Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



Join the largest creative community established exclusively for visual arts educators, college professors, researchers, administrators, and museum educators.

Join NAEA Renew Membership

« April 2009 | Main | June 2009 »

Friday 05.29.09

Nate's Final Blog Post as May's Mentor

I wanted to thank the NAEA and Linda Scott for letting me guest blog as the Monthly Mentor.  It has been a lot of fun and enjoyable to be given a forum to communicate with so many art educators. 

I hope that everyone has a terrific end of the school year and a great summer vacation.  For my last blog, I want to leave you with my favorite art piece of the day.  This was created by Anya, a fourth grader in my school.  

Galanis09 006 

Best wishes to everyone. 

Nate Morgan
Art Teacher
Hillside School

Thursday 05.28.09

Museums in the Summertime

This year, my Principal agreed to compact my teaching schedule to fit into the first, five days of a six-day cycle. On the sixth day of the cycle, I was able to take one of my 27 classes on a field trip to a local museum within the tri-state area. So just about once a week, I took one of my elementary classes to a museum. The Hastings Education Foundation (the local education foundation in my town) and the Cultural Arts Committee awarded a grant to my school to fund the cost of the trips and the parents of each student graciously covered the bus expenses. This year, we have gone to the Museum of Modern Art, The Katonah Museum of Art, The Neuberger Museum of ArtThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the PEPSICO Sculpture Garden.

IMG_3991_200   IMG_1016_2302 

I was able to work with each museum’s education department to schedule the best possible trips for each of the classes. The students had deep and rich learning experiences at each museum. Encounters with different cultural institutions respond to the New York State Learning Standards in the Visual Arts.  And as much as I love to bring incredibly Art experiences to my students, this is not what I really want to talk about. It is barely the end of May and I am already planning my museum visits for the summer. I am happy to say, that my summertime involves as much Art as the school year does. As the end of the school year quickly approaches, I am already picking out different Museums that I want to visit. Here is a short list of museum exhibits that I plan to see over the summer:

Museum of Modern Art (NYC) – James Ensor
Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago) – Olafur Eliasson
CCS Bard/Hessel Museum of Art  - Rachel Harrison
Art Institute of Chicago – Cy Twombly
Hammer Museum (LA) – Larry Johnson
DIA:BEACON – Antoni Tapies 

Needless to say, if I am able to get to Dublin this summer, I am certainly going to swing by the Irish Museum of Modern Art to see the survey of Terry Winter’s paintings. Feel free to share any plans that you might have to visit some museums during summer break. I am always looking for interesting exhibits to see in the summer so it might be helpful to start thinking about it now!

Monday 05.18.09

Olafur Eliasson and the Parliament of Realty

This weekend, I participated in “Teaching and Learning with Contemporary Art,” a professional development workshop offered jointly thru Art21 and the Center for Curatorial Studies and Art in Contemporary Culture at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY.  We spent our morning discussing the different ways that we merge form & content while encouraging our students to work with ideas.  Part of our day included a discussion with Olafur Eliasson, the artist most famous for creating the New York City Waterfalls.


Mr. Eliasson has just opened the Parliament of Realty, a site specific installation on the grounds of the Bard campus.  This project was “conceived specifically with the life of the College in mind, The Parliament of Reality draws attention to our surroundings, both man-made and natural, while challenging the way we perceive and act in the world. The project is inspired by the Althingi, or Icelandic Parliament, the oldest national democratic institution in the world.”


In our discussion with Mr. Eliasson he presented his thoughts on art that paralleled his thoughts on art education.  Eliasson’s art attempts to create connections with the world around us and in his classes, Mr. Eliasson asks his students not to make art but “to challenge life.”  He feels that the art classroom is a place “to learn to be in the world.”  Ultimately, Eliasson views “art as a language and not an object.”


In the contemporary world, there are so many different paradigms for art making - from a singular artist creating objects in their studio, to artists who create artwork that is a collaborative discussion with the world around us.  Eliasson said, “It does not matter what language we use (paintings, classical sculpture, etc) but what we say with that language and why we say it.”  So my question for today is, how are we expanding our students engagement with art so that what is important is not the object that is created but the thinking that is experienced as a result of the object’s creation?

