Posts Tagged 'Community Connection'

Community Connection: Dallas and Beyond

I look forward to spring for several reasons: warmer weather, hints of green and color coming out on trees and plants, and the National Art Educators Association Convention.  Held in a different city each year, the Convention provides opportunities for us to meet museum and classroom educators from all over the United States, as well as other countries, and to learn what our colleagues are doing and thinking about in their respective cities.  On the flip-side, DMA educators often lead conference sessions and share about the new and exciting programs that consume our daily lives.

The most recent Convention took place in Seattle during Spring Break.  I took part in a session with Elizabeth Gerber and Sofia Gutierrez, educators from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  We all work closely with afterschool programs, and evaluation and reflective practice are essential to the development and refinement of our programs.  We led a session that not only described our programs but also encouraged our audience to share their practices.  Meet our most distant Community Connections to date below:

Briefly describe your position at LACMA.

Elizabeth:  In a nutshell, I aim to connect the art at LACMA with the lives of students and teachers throughout Los Angeles County.  This includes working with multi-visit school programs where kindergarteners through high school students visit the museum multiple times; programs that take place in schools, libraries, and community centers; and professional development opportunities for classroom teachers.  These programs occur during school, after school, in the evenings, and on the weekends.  LACMA even creates an exhibition at a local elementary school each year!

Elizabeth Gerber

Sofia:  I coordinate the out-of-school afterschool component for the Art Programs with the Community: LACMA On-Site program. We have a partnership with the Los Angeles Public Library, the YMCA, and the Los Angeles Unified School District. The majority of the workshops happen at the seventeen partner libraries, where we hold weekly sixty- to ninety-minute hands-on art programs focused on developing critical thinking skills, creativity, and personal connections. I work closely with our teaching artists by mentoring, looking over lesson plans, collaborating on professional development, team teaching, and further developing best strategies for equal voicing opportunities for our participants, many who are English Language Learners. Each workshop has learning and social goals that were developed from our two-year participatory evaluation modeled after the Theory of Change.  I also work closely with the librarians and other community partners and coordinators in our programs to ensure we are meeting the educational and life-long learning needs of their community, and to extend the hospitality of LACMA as part of their community.

Sofia Gutierrez

What was your favorite part of your Seattle NAEA experience?

Elizabeth:  This year I really enjoyed the opportunity to think “big” about museums and the ways they connect with audiences and communities.  This work encompasses everything from collaborating with living artists, to evaluating the work of museums, to articulating the ways museums have an impact on their visitors and program participants.

Sofia:  I especially enjoyed hearing about all the inspiring work that is being done in the field of Museum Education and the nation’s libraries, and the call to action from our profession to ensure that the nation is aware of the crucial role and value of these public institutions, and that museums along with libraries, not just the sciences, are leading the way in developing 21st Century Skills.

If you could take any work of art from the LACMA collection home with you, what would you choose?  (I know I ask this question of all our museum colleagues, but this is a great way to learn about the treasures of their collections!)

Elizabeth:  It is tough to pick just one!  Although my background is in contemporary art, I’d love to live with Copenhagen: Roofs Under the Snow by Peter-Severin Krøyer.

Sofia:  I would choose Veiled Christ, a small 18th century Italian terracotta sculpture of Christ entombed with a shroud covering his body.  And if that wasn’t available, I would take The Magdalen with the Smoking Flame, c. 1638-1640, by Georges de La Tour.

Melissa Nelson
Manager of  Teaching in the Community

Community Connection: Nasher Sculpture Center

This past weekend marked the kick-off of Art in October, a celebration of the Dallas Arts District that features a variety of performances, exhibitions, programs, and events throughout the month.  In honor of this celebration, I walked across the street to the Nasher Sculpture Center for a coffee break with Stephen Ross.  Stephen began working in Admissions at the Nasher months after it opened in 2003.  Since then, he has held the title of Education Coordinator, Assistant Curator of Education, and for the last two years, Curator of Education.  See if you can find Stephen in this picture (hint: you can often identify a museum educator by his/her all-black outfit).

Stephen Ross seen through Jaume Plensa’s Twenty-nine Palms, 2007

What sparked your interest in museum education?
I think you have two choices coming out of graduate school – stay in school and become a curator (even though you don’t know what that is) or get a job at a museum.  I like museum education because I get to work with the public.

