Monday, June 19, 2017

Art Advocacy made Easy!

Sometimes it's easy for something really simple to seem oh-so-complicated.  As art educators, the concept of advocacy can seem formidable.  We already have so much to do just developing a good solid art program and putting it into action,  How are we supposed to find the time to be advocates, too?  Isn't there someone else to take care of this for us?  

Well - my friend Lee Darter, who blogs at Art Room Blog, has written a guest post at Amanda Koonlaba's blog, Party in the Art Room blog.   Lee's guest post is called Art Advocacy in Your Classroom, and is clear, concise, sensible, and informative.  This post is an absolute gem!  Reading what she had to say was, for me, one of those 'knock yourself on the forehead' - 'Duh!' moments.  Why have I been making something that is SO simple, SO obvious, seem SO complicated??  Trust me, when you read this, you'll agree!

If you'd like some sensible suggestions for advocacy that will not be an extra burden to your workload, I recommend you follow THIS LINK and hop on over to the Party in the Art Room and read Lee's post!  Meanwhile, here's a poster that Amanda developed based on the main points of Lee's essay. 
Thank you, Amanda and Lee, for allowing me to link to your blog and post!

Friday, June 16, 2017

A permanent Student Art Gallery in your school!

Have you ever considered starting a permanent gallery of student artwork in your school?  That's what I did, a number of years ago.  A permanent gallery in your school can be a wonderful vehicle for advocacy. Take a tour through my school art gallery, and then I'll tell you how I made this happen, so perhaps you can do something similar in your school!  

Our tiny rural school district encompasses three small towns and lots of outlying areas that were originally three autonomous tiny school districts.  When the school districts consolidated in the 1970's, they retained the three buildings, and one town housed a primary building, one housed a middle school, and the high school was in the third town.  It took many years before the district agreed to give up the tiny inadequate buildings, and finally build one K-12 building in one town.  Once the new building was complete, it was beautiful and brought the whole school community together.

At that point, I proposed the art gallery, based on an idea I'd seen in a visit to another school.  I noted there was a long stretch of boring unbroken hallway  (no doors or windows on the side that ran along the back of the big gymnasium, and on the other side, the door and window of the nurse's office, but not much else).  The proposal was presented to the administration and school board, and was heartily approved, as long as I could find funding.  I spoke to the PTSA, and they agreed on an amount to contribute each year for the cost of professionally matting and framing artwork.  In exchange, I scheduled art projects with my students for an annual fundraiser organized and managed by the PTSA.  In other words, it was a mutually beneficial relationship.  I also formed a relationship with a local framer, who gave me discounted rates for mounting/matting and framing the artwork.

During the school year, I saved artwork that seemed "special".  At the end of each year, I invited a few other staff members, including the principal, to help make the final selection of works to be framed.  They viewed the works without knowing who the student artists were, to prevent bias.  Originally, we added three pieces a year with the PTSA funding.   I always made the final decisions after the artwork had been reviewed by several others.  When possible, I always selected the artwork of those kids who were less likely receive recognition in other ways.  Letters were sent home with the selected students, to them and their parents, with a form for permission.  Students could decide they preferred to keep their artwork if  they wanted, but over the years, I only had one student opt out of being included in the gallery.  I photographed each student with his/her artwork, and using small donated frames, I framed the photos so that each student received their photo as a gift in exchange for the donation of the artwork.  Most years, the artwork was exhibited in a student art show before being permanently installed in the school. 

My custodians volunteered to hang the artwork over summer vacation, according to my direction.  I learned to "let it go" when, over the summer, they made aesthetic decisions about how to hang the artwork that were not the decisions I would have made if I'd been there.  Nobody else would notice, and I was very appreciative of their willingness to hang the artwork along with their other duties.

After a few years, my funding temporarily fell through.  My framer donated me a bunch of mat board, and assorted frames that were not needed, and I cut the mats and framed the work myself.  At this point, we started adding more work, sometimes four or five pieces in a year, and eventually, the PTSA was again able to provide funding.   I think, if you were considering beginning a similar gallery, that you'll find most framers are very willing to donate mat board and  sometimes frames, and that there's lots of options for funding a gallery in your school.

