Monthly Mentor

Dr. Patty Bode, Principal, Amherst Regional Middle School, Amherst Regional Public Schools (February)Bode
In 2016, I accepted the appointment as principal of Amherst Regional Middle School in Amherst, Massachusetts, the school in which I had left a piece of my heart in the art room a decade earlier after earning my doctorate and entering higher education as a teacher educator. Working with undergraduate, master’s level and doctoral students was inspiring, and I had not imagined I would ever leave higher ed. Yet in 2014, I was called back to the PK-12 public schools on a two-year grant appointment to help launch Springfield Conservatory of the Arts, an urban, public middle and high school. Then last year, I was invited to return to Amherst Regional Middle School – this time as the principal. I was thrilled to return to this community, which had shaped so much of my trajectory as a social justice art educator, so I accepted the opportunity to facilitate teaching and learning in the company of early adolescents and the remarkably dedicated faculty who guide them through everyday. Click "Go" to read full bio.



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Thursday 02.23.17

Connecting traditional art forms to contemporary practices

From: Dr. Patty Bode

My final blog posting as the February Monthly Mentor continues my effort to counter Islamophobia through art education by encouraging the study of contemporary artists who draw upon, extrapolate from, re-appropriate and juxtapose concepts and imagery from Islamic experiences and traditions. Furthermore, I briefly comment on the conflation of Arabic identities and experiences with Islamic experiences. Meaningful engagements with, and research about, contemporary artists and their work may prompt students to reimagine studio practices while expanding their view of these artists’ experiences, and move closer toward our NAEA mission to: advance visual arts education to fulfill human potential and promote global understanding. In what follows, I include work from several artists and collective exhibits, which may add to student perspectives about Islamic art and Muslim experiences in the overarching effort to counter Islamophobia.

The International Museum of Women (IMOW), now Global Fund for Women presents a global online exhibition Mulima: Muslim Women’s Art & Voices “from contemporary Muslim women who are defining their own identities and, in the process, shattering pervasive stereotypes.” This is a rich resource of artists working in a wide range of media, imagery, and contexts. The work of poets, multi-media installation artists, illustrators and more will add to your classroom resources.

Muslima Screen Shot

The American Islamic Congress (AIC) in Boston sponsored an exhibit and series of events titled, Muslim Women in the Arts Home & Away: Shared Narratives of Gendered Identity featuring four artists whose bios are linked here: Niloofar Ziae, Samina Quraeshi, Chaimae Mechtaly, Nada Farhat. The AIC stated that “The series aims in part to address a lack of exhibits by contemporary Muslim artists in Boston’s galleries and museums, a void that reinforces the perception that Muslim art is limited to calligraphy and rugs. In fact, Boston is home to a vibrant scene of stereotype-shattering artistic innovators from across the Muslim world.”

AIC-Boston-Screen Shot

My Whiteness matters. Through these February 2017 blog postings I have tried to demonstrate ways in which art educators can play an effective role in countering Islamophobia. Our identities matter when framing our teaching practices. As an art educator who benefits from the privilege of whiteness, middle class status, and English language dominance, and who realizes my childhood background that was situated in low-income, urban and Irish-Catholic culture in the United States shapes my perspectives, I have written these blog posts as a non-Muslim educator. These endeavors are framed with conscientious efforts to seek out, listen to, and stand in solidarity with expansive ranges of Muslim voices and perspectives, yet to also constantly realize my limitations.  Some of the contemporary artists I highlight here do not identify as Muslim, rather their art-making draws from Islamic art traditions, engages dialogue with individuals living in Islamic states, or speaks to the need to learn from Muslim communities.

Helen Zughaib states, "I am an Arab American, born in Beirut, Lebanon. I also lived in Kuwait and Iraq with my family, before coming to study art at Syracuse University in New York. Though I am an Arab American Christian, I feel that my background in the Arab world provides me with a platform to address issues that affect both Muslim and Christian women, especially after 9/11."

Commentary on Zughaib’s series titled “Fractured Spring” that responded to the sociopolitical experiences of the Arab Spring is provided in this 2014 article in Islamic Arts magazine.

See her website for list of upcoming exhibitions in 2017.

Helen Zughaib. “Generations Lost”. 2014. Gallery Al-Quds


Zughaib’s  work in gouache and ink on board and canvas “mixes familiar Western motifs with traditional Islamic abayas in an attempt to bridge East and West and confound predominant stereotypes” as explained by the Muslima online exhibition.  

Helen Zughaib. “Eye of the Beholder”. 2015.


Kehinde Wiley’s work has been widely acclaimed and exhibited nationally and internationally. His early attention to the African American experience and portrayal of the male black body in art historical contexts brought him to his international project “The World Stage.”  When asked how Kehinde Wiley selected cities and countries for the World Stage project, he explained: “The World Stage is comprised of what I believe are countries on the conversation block in the 21st century. Many of the reasons why I choose certain sites have to do with a level of curiosity, but it also has to do with their broader, global, political importance- strategically for America, and the world community at large.” See Wiley’s FAQ.

Pertinent to this specific blog posting is Wiley’s collection from that series, “The World Stage: Africa Lagos-Dakar. 