What has been the most enjoyable, challenging, or surprising aspect of your work with the Nasher?

I really like our Education Department.  It is limited because of our small staff, which is a total of three people.  I work with two really good people, and together we reach a wide spectrum from young children to adults.  We do a lot – we reach different audiences with different types of learning – so we all get to do a variety of things.

If you could take home any work of art from the Nasher, what would you choose?

I would take home Alberto Giacometti’s Two Figurines (Deux figurines sur socles) because they’re wonderful and tiny.  I love their size and portability – each figurine is less than two inches tall.  Giacometti would carry them around in matchboxes and put up small “exhibitions” on café tables.  They are the smallest pieces in the Nasher collection.

Tell us about your relationship with the DMA.

I work with the Museum Forum for Teachers, a five-day summer program for teachers that occurs at the Nasher, the DMA, The Rachofsky House, the Kimbell Art Museum and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.  We also collaborate on the docent program, which is a big help.  A small museum like ours could never have its own docent program, and we are thankful that DMA docents also lead tours at the Nasher. 

I love the sense of collaboration, in general.  I feel I can pick up the phone and call anyone in the DMA Education department to talk about program ideas, ask questions, etc.

Describe your idea of a perfect day.

Reading Beckett.  Listening to the Rudy Van Gelder sound.

Check out the Nasher and other Arts District venues during Art in October.

Melissa Nelson
Manager of Teaching in the Community

Community Connection: Our Friends and Neighbors

Dear loyal blog readers,

We have a new summer blog post schedule.  Look for new posts on Wednesdays and Fridays.  Have a fabulous summer!

The opening of the AT&T Performing Arts Center last fall brought our friends at the Dallas Theater Center (DTC) to the ever-growing Dallas Arts District.  Having comfortably settled into their new home at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre, the DTC has developed programs and collaborations as innovative as the building itself.  Lisa Holland, Director of Education and Community Programs at the DTC, gives us a peek behind the scenes.

Tell us about your new home at the Wyly Theatre.
The Wyly Theatre is remarkable – there’s not another theater like it in the entire world.  The flexibility that it affords is unparalleled and I think that we, as the primary tenants, are going to learn about this building as time goes on.  I think the possibilities are going to be limitless in this building.  I also think our patrons are going to be the lucky beneficiaries of seeing what this building can do.  It’s like a giant transformer.  What that provides to the patron in terms of the audience to artist relationship is going to be powerful and immediate. There’s nothing like it.  

Also, the synergy between other organizations in the Arts District and the potential collaborations that exist now is so thrilling.  I think about how we can collaborate with our friends and family at the Arts District in ways that will be really engaging and exciting.  To walk down the street and see who you’ll run into, or walk down the street and have a meeting at the DMA – it’s exciting. 

Do you ever consider integrating or thinking about works of art related to your programs?
Absolutely.  In the past, we’ve incorporated a visual arts component in our SummerStage program.  I believe that whatever kind of artist you are, you need to “feed your hopper”.  In other words, you pour into yourself different experiences, whether it’s a trip to the zoo or going for a walk and looking at leaves.  You never know what will inform your work as an artist.  

Also, we deal with a lot of visual arts formal elements like color, line, and composition in the theater.  And, we have had collaborative events with the DMA in the past, such as sending artists to the DMA and working with Arts & Letters Live.

Tell us about the Shannon and Ted Skokos Learning Lab, your new partnership with Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.
It was brand new this year, and it was a resounding mutual success. Last spring, we auditioned the rising juniors and from that group chose eighteen seniors.  The Learning Lab has three components.  Kevin Moriarty (DTC Artistic Director), Charlton Gavitt (Booker T. Washington High School Theater Cluster Faculty), and I team-taught the class component, which occurred every other day, all year long.  The second component is a twenty-hour internship that students complete outside of class hours.  The final component is a performance project, in which we paired the students with our professional acting company, and they performed ten scenes in the Wyly Theatre with the professional actors.  The students also came to every single show we produced this year, free of charge.  This is a super exciting program, and I don’t think anywhere else has that sort of integrated relationship between a school and a professional theater with that kind of access.  The program is a great example of the kind of collaboration that can happen in the Arts District – it was so simple to walk across the street, teach, and walk back to my office.

