Posts Tagged 'Community Connection'



Community Connection: Ekphrastic Poetry

In honor of National Poetry Month, April’s Community Connection is Kolby Kerr.  Kolby is an English teacher at New Tech High at Coppell who incorporates a DMA visit into his creative writing curriculum.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I teach AP English IV, regular English IV, and creative writing at New Tech High. It’s a unique school and school environment.  This is my fourth year teaching, and I teach all seniors.  I graduated from Wheaton College with a degree in English and got a Master of Fine Arts degree in Poetry from Seattle Pacific University.  I am interested in literature and creative writing and the intersection aesthetics and academics.

What drew you to New Tech High?

We are a public choice high school; students come here based on a lottery or a first-come, first-serve sign-up within Coppell ISD. We have a one-to-one technology pairing, so students have access to their own laptops and to the internet at all times.  Our curriculum is project-based; everything has to be invested in real-world, directly applicable projects.  Hopefully, that will increase students’ investment in their own intellectual curiosity.  They tell us what they need to know to complete their projects.  I have, more or less, autonomy to create my instruction around concepts and ways of life I’ve found helpful in engaging the world with the mind.

Tell us about your relationship with the DMA.

In my undergraduate degree program, a creative writing professor took us to The Art Institute.  He set us loose, told us to engage and interact with single work of art, and write an ekphrastic poem based on it.  I found the activity liberating and interesting; I don’t know much about art, but I really felt like I had an engagement with the artwork on a deeper level than I had experienced before.

When I knew I would teach creative writing, that was the first project I wanted to do.  I grew up going to the DMA with my grandmother, who was a big art-lover and always took us down there.  I came last year and this year with my students.  We started with an hour-long guided tour of highlights in the DMA collection, then I set them free.

How do you set up the assignment at the DMA?

It is fairly open-ended.  After the highlights tour, I suggest that students take an hour to narrow down four to five different works, take notes, snap a photo and journal.  Then, they spend a full hour with one piece, which forces their attention in one direction.  With constant distraction and consumer overload, writing forces you to produce something from yourself.  You can get at ekphrastic poetry from two angles – either read into the moment of the painting, which provides narrative or a character you see in painting, or take something from the painting and let it project into your own life and become a more lyrical expression.  Some poems are almost all image-driven, while some are story poems.  Either type of poem drives you back to the art and makes you want to see the art and compare the experience of the poem to the experience of the piece.

This partnership gives a sense of relevancy and authority to a field – creative writing – that sometimes feels too abstract.  Creative writing exists way off the beaten path and this assignment gives a kind of legitimacy to a culture that creative writing is not only hoping to sustain but helping to thrive and flourish into the 21st century.

How do you combine poetry and art in your assignments?

Melissa Nelson
Manager of Teaching in the Community

Community Connection: Oil and Cotton

Every six months or so, our department gets away for a day-long retreat.  It’s an opportunity for us to reflect, look ahead, and spend time together outside of our typical work spaces.  We’ve been fortunate to hold two of these retreats at Oil and Cotton, a creative space in Oak Cliff that offers a variety of multidisciplinary art classes, workshops, and camps.  Opened in September 2010, the space is managed by Shannon Driscoll and Kayli House Cusick.

How did you get started?

Shannon:  Kayli and I met during a volunteer project in our neighborhood called The Better Block. The project took an area of the neighborhood, where Oil and Cotton is now located, and made temporary changes to the block that we felt as a community would make it more pedestrian-friendly.  We met at one of the first meetings, where we both raised our hands and said we were interested in doing a pop-up art studio for the community.

After that, Kayli and I started planning, and we created Rock, Paper, Scissors.  We used a warehouse on Seventh Street, asked for donated materials from friends and family, and set up a base of volunteers for two days during the Oak Cliff Art Crawl.  We set up a long, long table full of art supplies and materials, and had volunteers lead people through creative projects, from collage to stenciling to drawing and painting.  All the volunteers were artists or had different creative backgrounds from Oak Cliff and beyond.  The space was packed with crowds for the entire weekend.  It was really wonderful to see people of all ages and backgrounds and from different parts of the neighborhood and of Dallas, sitting together and making things side by side.

After the festival, people in the community approached us and said they didn’t want us to stop what we were doing.  The gentleman who owned the warehouse had a building that came up for rent, and we talked to him and decided to go for it.  Kayli and I both come from art-related backgrounds, and we brought our experiences as artists and educators to what we’re doing.

