color mixing allows my students to know that if all they have are blue, red, and yellow paint they still have the power to create other colors needed for their piece.

Who is your favorite artist to teach kids about? Currently, my favorite artist to teach my student’s about is Keith Haring. I say currently because it changes frequently. Right now my students are loving his use of line and color and are surprised by how something that looks simple is actually more challenging to draw than they originally thought. His artwork and message are extremely relatable to my students-they love that he created art in places for everyone to see. They also love the movement and action within his figure drawings.

What does your studio practice outside of the classroom look like and how does it make its way into your classroom? My studio practice outside of the classroom is honestly very hit or miss. Oil painting has always been my first love but after starting teaching and starting a side pottery painting business I find myself being very inconsistent with my practice. All of this to say that painting has always been my favorite thing to teach in the classroom. I have recently found myself wanting to scratch all of my personal work and start completely over with something completely different- a new body of work entirely. I’m not sure what this will look like as I feel like I’m processing what that is going to be for me moving forward. This has impacted my classroom as I have found myself branching out a lot this school year trying all new projects and materials. It has been really fun to experiment and I’m excited to see where it leads.

What’s your least favorite thing you get asked to do by your colleagues? My least favorite thing I often get asked to do is to create decorations for colleagues weddings, baby showers, kids birthdays, you name it, I have been asked to create decorations and paintings for it!

Do you let people borrow your glue guns? I do let people borrow my glue guns but only because my colleagues know how OCD I am about my supplies and they always make sure to return them.

How often do you collaborate across disciplines and what is a collaboration you are excited about right now? I try to collaborate across disciplines as often as I can. Currently, I am working with our fourth-grade team on their study of the Civil Rights. I am extremely lucky to have a Museum Room within my school and The Frist Art Museum is lending us their exhibit “We Shall Overcome”. This exhibit contains photos from the Civil Rights movement in Nashville. This is especially important for my students because many of the photos in the exhibit were taken in their neighborhood of North Nashville. Our fourth graders are being trained to act as docents for this exhibit and will actually lead tours for our younger students. They will also be creating their own photographs in response to this exhibit. Needless to say, I am quite excited about this opportunity!