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 04.25.14

Weirdos of the World Unite!

Artists have always been known to wacky and weird, unique and unafraid to be who we are.  Nevertheless, despite having certain character traits and interests in common, we as artists and art educators tend to be loners, outsiders, and even art room/studio hermits. I work in the fifth largest school district in the USA that means there are a LOT of art teachers in my district at every grade level. We also have an up and coming art scene filled with galleries, festivals, and community installations.  There are LOTS of creative people here in Vegas, but why do we art teachers feel disconnected anyways?

One reason is that we are alone at our school site. Most elementary art teachers are the only art teacher on campus. Secondary art teachers often have a department with a couple of art teachers who teach various media. I am considered a "specialist" and am grouped with music, PE, and library. While we all share the fact that we see the entire school and teach every student, that's really where the similarities end. 

Another reason is that we work long days as teachers and go home at night to our families. As adults we have so many responsibilities that at times we don't remember to reach out to the local art community or other art teachers to share, be motivated, and inspired. I have definitely been on the hamster wheel of life-work-home-work-grocery store! Then I broke out!

In 2010, my husband urged me to take my artwork to a local art gallery: City of the World Gallery, Inc. in downtown Las Vegas. The CEO was another art teacher and there were about 6 other art teachers in the district exhibiting there. I got a small wall to start and hung 6 pieces for that month's First Friday Artwalk. Little did I know then, but I just changed my life. For the past 4 years, I have exhibited my work, participated in group shows outside of the gallery, done community art projects, made connections with other artists and educators, and gained the self-esteem to go further with my career as both an artist and educator.

From talking to the art teachers at the gallery I began my involvement with Art Educators of Nevada for which I have been the Newsletter Editor for the last two years. I met with other art teachers throughout the year to discuss yearly conferences and best practices. Being the Newsletter Editor gave me ideas on how to improve myself as an educator by reading what other art teachers were doing.

Still, nothing I have done as an art educator broke me out of my shell as much as attending the NAEA National Conventions! From attending the conventions, I have learned how to promote my art program, amp up my art show, learn about cultural art that I was not familiar with, and mingle with art educators from all over the world. This year in San Diego, I attended workshops mostly focusing on community and school art events and Asian art. I switched schools this past year and one of my new responsibilities is to put on a yearly art show in conjunction with an academic night at my school. I wanted ideas on how to make my art show different than past art shows and how to make next year's even better than this year's. One idea I'm going to try is having an artist trading card table at my art show this year. The students will not only see an exhibit of their work, but also have a fun hands on activity. Next year, I plan to start the year with some school community art projects in my classroom so that the students will become used to the sense of community art vs. "my art." I can later incorporate some of these projects as an interactive experience at the art show.

I always love to attend the keynote speakers at the NAEA conventions. I mean, nothing is better than Chuck Close in New York City telling us that what we do is so important and life-changing. This year, I saw Laurence Gartel and it pushed me towards getting art apps on the iPads at school when I returned from San Diego.  

Through these conventions, I have truly built my art program and they have been invaluable experiences. If you haven't attended one, I highly recommend it. I have written and received monetary grants through the state arts council to attend each time to help deal with the cost of registration and travel. Some schools even help with the cost of the teacher's travel if they understand that this is the best professional development opportunity for an art educator.  

Now, with my baby on the way, I have to step back a little bit on some of my activities outside of teaching and home life. I feel strongly that I will still attend conventions in the future, keep up with Art Educators of Nevada, and try, from time to time, to show my art. I think it's an important lesson to teach my son to follow his dreams and not let anything stand in the way. My dream is ART.

-Liza Amor, M.Ed.

Thursday 04.10.14

Promoting Your Art Program

In 2011, I attended my first NAEA convention. It was a very eye-opening and gratifying experience. At the time, I was going through the 5-year itch -- you know, when, after five years, you feel like you need a change in your work? This change could be as simple as creating new lesson plans or as major as switching schools or districts. I felt like I was just going through the motions: same school, same schedule, and same way of running my classroom. I was itching for a change and the convention cured that itch.

One of the sessions that made the biggest impact on me focused on how to promote my art program in the school and the community. I had expected my administration to do this for me, but what I realized during the session was that no one else can promote MY program except ME. Nobody knows what I do with my students better than I do, and no one knows how artistically gifted my students are better than I do. 

I left the convention in Seattle that year with a list of ideas on how to spread the word about my school's art program:
1. Start an Artsonia gallery.
2. Display students' artwork in the community.
3. Get students involved in the local art community.

I began engineering my lesson and unit plans that spring and talking to art galleries about exhibiting student work over the summer. 