Shannon Driscoll, co-owner and instructor at Oil and Cotton

What did you do before opening Oil and Cotton?

Shannon:  I had a private conservation practice – I’m an art conservator.  I had also been teaching classes on the side at my studio and at the Dallas County Jail with Resolana – I’m a board member for Resolana as well.

Kayli:  I wrote curriculum for my mother, who had a business for about twelve years off and on. It was something we did as a family growing up; she was an art teacher, and she made elementary art curriculum for Coppell ISD.  When she opened a business with my sister, I was a music composer at UNT, and it ended up being the perfect fit.  I also taught piano lessons privately out of my house forever and ever.  Then I had a child; when I met Shannon, my daughter was two, and that’s what I was doing.  I had always had the idea on my backburner, if I could ever figure out how to combine all the loves I had, and have a work environment my child could be in, I could do everything I love to do.  It all came together when I met Shannon and she said, of course we can do that.

What has the community response been to Oil and Cotton?

Shannon:  It has been wonderful.  A day hasn’t gone by when someone has not come in to ask how they could help us or how they could donate materials to us or asked us for another class that we’re not offering.  People feel involved in what we’re doing; they’ve seen us grow from something very small to something more permanent and a part of their neighborhood.  I think that’s exciting for people.  They feel invested in what we’re doing, and they want to help us.  We wouldn’t have been able to do what we’ve done in this amount of time without their help.  People have donated a box of white tiles, which we used to create backsplash for the sink; corks; fabric; paper… we always find a way to use what we’re given.  We’ve had people come to us and say, “I have this idea for a project, and I want to see it happen”.  For example, an architect led a two-week architecture workshop for teens, and they created a deck for us.  All the materials were donated, and architects came and talked to the teens everyday.  We’ve had the most amazing, talented interns that support our education outreach, and we’ve had teachers who help select children in the neighborhood who might not be able to afford classes here, and we give them scholarships.  We rely on these neighborhood teachers to send us people who need help, and who will benefit from coming to Oil and Cotton.

A community collage was part of a free open house and student exhibition

What has been your most successful or fun class?

Kayli:  For me, it’s songwriting camp.  I got to work with other musicians – I worked with David Daniels, who is a touring indie rock musician; Floramay Holliday, a touring country music singer; and Mikal Beth Hughey, a jack-of-all-trades who plays in some bands locally and teaches piano and voice in her studio at The Kessler Theater.  It was a weeklong summer camp.  The kids came in and formed bands; they collaborated to write a song together, rehearsed it like crazy, recorded it, made a CD, and had a performance at the end of the camp.  They had to come up with merchandise and think about the visual aspects of what they were doing, in the form of a band t-shirt, poster, and CD cover.  We had a photographer take pictures of them for their CD’s.  It was just awesome fun for me as a musician; I got to learn from other musicians how they approach writing.  We occupied the whole space, with kids rehearsing in every room as loud as they could be.  The kids could be themselves without a lot of adult interference.

We also got to work with the DMA on the Mark Bradford exhibition.  That was very special – I am a big fan of his work.  We were part of a meeting with people from Oak Cliff to bring some Oak Cliff blood into the situation.  We volunteered to work with Nicole and have our teen class to do this interactive project during a Late Night.  That was really fun.  What I liked about that was all the ages and different people; we had senior citizens to little kids, and it was a lot like Rock, Paper, Scissors.  Everyone brought something different to it.  By the end of the night, the teens were destroying the project and making little sculptures out of it.  It was originally a weaving, and it became sculptural.

Oil and Cotton Mark Bradford Late Night project

Has anything surprised you since the opening of Oil and Cotton?

Kayli:  The amount of generosity people have shown in our community, and the enthusiasm of the art community here to try and make Dallas good.  The amount of interns and volunteers we get because they want to see us succeed and want to be a part of it.  People understand this is art in social practice, that we’re making this happen for real.  It’s been a surprise to us that something that is natural for us to be doing makes people think “Oh hey, I can do my thing and survive.  If I don’t spend too much money and work my tail off, I can survive”.   It helps to have the support of our neighborhood, and we could never have made it without that support.  People offer to paint walls, dig the dirt in back of the building.  My mother also gave us a ton of furniture and art supplies.

What is one of your most treasured handmade possessions?