How did you come to your position as Director of Education & Community Programs?
I grew up in the theater.  My parents took me to theater and I’ve been a theater student my whole life.  After I earned my graduate degree in directing, I was hired as one of two artistic directing interns at the Dallas Theater Center thirteen years ago.  I was hired to work in the artistic office after my internship year, and I basically never left.  I defected into the education department about halfway through my tenure, but that made sense because my undergraduate degree is in theater education.

What program/performance are you most looking forward to this summer?
We have a program called SUPERStage (SummerStage’s alter ego), where we have theater day camps for kids ages 4-14. I’m also looking forward to our summer production It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s SupermanI’m so excited about having a mainstage show running concurrently with our SUPERtage program.  Our SUPERStage students will have access to what we do in a primary way, and we’re going to enfold into the curriculum what is happening on stage so it becomes a learning lab of sorts.  It’s going to be awesome.  Superman – what can you say – there’s flying  –  it’s Superman!

Melissa Nelson
Manager of Teaching in the Community

Community Connection: Close Collaborations

One of my favorite things about my job at the DMA is the opportunity to work closely with teachers and students over an extended period of time.  Over the last three months, I’ve worked with Shawna Bateman and Daniel Hall through the Thriving Minds After School Program.  During this process, I gained valuable knowledge about the after school environment, which is immensly different than during-school hours.  An extra bonus for me was getting to know these two very interesting people: Daniel performs regularly with a variety of musicians and bands who collaborate in The Dallas Family Band, and Shawna shared an incredible found object sculpture she had made years ago to connect with one of the after school program activities.
What are you learning from your experiences in the Thriving Minds After School Program?

Daniel:  I’ve learned that when working with kids, things don’t always go as you planned.  That’s not always a bad thing –  you’re able to see art and teaching in different ways than you would have normally imagined, based on the responses of the kids and the way things flow in the classroom.

Shawna:  The biggest thing I’ve learned is how important arts education is for children.  We have a great need for arts education, and the arts are often the first thing that goes with budget cuts.

What do you do outside of the after school program, and how does that inform your work with students?

Daniel:  I’m a performing musician and artist, so I’m teaching kids about things I know and actually do.  I spend just as much – if not more – time practicing the discipline I teach, as opposed to a chemistry teacher who might spend all their time in classroom and little time working directly with chemicals.

Daniel, far left, performs with The Dallas Family Band outside the Flaming Lips concert during NX35 Conferette in March 2010.

Shawna:  I hike, read, and catch dragonflies.  I also paint and make jewelry, which allows me to talk with students about creating things on a level they can relate to.  A lot of times, kids think of art as something that someone else does. 

Shawna sits in her favorite park, thinking.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Daniel:  I don’t typically like to think in concrete terms for the future, but I will say that I’ll be playing music for the rest of my life. Five years from now, I’ll still be a practicing musician and artist.  The way that will work itself out is entirely unknown, and I’m not going to worry about that.

Shawna:  On the top of a mountain with a lovely hat.

Do you want to share any memorable experiences with the after school program this year?

Daniel:  There are always funny things that kids say that make for hours of conversations with my friends later.

Shawna: I really loved hearing that the kids would not stop talking about the artist.  Not only did they absorb what I taught them, but they were excited to use that information.  [Shawna’s students visited the DMA and viewed the artworks they discussed in the classroom.  The group leader told Shawna that she had to adjust the timing of their visit because the students wanted to tell her everything they remembered about the artist.]

Community Connection: Bringing the Very Best

Dave Herman has partnered with the DMA’s Education divison in a variety of ways.   As President and Creative Director of Preservation LINK, Inc., Dave initiated a partnership with the DMA that resulted in an annual exhibition of photographs by participants in Preservation LINK’s Point of View program.  He was invited to serve on an advisory board for the development of a new type of Go van Gogh outreach program, based on his perspective as a professional photographer and his teaching experiences with students.  Dave also led several workshops as the February Visiting Artist in the Center for Creative Connections as well as a Summer Art Camp during 2009.  In summary, we enjoy partnering with Dave and take every opportunity to work with him. 

Dave Herman coaches a student through an art project.

You describe yourself as a visual sociologist.  Can you tell us what that means to you?