Since Islam is the predominant religion in Senegal with more than 90% of the population identifying as Muslim, the emergence of Islamic patterns in the motifs in Wiley’s portraits from this series holds salience.

Kehinde Wiley. Three Wise Men Greeting Entry Into Lagos, 2008. Oil on canvas 72" x 96".  From The World Stage: Lagos & Dakar.


Much has been written about the importance of Wiley’s work and its role in art education as a means to enter dialogue and studio practices that cross radicalized boundaries and indict art historical statements. There is certainly more to say than one blog posting may permit. I encourage art educators to investigate Kehinde Wiley’s work retrospectively as well as his current projects title “A New Republic” at his website

Cultivate broader and deeper perspectives simultaneously. Critical consciousness is required to avoid interpretations that would paint the wide spectrum of Islamic perspectives with a broad brush, and to make certain our students do not get misinformed messages that would lump all Muslim experiences into a monolith. In United States society, and by default in many of our classrooms lack of understanding about religious affiliation, political borders, national origin, and institutionalized racism can skew perspectives about Muslim experiences. A single blog postings is not enough to unpack all of this. I am constantly reminded of my limited knowledge, and constrained sociopolitical perspectives in pursuit of curriculum development that is socially just and politically relevant. As art educators, we need to turn to our museum and cultural institutions, as well as local artists’ collectives to continue to expand the dialogue.

This New York Times article by Jason Farago about The Museum of Modern Art/MOMA’s installation of works by artists from Muslim countries provides fodder for such dialogue.

Charles Hossein Zenderoudi
“K+L+32+H+4. Mon père et moi (My Father and I)” right, by Charles Hossein Zenderoudi, on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.


Also see LACMA/ Los Angeles County Museum of Art regarding the 2015 exhibitions titled Islamic Art Now: Contemporary Art of the Middle East.

These are just two examples of the role of museums and the leadership they can take in countering Islamophobia. These online resources provide fodder for art educators in every location of the globe to develop informed curriculum and dynamic dialogue.

PBode-Painting with student
I am painting with student at Amherst Regional Middle School during a discussion about art and identity.


Furthermore, I have written elsewhere about the necessity to:

Keep in mind the research of Gary C. David and Kenneth K. Ayouby, (2005) which articulates the following three areas of concern in the portrayal of Arab Americans in classroom materials: conflating, essentializing, and normalizing. Conflating occurs when ethnic-racial and religious categories that should be distinct are used interchangeably, such as conflating the Middle East with the Arab world. The Middle East includes non-Arab countries such as Iran, Israel, and Turkey. The League of Arab States includes 22 countries. Essentializing occurs when some cultural, social, or religious trait mistakenly defines all Arabs. Normalizing is a twofold process that presumes to “rehabilitate” Arab Americans (1) to become just like everyone else and (2) to embody positive traits. The problem here is that it is rooted in a premise of negative assumptions that fail to recognize the marginalization of Arab Americans by mainstream culture. David and Ayouby recommend selecting materials that limit their scope to address one topic at a time: Arabs, Arab Americans, or Islam, not all three at once. Materials that try to cover all topics tend to conflate or essentialize the groups. (Excerpted from Nieto & Bode, 2012, pp. 306-307, summary of David & Ayouby, 2005)

Tala Madani’s work is featured in this episode of art21 from September 2016 in which she explains her figurative use of men/male bodies in her paintings and animations. Her work will invite students to consider many possibilities such as gendered and intersectional identities, and choices of media and studio production.

Tala Madani. Grey shadows. 2014. Oil on linen. 40.64 x 56 cm. Pilar Corrias Gallery.


The work of  media artist, Walid Raad (Arabic: وليد رعد) will engage students in both sociocultural content and selection of media and technique. His experimental use of digital media speaks to a range of sociopolitical experiences, especially the civil war in Lebanon from 1975-1990, and its continual contemporary aftermath. See these exhibits and installations:

Walid Raad’s 2016 show at MOMA

Walid Raad’s 2016 show at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) Boston 

Walid Raad. Screenshot from Hostage: The Bachar tapes (English version). 2001. Video (color, sound), 16:17 min. The Museum of Modern Art, New York.


This posting offers a brief glimpse of artists, museums and cultural collectives that may support efforts to counter Islamophobia through art education.  Keeping our own limitations in mind and explicitly stated will help us guide our students and colleagues to continue to ask questions about what we may learn. Through the study of contemporary artists who draw upon concepts and imagery from Islamic experiences and traditions, it is possible to broaden perspectives and work toward fulfilling human potential and promoting global understanding.


David, G. & Ayouby, K.  (2005). Studying the exotic in the classroom: The portrayal of Arab Americans in educational source materials. Multicultural Perspectives 7 (4): 13–20.

Nieto, S. & Bode, P. (2012). Affirming Diversity: The Sociopolitical context of multicultural education, 6th ed. Allyn & Bacon/Pearson: New York.