Shannon:  I am a collector of art, and art has always been a part of my life.  My dad is a junker; I grew up going to yard sales, estate sales, and junk shops with him in Baltimore, so I’ve collected things over the years.  I’ve got a collection of drawings that a little girl made from 1908. She must have done them in her classroom, because there is a drawing of the back of the head of the child sitting in front of her.  There is also a drawing of a doll she titled “Mr. Eat-a-Pie”.  They are beautiful pencil drawings, and she watercolored some of them as well.  She made a little portfolio for them that says 1908 along with her name.

Kayli:  A little woodblock that was my grandmother’s.  She was an Okie, and she had an amazing collection of all kinds of Native American things.  She had this little tiny wood block, around five by seven inches, with mustard yellow paint remnants on it.  I’ve always wanted to do something with it.  It has a sort of a tesellation or radial design with teepees and geometric shapes that come out from the center.  It looks like an old lino; you can see all the different colors used to print it, like red and green under the yellow.  You know it was used a lot, but you don’t know what for.  It says “20 cents” really big on the back.

Kayli House Cusick, co-owner and instructor at Oil and Cotton, and her grandmother's woodblock

Kayli:  We would love to see more teachers getting together here.  We’d love for people to know that if they have a group and want to do a special technique workshop, we’ll either teach it ourselves or find someone else to teach it.  This is great space for retreats.  (*Editor’s note: we agree!)

Melissa Nelson
Manager of Teaching in the Community

Community Connection: STEAM, not STEM

Meet Nicholas Okafor, a high school senior with big ideas about the future of education and organizer of the upcoming STEAM Through Education Festival at Townview Magnet Center.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I am a senior at TAG Townview. I like TAG because it is more liberal in comparison to other magnet schools. TAG shows you different careers and exposes you to different subjects, as opposed to having a concentration or focused view on your education. You gain a broader sense of careers to choose from.

Nicholas Okafor

How did you get involved in organizing this festival?
It started last year, when I was a junior. I applied to the Bezos Scholars Program @ The Aspen Institute. The Scholars Program funds a trip for twelve juniors nationwide, with accompanying educators, to the Aspen Ideas Festival. I heard a speaker from the Rhode Island School of Design speak about STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics), and how he saw it as the future of education. The Scholars Program encourages the students to come back and hold Local Ideas Festivals about a topic they feel needs to be addressed in their community.

What do you hope to achieve with the festival? What can participants expect?
I hope to broaden the minds of my community. What I’ve seen is a constant push toward STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), with the arts being ignored. What I want to do is show my community that you shouldn’t focus on one or the other, but instead incorporate both into STEAM. So many times in history these ideas have blended together: the Renaissance is a perfect example of that.

For this festival, we want to break any previous misconceptions that art and STEM cannot be mixed. We want to show how art can be implemented through science for students, parents, and educators. There will be a short presentation at the beginning, followed by a keynote speaker. The senior class is sponsoring a donation lunch, then participants will go into breakout sessions for students, parents, and educators. The student session is geared at breaking misconceptions and opening their eyes to STEAM careers. The educator session is geared at teachers working together to show how they can implement art in their curriculum. The parent session shows why STEAM is important for the child, as well as STEAM activities their child may be able to participate in.

Do you do anything creative?
Since I started high school, I’ve been very active in theater, and I’m currently President of the International Thespian Society. My two passions are theater and physics. Even with that, I can see STEAM there; not only are there physical aspects of theater such as lighting and stage, but there is the theatricality of physics and how you can take a simple motion and turn it into a very complex, inside-out problem.

Nicholas and friends from TAG Townview's fall 2011 production Reduced Shakespeare

Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I’m still trying to figure that out. At the moment, I’m focused on college. I’ve been accepted to Texas A&M and MIT, and I’m waiting for a few others to respond. I definitely want to study Engineering for my Bachelor’s degree, and hopefully double major in something like Design, which could help me explore engineering further. Just the other day in Psychology, I learned about functional fixedness, when we no longer see objects for what they are. For example, we see a coffee can, but we can also see that it can be so many different things. Studying Design with Engineering could have the same impact on me.

One concept stressed in the Aspen Ideas Festival is the path of the social entrepreneur.  A social entrepreneur finds a problem in the community or on a global level and tries to address it. By combining Engineering and Design, I can help address problems. Hopefully, I’ll be helping people in ten years, whether in my town or across the globe.

The STEAM Through Education Festival takes place February 25 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Townview Magnet Center, 1201 E. 8th Street, Dallas, 75203.  For more information or to register, please visit the festival web site or contact Nicholas at nrokafor@yahoo.com.