Visual sociology is, in a lot of ways, documentary in nature. It is almost as if you put out a hypothesis or investigative question, and then you document what you find out and share some of those answers visually. It lends itself to a different kind of attention, because you’re trying to put pieces of puzzles together and understand what that all looks like.  Visual sociology is also about how people interact with each other and how they respond to things.

Was there a defining experience or person in your life that led you to where you are today?

I first associate my mom and dad with helping to shape me and my values.  A lot of what I do is based on my background and what I believe in.  My work with students through Preservation LINK comes from a passion to help kids understand themselves, understand their potential, and to be confident that they can reach their goals. One thing that motivates me now, even as an artist, is that I didn’t necessarily have that growing up.  This is something really important – for students to have guidance and the opportunity to grow, to have ownership, and to eventually have a sense of “I’ve got this now”.

Over the six years that I’ve known you, I’ve witnessed exciting growth with Preservation LINK.  Do you have any advice for others who are interested in starting a non-profit organization with the goal of educating youth through literacy, art, and technology?

Budding photographers

I would say the first thing as an initiator, dealing with kids, is to make sure you’re reaching for the sky. Make sure that you’re bringing the very best to young folks. I say that because sometimes when we talk about equipment, for instance, some people say “let’s just get this (lesser value) equipment because they’re kids and they don’t need a big camera”. In reality, that is what they need. For them to grab onto something real at a certain level, you’re able to push your message and your lesson a little bit further.

Also, believe in your vision. Know how or learn how to manage it.

How does research and evaluation factor into your program development and implementation?

In a big way. Evaluation and research impacts and informs how we move forward.  It informs how we deliver programs and how we assess our accomplishments.  We are able to see what the impacts of our programs are on the community, students, parents, and the adults that supports kids’ learning. We wouldn’t be the same organization that we are now if it wasn’t for the evaluation and research that is a part of Preservation LINK.

What do you most hope students who participate in your programs will walk away with from their experiences?

Students learn about the history of photography during a Preservation LINK program.

I want the students to know that people care about who they are, what they learn, and what they want to become.  I hope they’re motivated to take even more ownership in their lives.

See photographs taken by elementary students during Presevation LINK’s Point of View Program at the Dallas Museum of Art.  The exhibition, titled Through the Eyes of Our Children: Something Beautiful, will be on view from May 14-August 29 on the M2 level of the Museum, adjacent to the Mayer Library.  View images from past Preservation LINK programs here.

Community Connection: Using Art to Get at Life

As museum professionals, we attend conferences regularly to share the exciting work we are doing at the DMA and to learn from our national and international colleages.  I attended the annual National Art Education Assocation Convention for the first time in 2004, and I had the pleasure of participating in a session led by Dr. Terry Barrett.  Since then, I scan each year’s schedule to make sure I don’t miss an opportunity to learn from Dr. Barrett.  Last year, I was delighted to hear that he had joined the Art Education faculty at the University of North Texas.  I recently had a chance to talk with Dr. Barrett before UNT adjourned for Spring Break. 

Dr. Terry Barrett

What sparked your interest in art education?

I’ve been in the field a long time and I got into it by default.  When I graduated from college, I was eligible for the Vietnam War draft.  I was opposed to the war, and one way to avoid the draft was to teach.  I began teaching in an inner-city, all-black high school in St. Louis; I was there the year Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot.  I fell in love with the kids and decided I liked teaching.  I’ve been teaching ever since.

How would you describe your theory to a person with no experience in art education?

My mission is to help people appreciate art and to appreciate life through art, because I think art gives us different ways of thinking about the world.

Did you ever have a great idea that didn’t work?  What did you learn from that experience?

No, I don’t think I ever had a great idea that didn’t work.  Thinking of “great ideas” is intimidating in itself.  Other people come to me with great ideas – I have said yes to many offers throughout my career, and that’s led me to different directions that have been very interesting.

For example, one big change in my career occurred when a former student asked if I would be an art critic in education for the Ohio Arts Council and I said, “Yeah, why not?”  Being an art critic in the schools enlivened me;  my research, my teaching and my community service came together like a circle – a productive circle.

