Nurturing the Artist in the Art Teacher

June 29, 2009

By Wendy Liscow, Program Officer

Fly giver of life and light

Fly: Giver of Life and Light by Judith Harzer

Can you remember your first experience with art and feeling creative?  I can still close my eyes and smell the green thick paint that my kindergarten teacher squirted on a blank shiny white piece of paper and how elated I was when she gave me permission to paint with my fingers.  Such freedom, such ecstasy I felt as I proceeded to get messy and create beautiful art.  As my years in school progressed, those opportunities became rarer and rarer, but I continued to look forward to any art class I could squeeze in, making  the campaign posters for just about anyone who asked, and turning a research project into a shoebox diorama whenever possible.

Sir Ken Robinson has a lot to say about the role of schools in the development of creativity and imagination in his new book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything.  He provides ample evidence on how schools are not designed to nurture creativity, the very element we all need to be successful in life.  You can also get a terrific taste of his work via one of his speeches.

There are multiple entry points to instilling a passion to be creative into the classroom.  The Dodge Foundation feels one of the best ways to do this is to have inspired art teachers – teachers who are active artists outside of the classroom.  Since 1993, the Dodge Visual Artist/Educator Fellowship program has offered $5,000 grants to assist art teachers in pursing their art through a summer experience or project of their choice. We then offer $2,000 follow-up grants to help the teachers implement cross-curricular projects in their schools that build upon the summer fellowships.

Each year, the 100 artist/educator alumni are invited to museum,  gallery and studio tours in the tri-state area.  Art teachers, who typically work in isolation, now have a statewide network and community of fellow art teachers to inspire each other.  They even have started to exhibit together.

This past Saturday I got to meet the ten 2009 Dodge Foundation Visual Artist/Educator Fellows and 30 alumni at a spectacular welcoming event held at the Newark Museum.  After a lovely brunch and a tour of the wonderful new exhibit Unbounded: New Art for a New Century, led by senior curator Ulysses Dietz, the 2009 Fellows presented their plans for the summer and introduced us to their art.   Over the summer and into the fall, Elaine Rastocky, who coordinates the entire program for Dodge, will have an opportunity to keep you abreast of all the teachers’ projects, so I will just give you a taste below:


Catcher by Judith Harzer

Judith Harzer teaches 700 kindergartners at Brick Community Primary Learning Center.  Her painting at the top of this blog post, Fly: Giver of Life and Light, reveals her belief that “children’s creativity and enthusiasm are inspiring and infectious” and that working with these young uninhibited artists breathes life into her own creative spirit.  Judith plans to attend the School of Visual Arts summer residency program to intensely engage and experiment with new media and then bring a community image exchange program back to her school.

Rebirth By Bernadette Calnon-Buote

Rebirth Mandala by Bernadette Calnon-Buote

Bernadette Calnon-Buote, from Cherry Hill East High School, will be traveling to Japan to research mandalas so she can return to her school and create an environmentally “green” installation centered on an ecology mandala which will help to create an environment of quiet introspection.  Her students will participate in creating a similar mandala/space at the school.

Bottles by Clint Hunter

Bottles by Clint Hunter

Clint Hunter from Atlantic City High School will be building a traditional wood burning Japanese kiln so he can both develop his own passion for using local materials (he digs up his own clay) and master the firing process to harness the natural beauty of the kiln’s elements.  His students will help construct a Japanese Zen stone garden on the school campus.

Watching the presentations of these ten talented artists and hearing the countless stories of the alumni, I was reminded of all the really passionate educators who helped me discover my own passion to create and taught me how to fly, love and live.  My gratitude is immense, not just when I am doing something obviously creative like directing a play, but also when I am planting my garden, solving a problem, combining spices for a meal, or even faced with the task of writing a blog entry.

Tell us about a teacher that changed your life!