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.



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Friday 01.31.14

Green the Color That Motivates

To me the role of artist and teacher are perfect complements, for art becomes art when it is experienced, interacted with, and responded to by its viewer. Teaching art at the museum and later at the university formalized my role as “teacher” by making me explore art in terms of a wide range of subjects including literature, history, and science. This was rewarding work. However, how does one stay motivated?

As with any profession one hopes to look back and see that their career has been meaningful; that they have cultivated and shared their talents and that by doing so they have left a lasting impression upon the world. So often in teaching art classes to adults, I have encountered the mature non-traditional student who apologetically explains they are taking this class in an effort to find meaning in their lives. They describe jobs or degrees sought out of prudence or the unwillingness of their parents to support a career in the arts. On average we spend fifty percent of our waking hours at work. Yes, seek security, but not at the expense of your passion!

These passions, plural, are the key to staying motivated and to creating that “lasting impression upon the world.” For me it has been a commitment to becoming a greener artist and teacher.

Green in the Art Room

Choose Green Materials and Supplies. From recycled sketchbook paper to school scissors, markers, glue, tape and more, products are now available in affordable “greener” options. You might also try a few art recipes and have students make paint, chalk, and paste for themselves. In my class, I even use an eco stapler that cuts & folds the paper eliminating the aluminum staple.

Reuse and Recycle. Ditch the expensive paint pallets, buckets, as well as the disposables-like paper towels. My art room is filled with donated jars, blue Swiffer buckets, and plastic coffee containers. We use old t-shits and hand towels to clean our brushes and our spills. Make sure students understand they are using these things to reduce their carbon footprint and not because the art program is under-funded.

Use Art to Advocate for a Greener School. The environment, students’ carbon footprint, and their personal and unique cultural responses to sustainability are all great subject matters for art. Whether a group or individual response, eco art can start a powerful dialog in the art room that easily extends to the rest of the school and the community. At my school the Art Club’s t-shirts are recycled shirts we tie dye and then screen print new logos on top of old logos. We have repurposed an old church pew into a mural on sustainability in our community, and the trash cans in the cafeteria urge students to “Think before you TRASH it!”

Make Art from Eco-Conscious Materials. Architectural structures made from old phonebooks, painted and melted LP record sculptures, CDs used as scratch art or for book-arts, and t-shirts that have been woven into basket are but a few of the creative materials we have used for art making. We have also done “Funky Junk Art Contests” and “Recycled Fashion Shows.”

Study Environmental Artists. In 2006 I attended a workshop with Native American artist Jane Quick-to-See Smith. As part of the workshop we created mixed media works made from recycled materials. Later Smith gave a keynote address in which she called on all art teachers to use their art as a means for positive change both environmentally and socially, then shared the work of more than 30 contemporary artists who have made the environment a fundamental component of their work. Many of these artists are featured in the Re-Enchantment of Art (Suzi Gablik, 1995).

2 3(Row 1) Student art about the environment (Row 2) Basket made from recycled t-shirts. Architecture project using recycled phonebook pages.

Greener Schools


“Historically, the Department of Education hasn’t been doing enough…Today I promise you that we will be a committed partner in the national effort to build a more environmentally literate and responsible society.”
-Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education – September 21, 2010

Until recently American schools have had a poor reputation for sustainability practices. Yet, as a nation we also have a long and proud history of environmental education, and experts whose work is widely read outside of the US. For Americans, sustainability education combines many themes from earlier eras. Themes that parallel those found in the history of American art from manifest destiny to post-modernism. Sustainability education has been about the use of nature by humans; while other times it has reflected beliefs about our moral responsibility to nature. Today sustainability education is increasingly about responding to global crisis. Perhaps art teachers in the US can play a part in figuratively painting their schools green. To that end, here are a few resources for you, your students, and your colleagues:

Watch: The Girl Who Silenced the World for 5 Minutes. At age 9 Canadian, Severn Suzuki founded the Environmental Children's Organization (ECO), a group of children dedicated to learning and teaching other youngsters about environmental issues. In 1992, at age 12, she raised money with members of ECO to attend in UN sponsored Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro where she made a speech presenting environmental issues from a youth perspective to the delegate assembly. The video has since become a viral hit and is sure to help students see they too can effect change.

Become A Green Ribbon School. The U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) Recognition Award honors schools and districts that are exemplary in reducing environmental impact and costs. Only state education agencies can nominate schools. Schools that wish to be nominated should contact their state for application deadlines and further information.

