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


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, 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!