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National Art Educators Association Convention

2015 National Art Education Association Annual Convention in New Orleans, LA

It was with great pride that I represented Artspace at the National Arts Education Association Convention in New Orleans at the end of March. I was a first time attendee amongst over 5,000 other art educators from all across the country. The convention is a professional development opportunity offered to art educators once a year, and I was fortunate enough to have my first experience take place in the incomparable New Orleans.

My favorite moments occurred when the need arose to explain to the locals who we were: this group of enthusiastic, brightly colored, multi-pattern-wearing folks, loudly enjoying their city. As soon as they learned we were Art Educators, people of all ages, all backgrounds and occupations would immediately wax rhapsodic about their art teachers, all those years ago. It was lovely to have constant reminders that the work we do will be remembered, whether we have nurtured a future Picasso or the best taxi driver in New Orleans or an artistically inclined biologist.

I attended as many sessions as possible that involved engaging learners across the curriculum using the STEAM model. This methodology specifically addresses the use of creative thinking and art making to heighten learning in subjects in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Incorporating elements of visual thinking encourages deeper exploration into the gray areas of subject matter that students usually only see in black and white, enhancing the power of creative thinking that is fundamental across all disciplines. I witnessed evidence of many powerful collaborations taking place between public schools and universities, scientists and artists, administrators and students.

One notable presentation on the benefits of the STEAM approach was given by Sara King, Visual Arts Teacher at Wakefield High School in Raleigh. She worked in collaboration with Vladimir Jojic and Elizabeth Shank of UNC Chapel Hill. She notes:

“With changing standards and curriculum, students are more often being asked to evaluate and synthesize information in more meaningful ways than just memorizing facts. As educators, we need to be able to support and facilitate more creative and interconnected learning opportunities for students.”

Ms. King set out to do just that in a colleague’s AP Biology classroom:

“The problem introduced was how to predict the interaction of different bacterial species. Students were shown some known interactions, then were asked to paint their predictions. They were challenged to consider several characteristics of the bacteria such as color, size, shape and texture.

There is a lot of variety seen in the artwork but that opens up an interesting discussion, ‘What kinds of differences are we seeing? What is the actual outcome and how could we better predict it in the future?’

The results showed insight, careful observation and creative use of line and color – all outside of art class.”

Student drawing of bacteria from collaboration between Sara King, Visual Arts Teacher at Wakefield High School in Raleigh and Vladimir Jojic and Elizabeth Shank of UNC Chapel Hill.

Student drawing of bacteria from collaboration between Sara King, Visual Arts Teacher at Wakefield High School in Raleigh and Vladimir Jojic and Elizabeth Shank of UNC Chapel Hill.

As I continue to process the information gleaned from the convention I will begin updating our popular outreach program to Wake County Public Schools: Process and Product. I will be exploring the diverse wealth of community partners in the Triangle as I search for creative collaborations with computer programmers, scientists, engineers, naturalists, school administrators and art teachers. The teaching artists at Artspace will serve a fundamental role in our partnership with schools as we continue our mission to inspire creative energy in our community!

Together we can work to bring art back into our classrooms in a meaningful way that demonstrates the fundamental necessity for creative thought in every field.

About Brett Morris

Brett is the Programs Assistant at Artspace, Inc. He graduated from NC State University in 2013 with a BA in Art + Design and has years of experience in helping to run a summer arts program, having been a counselor and a coordinator at the Design Camp at CAM Raleigh and NCSU. He is also a skilled photographer, graphic designer, screen printer, and has organized and installed exhibitions.

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