Apply for an Environmental Literacy Grant. Turn STEM to STEAM by teaming up with other disciplines at your school to apply for the NOAA's Environmental Literacy Grants (ELG) Program. The ELG Program is a competitive grants program that supports formal and informal education projects implemented on a regional to national scale. The ELG Program is the longest standing and most comprehensive national grants program focused on environmental literacy.  

5From the affluent to the impoverished the rest of the world is recycling at school (Left) Eco Cap recycling project seen in primary and secondary schools across Japan (Right) Blue recycling bins line the halls of a low income school in Costa Rica.                

How do U.S. schools compare? What legacy will we leave?

-Aimee Burgamy, Ph.D.

Tuesday 01.14.14

Nature, Technology, and Contemporary Creativity: From the “Last Child in the Woods Movement” to the “365 Project”

A few years ago Newsweek declared a creativity crisis in America with public education largely to blame for this death of creative thinking. They dedicated an entire issue to the topic. I recognize that they were not just talking about visual arts classes, but about creative thinking in all subjects. Yet, the cover of the magazine was an attractive American flag made of red, white, and blue crayons and most of the graphics throughout the issue were other art supplies. It felt a little like an attack. I began reflecting about just how creative the art classes I teach are when compared to the middle school art classes I took three decades ago.  Is there really a creativity crisis? As I investigated, I discovered some competing ideas. On one hand there were many who believed technology is an ideal vehicle for fostering creativity. On the other, there were those who saw nature as a primary inspiration for creativity and technology as an enemy of creative development.  

In brief I would like to share an example from each of these competing ideas about creative development and examples of middle school student art inspired in response to each. For those who believe nature a superior approach to creative development, I used the work of Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods (2005) and The Nature Principle (2011). To illustrate one way technology can foster creative development, I used the concept of the “365 project” found on various social media.

Who is Richard Louv?
Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods was a New York Times best seller and a nominee for best nonfiction book of the year. His more recent work, The Nature Principle, also received critical acclaim including awards from the Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, and the Nature Conservancy. To be clear, Louv never directly addresses visual arts, however, he does address creativity and he uses many arguments to advocate for his position that arts educators will find reminiscing of their early childhood development and creativity course work. Louv links the importance of “play” and “open-ended projects” to nature and creativity development. As Louv explains: “Time in nature is not leisure time; it's an essential investment in our children's health…Children need experiences with nature just as they need sleep or healthy food.”

Last Child begins by considering historical figures (Ben Franklin for example), and their experiences in nature as well as the special relationship to “the land” that is described as an essential part of the American cultural identity. Later, the Last Child and The Nature Principle build a case for exploring the impact of nature experiences on attention disorders and on wider aspects of children’s health through a variety of case studies and examples, which strive to explain exactly what nature offers children, namely: (1) emotional well being, (2)spiritual sense of perspective, (3)observation skills, (4) cognitive abilities, (5) creativity, (6) healthy risk taking, (7) stress management, (8) increased attention, and (9) lowered instances of depression. Louv builds a strong case connecting nature and creativity by juxtaposing the many ways nature involves all of the senses, and then contrasts the multiple modalities of nature with technologies like television and computers which are mainly dual-sensory, appealing only to the eyes and ears.

Louv’s Concepts in Action in My Classroom
After discovering Louv’s work I began seeking opportunities to bring nature experiences into the art curriculum. When I was in middle school we often went outside the classroom to draw- more often to draw the inside and outside of the school building in an effort to learn one- and two-point perspective.  For my classes I actually wanted to go outside, to nature. The “Walk-in-the-Woods Map Project” for example, takes the art class outside to draw from observation and to gather objects for still life. The class goes on a winding walk around our school building looking for nature. At one stop they must zoom in on tiny details. At the next, they will draw from a distance. At every stop the challenge is to be the only person drawing that subject. On the walk I take digital pictures of various flora and fauna. At the end of the walk students soak the drawing in tea to give it a vintage feel. The drawing is finished in the classroom using the photos, as well as, plant and insect specimens. Images are connected like an illustrated map with pathways connecting the images from each stop. More recently we have been experimenting with taking a creative homemade paint set with us on the walk. These sets are made from a tin case, such as an Altoids box, using Sculpey clay, pressed with an AAA battery top, baked, then filled with watercolor from a tube. We have also made our own paints from natural materials. We cut up beets and cooked them in a crock pot for 2 days then added a little bit of alcohol for a brilliant red. We made green from Kudzu, Pink from Beauty Berry, and Brown from Walnuts using the same technique.