I was a cancer patient about 5 years ago.   I went through chemotherapy and private counseling and during that time I figured out I wasn’t afraid to die, but I was afraid of becoming old and inactive.  My counselor told me I have to get over that fear and suggested I go to an assisted living community and work with the elderly.  I said “Why not?”.  I also started doing contemporary art interpretation with people with cancer, and we started seeing how those images related to our lives. They really enjoyed the process and produced some beautiful writings.  That’s when I started thinking about life issues more than art issues and using art to get at life.

I had enough years at Ohio State to retire, but there was an opening at University of North Texas and I thought “Why not?”.  I wasn’t ready to retire; I wanted to stay active and keep working, writing, and teaching.

I love your artist statement about choices you’ve made related to making art, your creative process, and the materials you choose.  Can you tell me more about how you came to these decisions – was it a learning experience of trial and error, or did you approach artmaking this way from the beginning?

When I was young, I made art instinctively and intuitively. As I got older and was writing more, I didn’t have time to make art and do it well, so I stopped.  I realized I missed it, and that’s when I began painting.  Sandy Skoglund told me I needed something to fit my lifestyle.  As an example, she told me about a friend who frequently traveled on an airplane and made small collages because they didn’t require a lot of space or materials.  The small paintings I make really satisfy me.  They’re fun to make and I don’t exhibit them; I just do them for my own enjoyment.

It seems like much of your life and work has been in the Midwest, specifically Ohio.  What is your impression/experience of living and working in north Texas?

I miss the trees, but I like the sunshine a lot. The people here are friendlier than they are in the Midwest. There’s a degree of politeness that I like; the Midwest has a reputation for being a friendly place, but people here smile and make eye contact and open doors more than I’m used to.  I love wide open skies, and I love living in horse country.  I wish some rich ranch owner would give me a little plot of land to live on a horse farm, where I would build a small green house with a small ecological footprint.

Dr. Barrett will lead part of an upcoming Teacher Workshop titled  Exploring Photography: The Lens of Impressionism, along with photographer and educator Frank LopezVisit the website to learn more and register.

Melissa Nelson
Manager of Learning Partnerships with the Community

Looking Sharp in Those Navy Blazers!

Gallery attendants are some of my favorite people!  They work hard and long, and are always excited to see me and any visitors that I might be bringing through the galleries.  Let’s honor them and the work they do!  I wish I could post pictures of them all.  Here are just a few to get to know.

Clockwise from upper left:  Muli has worked at the DMA for 14 years!  She likes to cook when she has some free time.  Always smiling, Jacque, has graced the galleries for 9+ years and puts together 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles.  Mr. Ronald counts this year as his lucky thirteenth at the DMA and plays a mean Scrabble game.  Eugene has worked at the DMA for 7 months.  He’s a guitar player in a band and paints too!  Ornery Ethel, or “Dean” as everybody calls her, has been a part of the DMA family for 2 years.  She loves church and shopping.

Nicole Stutzman
Director of Teaching Programs and Partnerships

Community Connection: Art in Motion

Last week, I had the chance to speak with Nancy Schaeffer, Education Director at the Dallas Children’s Theater.  She generously set aside time for our interview; as you will see, this is one busy lady.

Tell us about your work at the Dallas Children’s Theater.

Nancy Schaeffer, Education Director at the Dallas Children's Theater

My primary responsibility is overseeing our academy.  We serve children ages 3 ½ to 18 with acting classes and our teen conservatory. During the school year, as many as 300 children come to single programs during a week, and close to 1,000 children attend programs per week during the summer.  We also have mini-sessions where students have multiple experiences over four weeks.  It is my job to hire teachers, oversee curriculum and performances, and talk to parents.  I also oversee a residency program in schools during the school day.   In the summer we have musical theater, video classes, improv classes for teens, and storytelling for the little ones. All of our programs end with a production of some sort.

I also read scripts and sit on a committee that puts together the season for the year.  I sit on various committees for outreach, and we work closely with the nearby Vickery Meadow neighborhood.

How did you come to be Education Director at the Dallas Children’s Theater?

I have been with the Theater since its first day.  My husband was the first official full-time employee.  I started as an actress in the first production: Babes in Toyland.  I’m now in my 26th season with the DCT.    There was no education staff in the beginning; I eventually moved into this position over time and created my job.