Monday 02.20.17

Language, power, humor and visual culture

From: Dr. Patty Bode

Inviting dialogue that analyzes the relationship of language to visual culture may stimulate student awareness of the power laden within spoken text and dialogue within the school and classroom, as well as in the broader social context of popular culture. In an earlier posting, I mentioned that youth literature resources about Islam and Muslim experiences may guide this effort to hear, see and understand this complexity through the voices of Muslim authors and characters. 

Additionally, the power of language-in-use and the social construction of meaning are vividly illustrated through contemporary popular culture in which our students are deeply fluent. Analysis of popular culture through the lens of visual culture research can provide rich resources to bring contemporary social ideas such as countering Islamophobia into classroom curriculum. It is useful to recall that early art education research on visual culture was influenced by the assertions of sociologist Chris Jenks (1995), that visual culture as a postmodern construct be theorized and applied to understanding and questioning knowledge and truth.

[Visual culture] is rather intimately linked with the ways that our society has, over time, arranged its forms of knowledge, its strategies of power and its systems of desire. We can no longer be assured that what we see is what we should believe in. There is only a social not a formal relation between vision and truth (Jenks, 1995, p. i).

With a visual culture framework on lesson planning, art educators can screen feature films, TV shows, and advertisements in the art room for students to compare each viewer’s understandings and interpretations about ways in which “knowledge” and “truth” are conveyed. Generating lively art room dialogue whether viewing full films – or selected clips from media, will honor youth voice and introduce critical theory concepts with questions about whose voice is being amplified and whose voices are being silenced.

Jenks-Visual Culture Book

For example, comedian and actor, Maz Jobrani, who is known as founding member of the comedy troupe on Comedy Central, “Axis of Evil” and his solo stand-up acts gave a TED Talk in which he describes the role of humor in challenging stereotypes — with a focus on Middle Eastern Muslims in the United States. Art educators of middle school and high school students can highlight Jobrani’s viewpoints and the sociopolitical context of his statements about stereotypes of Muslims by viewing some clips from his movies such as Jimmy Vestvood: Amerikan Hero, and the recent TV series, Superior Donuts.  



Invite students to facilitate discussions about how these media examples may be relevant to your classroom goals to combat Islamophobia with questions about who is wielding power through these media productions. There will undoubtedly be a wide range of perspectives and insights that student will bring to the common stereotypes on which Maz Jobrani is riffing through these characters. Ask students about the role of humor in art making and social justice work. Compare language, images, and implications from other sources, such as the popular press and political campaigns, before viewing Maz Jobrani’s Ted Talk in the art room.

Screen Shot MazJobrani

An ensuing art project may engage students in producing video shorts, stand-up comic acts, poetry slams and other projects that integrate visual culture analysis with text, image, performance and digital visual media with big ideas around knowledge, truth, media and humor. Students’ voices will be made more audible as they widen one another’s perspectives about language and power.


Jenks, C. (1995). The Centrality of the eye in Western culture: An Introduction. In C.

Jenks (Ed.), Visual Culture (pp. i-25). New York: Routledge.


Monday 02.13.17

Promoting global understanding: Islamic patterns in context

From: Dr. Patty Bode

The study of Islamic patterns in tessellating geometric imagery can authentically integrate PK-12 curriculum through mathematics and visual art. Including sociocultural and historical perspectives about these patterns adds vibrant meaning to this unit of study, and simultaneously expands some understanding about Islamic traditions and breaks down misconceptions about some Muslim experiences. By weaving historical contexts into art lessons with student engagement in studio production, investigating Islamic imagery can aid efforts to counter Islamophobia through art education and support the NAEA mission to “promote global understanding.” Art educators can create counter-narratives to the false assertions, stereotypes and denigrating dialogue that is prevalent in some arenas of popular discourse when students hear and use the word “Islamic” in the context of art lessons such as: Islamic art, Islamic patterns, Islamic traditions, Islamic scholars, and Islamic architecture. One strategy to help you get started could be to make big signs with those terms to make the vocabulary visible and present in your art room, helping you and your students refer to it within your classroom dialogue. Use inquiry-based questions such as “What do you know about Islamic art? What do you want to know?” As you present images, ask “What do you notice, what do you wonder?” Document student voice by noting their comments on the white board, or inviting them to write on sticky notes to make a collection of classroom thoughts. Use their questions and their knowledge to guide student-led research into each topic.

See “tile photos” from the Alhambra.

This message will help ground your teaching about geometric tessellations in a sociocultural context. These ever-popular PK-12 lessons often include a study of the work of Dutch graphic artist, M.C. Escher - a worthwhile connection that can spark students’ imaginations.


Adding more historical context about Escher’s study of the Islamic patterns in The Alhambra and Reales Alcázeres in Spain, and relationship of tessellations to the concept of the infinite will bring a more explicit anti-racist and anti-religious oppression stance to your classroom dialogue by explicating the contributions of Islamic art from approximately 1500 years ago throughout contemporary work. Moreover, these explorations will enlarge the students’ inquiry into the cultural and political predecessors of Islamic culture as explained on the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Department of Islamic Art (See“The Nature of Islamic Art). 