When school started, I passed out Artsonia permission slips to all of my students urging them to sign up. I told them their parents would be able to see their artwork online and could Facebook, tweet, or email to share with friends and family far away. My students were very enthusiastic about the idea that their projects could be displayed on social media sites or emailed to relatives. The response was overwhelming and I was diligent throughout the school year. Every project we did I put on Artsonia. We ended up have the 6th most involved online gallery in the state of Nevada and I won a Technology Leadership Award from the site. The parents were proudly showing the office staff their childrens' artwork on their smartphones when they dropped their children off in the morning and it really made the art program seem more vibrant and more vital to the parents. I found that contests are another way to get parents to take notice of the art program. When there is a permission slip to sign, it opens up the dialogue about what their child is doing in art. If a student at the school wins, it really makes the entire school feel proud.

In 2012, I began displaying student work in the community. Every year my school did a unit on Mexico's celebration of Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). That summer I spoke with the CEO of City of the World Gallery, Incorporated, to allow my students to create an ofrenda (a traditional altar) and an art display in the gallery's garden for the First Friday Art Walk in November. They gave us the space for free and I went to work enlisting the help of the PTO to assemble our ofrenda for three of Mexico's most famous artists: Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Jose Posadas. The students also created self-portraits with their pets, Calaveras masks, and sugar skulls.

Day of the dead exhibit 003

They wrote letters to Frida Kahlo and created Catrina (the traditional symbol of Day of the Dead) prints. All of these projects were displayed alongside the ofrenda at First Friday. Lo and behold, one of the artists at the gallery worked with the media and was enthusiastic to hear that we were doing this project. She called Telemundo and a local Spanish newspaper to interview my students and myself while we made the sugar skulls! This was great publicity for our school and, of course, my art program! The children were so proud of their work and proud of our school's art program. They would ask me if our school was the best in art, and that showed me what an impact the art program was having on their self-confidence.

Day of the dead exhibit 007

That same year I invited my students to Summerlin Art Festival, a local annual art festival, to participate in their chalk walk competition. This was a great way to bring real art (not posters or PowerPoints) to my students in a city that doesn't have an art museum.  The kids could see the art booths, work on a chalk piece created by my art club, and enjoy the festival with their parents.  I did the same event this year and my school won First Place in the Elementary Division! 

This is what has worked for me in the past couple of years to promote my school's art program.  Next year will be slightly different, I'll be a new mom and I'll be looking for ways to bring the arts community to my school.  There is an arts bus that visits the schools with a gallery on wheels and hands-on activities, I definitely want to check out.  Also, this is my first year having an end of the year art show, I'm working on organizing a pretty basic art show this year, but I plan to add some new  ideas next year like a silent auction. 

-Liza Amor

Monday 04. 7.14

Making a Difference Through Art

I have been showing my artwork actively in Las Vegas for the past three years at City of the World Gallery, Inc., in the downtown 18b arts district and the Annual Summerlin Art Festival. I started doing this at my husband's urging, not thinking I would sell or produce enough work that it would be worth my while. While I'm not ready for early retirement and living off my art, I will say that the past three years and a half years have been a very valuable experience for me. 

We art teachers tend to be loners in the school community, especially at the elementary level where we most likely do not have an art department with other art teachers. We are independent, quietly creating projects in our classroom. By becoming a member of an art gallery, I was able to mingle with other artists and art educators in Las Vegas. I don't feel that since my B.F.A. painting program that I have had such a worthwhile experience as an artist. I've been able to grow through constructive criticism from my peers and gain loads of self-confidence in my work through people actually buying a Liza Amor painting! One of the most valuable experiences I've had through this journey as an artist though, is creating pieces for our community. 

For the past two years I've had the wonderful opportunity to make a difference in the lives of children with autism. In 2013, the Charlie Palmer Group, in an effort to combat our city's worst economic month -- December -- launched the "Celebrate Las Vegas" initiative. They offered special deals to locals for shopping in local boutiques and eating at one of our many famous restaurants. They also created a charity event called "Artists for Autism". "Celebrate Las Vegas" gave away 100 guitars to local artists to turn into masterpieces. We were given a choice of electric or acoustic and free reign to do with our piece as we wished. Being a painter, I immediately thought about how I would paint the guitar, but my classroom practices ended up spilling over into my piece. I used air dry clay and paper clay to create tree limbs, leaves, and a Papier Mache owl. Being that it was fall in Vegas, I was having some homesickness for the glorious foliage I grew up with in Western New York. This project is unlike any other I have ever done and something which gave me a real sense of pride. Not only did it stretch my artistic skills but I was able to make a difference by donating the guitar to be auctioned during a gala at the Lou Ruovo Brain Research Center. 