What is your most memorable moment from your time with the DCT?

Moving into this building seven years ago, on Valentine’s Day.  When we moved in, it was really hard, but it was really exciting. It was hard because the building was not completed when we moved in.  We received a certificate of occupancy at 4:30 in the afternoon and had a show at 7:30 that night.  We also had a site visit that weekend from the National Endowment for the Arts.  And we were doing a show at El Centro that weekend.  We had no heat in most of the building, and all of our stuff from the old building was packed onto a truck that was not unloaded for two weeks.  The whole process was really something to be a part of.

Which production are you most looking forward to, and why?

I direct main stage shows – usually three a year – which is not a part of my responsibilities as Education Director.  It’s a lot of work and a lot of extra time, but I love whatever project I get involved in.  I’m currently directing How I Became a Pirate.  It has huge scenery components, and those are always exciting for the audience but are very challenging for the director.  We do nine shows a week with professional actors, and so far everything has worked out.

One of the shows I’m directing next season is titled Don’t You Love Me?  It is for teens and is about dating violence.  We’ve done this production once before, and we don’t back off when we do a play like this for teens.  We lead discussions afterwards, and I saw the impact this show had on the audience.  I realized how prevalent this problem is and how important it is to do this work. It does take a chunk out of you, but I did enjoy it.

In the past, you’ve led trainings for our docents based on your expertise in movement and performance.  How do you connect your work with looking at works of art?

Theater as an art form uses more than one type of art, with scenery, dance, music, sound, and the visual. The visual is critical in a play. While I’m looking deeply at works of art in the museum, I absorb these wonderful images and feelings and emotions which can’t help but inform my work.  Working with docents, who are so smart and engaged and want to expand, made me want to find ways to connect more visually in my art and my way of working with children. I love doing it, and I feel like I’ve gotten so much out of the trainings.

We are so busy; taking a minute to stop and look, then think and connect and realize what kind of emotions you’re feeling is good for your soul. I have also made such a nice connection over the years with Gail Davitt, the Director of Education at the Dallas Museum of Art, through certain projects and meetings that we both attend.  I’m so glad the Museum is in our community for children to visit and explore and know it’s for them.

Melissa Nelson
Manager of Learning Partnerships with the Community

Community Connection: Contemporary Art and a Beluga Whale

Thomas Feulmer is the Director of Educational Programming at The Rachofsky House and is a regular collaborator with the DMA.  We always look forward to his fresh ideas and perceptive insights related to works of art and artists.

Describe your work at The Rachofsky House.  What is your favorite part of your job?

As Director of Educational Programming, I do anything involving schools or the public having any interaction with the Rachofsky House.  My favorite part of my job is being around the works of art and being around original objects.  I also like the creative element of having to improvise in front of groups and having to think on your feet.

Thomas talks about a work of art at the 2009 Museum Forum for Teachers.

 Tell us about your relationship with the DMA.

I work collaboratively with Molly Kysar on Programs for Teachers based on Contemporary Art. I’ve also worked with Nicole Stutzman on the Travis Academy Program.  The UT Southwestern Medical School class “The Art of Observation”, led by DMA docents Margaret Anne Cullum and Joanna Pistenmaa, visit The Rachofsky House once during the semester.  I also participate in the development of some programs and exhibitions, in part by talking about artists and artworks that are in both the Rachofsky Collection and the DMA collections or are on loan to the DMA. 

 If you could take home any work of art from the Rachofsky Collection, what would you choose?

Lucio Fontana, Concetto Spaziale, La Fine di Dio, 1964

One of the first things that comes to mind is the Lucio Fontana piece Concetto Spaziale, La Fine di Dio.  It’s one of the works that every time I stand in front of it, I think it’s incredible.  When I’m looking at that piece, I feel like I’m looking at a real, sincere thing that is about exploring and is about a rich and deep thinking on the artists’s part. 

 How would you describe your personal work as an artist?