Melissa Nelson
Manager of Teaching in the Community

Community Connection: Accumulation Project

What’s 2,490 feet long, made of paper, and on view at the DMA?  Hint: visit the current Community Partner Response Installation titled Accumulation Project, by Annette Lawrence, Professor of Drawing and Painting at UNT.  Over eleven months, visitors of all ages contributed to Accumulation Project during workshops led by Annette during her time as a C3 Visiting Artist.  She also invited staff from various DMA departments to help with the installation in the days leading up to its unveiling.

Do you typically invite people to help you install your work?

In different contexts, I have students or volunteers or preparators or whoever works at the gallery, museum, etc. help with installation.  I work more often with staff than with the public. For the DMA, part of the project was with the public, during workshops for people of all ages.  Often, the adults were more interested in the idea of creating a long line of paper than the children were.  Some kids got into it, depending on their personality.  At the time of installation, we were in a time crunch and invited DMA staff to help, and I was really happy with the response.  It was a pleasure working with everyone, and it seemed like it gave folks a break from their regular work. There was a great energy about pitching in.  Once everyone was there, the installation was finished quickly.

The help of other people can cut the installation time in half.  At the MFA Houston Glassell School of Art, l had one guy working with me consistently, and people coming in and out through the day to install Theory.  That took us six days.  Usually when someone starts working with me, they start to own the piece: they’re committed and want to see it finished.  In this case, my helper wasn’t an artist; he was the maintenance guy, and he had time to help.

Theory, Annette Lawrence, 2003, installation at the Glassell School of Art, Houston, TX

What do you enjoy about teaching college students?

Mainly, I enjoy the process of discovering things with them.  It depends on the level of class.  In beginning classes, students are introduced to materials and are figuring out how to use them.  After that, students pursue things that interest them, and I point them towards resources.  I often find I am learning with them as they explore different processes.  Lately, there has mostly been more interest in paint than anything else, but at times it veers off in other directions like installation work or sound.  Photography has also been incorporated into work as well as lots of mixed media while students are finding their own way.

You spoke at the DMA earlier this year about your work at Cowboys Stadium.  What was your initial reaction to the request for a commissioned work of art at the Stadium?

Lisa Brown of Dunn and Brown Contemporary loaded the conversation with artists who had already said yes – Mel Bochner, Laurence Weiner, Matthew Ritchie and Olafur Eliasson – she was kind of setting me up.  I said “Oh well, OK I guess I’ll do it.”  I studied Mel Bochner and Lawrence Weiner as an undergraduate student, and I was pretty excited about being in a collection that they were in.  Meeting them in real life – in the context of a celebration for the Cowboys Stadium Art Program – I could not have imagined that.

It was an odd request; a contemporary art collection at a professional sports stadium had not been done before.  I wasn’t opposed.  I was excited and interested in seeing the work happen, but it is a little bit ironic considering my interest in sports (or lack thereof) that the one permanent installation of my work is in a football stadium.

I designed the piece based on the space I was given, one of the main entryways.  In the interest of relating the piece to football, I looked up a glossary of football terms on Google.  As soon as I saw the words “Coin Toss”, I knew it was the right title.  It just fit, beyond the shape of the piece – a circle moving in space – but it also goes with the start of game, and the artwork’s placement in the entryway.  The Jones’s response to the title was so positive, and it was part of the enthusiasm for the work.

Coin Toss, Annette Lawrence, 2009, Cowboys Stadium, Arlington TX

Apart from creating things, what do you do?

Look at other people’s creations, mostly.  Looking at art, films, theater, dance, music, and all the arts take up most of my time.  Visiting friends and family is high priority, where we often talk about art.  If it’s with friends, we generally have art conversations.  With family, it can be anything.

What is your favorite holiday tradition?

Just visiting and being with good friends and family. I’m not interested in Christmas hype, but I like how things slow down a little bit and everyone is observing that this is time to spend with people you care about.  I alternate between doing Christmas or not doing Christmas.  This is a not year – we’re just not really doing it.  We’ll probably send out greetings to friends and families around New Year’s – after Christmas.  Last year, we sent a fun video, so we’re thinking about what we will do this year.  Whatever we send will be homemade.

Installing at Cowboys Stadium

Accumulation Project is on view in the Center for Creative Connections through May 2012.

