Thursday, October 25, 2012

Artist in Residence at Lockeland

“Artists in Residence Bring Life, Love and Learning to an East Nashville K-4 Art Program”
The saying "It takes a village to raise a child” is more than a cliché; it is the thinking behind several East Nashville parents who are part of the Artists in Residency Program at Lockeland Design Center. Lockeland is a K-4 Metro Nashville magnet school located at the end of Woodland Street within walking distance of the galleries and restaurants there. As the art teacher at Lockeland, I like to think of it as the “heART” of the neighborhood. Many people have assumed that the "design" part of our name is related to our community based art program. However, our school's name came about when Metro Nashville Public Schools was making a shift in what it called magnet schools and used the term "design" to refer to the theme of a school, which in our case is language and literature. Lockeland is known for its quality collaborations between teachers, the principal, and involved parents. Parental support is a plus for any school but it also brings a set of challenges. Lockeland presented its own unique set of gifts and challenges when I moved from a regular classroom of 20 students to teaching over 300 students in the art room.

When I began the job as Lockeland’s art teacher in 2008 there was only a few hundred dollars in the art budget. Despite the lack of funding it was clear that ART was already a huge part of the school culture. The art teacher before me, Adrian Watts-Driscoll, had collaborated with Plowhouse and their artist cooperative the previous year as a fundraiser. The Plowhouse show was a huge success and the entire community loved it. Seeing it was part of my attraction to applying for a job there and enrolling my own children in the school. I first got a job as a third grade teacher at Lockeland. After two years of third grade I transitioned into the art teacher position and knew that I had big shoes to fill. I was excited and overwhelmed anticipating the community of creative people that was going to expect me to provide an excellent art program for their children. I also realized that I was going to need to create my own sources of funding while keeping the community engaged.

Another challenge I faced was how to keep Lockeland’s art program involved with the community while learning the ropes as a brand new art teacher. I thought I would be prepared as I had just received my art endorsement from Belmont, had a background rich in art experiences, and possessed 9 years of classroom experience. Yet, I had no experience as an art teacher. In fact, I had never seen an art classroom in action before. I didn't even know how to turn on the kiln much less know what supplies I would need to order, where to order them from, or what quantities would be needed. I quickly saw there was more than I had ever imagined involved with the planning, implementation, and keeping the inventory of art supplies to facilitate the art education of over 300 students. On top of these components of the job there was also the daily task of record keeping, assessing, emailing, parent communication and so much more.

The first year of teaching art was as exciting as it was exhausting; frankly, I often wanted to quit. Thankfully it was the artistic parents at Lockeland who showed me the way. Many of them were part of an East Nashville neighborhood artist group I founded called The Collective Muse. These artistic friends also had children who were classmates of my own children at Lockeland. During that time The Collective Muse was meeting regularly to inspire and support each other in making art. While we were gathered around the table at night, making art together, we would talk about our children and what they were doing at school. It was from those late night art meetings that meaningful school collaborations began to form.

At first the collaborations were about the sharing of ideas and techniques for things I could do in the art room. But soon these conversations turned into parents coming into the classroom to roll up their sleeves with me. Pretty soon what I called the Guest Artist Program was born. Each parent was sharing their own unique twist on teaching art with the children. It was a very fun and playful time with mostly spontaneous visits from the parents. This process was very enjoyable and I wanted more because I could see the positive influence it was having not only on the children but the adults who were helping and our community as a whole. We could all feel the spirit of art growing in our school and spreading out into the neighborhood.

Art began to burst out of the walls of our school and into the surrounding community. Art was being created naturally and spontaneously; for example one parent brought in several large wooden shapes left over from a set he was building. Another parent proclaimed they looked like Alexander Calder shapes and a full community collaboration to create a large scale wooden mobile began. Rob Hollett acted as the Guest Artist for the Lockeland Student Art Club which designed and stained the mobile. Rob created the metal joining pieces through blacksmithing. The Collective Muse, particularly Michelle Fuqua's engineering skills and David Harper's architectural skills, helped bring the project to life. The team effort was made complete by Alex Sigg who figured out a method for hanging the mobile and got the job done. Everyone was amazed to see the mobile as it swayed and danced in the large maple tree on our campus. I felt as though it was a visual celebration of the parent partnerships in art at Lockeland. I loved taking groups of students out to examine it and was thrilled see passing cars slowing to admire it.