365 Projects
In 2007, artist Noah Scalin came up with an ingenious idea: he cut a skull out of orange paper and posted it on his blog with the note, "I'm making a skull image every day for a year." His year-long art project became an award-winning internet sensation that resulted in the book Skulls, as well as landing him in the New York Times and on the Martha Stewart Show. The concept of a "365 method" is simple, but inspired: Choose a theme or medium, and then make something every day for a year. Scalin was not the first to attempt a 365 project. In fact, it’s not entirely clear who the first was.

The popularity of 365 projects has grown exponentially. You Tube now has a dedicated channel with more than 100,000 different attempts. Flicker also has dedicated space for 365 photo projects. Scalin is the author of a creativity journal, which invites others to start a 365 project. An essential element is the public sharing of results; it serves as both a source of encouragement and a method for accountability.

What is a 365 Project?
Some notable 365 projects that you may already be familiar with include The Julia /Julie Project and No Impact Man—both of which became Hollywood films. For the The Julia /Julie Project, a journalist named Julie Powell took on the challenges of cooking something from Julia Child’s cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking everyday with the goal of cooking every recipe in the book and sharing the experience through internet blogs. Colin Beavan, a.k.a No Impact Man, decided to completely eliminate his personal impact on the environment for one year adding a new pro-environmental action each day.  These actions ranged from eating vegetarian, to buying only local food, to eventually turning off the refrigerator. It also meant not using elevators, television, cars, busses, or airplanes. He and his family also eventually gave up all non-natural cleaning products, electricity, and buying anything new.  A little less well known, but equally inspiring was Sheena Matheiken, The Uniform Project, which explored how many ways one person can wear a single dress (or rather, seven carbon copies of the same dress). This launching point for 365 distinct looks, one for every day of the year was the ultimate exercise in sustainable fashion. Money saved and raised by this unique experiment was donated to a school in the developing world to give measurable impact on the lives of others. In this case it was $10,000 or the cost of 27 children’s education in India for 1 year.

365 Concepts in Action in My Classroom

I described a number of 365 projects to my students and visited a number of blogs and u-tube videos about 365s with my students. I then gave each students a chicken ring that would be used to bind together the 46 creative items they would make over the quarter- one for each day of class. Chicken rings are plastic rings used in industry and by naturalist to identify and track birds; they are also marketed to educators to bind books. Students keep all warm up assignments, preparatory drawings and even the best part of “projects gone bad” and bound them on one ring. Some projects were done “on-your-own. Others were whole group “quick-challenges” that were directed but open-ended. In one 365 challenge, for example, students were  given an index card with a slit in it, shown how to make that a “pop up” and asked to make it into the most creative thing they could in 4 minutes or less (including coloring it in!). No two could be alike, so thinking outside the box was essential.

All major assignments created in art are also uploaded to the student’s online portfolio. Students are given the opportunity (and extra credit) for loading their 365 works to their page. These uploads appear differently than work loaded by the teacher. In this picture you can see that Leila has uploaded 20 drawings she did as part of her daily creativity project.

-Author Richard Louv’s Website includes information on his many books, videos of Louv talking about Nature Deficit Disorder and the importance of nature for both children and adults, and information about the author’s upcoming appearances.
-Sheena Matheiken’s, The Uniform Project is chronicled at:
-No Impact Man, Colin Beavan’s  story can be found at:

What Do You Think?
How important is nature to making art with students?  Does technology foster creativity or inhibit creativity? What specifics can you share in defense of your answers?

-Dr. Aimee Burgamy

Wednesday 01. 1.14

Becoming a Citizen of the Earth

In many ways I believe my greatest contribution to arts advocacy has been my success in organizations and competitions that are not art specific. Frequently I have been the lone fine arts teacher among a pool of so-called “core subject area” teachers. Having a highly qualified arts educator who is adept at collaborating effectively on cross-curricular efforts does a great deal to advance the role of the arts in education. Two recent examples of this type of advocacy are my participation in the Fulbright sponsored US-Japan Teacher Exchange on Education for Sustainable Development and the Toyota International Teacher Program in Costa Rica.