Melissa Nelson
Manager of Teaching in the Community

Community Connection: Why Is This Art?

Over the past five years, the DMA has collaborated with area arts institutions in a weeklong program called Museum Forum for Teachers: Modern and Contemporary Art.  Participants spend an entire day at a different institution throughout the week, including the Kimbell Art Museum, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Nasher Sculpture Center, and The Rachofsky House.  In the process, they become familiar with the Modern and Contemporary art currently on view in these spaces, as well as the programs, resources, and Education staff at each institution.  I had the pleasure of leading the discussions and activities at the DMA this past summer, which was also my first opportunity to work with Erin Starr White from the Modern (you may recognize her from an earlier blog post).

Describe your role at the Modern.

I am one of three Assistant Curators of Education.  My role is to work with the academic community.  My youngest audience is 3-4th graders, but I predominantly work with middle school and high school students as well as graduate students.  I also work with all the educators for those populations by leading workshops, speaking at career days, and speaking to teacher groups.

Erin working with educators in the galleries during this year’s Museum Forum for Teachers

What are some advantages to working in a museum that only collects Modern and Contemporary art?

It’s what I love;  it’s what I studied in grad school.  I focused on really Conceptual art from the late 60’s and early 70’s with a focus on New York artists.  I’m interested in the pluralism that occurs in Contemporary art – art is no longer just one thing; it takes a multitude of different shapes. Talking about the ideas and forms of Modern and Contemporary Art with students and teachers can bring about the very simple question, “Why is this art?”  This question often opens up a really great dialogue: “The Museum says it is; why do you think it is or is not art?”

Trace how you got to your current position at the Modern.

I studied Art History as an undergraduate student at University of Texas at Arlington. During my time there, I worked as an intern at the Dallas Contemporary.  I took over a position there as Program Coordinator for a little over a year to gain hands-on experience before going to graduate  school, and to determine if working in a museum setting was really what I wanted to do.  I then studied Art History in graduate school at Texas Christian University, while I worked as a part-time Curatorial Research Assistant at the Modern, tracking down paintings, talking to galleries, and securing loans.

After a year as a full-time Curatorial Research Assistant, I decided I wanted to do something more involved with people, more hands-on, and more fulfilling for me personally.  I wanted to work more with the public and with the art.  This job came up a little over two years ago, and it’s worked out really well so far.  I had a limited background working with kids, and I hadn’t worked with teachers at all, but it’s been a nice fit getting to work with educators of all levels and students of all ages.  Since my background is in Art History, I hire artists to come in and lead studio art projects.  I hire about twenty artists a year to come in and work with different groups, so I go on studio visits and get to know local artists to see if their work would fit well with certain exhibition.  For example, I am currently working with Michelle Mackey, an abstract painter heavily influenced by Richard Diebenkorn in conjunction with Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series.

Erin working with educators in the galleries during this year’s Museum Forum for Teachers

What has been the most inspirational artist or exhibition for you?

We have a great lecture series called Tuesday Evenings at the Modern; for me, the most fulfilling lecture was by Lawrence Weiner.  I’ve always been a really big fan of his work – he was one of the
pioneers of Conceptual art – and he was here at the Modern!”

Also, Declaring Space: Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Lucio Fontana, Yves Klein (September 2007–January 2008) was one of the most fulfilling exhibitions for me.  It was wonderful to see works that don’t travel very often, all in one place.  This show was one I revisited as often as I could, taking in a room full of Rothkos hung the way he wanted, lit the way he wanted them to be lit; instances of Newman’s sculptures along with his paintings; roomfuls of Fontana’s work – canvases that have been slashed, metals that have been slashed; and  Klein’s enormous monochromatic blue  paintings.

What is your favorite work of art at the Modern, and why?

I can’t choose one favorite, but there is a gallery installed right now that is breathtaking.  It has three of Agnes Martin’s paintings and a little suite of her prints.  What I appreciate about her work, and about these in particular, is that they show her process.  They show her solution for artmaking – the grid – and all the different permutations that takes.  These works have a handmade “look” and have such expressivity and feeling.   Initially, you don’t get that sense; you have to look closely to pick it up.  These works are installed with our permanent collection and are nice to compare and contrast with other Abstract Expressionists on  view, as she considered herself an Abstract Expressionist.

