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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Thursday 12.31.20

The Power of Story: A New Teacher Workshop Series Created by Raven Cook

By Sally Ball Picture1

In 2018, the museum had the honor of creating an African American Teacher Professional Development with the late professor from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, Dr. Alphonso Grant. As we sat planning on training teachers to use art as an entry point into the discussion on the African American experience, Dr. Grant began to connect paintings to African American literature. When asked why he made these connections, Dr. Grant eloquently summarized his thoughts on the subject by saying, "If you want to understand Black History and culture, you have to read Black literature."

Crystal Bridges has begun a teacher workshop series called the Power of Story to connect great works of art by Black artists with great works of literature by Black writers. In the paragraph below, program creator and facilitator, Raven Cook, explains the passion behind the development of her program.

 Dr. Grant passed away in December 2020, but his words will forever guide my practice as a museum educator. This program continues in Dr. Grant's thoughts, reflecting on understanding the Black experience through literature. The beauty of exploring the rich collection of Crystal Bridges and connecting visual art with historical figures and writings provides teachers with a new entry point into essential conversations around identity, justice, equity, and hope. The program occurs once a month and will reconvene in February 2021. The goal is to use the program to introduce African American History. Using artworks exploring themes and topics such as double consciousness, abolition, women's rights, Black Power, Afro-Futurism, and liberation, paired with essays and writings from Black authors we explore African American History in a new, more accessible way. The program's goals include creating space for teachers to ask and understand difficult topics. The museum program also strives to help teachers find their power to be an agent of change for their students. The program provides activities for teachers to continue the work in their classroom. In these times of demanding radical change, we seek to create a space for change and empowerment.

To register for upcoming teacher workshops visit our website, or for more information on offerings for teachers sign up for our Educator eNewsletter.


Monday 12.28.20

Losing Yourself in Art

By Sally Ball

Picture1 Courtesy of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art


“Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.”

                                                                               -Twyla Tharp

I first came across this quote in a social media post and feel like it sums up beautifully the power that art can have in people’s lives. Throughout the pandemic I have used art as a place of connection, belonging, and even escape, in a time when it is easy to feel lonely, isolated, and overwhelmed.

This process began in April of this year to maintain the sense of community in my team of museum educators when we began working remotely. Each week I facilitated close looking dialogues with works of art and ended the sessions with a prompt for team members to respond to and share with each other. It was a great way to feel connected and keep morale up while we were away from the museum and the students we usually worked with. I soon added a similar session once a week for teachers in the community who are a part of our Teacher Advisory Committee. For this group, art making prompts were given at the end of a session and responses shared at the beginning of the following week’s session. This group has become its own community and is very dear to me. Months later we still meet almost every Thursday night. Sometimes we look at art, and sometimes it is just a safe space where teachers can talk about their day and the challenges they are facing.

While the museum was closed due to COVID-19 we also provided opportunities for staff to come together and have facilitated conversations about works of art. Below I share some of my favorite prompts from 2020 as well as a link to  specific works of art from the  eMuseum, an online resource for images and information regarding works of art in the Crystal Bridges permanent collection.

My Favorite Prompts from 2020


Emotion Scavenger Hunt

Using the eMuseum as a resource, look for works of art to represent the following emotions or feelings:

Happiness, loneliness, uncomfortable, anxiety, anger, awe, anticipation, acceptance, fear, relief, disappointment, peace, hope, love.

Thinking about the works of art you selected, Answer the following question about each one: What is it about the chosen work of art that evokes that emotion for you?

Alma Thomas created this painting by arranging the color into mosaic-like patterns, imagining what one of her favorite gardens might look like from the new vantage point of space Imagine you can step into this painting. How do you feel in this place? Where do you imagine you are?

Comfort Food Still Life

What has been your go to COVID-19 comfort food? Is it a usual comfort food or a special occasion comfort food? How would you compose a still life featuring your comfort food? What items would you include to get across why this food is special to you? Create an actual work of art that represents your comfort food using the art medium of your choice.

Looking Beyond the Obvious: Finding Connection

Choose two works of art that appear at first glance to you be completely dissimilar. Spend some time looking more closely at both works of art together. Find three similarities between the two works of art. Try using a graphic organizer like a Venn diagram and setting the images side by side to help with this process. Next, think of someone you know who you think is completely dissimilar from yourself. As you are thinking, try to find three things you have in common with this other person. You might be surprised to discover how many things you have in common once you start looking for similarities.

Special Spots

What is your favorite place to be? Use verbal description to help us “see” this place. What makes this place special to you? Create a sketch of the elements that make your place special.

