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!



Peer Art Critiques

Art by Isabella Blakeman
Art work by Isabella Blakeman
Mt. Pleasant Middle School of the Visual and Performing Arts

In 2018 Number Inc. began a youth art writing pilot program with Mt. Pleasant Elementary (100 students?), Middle (20 students?) and High School(10 students?) for Visual and Performing arts. Through the Young Art Writers Project (Y.A.W.P.) Number Inc. hopes to advocate for, encourage and provide resources for youth in the south to write about art in their community. We believe that the process of writing about art in their own community will give students an opportunity to think deeply about how the arts are an important part of their lives regardless of what zip code they live in. In this pilot program elementary students wrote about a community art project connected to Native American history in Mt. Pleasant, TN, a middle school student wrote about her family rebounding after Hurricane Katrina and her father’s reconnecting with his studio practice. Middle and high school students also exchanged artwork and wrote critiques of those artworks. All students were given access to copies of Number Inc. and used the interviews, show reviews and feature articles as jumping off points for writing about art in their community.

In this project, one artist was chosen from each school to submit a piece of art for peer critiques.  Art selected from the middle school was sent to the high school and art from the high school was sent to the middle school.

“…The artist has used great amounts of contrast in the drawing, which is particularly notable in the linework; with the softer, smoother lines juxtaposed with the sharper, pointier ones. The piece also draws your attention to the man’s abdomen through the use of proper posing and the deliberate manipulation of specific light sources in the picture, just to make sure you can feel the raw power exuding off of the man’s body. The drawing’s flowing rhythm is made

apparent through the masterful use of line strokes, which repeat all throughout the piece to create depth and to draw attention.

Using this evidence, we can extrapolate that the artist’s purpose was to show sheer strength and power, as if the man was breaking free from the grip of the paper into the loving embrace of freedom. This drawing must be symbolism for the artist breaking free from society’s expectations, or “stepping out of the box,” as the saying goes. For instance, the man’s stance radiates a powerful energy, from the flexing of his muscular arms, the fists being held up triumphantly, and the “tearing” of the paper from the man seemingly breaking through from his paper prison. There is no doubt that this picture is the physical embodiment of the concept of power….”

Art by Brynn Butler
By Brynn Butler
Mt. Pleasant High School

Art Critique by Mt. Pleasant Middle School of the Visual and Performing Arts student, Willow Moore Pop art is the style of this picture. Dots portray the colors of this picture through there is not a large variety of colors. I think the picture is confusing. The girl is crying yet she says “lol”. Lol would mean that she’s happy yet she’s crying.

Though she could be fake crying and laughing about it in her head. Maybe she’s trying to seduce someone to get information, money or to blackmail him. It looks like a comic book style so maybe she’s a villain, trying to get close to the hero.

Maybe she’s the catwoman to someone’s batman. You can see that she’s staring at someone or something not in the painting. All I can see in this painting is betrayal. She is trying to fool someone. I think the message in this picture is “Be careful who you trust.”

Art Critique by Mt. Pleasant Middle School of the Visual and Performing Arts student, Jale

The picture is painted in dots. The artist used beige as skin color, purple for hair, and red for lips. It is a girl crying, but her thought is saying “lol”. I thought of this as verbal irony. Meaning that she is thinking on thing, but showing another. I guess that you could say she feels sad, but is trying to show happiness but it doesn’t work because she’s still sad. I believe that it is a good piece of art because it is showing two different emotions, one physically and the other through thought.

“…Where is my dad art career now though? My father had stopped drawing entirely. Life was too much. He didn’t have the time. Life and its unfortunate twists and turns had made it too hard for him to get back up again. But then I came in to save the day–unintentionally. I’m a naturally artistic person, I did the plays at the school, I drew a lot as well, I loved music, my father saw himself in me. I inspired him. My father got himself back on track, he started to want to draw again, he gained his artistic abilities back. Now, my father, at 51, has his own art studio in the comfort of his own home. He does art pieces for other people, for my show’s sets, and for our family.

So that’s that. Life is good again. We’re happy, and everything is right in the world. But that isn’t to say that we still don’t have bumps in the road. Everyone does. But we get through them with flying colors. My father grew up an artist, as a child always sketching, a teenager honing his craft, getting an art scholarship, going to art school, and through trouble and turmoil, he has stood strong. Bedford Smith, a man who survived a hurricane, a hard-worker, a bank manager, a significant other, and most definitely an astounding artist. But I’m most proud to call him my father.”

At Mount Pleasant Elementary school students visited a public art project in the town square and students wrote about their experience with the art.

Madison Haywood is a (grader?) and wrote this “The thing that I found most interesting on my field trip to the Mt. Pleasant square were the flowers with the Indian names. These flowers were designed to represent some of the Indians that were part of the Trail of Tears. People call it the Trail of Tears because when the Indians were traveling from the southeastern to the west many died along the way from disease or from starvation. I loved the mosaic design which represents what the artist thought the weather was like while the Indians were moving. I also thought it was cool how kids came and picked out the names of Indians off of a list. Being of Indian descent made it really special to me.”

Art Critique by Mt. Pleasant High School student Serena Schneider