Melissa Nelson
Manager of Teaching in the Community

Community Connection: Combining Two Passions

One of the great things about working with volunteers is the opportunity to meet people with a wide range of interests, experiences, and passions.  Last fall, I interviewed Deborah Harvey, one of our Go van Gogh volunteers.  I am pleased to introduce Jennifer McNabb, another Go van Gogh volunteer, who has managed to combine two of her passions through our outreach program.  
 
Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m British, and I’ve been in the U.S. for twenty years, in Dallas for nineteen years.  I’m a longtime visitor to the DMA.   When my work situation opened up seven years ago, I was looking for a way to volunteer in the arts.  I have a background in community arts from the 1980’s in England, when I helped set up and run a group studio for artists called Red Herring Studios.  We took over derelict buildings that were to be demolished, converted the buildings to studio spaces, and had an exhibition space too.  Red Herring put visual arts on the map in Brighton and has given birth to other fabulous organizations like Fabrica.  

Jennifer with her father and sister at Chesworth Studios in West Sussex, England.

What do you like most about Dallas?

I think what I like most about Dallas is the very vivid cultural life here.  We have great museums (the Nasher Sculpture Center, the DMA, The Crow Collection of Asian Art), and I love the way the Arts District has been developing with the AT&T Performing Arts Center and the expansion of Booker T. Washington High School.  I don’t come from a place where you have zoning; in London, these places are all in different parts. Also, I love the fact that Ft. Worth is just a few miles away with another bunch of fabulous museums. Although Dallas is a town that tends to be on the map business-wise, it is also on the map culturally.  I live in Oak Cliff, so it’s very easy to get to these places.

Tell us about your relationship with the DMA.

I started out by coming to your office and asking what I can do to volunteer with the DMA.  At the time, I couldn’t give the amount of time necessary for the docent program, but I did like the idea of the Go van Gogh program.  I have a background in teaching, and I thought it would be nice to get back into the classroom.  I like that the DMA has this type of in-reach and does such a good job at taking art into the classroom, getting kids excited about it, and hopefully encouraging teachers to take kids to the museum more.  Teaching is something I feel passionate about along with the visual arts – I come from a family of artists and I like the fact that I can go into the classroom and do all the fun stuff, and the kids love me for it. 

I’d been doing Go van Gogh for three or four years when a friend said to me one day, “You should come to this meeting about Resolana and get involved with this organization that provides programming for incarcerated women.”  I am also passionate about prison reform.  When I saw the creativity workshops they did, I thought yes, this combines two things I feel strongly about.  I got involved almost immediately.  After I had been to the jail a few times, I spoke with you and Amy about the possibility of the DMA doing something in partnership with Resolana.  I was looking for ways I could take the DMA into the jail, and you suggested trying some of the programs we teach in the schools. 

Jennifer leads the Arts of Mexico Go van Gogh program with Resolana participants.

What are the greatest benefits and challenges to presenting Resolana programs?

I was very aware I was teaching a different population, but in some respects they’re kind of similar.  Being in the jail frees them up, and they are very good about trying anything you suggest.  They don’t have self-editing about what is right and what is wrong in a class setting.  The women are willing to try most things; I don’t get the same resistance I might get from sixth-grade students.  The difference is, these are adults, and I didn’t want to make them feel I was doing baby stuff with them.  I had to adapt the programs because certain supplies are not allowed in the jail.  I also tried to get the discussion portion much more pitched toward their level.  I would not lead too much, and tried to give them space.  I am also in the Master of Liberal Studies program at SMU, and I took a class with Carmen Smith, who worked at the DMA for twelve years before working at the Meadows Museum.  I learned a number of techniques for talking about art with groups of people that museum educators use and started to use some of those techniques.  What I learned about in class went straight to the jail, and I saw a remarkable difference in the quality of the discussions. 

What is capturing your time and attention at the moment?

I’m always reading something fascinating, but work right now is capturing a lot time and attention.  We now have a pod in the jail dedicated to women interested in attending Resolana classes – they all live together.  It means we have doubled the number of women we see every week, so I’m trying to increase our number of volunteers as quickly as I can.  I am also trying to develop a program to train volunteers, using Go van Gogh as a model.  The Meadows Museum has donated their studio for training sessions. That takes up a lot of my time.

My other big passion is learning. I get to take classes in all kinds of things in the Liberal Studies program. I’m knee-deep in anthropology at the moment, and I’m writing a paper about systems of value in the U.S. and in the western world in general, and how that compares to other value systems when looking at works of art.

Melissa Nelson
Manager of Teaching in the Community

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


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