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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May 07, 2019

Developing Your Own Unique Art Program

By Frank Juarez

IMG_8130Logo designed by Sally Carson

This topic is dear to my heart. It is what guides our art program at Sheboygan North High School to be the best possible art program for our students. Our arts programming makes us unique compared to other local art programs. We offer innovative lessons for 9-12 grade focused on contemporary artists living and working in the Midwest, an artist lecture series via Skype, a National Art Honor Society chapter, and an artist-in-residence program.

When I started teaching secondary art in the Sheboygan Area School District 18 years ago, I was in survival mode like many beginning art teachers. I had my first art room at Riverview Alterative Programs (today it is called Central High), my first group of aspiring artists, and my first real life experience of explaining to others why art is important in the lives of our youth.

I remember after my first year I sat down and started to reflect on the year’s experiences, successes, and failures. I asked myself, “If was to do this year differently, what would I change and keep”? The one thing that was on my mind was people’s misconceptions about art and art education. How can I address this in an educational way?

After five years of teaching at-risk students I transferred to Sheboygan North High School. I discovered that it does not matter where you teach, Art was always vulnerable topic. So, I made a promise to myself that when I became art department chair, there would be things I would like to change such as transforming our vulnerability into a pillar of strength, to become an integral part of our school’s culture, to make my art room a place where my students could express themselves, believe in their ideas, and develop self-confidence.

One of the best approaches that I see as life-changing is integrating advocacy with the business side of art education. If you take a close look at how a business operates, you will notice that we experience similar objectives in art education. For example, who is our audience? What makes us stand out compared to another art program? In what way can we attract new students?  How can we retain current students? What successes have our alumni accomplished?

I learned early in my career that it is important to promote your art program. If you do not, then who will? How this looks like will vary from art teacher to art teacher. I have been fortunate to have gained some experiences in seeing how advocacy and promotion looks like from an arts organization and gallery’s perspective. But, what does it look like for art education? For my own art room?. For starters, advocacy is different than promoting. Advocacy is a deeper understanding on how art education can impact, enrich, and empower the well-being of a child; intellectually, emotionally, physically and mentally. Promoting is the mode of delivery for such advocacy related item. I understand as art educators we want to teach and not have to think about the business side. I truly believe one cannot exist without the other.

We continue to push our art program forward, embrace our (art) community, and collaborate more than ever.

IMG_8667Here is my go-to-list for how we continue to move our art program forward. To this day, they continue to challenge us on how we think about our future.

Action: a strategy or strategies used to communicate with others. Which strategies do you use in your teaching practice to promote yourself, your students’ work, and your program?

Establish a Presence: Content is king. What do you do once you have your content ready for sharing.

Carry Forward: In what ways do you reach your audience? Who is your audience? What content do you share? Is it repetitive information? What can you do to make your information ‘fresh’.

Nurture Relationships: How often do you communicate with your audience? What exactly do you communicate? Do you cater your audience with specific content? Besides the use of technology what else do you utilize?

Maintain Visibility: What differentiates your art program from another one? How do you keep your audience informed? In what ways do you engage your audience? How often do you communicate? What time of day?

Evaluation: When it is all said and done what do you do to put closure to an exhibit? Event? Art unit?

Creating a pathway to success has opened doors to other professional opportunities for us and our students. It has strengthened our voice as an integral part of Sheboygan North High School and community. It has taken over a decade to reach this point in our art program’s success. Patience, persistence, and innovative thinking are key.

What do you do to promote your art program? Feel free to send me an email at



IMG_7866Kaitlyn Becker, National Art Honor Society President reading at MEAD Library’s Storytime.

IMG_7649Sheboygan Area School District High School Art Exhibition at EBBO ArtWorks in Sheboygan.

IMG_7837Designing a coloring book for EXPO at Sheboygan North High School.

IMG_7995Craig Grabhorn, artist-in-residence, at Sheboygan North High School.

APC_0101Art students working with staff from the John Michael Kohler Arts Center on an upcoming exhibition for the EX AiR Program.

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