Most of my work looks at relationships: relationships between people, and more recently, relationships between people and animals.  It is also about how intimacy is managed and expressed and how desire and attraction are managed and expressed.  One of the big themes in my recent show is about my relationship with a beluga whale.  I like the notion that most people have a desire to have a pure relationship with an animal and we project a lot of our purist ideas about love and desire onto animals because they seem so unguarded, I guess. I love that we project all those purist things onto animals, but, to have an experience with a beluga whale it had to happen at Sea World, which is a big place.  The whale is trained and follows commands, and ultimately the experience is all controlled – which, in a way, is how all interactions are.  See Thomas’s recent work at New Work by Rebecca Carter and Thomas Feulmer, open December 5-20, 2009 at 500X.

Does your job have an impact on your own work as an artist?

Yes, because I can come into contact with so much art and I feel like I get such a great sampling of contemporary ideas and contemporary culture.  It’s like constant research for how to create meaning or visual culture in the contemporary world.

Meet Thomas during our two-part January Teacher Workshop on Contemporary Art, which takes place at the Dallas Museum of Art and The Rachofsky House.

Melissa Nelson
Manager of Learning Partnerships with the Community

Community Connection: What happens when you combine textiles with concrete?

Welcome to the first “Community Connection” blog post!  My name is Melissa Nelson, and I’m the Manager of Learning Partnerships with the Community at the DMA.  Each month, I will interview a creative member of our community and feature their responses here in a series of posts called “Community Connection”.

Meet Lesli Robertson, our first Visiting Artist with the Museum’s Center for Creative Connections.  I caught up with Lesli bright and early last week, as she was enjoying the cool weather before her day got started.

What first made you want to become an artist?

I think it made sense, and it was something that was part of my nature and my world.  Making helped me understand things, either about the world or myself.  I didn’t have any art classes in elementary school, and in high school the emphasis of looking at artists didn’t get that much better.  It wasn’t until college that I started seeing what it really was about – making art, creating art, throughout history to contemporary use.  It wasn’t until then that I figured out I was an artist.

How would you describe your creative process?

I use textile-based media; I think they have the potential for communication.  My work depends on where I’m at, what I’m thinking about, what’s going on.  It’s very intuitive, though I make conscious decisions on material, form, how things are installed.  Part of the process is looking at where you’ve come from as an artist and where you’re going.  The body of work I’m now working on is a reaction to the past three years of writing, research, and studio work.  It is a comment on the evolution of my artwork.  The materials I use stay the same – I started working with textile-based media and concrete five to six years ago and I love those materials. They have so much content to them and apply so well to what I want to do, formally and conceptually.

Apart from creating things, what do you do?

I love working on projects with the community and looking for different opportunities for collaborations.  For example, last semester I worked with the biology department at University of North Texas (Lesli is an adjunct professor of fibers at UNT’s College of Visual Arts and Design).  I am also conducting research in Uganda and writing an article on contemporary bark cloth artists.  I have to almost limit what I do – it is all informative but can pile up real easily.

What handmade possession do you most cherish?

I’m most proud of a handmade mat from Uganda that I bought from an artisan.  It is gorgeous.  It is hand-plaited in narrow strips about two inches wide, which are then stitched together, and cut into a mat of about three feet by seven feet.  What’s so gorgeous is that the artisans work with two tones of color.  When everything gets stitched together, it makes a pattern and it’s beautiful.  It’s one of those things that you covet, and I’m glad I have it, so I don’t have to covet it anymore.

Please describe the work you’re currently doing with the Dallas Museum of Art.

I’m working on a community collaborative project.  I’m asking the community to make small concrete collages that I’m weaving into small strips, which I’m using for an art installation in the Museum’s Center for Creative Connections.  The idea is to work with the diverse communities that the DMA works with, and having an artwork that shows each individual that makes up this larger community.  I’m going out and working with groups, and inviting people in the Museum to contribute also.  The installation relates to the Materials and Meanings exhibition in the Center for Creative Connections, and the idea that materials can mean something to the person making the work of art.  I ask the participants to choose materials that represent them to include in their individual collages.

To meet Lesli in person, join us for our first Thursday Evening Program for Teachers on September 10 at 7:00 p.m.  Participation is free and advance registration is not required.

The Ice House Cultural Center summer camp students, Dallas ISD Talented and Gifted elementary students, Cathedral Guadalupe, and Booker T. Washington teachers are just a few of the groups Lesli is working with from July through October.  Make sure you check out Lesli’s installation in the Center for Creative Connections, starting January 2010.

Melissa Nelson

Manager of Learning Partnerships with the Community


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