Understandably, many teachers express uneasiness that they will misrepresent the cultural meaning about that which they are unfamiliar. Critically conscious art educators will worry about over-simplifying, or even worse, insulting the tradition about which they are trying to teach. These are valid concerns that may be addressed collaborating with your students to:

Ask: “What are we learning today?” Be clear with students that we are learning about the role of visual art within a cultural and historical context, some of which includes a religious context. Like studying the work of Michelangelo and Sistine chapel, we are not teaching the religion, rather we are attempting to understand the role of religion in the practice of art making.




Cultivate expertise. Admit and explain that you are not an expert in Islamic art (unless of course you are!), but that we are studying, researching and learning together. To be an artist is to be a researcher, and we must make no assumptions. Make lists of what we do not know to help guide our investigations. See Eric Broug’s TED-Ed Talk to get the conversation started, “The Complex Geometry of Islamic Design.”

Seek out experts. Ask members of the Muslim community if they may be willing to share knowledge and tell stories; invite students’ family members to your classroom, call the local mosque, email professors and scholars in nearby educational institutions and museums. Crowd-source the classroom resources by teaching students to curate materials and knowledge rooted in research and participants’ voices. See website of The Museum of  Islamic Art, Doha Qatar and the Online Highlights Tour for myriad resources and images.

Pre-empt backlash. If you are concerned that your choice of subject matter will be criticized, stay rooted in your commitment to provide a comprehensive art education that supports NAEA's mission to advance “visual arts education to fulfill human potential and promote global understanding,” and draw from the well-stated rationale from the Met “Why include Islamic art in your teaching?” 

Ask how much more there is to know. These investigations will lead your students to inevitable questions about the vast expanse of art that has been generated across regions of the world and throughout history with origins in Islamic traditions. It will also provoke curiosity about how misconceptions are propagated and how contemporary practices art might lead to deeper understandings. Hopefully you and your students will agree that a single art project, or one book, or a solo research study – or one blog posting – is not enough. Promoting global understanding is a lofty goal for art education. It is a multifaceted and complex endeavor. When teaching is framed in historical and cultural contexts it helps uncover how much more there is to know.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art provides free unit plans online on “Art of the Islamic World.” My forthcoming blog postings will consider the power of language by inviting dialogue that analyzes vocabulary, and connecting traditional art forms to contemporary practices. 


Monday 02. 6.17

Shaping Human Potential

From: Dr. Patty Bode

Countering Islamophobia directly aligns with our NAEA mission to “advance visual arts education to fulfill human potential and promote global understanding.” Language matters. The careful selection of language in our NAEA mission to include “fulfill human potential” is significant. The term potential is critical here, since the etymological structure of the term potential stems from late Latin potentialis, or from potentia, which translates as “power.” Allowing Islamophobia to go unaddressed diminishes human potential – or strips power from humanity. Not only are Muslim students, families, colleagues and community artists dehumanized, all of us who allow Islamophobia are diminished in our humanity as well. The effort to counter Islamophobia includes teaching all of our students to interrogate misinformation, biased propaganda, and hate speech, which will aid in promoting “global understanding” as advanced in our NAEA mission. Art education can assertively participate in these efforts through studies and studio practices related to Islamic art by engaging at least these three strategies: 1) expanding historical and cultural contexts of current curriculum; 2) inviting dialogue that analyzes vocabulary; 3) connecting traditional art forms to contemporary practices. Each of these three strategies will be addressed in the next three forthcoming monthly mentor blog posting previewed here:

1. Expanding historical and cultural context of current curriculum. Many art teachers embrace the interdisciplinary vigor of studying tessellating patterns in relationship to mathematics, and a wide range of rich resources are available to teach these concepts with a focus on the contributions of Dutch graphic artist, M.C. Escher. Yet, many of the lesson plans miss the opportunity to investigate the original inspirations for Escher’s work: his study of the Islamic patterns in The Alhambra and Reales Alcázeres in Spain, and relationship of tessellation to the concept of the infinite. The sociocultural context of teaching about tessellations will be investigated further in a later blog posting.


2. Inviting dialogue that analyzes vocabulary may guide students to become aware of the language they read and hear within art education texts and discourse, as well as in the broader social context. A future post will expand on the notion that language matters in art education. Critically heightening the understanding of terminology we use about artists and art-making communities, may realize the power of language-in-use as well as the social construction of meaning. Youth literature resources about Islam and Muslim experiences may guide this effort. Visit the website of the Amherst Regional Middle School library for resources curated by Peter Riedel, school librarian.


3. Connecting traditional art forms to contemporary practices. A study of contemporary artists who draw upon, extrapolate from, re-appropriate and juxtapose concepts and imagery from Islamic traditions can open avenues for all students to understand contemporary, multi-dimensional complexity of art-making and intersectional identities. Some contemporary artists and art communities will be investigated in a future blog.



Monday 01.23.17

Getting Money for your Program: Grant writing and more

From: Reta Rickmers

I wrote my first grant many years ago with the help of our district grant writer. Grant writing has its own language and once you learn it you are good to go. Much of it involves using the rubrics the grant uses to decide who is qualified, so I suggest you start there. It will have language embedded in it you will want to use.