At some point, the high school art teacher began a similar gallery in the high school wing of the building, so now the gallery extends to the far end of the same hallway.  I retired 5 years ago, and by that time, the elementary gallery contained over 80 beautiful works of art, with an estimate of another 30 pieces by secondary students.  Several new pieces have been added since I retired.

So why is it worth your time and effort to develop an art gallery in your school?  It's simple.  EVERY PERSON who walks into the school will see the artwork.  Administrators will see it; community members will see it; parents will see it. The gallery will give them a visual reminder of how art can bring life to an otherwise empty and colorless space, and remind them of the importance of keeping art as a part of our curriculum.  The kids who are represented will come back years later as adults and feel that they are a part of the school when they see their work still hanging.  (About 1/2 the students represented on the elementary hallway have graduated from high school!!)  At some point, there will be kids who can say "my mom (or dad) painted that!" 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Roadrunner Art Walk

The article for today's post was written by Thom Knab, whose bio appears at the bottom of this post. 

Advocating for your program can require creativity on your part. Let me share what I called the Roadrunner Art Walk.  The event received its name from my school’s mascot, the roadrunner.  I created an art show, showcasing my students’ art work along the main street of my district.  I contacted businesses regarding allowing me to display the works, facing out to the street, from their storefront windows.  Families and community members could walk along the street enjoying the student work displayed. The steps I used to organize this event follow. 

 First, I composed a letter inviting businesses to take part.  I actually walked up and down Main Street to hand deliver them to make that personal connection and get any immediate feedback.  I found that I received a variety of responses… some businesses absolutely loved the idea, some agreed with less excitement, others decided late, and some did not respond to my invitation at all.  It all worked out well as many businesses agreed to participate.  I even communicated with the local newspaper which was so enthusiastic that the editor sent a photographer to take pictures of students hanging their work and published an article advertising the event.  He was also very helpful in spreading the word to other businesses through the town’s Chamber of Commerce.  Next, I had to organize the show. 
  • I took photos of store fronts to determine size and number of pieces each could accommodate.  
  • I framed the art works to honor each student’s work and to make the best possible impression. 
  • I created a spreadsheet of businesses and the work to be displayed at each along with business hours so I knew when I could hang pieces.
  • The biggest challenge, or so I thought, was going to be to hang all the art work.  It actually progressed rather quickly and several businesses required or offered to hang the work themselves.  Those 3M clips work quite well for hanging, where necessary, as they come off cleanly after the exhibit.  Many store fronts have existing hooks and nails to hang their own displays or in some instances I just set the art work on the window sill when that worked best.  Again, I just had to be creative. 
I planned and communicated an end date (about two weeks later) to come back and pick-up the art works.  The Roadrunner Art Walk was quite the success.  Families and especially students were excited and proud.  Many made an event of locating their child’s art work and then finding lunch somewhere in town afterwards. The community was able to view the type of quality art work students had been creating and in turn what my art program was facilitating the creation of.  The newspaper’s coverage reached a far greater number in the community and helped educate them on the art program.  I wish you all the best if you should try this for your school and community.  Start out small, and if it is successful, it can grow.

Today's guest post author is Thom Knab, who has been teaching at Dodge Elementary School in the Williamsville Central School District here in NY State for 27 years. His name may seem familiar to some of you, because Thom has been serving as NAEA Elementary Division Director from 2015-2017.  He also served as NYSATA Host State Committee Chair for the 2017 NYC NAEA Convention, and was NYSATA President from 2013-2015, and was Vice President from 2012-2013. Thank you,  Thom, for giving us a wonderful idea that could be easily adapted for many communities.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Banner of Peace and the Universal Protection of Cultural Values

Up until my recent travels to NYC, I had never heard of Russian artist Nicholas Roerich or the Roerich Peace Pact.  But my visit with my husband to the Nicholas Roerich Museum, on the upper west side of Manhattan, changed that.  (All paintings in this post are paintings by Roerich).

You may wonder why I'm writing about a visit to an art museum on an advocacy blog.  I hope I can make the association clear in this post.

Roerich was much more than an artist; he was a painter,  a costumer and set designer, a writer/poet, an archaeologist, and a philosopher, and an advocate for peace and the preservation of cultural institutions, and art and architecture during wartime, regardless of geographical borders and boundaries.

