Monthly Mentor

James Rees (May)
A widely-known champion of the arts, James Rees is a passionate advocate for art education that balances theory, research, and practice. With more than 24 years of teaching experience, James currently teaches full-time at Provo High School, but he has also taught undergraduate and graduate courses in art and art education at Brigham Young University, Utah Valley University, and Westminster College. James was recently elected by his peers to become Vice President-elect for the Pacific Region of the National Art Education Association after serving as the Pacific Region Secondary Representative. He is a Fulbright Memorial Scholar, a Teachers Institute of Contemporary Art Fellow, and an Art21 Fellow. James has served as reviewer for the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities as well as the National Endowment for the Arts. He currently serves on the board of directors for the Utah Arts Festival, providing guidance on community outreach and educational initiatives.

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Friday 05.27.16

Visibility is Advocacy

From: James Rees

Presenting isn’t only something we want our students to engage it for their development and growth. But it’s also an essential element to strengthening relationships within your school and in your community. It both serves to strengthen students and reinforces the notion that “art matters” and that your art department is doing good things.

For years my art students have participated in the Soup Bowls for Humanity event sponsored by the Provo Food and Care Coalition. It not only provides necessary service hours for my National Art Honors Students but also, more importantly, helps them see first-hand how the arts can elevate the human condition.

We also have a team compete each year in a charity chalk art event, Chalk the Block. This year they took second place overall, which was pretty amazing, considering the number of entrants. This event is in a high traffic area and my students help draw positive attention to my program.

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My students also volunteer at a local museum’s Children’s Art festival. They’re able to contribute as face painters, making balloon animals or helping with sidewalk art.

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In all these events, we do our best to get media coverage. I send out press releases, and sometimes we’re lucky enough to get the story is picked up by radio or the newspaper.

All these community events provide an ongoing opportunity to help students convey meaning through various forms of artistic work (Anchor Standard #6). With a little bit of networking I’m sure that you can find similar events in your community. Visibility is advocacy.

-JR

Wednesday 05.25.16

Food Truck Roundup

From: James Rees

I had a classroom discussion with my National Art Honor Society students about their relationship with food after reading Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan. We decided that this would be a great theme for our next in-class art project and we got to work. During that week I ran into a student at the Food Truck Roundup in our town and we talked about why people came out to this event and our conversation drifted towards our in-class project. 

The next day I pitched the idea to the class to come up with some parallel community engagement art event that we could put on or display at our weekly Food Truck Roundups. The class discussion ranged from positive to negative relationships we have with food and we decided that this would be a great theme to frame our public art display around. We obtained permission from the sponsor of this event to place a display in the center of the food truck area. We acquired three doors and used their hinges to make a temporary display unit. We also had the theme of the exhibit in vinyl lettering designed by one of the students and printed by our graphics teacher.  

On the night of the Food Truck Roundup, students coordinated to set up and create a schedule of shifts. Students would talk to the patrons and invite them to participate by sharing their best or worst memories related to food.  

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Present standard VA:Pr5.1.HSII asks students to “Evaluate, select, and apply methods or processes appropriate to display artwork in a specific place.” This was a fun way to get students to consider the location, audience, and something that could engage people in this unique venue. It’s also an art event of a short duration, one evening, so there’s an additional challenge to impact people with an interactive art performance.  

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The event was great, people were curious enough to come see what the display was about and most were willing to write or draw their positive or negative food memories and post them on the panels. I loved that my students had great conversations with this new audience. The most common question that they addressed was, “Why is this art?” and students had a great time addressing this and were able to put into practice all the ideas that they were exposed to through Art 21 Videos.  

-JR

Monday 05.23.16

The Inside Out Project

From: James Rees

I had my students participate in JR’s The Inside Out Project in an attempt to have students connect with contemporary art and with our community. This project gives everyone the opportunity to share their self-portrait and make a statement for what they stand. “It is a global platform for people to share their untold stories and transform messages of personal identity into works of public art.”

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I’ve also had my students work on Mel Chin’s Fundred Dollar bills project or Operation Pay Dirt. This project’s aim is to “… support awareness and solutions to lead contamination and help end childhood lead poisoning.” And to “symbolically raise millions of Fundreds representing our collective will to end to childhood lead poisoning.”

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Student involvement in these projects provides them the opportunity to see works of art presented in different ways and to consider the social implications behind them. It’s also a great way to have them better understand contemporary art from the inside, as participants and from the outside as viewers. This provides an additional avenue to have students better understand how to “convey meaning through the presentation of artistic work". (Anchor standard #6)

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Both of these projects are available for student participation! Follow the links for instructions on how to participate.

JR’s The Inside Out Project

INSIDE OUT: The People's Art Project

Mel Chin’s Fundred Dollar bills project or Operation Pay Dirt

FUNDRED

-JR

Thursday 05.19.16

Display Budgets

From: James Rees

When cost constraints make presenting student work with traditional frames not possible, you have to find alternative ways to display.