My first grant was the biggest one I have received. It was the California Department of Education Secondary Specialized Program Grant. Writing and receiving this grant inspired and made possible my Art Studio @ PV program. 

The grant expired after 6 years and about $420,000.


For one year I had no funding, so we raised money on to buy our big 11x14 sketchbooks and through selling car raffle tickets with our local Sports Boosters to go on our field trip to San Francisco. 


Historically, our sports booster only raised money for sports but I asked if maybe art students could be involved and they said sure! We still make money for our program every year by participating in that. This year we used it to raise money to have our two art show receptions catered.

For several years I received grants from our local university that focused on professional development.  These grants required that I collaborated with other teachers. I love collaborating as I get so many new ideas! They also enabled me to attend the NAEA National Conventions. My experiences there always enrich my teaching and take it to a higher level. I encourage you to attend!

For the last few years and currently I am receiving a California Teachers Association/Institute for Teaching Grant which focuses on Strength-Based Teaching. I wasn’t familiar specifically with this teaching concept but it fit perfectly with my approach to teaching.

Below is the description our grant for this year.


Educator Grant - $5,000.00

In ARTreprenuers, art student participants at Pleasant Valley High School will form teams with classmates to design and pitch workable, salable, and scalable business ideas. Students will get a figurative peek inside the brains of real entrepreneurs. Students will present their ideas to an Entre-board (an advisory board of local entrepreneurs) and then make and sell the selected products at a variety of venues. The focus will be on creativity, teamwork, problem solving, marketing, and community connections. The Art Teacher and Teacher-Librarian will support students to become responsible and reliable individuals that use their strengths as a bridge to their future and a possible career.

This is fairly new to me as a teacher but I am a working artist so I wanted my students to learn about making money through creative efforts. So far this year we have had a jewelry artist come into class to teach the students to make earrings and bracelets. Now the students are in teams and are researching different artistic products they could make, market, and sell.

Photo 1 blog4

We also have a local Art Booster group called Arts For All. If you don’t have one, I suggest you help to start one. This group gives mini-grants in the amount of up to $250 each semester. It has helped funds many projects for me such as Pastels in the Quad which encourages all students on campus to create works of public sidewalk art.

Photo#2 blog 4

This is my last Monthly Mentor blog. I’ve really enjoyed taking time out of my busy life to write a little a bit about what I do as I teacher. Thanks for reading!


Tuesday 01.17.17

Art Shows

From: Reta Rickmers

I believe in having students think like an artist, produce work that is original and personal to them, and be willing to exhibit it. We have shown work in many ways over the years, from small displays at the public library and in our downtown art supply store window for Youth Art Month to partnering with our local Chico Art Center for Creative Fusion, our annual junior high and high school art show. We also participate in our local County Office of Education Annual Juried High School Art Show and our local county fair. Of course, parents are invited to attend or to view all of these exhibits.


I want to share with you in more detail how we also exhibit at my high school and how this encourages students to ‘up their game’ and to increase both quantity and the quality of their work. Students in my intermediate and advanced Art Studio classes are told from the beginning of school that there will be an exhibit of their work in November. We hold this show called Fall Prelude in our library. Our librarian is my most steadfast collaborator at my school. She helps us ‘take over’ the library twice a year as well as helping with countless other things. The work is not shown anywhere before the show (not even in the classroom) to promote the “great reveal” of the art. Through grants we are able to pay to have the lunchtime reception catered by our high school culinary class. They serve the food on platters as they circulate amongst the guests. Parents and staff are invited via an email newsletter and with a small paper invitation. Students are given tickets to give out to their friends. Our school Jazz Band provides live music. The staff is, of course, encouraged to attend!

I keep all student work until the exhibits. Work is matted or framed (I keep a big supply of frames for students to use). However, students also bring in work I haven’t seen before on the day we set up the show.  They have been working at home so they will have a great exhibit! They are so motivated because they know people are coming just to see their work. Many parents and family members attend, including grandparents. Points are given for wearing their Art Studio T-shirt and for having their photo taken with their art display. The work is left up for a week or two for all to enjoy. 

Photo #1

Students learn how to present their work, how to arrange a display, create titles and an artistic name tag to go with the display.

Photo #2

Hundreds of people attend the reception including our superintendent, our principal, our Art Advisory Board consisting of local artists and art professionals from the university and community college, parents, and the local newspaper.

This fall show helps prepare students for the big show in May called the Spring Finale. We do much the same as for Fall Prelude but we take over the entire library for the day. Students create artists statements with their name and photo. See example below.


There is also a slideshow of all the statements on a big screen during the reception. 

Photo #3

Students stay with their work after the reception as teachers bring in their classes to interview the students about their work, the decisions they made and the idea or message behind the work.

Both shows generate excitement and help the students realize that often part of making art is to exhibit it and to be able to articulate their ideas. The students are often amazed that other people, including adults, are interested in their art (and even sometimes offer to buy it). The entire school enjoys these events and it is a way to showcase our art program. 

Do you have ways you exhibit student work that you would like to share? Please comment below!


