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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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.

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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.

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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. 

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

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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.

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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