As a member of the MFA, I received this email today and think it’s important to share. The letter, written by five Boston-area museum directors outlines why funding from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is so vital to our communities. 

As directors of Boston’s art museums, we serve as stewards of the public trust. So, we are alarmed at reports that the National Endowment for the Arts is under threat of being abolished, along with the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Each of these entities champions art and culture in communities across America.

In Boston, NEA and NEH funding has been instrumental at each of our museums, supporting our extensive programs of public access, teaching and scholarship, conservation, collections, and exhibitions. NEA and NEH grants supported the digitization and cataloging of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s singular collection; acquisition funds for works of art by American artists of color in The Heritage Fund for a Diverse Collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the forthcoming exhibition Animal-Shaped Vessels from the Ancient World: Feasting with Gods, Heroes, and Kings at the Harvard Art Museums; the restoration of American artist Kenneth Noland’s only public art piece at MIT; and transformative art education programs for Boston Public Schools middle and high school students at the ICA.

Federal support has been a critical piece of the puzzle for museums in our shared mission to foster knowledge, create cultural exchange, generate jobs and tourism, educate our youth, ignite the imagination of our audiences, and nurture the creativity of working artists. Across the country—in communities small and large, urban and rural—the NEA and NEH help to guarantee access to the arts and the preservation and presentation of diverse cultural expression. The prestige and visibility of the NEA and NEH connect our entire cultural community, though we are well aware of the outsized influence of federal dollars at our most vulnerable arts institutions across America.

On Wednesday, our colleague Thomas Campbell of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times eloquently outlining how every museum relies not only on financial support but also on the advocacy of the NEA to strengthen communities through the arts.

We share the belief that access to the arts is at the core of a democratic and equitable society. During this moment of heightened national discord, the elimination of the NEA and NEH is not a cut our country can afford.

Art is, at its best, a dialogue. We hope that you’ll participate in the conversation about the importance of federal funding for the arts and join us as stewards of the public good.

Peggy Fogelman, Norma Jean Calderwood Director, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Paul Ha, Director, MIT List Visual Arts Center
Jill Medvedow, Ellen Matilda Poss Director, Institute of Contemporary Art
Martha Tedeschi, Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director, Harvard Art Museums
Matthew Teitelbaum, Ann and Graham Gund Director, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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I recently read this article about what artists can learn from teachers.

I think it is so important for art teachers to maintain a personal practice. It’s important to put yourself in the shoes of your students… and not just by making teacher samples, but by engaging in artistic practices–looking at art and sketching and planing and doing (and re-doing). As a full-time teacher, however, it can be difficult to make time to make my own work. Whenever I meet someone new, and they find out that I’m an art teacher, their second question is usually, “Do you make your own work?” I don’t have a simple answer. It usually depends on the season.

During the school year, especially in the fall, I often spend most of my free time setting up my classroom, planning for the year, experimenting with new lessons and generally getting back into the routine of being at school. During this time, I often spend more time thinking about work that I’d like to make instead of making it. In the winter and spring, I tend to spend less time outdoors and more time indoors, which means more time working on personal projects. Winter in New England is a great time to devote to my own practice. At the end of the school year, I am often busy with our all-school art show, end-of-year events, handing back work, taking inventory, and ordering materials for the following year.

The time ebbs and flows, but the point is that I continue to make time for myself.

One thing I’ve realized over the years is that the less tightly I hold onto one artistic identity (“painter,” “printmaker,” etc.), and the more space I give myself to make–to try new media and techniques–the more I usually enjoy making art. The more permission I give myself to make, the more opportunities I give myself to discover new ways of creating.

This weekend I’ve been snowed in and have spent my time finishing work for an upcoming show I am co-curating at Dorchester Art Project. As February break approaches, I’m excited to devote a full week to my personal practice.

Do you make your own work? How do you balance/schedule your time?

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My students loved making these Recycled Robots. As inspiration for this lesson, I read the book Robo-Sauce, written by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri. I also showed students a slideshow of robots form the 1940s/50s and had them guess what power/job the robot might have.

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Then, each student chose a piece of (square or rectangular) cardboard for the body of their robot and then created and attached arms, legs, and other parts to the body using oak tag. Students added facial features and buttons using bingo chips, buttons, and foam shapes.