Peto Prompt- What are your “old companions?”

Think about the things in your life that are important to you. You could choose objects, people, ideas…literally anything. If you were to create a shelf with items that tell us a little something about you, what five items would you place on your shelf? If you chose people or ideas, how would you represent them symbolically on your shelf?

If you are interested in more prompts like these please send an email to [email protected].

- SB

Tuesday 12.22.20

Minding My Own Business: The Importance of Self-Care

By Sally Ball

One of the best things to come out of 2020, in my opinion, is the prioritization and focus on self-care. My own journey with mindfulness and self-care began in 2019 when I attended the NAEA School for Art Leaders (SAL) at Crystal Bridges. I had dabbled in meditation previously, but without any real success. I did not have a good concept of the idea of work/life balance, and this is still an area I am working on. A variety of mindfulness activities were presented as part of the SAL sessions each day and these really launched my dedicated interest in this field of study. Especially impactful for me was the use of the book, Mindfulness and the Art of Drawing: A Creative Path to Awareness by Wendy Ann Greenhalgh. This book is full of wonderful drawing exercises, some of which, such as Mindful Doodling, I have used to center my team of museum educators prior to gallery teaching training sessions.

As part of their response to the pandemic, and its impact on the staff at Crystal Bridges, museum leadership made available for several months the daily Mind-Body Live series from the Whole Health Institute. I attended these short sessions as my schedule would allow and learned some activities that have become part of a regular mindfulness and meditation practice for me. Each video in the series, led by the brilliant physicians at the Whole Health Institute, begins with a thematic teaching moment which transitions into a mindfulness routine. Some of my favorites are the neck stretches and eye calisthenics, facilitated by Dr. Henri Roca, both of which help to alleviate some of the stress and discomfort that are the result of working in a virtual environment, and the mini mental vacation, facilitated by Dr. Tracy Gaudet.

In addition to the Mind-Body Live series, the Whole Health Institute has a microsite  Whole Health 4 You, which is a free video resource for children, parents, and educators looking to focus on health and well-being. This is a resource that Crystal Bridges is utilizing as our team of educators creates a series of My Museum Classroom Kits for 6th-8th grade students which are centered on social and emotional learning standards.

My initial interest in working with the Whole Health Institute was in relation to the work I do with students in the juvenile justice system. For those programs I have followed a format of close looking and open dialogue with works of art followed by self-expression in various art media. Moving forward, I want to add a component of mindfulness and self-care into these monthly sessions. Crystal Bridges is also developing, in 2021, a series of professional development sessions for teachers centered around Empathy and Wellness.

For more information on School Programs at Crystal Bridges, email [email protected] or sign up for our Educator eNewsletter.


Monday 12.14.20

Words Along the Way: Exploring the Impact of Words

By Sally Ball

As an artist I rely on self-expression to make sense of the world as I experience it. I am generally an inspired individual who rarely lacks creative output. Then 2020 happened. As one show after another delayed or cancelled, I found myself wondering, “What is the point of creating anything?” I found that point in a project that I call “Words along the Way”.

In late December 2019, I began this project, focused on the power of words, as the result of a conversation I had with a student in one of the Juvenile Justice programs I facilitate as part of my work with Crystal Bridges. In that conversation I did not share some advice that I later wished I had.


The next day I started stamping messages as fast as I could.

In early 2020, I introduced the project in the weekly class I facilitated as part of a diversion program for young men with court involvement. In my sessions I worked with these young men on developing basic metal working skills, something that requires perseverance and patience. For one of the classes I had the students think about a time they felt bad and what words would have made them feel better. From there the prompt was simple: Stamp the words you identified on a piece of metal and either give them to someone important to you or leave them for someone to find.


For this project I gave my students new sheets of metal. After class I created my stamped messages from their scraps and mistakes. The marks that the young men made as they were learning to work with metal, were important for me to incorporate, and add beauty to the finished stampings.

I have turned down offers from people to buy the stampings, preferring instead to leave the pieces anonymously on trails when I hike. I now ask friends who hike to take pieces with them so that the messages can reach a broader audience.

During two phases of the project, I have left more than just the words at the different locations. The first was in April when I found hammering to be a wonderful way to release the emotions I was feeling at the time.


The second has been in the last week and involves leaving simple bracelets and pendants with either the words “for you” or “you are beautiful”.


Photography is an important part of the process and my only record, since I never know who finds the pieces. I hope that as a result of this project I have impacted lives positively and that I have been able to bring some light during a time that has had moments of darkness.

The images from this project can be seen on Instagram #choosewordsusewords.