Here’s how I described my interest in these programs when applying:

When students see themselves as citizens of the Earth, they begin to view sustainability as a global responsibility that transcends individual differences. Viewing art from a constructivist perspective, I see the objects students make as vehicles to better understand oneself and our relationship to other people, places, and times. I believe the goal of teaching art in the public schools is not to create future artists, but to challenge students intellectually and support them academically. In my art class students make things, but they also investigate, write about, and talk about the things they make. I view art as a means for fostering interpersonal skill development and cultural understanding—essential skills in today’s workplace. My strengths as a participant in these international study and environmental education programs stem from my previous experiences teaching both students and teachers in two content areas that are directly related to the goals of these programs: (1) Eco-Creativity, a term I developed based on the work of Richard Louv (Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle). Eco-Creativity is about the link between environment and creative development, and (2) the power of art to foster cultural understanding and equity among people.

In addition to describing your teaching philosophy in terms that relates with the goals of the program you are applying for, connecting the experience to your students will also strengthen your chances of selection.

In support of my participation in the Costa Rica Program, my students created “up cycled” art that I then gave to students, teachers, and environmentalists along the journey. I posted pictures on my blog, entitled “Where’s my Upcycled Art?” Students then checked the blog to see who received their work, thus learning about environmental efforts in Costa Rica while establishing personal connections and engaging in learning about art and the environment in a more personally meaningful way.

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LEFT: We replanted endangerd plants in the mangroves of Costa Rica with students from a local school.
RIGHT: Prior to our visit to Costa Rica we trained in Florida’s  Everglades National Park. Among our Guides were members of the Teacher Ranger Program--classroom teachers who work as rangers on special educational projects in our National Parks each summer. They are holding recycled art made by my students as gifts for environmentalists I met on the trip.  

The “TURTLE ART FOR JAPAN” project is the main curriculum project that evolved out of the Japan-US teacher exchange.  In researching connections between Georgia and Japan, my students and I found that the sea turtles that lay their eggs on Georgia’s beaches migrate from the western coast of Japan. In recent years many of these turtles have been lost due to global climate change. My students created art to bring attention to this problem and to effect positive change. Proceeds from their efforts were used to jointly adopt a sea turtle from the Georgia Sea Turtle Center with Mr. Chikara Yoneda’s students from Nara Junior High School in Japan. Our Sea Turtle, “Huey” was fully rehabilitated and was released on July 4, 2013. His radio transmitter indicates he is on his way to Japan!   

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LEFT: At the Atomic Bomb site (now International Peace Museum) in Nagasaki, Japan. Each strand represents 1000 origami cranes made by school children from around the world as a symbol of peace and international understanding.
RIGHT: Having lunch with elementary students in Osaka, Japan.Bringing a sketchbook and asking kids who don’t speak your language to add drawings right beside yours, is a great form of communication!
This past summer I traveled to Turkey with 3 students who won the Istanbul Center’s Global Connections Art and Essay Contest. Connecting students to this project was easy since I was traveling with students on this once-in-a-life-time trip. While in Turkey, art history came to life as we visited important sites including Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome, Troy, Ephesus, the Basilica of Saint John in Smyrna, and the house of the Virgin Mary. As a cultural experience the religious diversity we experienced visiting mosques, churches, and synagogues yielded new deeper socio-political understandings for my students and me. This contest awards middle and high school students and their teachers with trips to Turkey based on art or essay work created to reflect a changing annual theme. Fittingly for my students and me, last year’s theme was "The Human Footprint on the Environment: Impacts & Solutions."

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LEFT: Described on the itinerary through a rough translation as the “the experience of your life” hot air balooning over Cappadocia (Turkey’s Amazing National Park) was a true thrill.     
RIGHT: Dr. Burgamy with Trickum Middle eigth grader, Jane Zen, at Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey.

If you are selected for an opportunity like these, it’s important to present and publish about your experiences. The timing of “calls for proposals” at professional conferences is such that often you will need to make a presentation proposal after you are selected but before you go on your trip. Don’t be afraid to ask other participants, even if you have not met them yet, to join you in “paying it forward.”

For more information on these specific opportunities please visit:

* Toyota International Teacher Program (trips to Japan, Galapagos Islands, South Africa, & Costa Rica) 
* Fulbright Sponsored Japan-U.S. Teacher Exchange Program for ESD (Education for Sustainable Development)
* Istanbul Center and Atlantic Institute Art & Essay Contest (2014 Theme: “Connecting Cultures in the Digital Age: How does social media change the future of our world?” Deadline Dec. 2013) 
* The US National Parks Service Teacher to Ranger to Teacher Program

-Aimee Burgamy, Ph.D.