A local business, Enlitened Café, wanted my students to regularly display artwork but had the restriction of not hanging directly on the wall, because of a painted mural he want to protect. So we brainstormed and came up with a hanging rod suspended from the ceiling and using clips to grasp matted work or works on paper for display. This approach had the benefit of also maintaining a consistent eye line and allowed for quick take down and hanging of work.

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Here are some other examples I’ve come across or used with my students:

* Use clips and pushpins for works on paper.
* Purchase wooden clothespins and hang the work on a line that stretches between two points.
* Use magnets on a metal wall
* Mount clipboards to the wall and use the clip to hold and display the work
* When doing some large painting projects use artists’ board or 2panels with a 1-½ inch depth to help reduce cost. (I’ve been fortunate enough to have the woodshop teacher help make these to further reduce costs.)

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Seeing a display at a fabric store where they had used embroidery hoops as the framing device inspired one student art show last year.  We ‘reverse engineered’ and created an exhibit that would fit this display method.

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I was just contacted by a bookstore who would like host an exhibit next fall, I wonder what ideas my students will come up with for this space.

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-JR

Tuesday 05.17.16

Advocacy

From: James Rees

As teachers, visibility, showing student artwork, is one of our strongest forms of advocacy. Having students present their work in your building and throughout the community benefits them and contributes to the image of your program.

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Artwork on display in your school helps build your arts program. It fosters support from parents, fellow teachers, and administration. Strategic placement of work throughout the school is a great way to advertise and attract students to your programs. Visibility is crucial for art programs to grow.

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There are three ways in which I’ve propelled the art department’s presence in my school. When I first began teaching at my school I worked with my administration to establish a yearly self-portrait contest. We named this, for obvious reasons, the Principal’s purchase award. To include the community, a local professional artist has traditionally served as our juror. The artwork is purchased, framed and then hung in our English Department wing.

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Another way to enrich my school environment with art is by working collaboratively with different departments in the creation of theme related murals. Here are examples from the science project I had a class create as they brainstormed with students from science classes. The science department had a sit down critic throughout the process and had the final say on the designs.

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The third way was to ‘take over’ the main display case opposite of the main office where we have an ongoing rotating display of student art projects. Sometimes I’ve found it most convenient to display works that are returning from exhibits outside the school, knowing most of the student body or faculty has likely not seen it.

-JR

Friday 05.13.16

Planning Your Exhibit

From: James Rees

In preparation for a group showing at a local art center, I had my students individually submit a proposal or plan for this exhibit. They were each given a small photograph of each of the works and were asked to consider the arrangement and grouping of the artwork. They were asked to consider the location, impact of the space and the audience. 

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They wrote an essay that would accompany the exhibit to help the audience understand what they were seeing. I also asked for them to write a justification for the reasons for the arrangement and implications for their ‘groupings’. What made you put certain pieces together or apart? 

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One student shared “before I put the works up, I immediately began to sort them out and try to put them in groups based on their composition, frames and similarities in content.”

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All this was an attempt to have them consider how they might … “Convey meaning through the presentation of artistic work.  (#VA:Pr6.1 ). While this assignment and approach were a good start and provided students with a ‘proficient’ level experience, I’m already preparing for implementing changes in my curriculum next year which will ask for deeper engagement and to better understand the … “criteria, methods, and processes (that) are used to select work for … presentation.”  (#VA:Pr.4.1)  

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I’ve already planned for Jessica Weiss, a museum curator, to act as the “Project Manager,” and work with class members who will assume different roles in the exhibition process (Cu ration, marketing, didactic materials, prepare works, etc.). She has been generous enough to commit to come to a number of class sessions next fall to mentor this process. I’m looking forward to taking it to the next level!

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-JR

Wednesday 05.11.16

Curating Exhibitions

From: James Rees

Last night was the closing event for my chapter of the National Art Honor Society held at the Woodbury Museum of Art. The Director and Curator, Melissa Hempel, was our speaker and she addressed curating and designing exhibitions. It was a perfect discussion to have at this venue because they were currently hanging an exhibit. The atmosphere provided the perfect visuals to support what Director Hempel was speaking about.

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Students were able to make connections between the decisions they make in terms of designing their artwork and the considerations made by a curator. I’ve been working on helping my students further embrace the visual art standard of Presenting. During this NAHS award night students heard first hand ways to…“Evaluate, select, and apply methods or processes appropriate to display artwork in a specific place.” (VA:Pr5.1.HSII)

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It was a great evening where I could almost see the gears turning in my students’ minds as they thought about their own creative process and the aesthetic decision that they make within the parameters of their canvas or paper and the parallels of similar decisions made in arranging works of art for a show. Other considerations were discussed, such as intentional juxtaposition of artworks to create a compelling ‘visual dialog’, color interactions and social/cultural implications that artistic works can have.

