Monday, October 23, 2017

The Healing Power of Art

Sometimes I wonder whether people notice the positive impact that art can make in a life.  And then along comes a story on the nightly news that attests to that healing power of art, and that story becomes a wonderful bit of advocacy for the arts.

A couple of nights ago, I saw such a story on NBC nightly news that I want to share with my readers here on this blog.  In the pediatric ward at Utah Valley Hospital, a nurse started drawing cartoons on the windows of his young patients.  Other nurses saw how meaningful it was to the young patients and also began drawing on windows.  (These are not trained artists; they are just nurses who are bringing joy to their young patients.)  But I don't know why I'm trying to tell you the story when you can view it  yourself. Here's a link to the news story.

In this video clip, seeing the joy on an ill child's face, and seeing the child get out of bed to join the nurse/artist at the window with a marker is an incredible testament to the power of art.

Many years ago, when I was a young high school art teacher, teaching darkroom photography, one of my most devoted photo students was stricken with his second bout of cancer and his prognosis was not good.  In the hospital, surrounded by children dealing with cancer, and friends losing their battles, my student found joy in using his camera to record what he felt and saw.  He never missed handing in a portfolio for a grade, and his photos were moving works of art/journalism.  Photography had a healing power for this boy.  Against all odds, not only did he unexpectedly survive, he graduated from high school, went to and graduated from RIT and opened a photography studio.

For those of us who are art educators, how many of us, if we investigate what happens to our students after they leave our our programs, will find that participating in the arts in one way or another has provided some healing in their life?  Or how many of our former students will find themselves moved or inspired or motivated by art created by someone else for their benefit (as in this news story)?

Art is indeed a superpower!!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Becoming an Advocate for Art Education

This is a quickie post, to share a link to a video worth viewing.   The video, Becoming an Advocate for Art Education, was created by New Jersey art teacher Eric Gibbons.

Eric blogs at  He has more advocacy information on the Advocacy tab at Art Ed Guru.  Follow this link to find this Advocacy information. 

Thank you, Eric, for letting The Artful Advocate share your terrific video and blog! 

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Arts in Education Week - Building Unity in the Community

Are you looking for a way to make the most of bringing unity to your school community and celebrating Arts in Education Week in a manner that all feel comfortable in?  Consider creating a Unity Mural to display in your school foyer, or out in the community!  This open-ended project allows for creative expression at any age, in any medium, and creates a flowing mural comprised of multiple sizes of paper circles.  Think of this as a springboard for a review of the elements and principles, or a focus on radial design, or perhaps mandalas, or even the works of Frank Stella.  Participation in this project brings people of all ages and from all walks of life together in a creative setting, where each person's work is valued and accepted. 

Open-ended creative opportunities encourage others to try something new, and build confidence and excitement in learning that carries over into the rest of the day for all ages.  Enhancing creativity empowers students, and leads to more divergent thinking and exploration. 

You could use this idea directly in your classroom, or open it up to all students and their parents if Back to School Night is close at hand.  Why not bring the idea to the next faculty meeting, for a quick hands-on demonstration, to show the value of the arts as creative therapy, and showcase the geometric design aspect. 

The artistic process of creating and conceiving new artistic ideas and works allows community members to consider ways to take creative risk.  Creative and innovative thinking are essential life skills tat CAN be developed.  

This lesson plan, Uniting our Community Full Circle with the Arts, was written by Heather McCutcheon (Herkimer Central School) as a participatory activity to engage the audience during the Herkimer County Youth Art Month Show held at Bassett Healthcare in Herkimer NY last spring. 

The Goals of this lesson were:
Students, Teachers, Parents, Siblings, and the Community will work together to create a United Collaborative Art piece.  Each individual will design a circle that will be added to the big piece. 

How to incorporate this lesson into your classroom:
Teachers will bring this Uniting our Community idea back into their classrooms in their own way.  Teachers can pick from the Unit options below or decide to create their own collaborative lesson. 