Monday 01. 9.17

Community Collaboration: Phoenix Fashion Show

From: Reta Rickmers

A more recent foray into the community came in the form of a fashion show in April 2016. Inspired by Project Runway and local fashion group Chikoko, I decided to venture into the unknown by challenging my 2 classes of Art Studio students to create wearable art out of recycled, upcycled, or unusual materials. I love fashion - you should see my closet! I’m addicted to Project Runway and I like to pretend I’m Tim Gunn: “just make it work!”

The creations were not meant to be functional but had to be able to get down the runway and back. Students could work alone or in groups up to four. If working in a group of four they had to produce 2 fashions. The entire project took 3 weeks from introduction to the runway show. I had thought about doing this project for years before, finally, I was motivated by this specific group of students, many which were second, third or even 4th year students of mine. These students seemed to me to be able to meet this challenge because they were creative, enthusiastic and self-motivated students.

As in introduction to the project and as part of my art service learning requirement, I had 20 students help back stage at the October Chikoko Fashion Show. This created much excitement for our show. 

In March student teams reviewed their individual strengths and decided on the roles they would play. They also had to decide on materials and begin collecting them. One student was our sound person, another our videographer, another our stage manager. Someone from each team had to model the fashions or they had to find someone to model. We had all body, gender, and personality types as models. Students worked together to brainstorm and draw their designs before beginning construction.

Photo #1

Most of the students had never used a sewing machine. I brought in a brand new, but simple sewing machine and told the students it was up to them to learn to use it. Some students who had experience taught other students and one former student brought in her sewing machine and gave sewing lessons and lent a helping hand because she had heard about our project. Sewing was not required. We used over 500 hot glue gun glue sticks to get 27 works of art down the runway.

Rickmers photo #2

Fashion #3

I received a small mini grant of $200 from our local Arts for All arts booster group that allowed me to give money to students to help procure materials, but many didn’t need it as we had bins of fabric donated to us and most of the materials were recycled. Garbage bags, aluminum foil, papier Mache, spray paint, balloons, paper, fabric, beads, jewelry, plastic bottles, bottle caps, tarps, zip-ties, plastic table clothes, plastic bags, shells, paint, ribbon, twigs, playing cards, remade dresses, fabric scraps, bottle caps, popcorn bags, cardboard, duct tape, plastic flowers, tissue paper, lace doilies, broken CDs, film slides, magazine and old books pages were employed in amazingly creative ways.

We had three themes emerge: The elements, fun and fantasy, and spring prints. Teams were responsible for hair, make up, and accessories such as jewelry and shoes.

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We secured a location for the event, rented a catwalk, sold tickets, enlisted the help of parents, asked a dance troupe and the school jazz band to perform, and we had a dress rehearsal. We sold out the event and raised money for an art scholarship. The students were incredible! The community was supportive. Our fashion show combined teamwork, creative thinking, and problem solving with the changing role of the teacher from expert to coach. It was the favorite day in my teaching career.

I will be giving a presentation at NAEA in New York 2017 on Phoenix, a fashion show created by high school students using unusual materials. Hope to see you there!

Photo #6


Tuesday 01. 3.17

Happy New Year!

From: Reta Rickmers

I was pleased to be asked by NAEA to write a blog but before I committed to it I had to ask my friends and colleagues if they thought I had anything to write about and they immediately suggested I write about my community collaborations. This is my first attempt at writing a blog so I am exploring unchartered territory. Thinking back over my 27 years of teaching high school art, I think the most important thing I have learned is that if art transcends the classroom in some way it has magnified meaning for the students. When art intersects community it makes a powerful connection. In order to find ways for my students to have these experiences I have collaborated with parents, teachers, our local university, local artists, art galleries and museums, former students and state and local organizations in the form of grants. As art teachers I think it is common for us to fear that the art our students are making is not relevant enough. Over the next month I will share with you some of the ways I have collaborated with different groups to avoid this problem and what I have learned from writing and managing grants for my program.

For me it all starts with networking. I started years ago to look for ways to enrich my program, The Art Studio @ PVHS. The Art Studio is a two or three year in-depth art program that was originally funded by the California Department of Education’s Secondary Specialized Program grant. At the beginning of school, I ask my students to get a photo release form signed by their parents with a parent email address required. This allows me to publicize our activities in the local paper and I also to send a newsletter to parents with photos to let them know what we are doing.

Download newsletter

When we do community-oriented projects or events, I let everyone know, including my superintendent. By doing this, my program is known about town.  Consequently, people contact me to donate supplies or to offer possible projects.

An early project offer was to create life-size mosaic fish that inhabit the Sacramento River to be installed at the base of a sound wall public art project next to our high school. All of my classes were involved in this project for two weeks. These permanent mosaics are now part of our City of Chico Public Art Portfolio.

Photo #1

Through my connection with the mosaic artists that worked with us, I was able to have my students create mosaics as class projects on four concrete benches at our school.

The students took great pride in creating something that would be a permanent part of our high school campus. They were required to collaborate in small groups and with the entire class to create a strong design. “Buy in” was incredible with students who came to school on Saturday to grout the benches. And, that is what we seek—art making that is relevant to our students, that provides opportunity for growth, and inspires them to do more.