Cultural preservation was very important to Nicholas Roerich throughout his career. Roerich believed that "the best products of humanity's creative genius were almost always neglected, or even destroyed, by humanity itself" (All quotes in this paragraph are  from the Nicholas Roerich Museum website.)  He composed a treaty known as The Roerich Pact, which "declared the necessity for protection of the cultural product and activity of the world—both during war and peace—and prescribed the method by which all sites of cultural value would be declared neutral and protected, just as the Red Cross does with hospitals."   He designed The Banner of Peace (below) based on ancient symbols.  "This Banner, flown at all sites of cultural activity and historical value, would declare them neutral, independent of combatant forces."

Quoting again from the Nicholas Roerich Museum website, "In so many countries we see a deterioration of cultural values and a disregard for the right of all cultural treasures to have their own continued existence, forever protected and unimpeded. We see destruction of life, property, and the inheritance of the creative genius of the nations. One can only hope that a greater awareness of the importance of humanity’s cultural heritage will increase, rather than deteriorate. There is no greater value to a nation than its culture."

That statement was not written recently, but it seems significantly relevant today.  When the protection of our cultural institutions is no longer seen as a priority, it becomes our responsibility to advocate strongly for the arts and make sure that the arts continue to be recognized and valued.  I believe, as our art programs are often ranked low in priority, we need to become more visible than ever before. 

I suggest you search through previous blog posts and keep reading future blog posts here on The Artful Advocate for ways to make your art program visible and ways to stress the importance of visual arts education.  And to learn more information on Nicholas Roerich, the Nicholas Roerich Museum, and the Roerich Peace Pact, check the museum's website HERE for more detailed information. 

And while you are visiting the website to learn more about the Peace Pact, don't forget to explore Roerich's beautiful artwork.  You will find many possibilities for lesson inspiration based on his artwork and his philosophy.  And if you find yourself in NYC with a few hours to spare, hop a subway to the upper west side and visit this hidden gem!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Become a Published Author in a National Magazine!

 Would you like to inspire fellow art teachers with your unique lessons, or classroom tips and tricks? You can write an article for a national magazine with a huge readership, and become a published author.  All you need is a great idea and a little bit of time to write!   Here are the steps you can take to create a wonderful article for an authentic audience:

First and Most Important: FIND a topic you LOVE and want to share with the world!
  • Brainstorm: Write things down, make a graph or chart.
  • Organize: Bring everything into one folder, such as any pictures you have taken so far, writing you've done, notes you've kept, etc.
  • Write a rough draft.
  • Have at least two different people look at the rough draft. 
  • Take clear and clean pictures.
  • Finish your rough draft.
  • Have permission slips filled out by parents.
  • When the article is written and you have all of your permission slips, you are ready to submit. 
Visit the two links below to find guidelines for submitting to both School Arts and Arts and Activities.

The article above was written by guest contributor Heather McCutcheon.  Thank you, Heather!
  • And here's an added bonus, when advocating for preservation and support of your art program.  When your article is published, make sure you send copies of the publication that contains your article to your administrator and school board.  They are sure to be impressed and proud that you are published in a prominent publication and representing your school district in such a positive way! 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Why the "A" is important in "STEAM"

Recently, there was a video posted on the Ford Motor Company's Facebook page that stirred up a lot of comments from people arguing about STEAM vs STEM.  There were so many comments on the original post that I can no longer find the specific comments I intended to share here, but since they were posted in a public place, I feel it is OK for me to paraphrase and share with you.   It may help you realize how essential it is to advocate for art education, because there are still  people who truly do not understand how indispensable the arts are in our culture and in our lives. 

Here's the theme of the comment that most concerned me: The author said that he felt is was a shame that Ford was promoting STEAM over STEM, and that it was not presenting a good message for our sons and daughters.  He felt that STEM was the right answer for our children because it leads to careers that pay well.  He further indicated that people who study STEM earn more than those who study art, and that and that suggesting that art was an an equal means to a career was not substantiated by facts.