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I’ve already made plans for a curator from another museum to come and discuss these things at start of the next school year. Reach out to museum professionals in your area and look into doing something like this with your students.

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On a side note, at the close of the NAHS event I was passed a card where a student thanked me for helping them and shared, "… sometimes you had the charisma of a hooligan…” It left me wondering, “Is that a good thing?”

-JR

Monday 05. 9.16

Community Exhibitions

From: James Rees

Not only do I work to find venues and ways to display my student’s work, I also strongly encourage them to become aware of exhibits going on in our community. The only way for my students to earn extra credit in my courses is by going to select art shows, to which I periodically direct them for this purpose. And I provide a little more extra credit to attend the opening of these shows where they can engage with the artists and ask them questions about their work.

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Over the weekend I provided one last ‘extra credit’ opportunity to attend a show that I participated in. This was a unique 48-hour exhibit in a “Pop-Up Gallery”.  You may ask, “What is a Pop-up gallery?” It is an exhibit that springs up in unexpected places for a very limited time and in this case, for a specific purpose. The purpose of this show was to help raise funds to support the Food and Care Coalition organization in our community.

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The creator and curator for the event, Emily Larson, shared in her write up for this event, “Love Your Neighbor is a short, local art show that will promote kindness, love, and empathy at a time when negativity, conflict and hate seem ever-present. Through the display of artwork by Utah County artists, Love Your Neighbor aims to unite our local community by reminding us that we are all truly connected as neighbors and human beings, despite differences in values, opinions and ideas. Love Your Neighbor will also feature a fun children's art corner, because kids are the best examples of love!"

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I had a great conversation with some of my students who attended the opening of this exhibit on Friday night and discussed selecting and pricing artwork that would be appropriate for this venue, audience and purpose of the show. A limited time gallery maybe isn’t the right place to hang a $5,000 painting when the purpose of the show is to raise funds for a cause. This is a good topic of discussion for students.

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The event was well attended. And it got me thinking that this would or could be a great model to use with my students. There’s got to be less used commercial spaces that could be used for quick exhibits available in every community.

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-JR

Friday 05. 6.16

Artist Statements

From: James Rees

This week my Advanced Placement students submitted their work for their AP studio test. But before that I worked with students through the year, as you have, to help them to refine their artist statements and unify their work. I’ve found that students reveal a lot about their creative process by sharing their creative space and revealing their unique creative process with me through short videos. 

These videos are a great way to help students to clarify and articulate their personal approach to art making. It also has helped me as a teacher to better understand their process. Shortly after my student, Sammie, produce this video she was better able to write an artist statement and to “Analyze, select, and critique personal artwork for a … presentation.” (VA:Pr.4.1.HSII)

 

Sammie's Artwork:

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“I am directly influenced by my surroundings. My art is derived from my creative spaces; I see the world in shapes, values, and compositions and like to interpret those things in a graphic, aesthetic manner. I constantly surround myself with places, people, and things that contribute to my creative process. I am passionate about visual arts and plan to pursue a career in graphic design, illustration, and photography. I love using my art to serve people. I can use my skills to help others present themselves and their ideas in a visually pleasing ways, which is what I’m really passionate about.”

I also find various venues where students present their work along with their statements of purpose. The physical process of preparing their work: matting, framing and hanging their work are practical skills that I want them to have before they graduate. They also see the connection between the ‘journey’ (process) and the ‘destination’ (presentation).

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-JR

Wednesday 05. 4.16

Student Exhibition: Case Study

From: James Rees

One exhibit that my students created for display in The Attic at Academy Square (connected to our city’s public library) came about because of the relationship I have built with this organization. Over the years my students have regularly display artwork in this rather nice gallery within this building where we have held opening receptions, invited board members and parents to come see the students’ work. These have been well-attended events and have generated good support and served as a great advocacy tool for my school’s art program. 

Because of our ongoing relationship and fairly consistent quality of student work their gallery coordinator contacted me at the beginning of school and wondered if we’d be interested in tackling a show about the environment. I spoke with one of my classes and they loved the idea and proposed that we involved the school’s student body by having them collect all the materials we would use in the creation of the works. We placed collection binds around the school and received a variety of materials that people were going to discard. 

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We found quite a lot of waste around the school- Everything from a tapestry made from discarded, worn out t-shirts, to a large amount of cardboard, which later became the frames for some of the other collages made from discarded magazines and newspapers. The students discussed, researched, and then addressed this in their work.

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In every creation of an art display there are constraints of size of space, amount of money, and time to create. Collaboration becomes something of a challenge where students needed to learn to bend creative approaches with other people and learn to negotiate and compromise. 

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This was a unique challenge for my students, and the student’s satisfaction with the results varied, but in the end the message about the environment, waste, and our role in those issues was something the students valued.  

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I’d love to hear about interesting relationships you’ve created with local venues and collaborative shows that you and your students have created!

-JR