The following year, I set a goal to find a Guest Artist for each class in my school. During the first couple of years it was difficult to find a Guest Artist for all 15 classes. Some parents took double duty and then with a leap of faith I decided to reach out into the community and ask established artist from the Greater Nashville Community if they would volunteer their time. Working artists like Andee Rudloff, Cindy Wunch, Jodi Reeves, Shelia Smith, Robert Edwards, and Beth Inglish rolled up their sleeves and volunteered their time in and out of the classroom. These guest artists created such beautiful things as a mosaic table, a giant Picasso inspired totem pole, fused glass pieces and so much more. These pieces were auctioned to raise money for the art program and many can still be seen in the community.

Riverside Village was our community partner for three years. Each business helped host our annual Art Show by featuring the work of our students and the Guest Artist who inspired them. At various points in time, art has been displayed at a myriad of East Nashville businesses, including Art and Invention Gallery, Bongo Java, Pizza Real, Pied Piper Ice Creamery, and Eastside Cycles. The creative spirit spread so fast that more and more parents came forward offering their assistance. This left me with the wonderful problem of figuring out how to manage all the parent help and community involvement. The art room is a physically demanding place spent on your feet working with students. There is very little desk time and even less phone time, so coordinating the Guest Artists requires tremendous finesse. In the business world this problem would be solved by hiring an assistant. But as a public school art teacher I have learned to be creative while keeping good boundaries for my own personal time and time needed with my family.

Since I knew hiring an assistant was not realistic I figured I would need to find some balance and creativity to keep the Guest Artist program manageable. This past year I decided that I would try having our annual art show inside of our building and make connections with music, movement and the Spanish culture. Thankfully the special area teachers not only agreed but pitched into help along with the support of the PTO as well. This helped me to take a step back from displaying art all over the community and focus on our children and our school building. It made things more manageable for the Guest Artists and brightened the walls of our school. The children loved it and I was able to take each class on an in-school field trip to tour our "art museum.” I was still able to work outside the school walls and get the children’s art into the community. One notable collaboration was between Lindsey Bailey and a second grade class from Lockeland. Their collaboration was a featured exhibit at the Metro Art Commission. We had another successful collaboration with Craftville and Maggiano’s Italian Restaurant.

Once we were settled in a more manageable space for showcasing student works I was able to make a goal for each of the artists to be a parent of a student at Lockeland which made communication and planning lessons much more streamlined. Some new parents were reluctant at first; many of them even struggling with calling themselves an artist. It has been very rewarding to support these parents as they test the waters of their own identity as artists. Parents who thought of themselves as crafters or simply as being creative got to try on the label of "artist" and found that they liked it! Teaching the parents who then pass on the lesson to their children is of great value to an art program. It is a powerful way of showing that art is in everyone and in everything. By affiliating parents with the art program it demystifies what art is and makes it accessible to everyone.

This year when I got my student list, I marked the names of parents who have traditionally been Guest Artists for their children's classes. I was delighted to see that there were two or three parent artists in most of the classes. At one time the artistic parents and community members felt like guests helping in the art room, but a new shift has come this year. There are no longer “Guest Artists” visiting in our school, they are residents of our community are working along beside me. The 2012-2013 school year marks the evolution from what was formally known as “Lockeland’s Guest Art Program” to what is now “Lockeland’s Artists in Residency Program.” There are no more guests; now we are clearly all in it together.

Today I am a satisfied art teacher who is enjoying the abundance of community support found in East Nashville. It has taken six years for me and the community to evolve into our Artist in Residency Program that flows fairly naturally. I can do this because of the relationships I have cultivated over these years that are built on trust. It is because of this trust and support that I have a tremendous amount of motivation to continue even though it can at times be challenging. There are times when it feels overwhelming but the love I have for the community overrides any discomfort I may feel. Creative, healthy neighborhoods nurture families who nurture children who come to school and become even more nurtured by the loving community of teachers and artists. Through a community based art program Lockeland has become a mirror reflecting the amazing creativity of East Nashville. I feel honored to be the art teacher holding the handle of that beautiful mirror. It is a gift to watch the light of the East Nashville creative community shine on everyone and everything in and around Lockeland Design Center.