So here's where advocacy comes in.  The fact that the author of this comment feels the way he does, indicates to me that perhaps we aren't doing a good enough job explaining the "A" in STEAM.  I think we as art teachers have placed a lot of emphasis on how art teaches kids to think creatively, to use critical thinking skills, and to solve problems.  We know this is true.  But, I may be unpopular for saying this, but the truth is, we are NOT the only discipline that uses critical thinking.  Scientists and engineers also use critical thinking skills and solve problems.  But there's another element besides critical thinking/problem solving that art adds to the STEAM equation, that I do not think has been emphasized enough, even though it's something we innately (and exclusively) know.

Let's say that someone has come up with an idea for a new product, whether a fuel-efficient car with modern technological innovations, or a prosthetic limb, or a faster toaster, or a more comfortable ergonomic shoe, or even a healthier breakfast cereal.  The scientific innovations of these products are important to making us want them.  But to SELL the product, it needs more.  Image is important.  The car needs to look cool.  The toaster should look great on your kitchen counter.  The look of the prosthetic should make the wearer feel confident.  The shoe should look stylish, fashionable.  And the breakfast cereal needs packaging that will make your child want to eat it.  The artist is essential to taking the invention, the innovation, and creating the visual design, the "packaging", that makes it saleable.  It takes that technologically advanced car and makes it beautiful, or sexy, or sleek, or fun-looking, etc.  And beyond the product itself, the artist is also the person who creates the advertising design that makes the public crave the product.

If you are doing STEAM projects in your school, go ahead and work on the problem solving, the critical thinking, and the innovation.  But don't stop there.  Remind your students that they are artists, and that if they are creating an innovation, that their job is also going to be to sell it.  The scientist, the engineer, and the mathematician expect the design artist to work on the packaging and advertising.  For the "A" in STEAM, our students need to go further than the conceptual part of innovation, and learn the design skills necessary to sell their innovations.  Don't forget the visual part of art!  Teach your students the importance of creating the visual design of their inventions.  If you are doing a STEAM event, make product design and advertising a part of the event, after the problem-solving part of the challenges have been completed.  I think here's where parents and community will begin to  understand how essential art is to innovation.

Back to the original comment.   Remember, the author said that STEM was preferred to STEAM because it leads to careers that pay well.  I have two thoughts about that.  First of all, he's just plain wrong.  Design careers can be lucrative.  Not all artists are poor and starving!  Second of all, we need to remember that career decisions aren't just about which career will make you richer.  For example, I chose to be a teacher, knowing that a teaching career wouldn't be the highest paying option.  But we don't strictly choose our life careers by which one earns more.  We find the career that best suits our skills, our personalities, our lifestyles, etc.  We who choose to teach do so because it is what we are, what we do; our choice to teach is a noble and meaningful choice, even if we will never be paid what an attorney or a doctor or an engineer will earn.  Everything is not always about money!! 

Thanks for reading my ramblings.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on how we can get people to better understand the importance of that A in STEAM!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Movies as Advocacy, for Youth Art Month and beyond!

It's Youth Art Month!  Showcase all of the great things you are doing for Youth Art Month in your classroom or district, while advocating for your program through a video.  It does not have to be a long video or take you three weeks to put together.  


Here are some tips to create a great movie in no time at all!
  • Take a lot of photos and some sort video clips.  
    • This can be on your phone, ipad, or video camera.  
  • Upload the photos and video clips to your computer.
  • Open your favorite movie-making program.  
    • My favorites are iMovie and Adobe Spark.
      • iMovie is on Apple products only, but can be used on any device.
      • Adobe Spark is a free internet-based program
    • Both programs are easy to use.
  • Once you have chosen a program, import the photographs and video clips.  
  • Drop them where you would like them.
  • You can add text and music if you'd like.  
  • Export and SHARE. 
    • Share your videos with us! @youthartmonthNY on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
Ideas for your movie:
  • YAM in your school
  • How students feel about the Arts and why they are important.
  • Why is YAM important?
    • Ask students, teachers, and administrators.
  • YAM in the Community
  • Students working..  They are the reason for YAM!
  • Special projects and ideas in celebration of  YAM.
  • YAM in your community.  How the community or schools partner together to support YAM.

 Today's blog post is written by blog contributor Heather McCutcheon.   Heather has submitted articles for Artful Advocate blog posts before.  Thanks, Heather, for another great contribution!