Monday 12. 7.20

When the Talking Gets Tough: My Favorite Strategies for Facilitating Difficult Conversations

By Sally Ball

Picture1Courtesy of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

As a society, we can be challenged in our ability to speak to one another about subjects for which there are deeply held, complex, and varying perspectives. We now face the additional challenges of social isolation and communicating via Zoom and other virtual platforms where it can be harder to read social cues and body language.

As a leader, I have struggled with communication in general and avoiding/mediating conflict, so in 2019, when I attended the NAEA School for Art Leaders, I wanted to make this a focal point for my leadership growth. I am not claiming to be an expert in facilitating difficult conversations, but I would like to share some tools I have found to be helpful on my journey to becoming a better communicator.

Ladder of Inference

This is by far one of my favorite leadership tools that I have acquired. Many who teach, whether in museums or classrooms, are familiar with VTS (Visual Thinking Strategies) founded by Abigail Housen and Philip Yenawine. The Ladder of Inference also makes thinking visible. This tool is all about bringing to light how people get from point A (pool of information) to Point B (conclusions). It takes practice to incorporate this strategy into your toolbox, but once you do it is a very versatile tool. I have used it both personally and professionally to help me understand another’s perspective.

Daily Question Process

What I love about Marshall Goldsmith’s Daily Question Process, is that each of the questions, which are determined by the individual forming the list, begins with the same stem, “Did I do my best to…” so personal accountability is built in to the process. Notice, too, that the questions ask if one has done their best, not if one has succeeded, which allows for the fact that people are not infallible, and since the questions are daily, if you didn’t get it right today, there’s always tomorrow. To further my work in developing my communication skills for having difficult conversations as a leader, I ask myself daily, “Did I do my best to not avoid conversations that make me uncomfortable?” and, “Did I do my best to not avoid things I don’t want to do?” Knowing that I have to answer these questions each day motivates me and keeps me from putting off dealing with the things I find challenging.

“I” Messages

The last strategy I want to share is the three part "I" Message. It takes some practice to get in the habit of framing your feedback to reflect a specific behavior, consequence of the behavior, and how it made you feel, but once your class or team has the hang of it, “I” messages provide a shared language for giving any type of feedback.

Facilitating difficult conversations takes courage, practice, and some strategies you can count on. I hope these will prove helpful to you on your own leadership journey.

- SB

Tuesday 12. 1.20

Necessity is the Mother of Invention: Adapting Crystal Bridges’ Educational Programming in the Time of COVID-19.

By Sally Ball, Interim Head of School Programs

2020 has been the fastest and slowest year of my life, a year filled with duality. Education was not immune to this phenomenon. For me, this has been the most difficult year I have ever experienced as an educator, and it has also been the one that has sparked the most creativity and innovation.

At Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art we offered mostly in-person programming prior to the pandemic. When quarantine forced us to discontinue this model, we were left wondering: What does museum education look like when you cannot be in a museum or have an in-person audience?

A Community Social Connecting Campaign: During the spring and summer, the Education department answered this question with a variety of new offerings. The museum’s Community Engagement team identified key areas of community support, including a social connecting campaign to foster connection with vulnerable and isolated groups. As part of this campaign, we commissioned nine local artists to create original artworks around the word “TOGETHER,” which were then turned into postcards that the community colored in and murals that traveled to hospitals and care facilities in Northwest Arkansas.

Picture1Courtesy of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Photo by Ironside Photography.

Picture2Courtesy of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Photo by Ironside Photography.

Educational Videos for Schools: The School Programs team developed a YouTube video series called Bridging the Gap to support teachers in their new virtual classrooms. These short, digital art engagements, created using Screencastify for voiceovers, were designed to connect teachers and students with works of art at Crystal Bridges.  

Art Kits for Children: The Public Programs team created My Museum Kits, which include close-looking videos, artmaking videos, and art supplies for kids.

Picture3Courtesy of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Photo by Ironside Photography.

Going Forward: The experiments that began as a response to the pandemic have fostered new ways of teaching at Crystal Bridges. For example, the Bridging the Gap videos led to the genesis of free live virtual school tours. These tours capitalize on the advantages of using technology while still delivering our student-centered, dialogue-based explorations of art, and are available to any classroom, anywhere. The My Museum Kits were so well received that we now create kits for our different audiences, including classrooms, families, and adults with dementia,  and plan to continue them well into the future.

The learning curve has been steep, the pandemic stressful, and the reimagining of our educational practice has been challenging, but for me, it has also been the most exciting and invigorating experience of my educational career.

To learn more about School Programs offerings at Crystal Bridges, sign up for our Educator eNewsletter.