Unit Options/Ideas for K-12:
  • Study geometric shapes and use an arrangement of them in any medium to design your circle.  Shapes can overlap, intersect, etc. (PK-Grade 3)
  • Focus on a color scheme - open to any kind of media.  Different grade levels can design their circles with different colors, to assemble in a rainbow layout. 
  • Incorporate a quick read of The Dot by Peter Reynolds (and International Dot Day!) with your lesson.
  •  Crate a list of famous artworks to use for some VTS (Visual Thinking Strategy) to get kids thinking about how artists demonstrate unity wihin a community, how art is something that brings all mankind together - working in a limited format (the circle).  
  • Learn about and design mandalas - they can be symbolic.  Discuss radiating design, symmetry, repetition, concentric circles, etc. 
  • Discuss who is part of your community.  Discuss how can we hold our community together when there are so many things dividing us.  Can art make us all look at where we live differently?  Can it improve our quality of life? (for example, painting walls, decorating public spaces or other things that were eyesores?)
  • How can I make a difference (pay it forward).  What is beautiful about our community?

For more information (steps, unit ideas, and National Visual Arts Standards), click on the following lesson link:

National Visual Arts Standards – Creating: Conceiving and Developing new artistic ideas and work.  Enduring Understanding CR 1

The article in this blog post was written by Donnalyn Shuster and Heather McCutcheon, who have been previous contributors to The Artful Advocate. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Jazz up your Back-to-School Bulletin Boards!

The Artful Advocate took the summer off, but now we're back, and you can expect to see a few welcome back to school posts with some great advocacy tips for starting your school year, in the coming days and weeks!  We'll start today with creating quickie bulletin board art. 

Many of you are just starting back to school, and probably want to make a big splashy impact for your art programs.  Your school will probably be hosting an Open House or something similar in near future, and maybe you are panicked about how to fill your bulletin boards to make an impact when you have barely seen your students yet.  On top of all this, National Arts in Education Week is looming, September 10-16.  For more information on this week, check out the  National Arts in Education website here at this link.  From the website, here's a terrific quote about the value of the arts in an education program:
"The arts are an essential part of a complete education, no matter if it happens in the home, school, or community. Students of all ages—from kindergarten to college to creative aging programs—benefit from artistic learning, innovative thinking, and creativity. Celebrating National Arts in Education Week is a way to recognize this impact and share the message with friends, family, and communities."

So... you want to make your art program visible to visitors who come to the school for Open House or other programs.  That means quickly filling up those bulletin boards I mentioned before.  You don't have much time, so think SIMPLE and COLORFUL so that people can't help but notice them as they walk by.  Perhaps you might try some easy and quick one-class period project ideas in conjunction with International Dot Day, which is on September 15th, during National Arts in Education Week!  Read the book The Dot by Peter Reynolds for inspiration!  You may want to sign up to participate at the Dot Day website, and get a link to a free planning guide.  Or plan on your own: there are so many easy ways you can incorporate dots/circles in art lessons. 
  • Share the work of Roy Lichtenstein and discuss his use of Ben-Day Dots.  Use the eraser on the end of a pencil for a stamper to make your own dots!  For a quickie projects, have students  outline simple shapes on 8" paper squares with black Sharpies and fill in with dots of primary colors, one color inside the shape, another color outside.  Hang them all side by side like a patchwork quilt.  Or you can outline letters on small sheets of paper that put together will spell words like CREATE, or the Elements of Art, or whatever you want!  Hand out the papers, and have each student paint their letter filled with primary dots.  Simple and effective when displayed together, and if it says something meaningful when assembled, that's a bonus for you! 
  • Look at the work of pointillist painters and create mini-pointillist paintings of a simple subject: a flower, a bug, a heart, a star, your initials, etc.  
  • Look at Kandinsky's painting Squares with Concentric Rings, and create one day concentric circle paintings using analogous colors (color families), that can be quickly stapled up side-by-side again like a big quilt, to fill bulletin boards like a giant mural.  
  • Use discarded CD's as your dots, and hot glue them to small square pieces of tag board.  Have kids draw or paint petals on them to make flowers.  The CD can be decorated with Sharpie markers.  
Thinking ahead a year, in order to avoid the stress of having to cover those bulletin boards in time for Open House when you are still learning your students' names, here's an easy alternative.  In their final art classes in June, have your students listen to some happy music and use leftover paints to paint abstract "Improvisations" (look at Kandinsky, again) inspired by the music.  Or use leftover construction paper scraps to make colorful collages.  Give different colors of paper/paint to each grade level or class.  Hang them all on the bulletin boards before you leave in June; if you've used different colors per grade, arrange them in a rainbow order when you display them to give the display cohesiveness.  Then hang sheets of newspaper over the displays to cover them for the summer.  When you set up your classroom next August, pull off the newspaper and you've got ready-made colorful bulletin boards!

Stop back in a day or two for another post about your back-to-school bulletin boards! 

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.