Thursday 05.14.09


Each year the New York State Art Teachers Association holds its annual conference in November.  An important part of our conference program includes keynote addresses by notable artists and art educators. This year we are pleased to announce that the artist Mel Chin will be one of our keynote speakers. Most recently Mr. Chin has gained national attention for his FUNDRED DOLLAR BILL PROJECT.

The FUNDRED DOLLAR BILL PROJECT is an innovative artwork conceptualized by Mel Chin that is made of millions of drawings. This creative collective action is intended to support OPERATION PAYDIRT, an extraordinary art/science project uniting three million children with educators, scientists, health care professionals, designers, urban planners, engineers and artists. Together they are working to make safe the lead polluted soil of New Orleans that places thousands of children at risk for severe learning disabilities and behavioral problems, including violent crime.


NYSATA has partnered with the FUNDRED PROJECT to create a state-wide initiative to bring the vision of this project to fruition. Through the simple gesture of creating FUNDRED DOLLAR BILLS, the students of New York State are going to take part in this giant performance supporting the rebuilding of New Orleans from below the ground up.  Our intent is to deliver $500,000 FUNDRED DOLLAR BILLS to Mr. Chin on November 21st.  

The FUNDRED PROJECT has received lots of coverage in the news.  When I shared the CNN story with my Principal, she immediately marched down to my room and asked how our students can participate in this project. Of course, I enthusiastically replied that we already are involved with this venture.  This project has cost me a total of $20 and over 540 elementary aged students have been able to participate.  If you are looking for an awesome and easy-to-implement project, I would encourage every Art teacher to have your students experience the FUNDRED PROJECT.  Do it quickly, the “FUNDREDS” will be picked up in the Fall of 2009!

Monday 05.11.09

Contemporary Art in the Classroom

If you’re school district is anything like my district, all the talk is about 21st Century Thinking Skills. If you are anything like me, you might say to yourself that “I have been teaching this set of thinking skills since I started teaching art.” It seems that the 21st Century has caught up to Art Education. The type of thinking that happens in an art classroom is now attractive to educators and the business world, alike.  Now that we have some attention, what can we do with this positive recognition?


This past Saturday, I took a small group of elementary classroom teachers to art galleries in the Chelsea region of NYC. This group of teachers has been participating in a Study Group that I proposed for my district entitled “Contemporary Art and Its Impact on the Classroom.” We have been spending the past month investigating the artwork that is being created by contemporary artists and exploring ways of using this artwork in our elementary classrooms. Part of our charge is to identify the themes that artists like Yayoi Kusama, Liao Yibai, Chantal Joffe, and Albert Oehlen are exploring in their work. Our challenge is to take these enduring ideas and conceptualize them into a language that is accessible to elementary aged students. While an artist like Liao Yibai may tackle ideas of the myth and threat of America during and immediately following the Cultural Revolution, a second grade student would better be able to explore the enduring idea of community. 


 While discussion of big ideas and unit plans is always engaging, what has been most impressive about this venture into the city with my colleagues is their reaction to the art we are looking at. Instead of asking, “What is it?” we are asking the question “What is it about?” (I have to admit that I stole this line of questioning from Joe Fusaro, senior education advisor at Art:21). The more profound comment that Rosanne Cirasella (2nd Grade Teachers) made at the end of our day was that she “felt smarter.” And that is the kind of impact that art education can have on people. So my question to everyone is, how are you trying to share the kind of thinking that happens in the arts with the other educators around us?


Monday 05. 4.09

Advocacy through Professional Development

The greatest act of advocacy an Art Educator can perform is to deliver high quality Art instruction to their students. Creating professional development opportunities is critical for Art teachers to be able to expand their craft and develop curricula that allow their students to think and create like Artists. 