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Then students printed their robot two ways. First, by creating a crayon rubbing and second by painting and printing their robot to create a collagraph print. Students REALLY loved using the printing press.
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For this lesson, kindergarteners looked at the work of Jasper Johns for inspiration. We looked at a few of his paintings and I asked students if they could find clues “hiding” in his paintings. Students noticed different letters, numbers and shapes. I asked students why he might want to “hide” these things in his paintings. Some answers included, “Because it’s fun.” and “To make it like a game.”

Next, students filled out a handout of things that are important to them that they might want to hide in their own picture.

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To create their own artwork, students drew the words, numbers, and pictures that they wanted to include with pencil first. Next, students used Sharpies to trace (around) the lines of their letters/numbers and pictures. Using Sharpies is always a big hit!

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After tracing, students colored in their letters, numbers and pictures with oil pastels or crayons.

Last, students painted with watercolors. I love how each student painted–some students picked just a few colors, some students used a wide range of colors, and some students tried unique painting techniques. 🙂

How do you encourage student choice & voice when teaching about the styles and techniques of famous artists?

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As a follow up on my recent post, Managing Materials: Watercolors, I wanted to share one way I use up old watercolors in my room… by making painted paper!

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When watercolors run low, I replace them, but usually there is a little bit of paint left over in the paint pans. So I use them up and create “painted paper” that students can then use when they make collages or ATCs.

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I keep a box of “throw away” drawings… those “mostly-empty-pieces-of-paper-that-a-kid-spends-10-minutes-drawing-on-and-then-insists-that-it’s-“bad”-and-that-they-need-a-new-paper” drawings. The ones that usually end up in the garbage/recycling bin. I am usually able to convince students to erase a “mistake,” turn it into something new, or use the back of the page. But, sometimes the student has already tried alternatives and is getting frustrated because nothing seems to be working. Sometimes I agree with the student–sometimes it’s better to start fresh. So I keep the unfinished papers and put them in a box. I also add my incomplete teacher samples (I teach 5 sections of each grade level, so some times I end up with A LOT of teacher samples) and work that gets left behind at the end of the year (or work that gets left behind when a student moves and forgets to tell me).

Then I color all of the white parts of the page (using crayon, oil pastels, texture plates, and those almost-empty watercolors). After I have a bunch of painted papers, I cut them up into smaller pieces and add them to the “painted paper” box.

It is so gratifying when students reuse those almost-thrown-out pieces of paper and create something complete new with them.

How to you reuse/repurpose materials in the art room? What creative solutions do you have for managing supplies and minimizing costs?

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I love watercolors. They’re simple to use and they allow students to focus on painting without have to spend time mixing colors. (Have you ever had a student spend 15 minutes mixing one color only to have to clean up as soon as she is ready to use it?). I also use tempera and acrylic paints with younger students, but I often wait until a little later in the year when routines are established and they can manage getting, using, sharing, cleaning and returning more supplies.

Because students usually use watercolors without mixing colors (although you can also mix them!), I like to give them a variety of colors. A few years ago, I bought some new sets of Crayola Watercolors, 16 Color Set. The one thing I don’t like about this set is that the pans are not refillable. (The Crayola Watercolors, 16 Brilliant Colors Set is, but it’s almost twice as much and doesn’t have a clear cover, so you can’t see the colors until you open it.) Luckily I had a bunch of extra single-strip plastic watercolor strips. After a using the sets for a year, a lot of colors were empty, so I replaced the non-refillable strips with refillable ones. I also ordered Crayola Watercolor Refills and Prang Watercolor Refills to replace colors as they get used up. (Because certain colors are more popular than others and run out more quickly.)

In order to keep all of my refills organized, I sort them into an old marker box. (I love marker boxes and use them for so many different things.) This way I can see when a color is running low and when I need to order more refills.

Because watercolors are so popular, I try to clean the containers every few months to keep the trays clean and the colors fresh. Here’s what I do:

  1. Take out the plastic strips.
  2. Wash the watercolor containers.
  3. Set the containers in the drying rack to dry.
  4. Replace the plastic strips.
  5. If the strips are really dirty and I’m feeling ambitions, I’ll pop out all of the tiny refill pans, wash the plastic strips and then refill the colors (and replace the ones that have run out).

What are your favorite supplies? What creative solutions do you have for managing supplies and minimizing costs?