Photo #2


Wednesday 12.28.16

Moving to Inquiry

From: Michelle Ridlen

Asking students provocative questions had led us down a path of inquiry that truly worked well for our students. So much so, that when it came time to re-write our curriculum, we pushed forward with adopting the newly revised National Core Arts Standards and an inquiry-based format for our model lessons.

Alice in Wonderland “Curiouser and curiouser.” Going down the rabbit hole.

What does it mean to teach through inquiry?

We would begin by developing unit themes and big ideas driven by essential questions to frame the unit investigation. These had to be broad enough that students could enter into the theme from multiple perspectives and explore multiple variations of their own choosing. So for example, one of our elementary units is Story with some of our questions being, “How do pictures tell stories?” “How do artists show a feeling or mood in a visual image?” “How do we use art to tell stories about people?” where as one of our advanced studio classes has a unit called State of Mind with the essential questions: “How can we see emotions?” “How do we make something internal, external?” “How do we show thoughts, ideas, or feelings without depicting recognizable objects?” “How can we depict a state of mind through art?”

We pushed ourselves to go beyond a media driven curriculum. Especially because more and more artists today are making art that defy traditional art categories. Artists make art with the media that will best execute their idea or meaning, so how do we teach our students about the expressive qualities that lie within each media choice? We promote play and experimentation, collaboration and creative explorations. We encourage students to think about ideas in multiple ways and to try them out in multiple media. We want them to gain experience and familiarity with multiple ways of expressing and representing concepts.

4bInnerChild by Dave BInner Child by Dave B on Flickr

We avoided lessons that mimicked or copied one artist’s style or way of working. Instead, we tried to provide a variety of artists that explored a theme or similar idea in multiple ways to encourage students to explore how they would approach a theme or concept. What unique perspective do they bring to the table? We wanted students from elementary to high school to know that we valued their voice and that as their teacher, we would help them learn how to be heard. We would give them choices (sometimes limited) in their media use or in the subject matter. The balance was knowing how much or how little choice they were developmentally ready for in connection with our learning objectives. We purposefully try to expose students to a combination of artists, both traditional and contemporary, and with a variety of perspectives from diverse cultures and world views.  

Multiple ways from point A to point B

We are transitioning to a focus on process over product. This is sometimes the most difficult to do because it is hard to let go of the pressure to have many “wall worthy” works of art to display in the hall or in a gallery. We feel an immense pressure to put work on display that will make adults ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ at the cuteness or the skill. However, as an audience we tend to judge student artists on the level of an adult or professional.  Is that truly fair to children and adolescents who are just starting out? How can we as teachers shine a light on the stages of development that go into becoming an artist?  What can we add to the display of artwork that illuminates the thinking behind the hard work?  How can this practice encourage ownership of student learning? How might this promote a healthier growth mindset in our young artists and future artizens?

4dStudentsWorking3rd Grade students working on their artwork

We decided we needed to think and talk more about art. We needed to help students learn about where to get ideas and how to nurture idea seeds to get them to grow. How do we brainstorm? How can we collaborate and offer feedback to strengthen ideas? What kind of suggestive examples, compelling role models, and diverse methods can we provide that will help students engage in meaningful art making? We are teaching students about the practice of keeping a sketchbook from the earliest grades and promoting its use to track our process from idea to fully executed work and to include the documentation of revisions. How can we use sketchbooks to talk about our ideas and the development of our work with peers and mentors?

4e_MiddleSchoolArtist Hard at WorkMiddle school artist hard at work

Our lessons focused on an inquiry process that roughly followed this outline:

- Engage - Hook students with juicy questions, examples of artwork, or  conversations about art. Get their wheels turning in conjunction with the theme.

- Explore - We asked “Can acts of engagement and exploration be works of art in themselves?” “How do artists push beyond what they already know and readily see?” “When do exploration and experimentation become art?” This is where we encourage students to experiment with media or explore different interpretations of an idea or concept. We expose students to artists and artworks that work within a connected theme.

- Explain - This is where we may revisit individual student questions or learning needs, giving more explicit instruction. Researchers Housen & Yenawine argue that when you teach information - whether it is a concept, process, or technique – that is a genuine question of the learner, then it is more likely to be retained. Also, a summary of research on learning and cognition shows that learning for meaning leads to greater retention and use of information and ideas according to Bransford, Brown, & Cocking (2000). Students tend to be much more receptive when they saw an immediate need and use for the instruction.

- Expand - Students would then choose how they wanted to create an artwork that showed their own thought development within the unit theme. For elementary grades this may be more limited while as they advanced into high school, more leeway was given to explore broad connections. Feedback and revisions may also occur.

- Extend - Students would present their artwork to peers and others through physical displays or virtual galleries, sharing artist statements and documentation of their process along the way. Reflections may also be encouraged to be mined at a later date for further art exploration.