Five years ago, my regional group of the New York State Art Teachers Association formed a wonderful partnership with the Art Education Program at SUNY/New Paltz.  Our partnership has resulted in four small, but very successful Art Education Symposiums that have focused on pressing topics in Art Education.   On May 2nd, we hosted “What’s the Big Idea? Visions for Learning Through Art” at the New Paltz campus.  Our Keynote Speaker, Dr. Sydney Walker, addressed how to create dynamic curricula that reflect important content in art, Big Ideas, Key Concepts, and Essential Questions, what kinds of instructional strategies are most effective and how we can best assess our students’ achievement.  Internationally renowned street artist, Michael DeFeo, led a lively afternoon Keynote Session.  Over the past four years, we have been able to organize opportunities for teachers and Art Education majors to share, collaborate and have fun.  We have found that these events require a tremendous amount of work, but in the end are worth every ounce of energy. 

Most State & National organizations have large conferences once a year.  Art teachers need and want professional development throughout the entire school year - it keeps us fresh and focused.  Smaller symposiums and workshops are great ways to create connections and interact with other teachers. Here is what we do:

1. Put together a team of good Art Educators who are willing to work together.  We start planning a year in advance.
2. Form a partnership with a local University or Cultural Institution (this gives us a great location and even greater partners).
3. Create a theme for the day – pick a topic that is focused and fundamental.
4. Create a schedule for the day.
5. Create a budget for what you need and what you can charge conference attendees.
6. Ask Art Educators to give presentations & conduct workshops – be willing to ask anyone and think big (colleagues are very willing to say YES).
7. Invite and involve pre-service Art Education majors from local universities – they are the future of this profession (and let them attend for free –we all remember not having any money in college).
8. Publicize the event in our regions website, FACEBOOK, newsletters, and colleges & universities.
9. On the day of the event, we show up early and have as much work complete before the attendees arrive.
10. HAVE FUN – these are terrific events!


Friday 05. 1.09

Painting by the Numbers

I will take this first blog article as an opportunity to tell you a little bit about myself.  As a child, I never envisioned myself as an Artist. I certainly never envisioned myself as an Art Educator. While growing up in Connecticut, I spent most of my time and energy playing sports at a very competitive level and at the same time being completely lost in school. I spent my high school years knowing that I did not “get” what everyone else seemed to understand about school. A day in high school was a series of trips to different rooms where I had no idea what was taking place. Of course, these were also the days of drowsy allergy medicine, so being loopy on over-the-counter sinus medication did not help my situation either. All this was very tolerable because at the end of the day there was going to be some type of practice or game where things made much more sense to me. After almost not graduating from high school, I went onto college, a place where I quickly left due to flunking (and saying that I flunked is too proactive, I just stopped going). So I found myself, at the age of barely 19 years old, a college dropout without an interest in anything worthwhile. 

This was when a small paint-by-number work of art that hung in my parent’s living room changed my life.  A family friend who was artist saw this painting that I had completed as a young child and told my parents that I should take painting classes at the Danbury Art Center. Since I wasn’t busy on Tuesday nights (or any other night for that matter), I decided to go down to Main Street and see what painting was all about.  And it was literally that night, which things started to make a little bit of sense to me. The instructor showed me a book of Vincent Van Gogh paintings and, suddenly, I found something that I understood. Flipping thru that book of Van Gogh paintings was something that I “got.” For whatever reason, this visual language was something that I understood. This story, which is wrapped in a neat little bow, continues with me returning to college with a newfound ability to perform simple to complex learning tasks that had previously baffled me. This experience is certainly not unique to me and is a story that we hear often within Art Education. My point is not to give you any great insight into my own life but to speak to Art’s unique ability to give our students an encounter with learning.

NateMorganteachingat MOMA

Because my involvement with Art began later in life, I tend to be fascinated by stories of individual’s first experiences with art. I will assume that you must have some fascinating and meaningful stories of your involvement with Art. So the first conversation that I would like to begin with is, when did you begin to learn how to learn thru the Arts? My moment was a white light experience, but yours may be a spiritual experience of the educational variety? Regardless of the profundity of the moment, when did Art become important to you?


I look forward to hearing of your varied experiences and conversing with you over the next month.