The following summer "Celebrate Las Vegas" put out another call for artists to design skateboards for a similar auction. This time I approached the project very differently. While I did take about 6 weeks to come up with the idea, as in the the previous year, I actually tried to think of a theme that would both appeal to the skateboarding community and represent my art. As I researched on Pinterest and Google skateboard art, I noticed a lot of Japanimation and Anime on skateboards. I was really attracted to it, but I'm not an animator. I had been wanting to paint a geisha for some time and thought this piece would appeal to a female skateboarder and would also be beautiful enough as a work of art hanging in someone's home. The skateboards were silently auctioned during our First Friday Arts Festival at City of the World Gallery, Inc. They had a skateboard ramp in the middle of the street and food trucks in front of the gallery, making for a really fun night! Several skateboards are still on display and up for sale on There is also a book with the 100 guitars and a t-shirt, sales of which go to our local autism charities. 


This spring I will stop showing regularly due to the arrival of my first baby, but I do plan to participate in future community projects like Artists for Autism. I strongly believe that after 9 months of behavior management, curricular development, and creating projects with my students I need my own artistic outlet from time to time. It grounds me and releases the strain of day to day life. Making art makes me a better art teacher, and I highly recommend keeping up with your artistic practice to every art teacher out there.

-Liza Amor

Tuesday 04. 1.14

The Art Teacher's Guide to Surviving Armageddon (or How my Art Program Survived the Economic Depression)

This blog posting is especially for new art teachers. Those of us who made it through the last few years with our jobs and programs intact and truly advocated for our students as well as ourselves: I applaud you! I started teaching in 2005 with a cross country move from Buffalo, NY, to Las Vegas, NV. When I initially relocated, Las Vegas was a booming city with brand new schools and houses being built three stories high to accommodate the 3,000 new locals every month. I started as an itinerant art teacher at a school that would be my home for the next eight years. It was a brand new building, high poverty population, overcrowded, but very well funded. The next year I became the head art teacher and, in those days, materials were not a problem. Every time my principal had extra money, she asked me if I wanted to order new materials and I always said yes. Somehow I knew I needed to take advantage of these opportunities to purchase supplies because the money might run out later on. Even as I left the school last year for another school in the same district, I left behind materials that I had stored since 2006!

As the next few years passed, materials were plentiful. My principal had a big budget for our school and was always sure to ask if I needed something. Then in 2008, the economy crashed and it hit Las Vegas hard -- in the tourism trade, its primary source of income. With less money coming into the state, school budgets dwindled. I began writing small, local grants and doing art contests in which I could win extra money for my art program so we could keep doing extraordinary art projects with special materials like mask making or Gyotaku fish printing.   

As economic times continued to prove difficult, grants eventually became a major source of funding. I did the MacGrant through McDonald's one year, was very successful with Donor's Choose, and I wrote grants for Crayola. My biggest tip to art teachers when writing grants is to make sure you connect your project ideas to other subject areas such as technology or social studies. Whenever I wrote a grant that was totally about art projects and art history, I didn't win. In contrast, when I wrote that my students would be taking a virtual vacation around the world learning about other cultures through art projects and PowerPoints, my projects were funded.

In 2011, I attended the NAEA National Convention in Seattle, WA, for the first time. Such an eye opener! One session that really changed my whole approach to running an art program was on how to advocate your school's art program. It struck me during that session that if I wanted my art program to be recognized in the school and the community, I was going to have to be the one that makes it happen. The following school year I started a school-wide Artsonia gallery. Artsonia is an online art gallery for children to display their projects with parents' permission. If parents wish to, they can also buy merchandise with their child's art printed on it and portions of the sale go to an account for me to purchase items for my classroom. I was easily able to manage this gallery with my iPhone App which allowed me to photograph, edit, and upload art to the site with a couple of clicks. Parents loved it! They were showing the secretaries at my school their child's art on their smart phones and I was able to buy materials that would normally come from my pocket (a bottle of paint or a ream of paper here and there) with the money I raised from Artsonia. 

Last winter, I decided to give part of the responsibility of advocacy and raising money for our program to my art club. They created Evil Eye magnets using leftover plaster from a mask making project years before and magnet tape the PE teacher donated. We painted them to look like the Evil Eye charms that are popular in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures. My students and I set up a booth at First Friday, a local monthly art festival, and priced them for $2-3, depending on their size. We sold out, and raised enough money to purchase clock parts for our ceramic clocks we made last spring! My students were very proud of themselves and the community seemed to respond to the idea that my students were taking responsibility for their program.

Evil eye9

Lastly, my final piece of advice: be a hoarder! If someone is throwing away toilet paper tubes, baby food jars, newspapers, etc. -- take it! I never say no to someone else's trash, because down the line, it could be my treasure! Look out for warehouses going out of business...I've gotten boxes of watercolors that lasted years this way! Even if times are not tough now, and you have a great budget plan, hoard, hoard, hoard! Someday you, too, might have to face art teacher's armageddon!

-Liza Amor