4f_HighSchoolGalleryShowHigh school art work on display

While we started on our curriculum revisions back in 2014, and are continuing to work our way through all of our grade levels, we are beginning to see the positive impact it is having on our students. Students are more enthusiastic and take more pride in their work because it is truly the expression of their own ideas. We are seeing more authentic student art that is developmentally appropriate where we can witness the improvement of their skill and talents. And we are seeing a return of critical and creative thinking. Students are shedding the “just tell me what you want from me” look in their eye and instead we see a spark that holds future possibilities. We see students emboldened to try something new or to see “what might happen if…”. It is remarkable to see this change in our students and as teachers we are eager and excited to see them continue to grow.   

How do you use inquiry in your art room? What kind of questions do you use to engage your students and provoke exploration? How has using inquiry changed the way your artists grow or your studio runs?  

Tell me more...I’d love to hear about it in the comments or through Twitter. Catch me at @mridlen.

As this is my last post for the NAEA Monthly Mentor blog, I wanted to thank NAEA and Linda Scott for this opportunity. Blogging is certainly a way to rethink how you see your work and your place within students’ lives. This was a great means of stretching myself and pushing myself to grow. Thank you and I can’t wait to read next month’s mentor!


Wednesday 12.21.16

A Path Towards Change

From: Michelle Ridlen

Once I had decided I needed to update how I was teaching to meet my students where they were coming from, it was a fun challenge to renovate my lessons. Although at times it seemed overwhelming, I reminded myself “There is only one way to eat an elephant, one bite at a time.” So I dove in to revising how I approached my first unit.

3aElephantHow do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

I started by taking some inspiration from one of the amazing speakers I had heard at the latest NAEA National Convention, Olivia M. Gude. Some of you may already know her and be inspired by her articles or her lectures. Hearing what Olivia had to say completely rocked my world. She has a particular knack for getting you to think about the choices you make and the impact they will have on your students. One point in particular that stuck with me was when she asked her audience to think about the amount of time spent on a two-point perspective drawing in comparison to the entire time you spend with your students in the art class. For me, I realized it was almost an entire fourth of a semester. Is that what I prioritized from my time with my students? If I really thought about what I wanted my students to remember about art after graduation, or in 20 years, was being able to to draw precise orthogonals without context or substance what I wanted them to hold on to? For me, the answer was no.

3bGudeOlivia M. Gude
(For more thoughts from Olivia M. Gude, I invite you to check out her articles written for Art Education or her Digication e-portfolio).  

Working with a partner art teacher, I sat down to re-evaluate what I valued about art, and what we wanted our students to really appreciate and cultivate in their own learning. That was when we hit was about what they valued in the learning. How could we start where they were, and bring what they were interested in learning to the forefront? How could we illuminate the connections between their personal interests and bigger concepts in art? Where could they find meaning?

We started by asking our high school students to think about how art and visual images communicate. Where do they see visual images and what kind of messages do they communicate? We connected what they had learned in english class about literal and figurative language to how images communicate in similar ways. We looked at artworks by Frida Kahlo and Cindy Sherman, using a loose Visual Thinking Strategy discussion style.  

3cKahloWoundedDeerFrida Kahlo’s The Wounded Deer, 1946

We then moved them towards using images to communicate their own messages, asking the question, “How can you communicate a message without words?”  Inspired by Gude and a Spiral workshop, we examined how symbols are used to quickly communicate a message and appropriated street signs to communicate new messages.

Spiral Workshop - Bureau of Misdirection: Mixed Media

We scaffolded student thinking, showing them examples of how artists working in the past and today communicate without words. We examined artists like Keith Haring who developed his own system of symbols, as well as his influences from calligraphy to graffiti as well as the artists who inspired him such as Andy Warhol who used images of objects and well-known people to reflect cultural values of the time.  We discussed the complex idea of semiotics, creating our own images and interpretations of words like Power or Success. Students asked their own questions about how color can affect meaning and how does size change the feel of a composition? Once we had them asking the questions, we knew we were headed in the right direction. We pushed students to think about what they were seeing in new ways, and encouraged experimentation and play.

3e.PowerStudent artwork: Power

Students thought about questions like “How do artists communicate a sense of identity?” and “How can I communicate a sense of identity?” Students examined non-traditional portraits and how objects can represent people. We returned to Andy Warhol’s shoes and how he used shoes to represent people.

3f.ShoePortraitStudent artwork: Self-Portrait as a Loafer

Then we turned it over to them. How would you represent your culture of today? How would you reflect what is going on in the world and what is important to you in it? How do you see yourself today? We encouraged students to experiment with mixed media after showing them a variety of media and techniques. We used the three tenants of motivation (autonomy, mastery, and purpose) to push their intrinsic motivation and downplayed the number grade, instead getting them to focus on making progress toward some growth in an area of personal interest such as an artistic habit or skill.

We saw a real departure from the recreated artworks of the past, and a massive difference in student attitudes and interest. By asking provocative questions and exposing students to the work of professional artists, we were inspiring creative practices that had led to some truly meaningful work from our students. It also reignited our passion in the classroom, giving us a jolt of energy we hadn’t quite realized we were needing as art educators.

What kind of provocative questions do you ask of your students?
How do you expose your students to artists working today?
How do you keep yourself asking questions and where do you turn for your dose of artistic inspiration?

I’d love to hear more in the comments below...