Sunday, April 18, 2010

Teaching Teachers

Over the past week, the National Art Education Association has held their annual conference in Baltimore, MD, bringing in educators from all areas of the country to discuss work going on in the field from several perspectives. Attendees have spent a week looking at art and art education through the lens of social justice and the implications social justice has on education, human interaction, and how each individual and/or community views their world and what that means. For my part, I have attended sessions talking about how museums can help to shape the way people view their own communities and share their worldview with others as well as the role of museums in the future when it comes to interpreting people and communities outside of their own.

NAEA conferences are unlike any conference I have previously attended as there is a great emphasis on learning while doing. Many of the lecture sessions are interactive and there are opportunities around every corner to create. The exhibit hall is literally jammed with people at every vendor booth making art and talking about it. One of the other great things the convention offers is the chance to interact with artists and other teachers around the country in hands-on workshops.

25 conference attendees had the treat of participating in a sold-out workshop with Dr. Gaither at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum on Friday. The workshop began in front of J2WH (Journey to the White House or the Obama Quilt), with Dr. Gaither talking about the piece and the symbolism included. She went through several of the images on the quilt explaining their significance as well as talking about the traditional quilting symbols involved and the way she puts her own "spin" on them. I have heard her talk about her work many times and to many audiences over the past three years, but I knew this audience was going to be different when they broke out into applause for her and her work after 10 minutes.

After viewing J2WH, the teachers were then taken into a classroom where they had the opportunity to see several of Dr. Gaither's works involving social justice issues. She has quite a few of them - more than I can go into, especially considering I hadn't even seen two of them until that morning. I will see what I can do about getting some information about these quilts on here in the future. The teachers then settled in for some brainstorming considering the definition of social justice and then coming up with ideas for quilt squares based on a particular issue.

After the initial drawings were completed, they were placed on the floor together to have people consider their work as well as the others for ideas and ways they could enhance their squares. After a brief discussion, everyone went to work on their individual squares. The final product resulted in a patchwork of ideas and colors, each completely different and reflecting an individual's own unique perspective but all tied together through the common thread of quilting and this workshop, thereby creating a new temporary community.

The reactions of the participants to Dr. Gaither's work and creating their own pieces was extraordinary and very interesting to see. Alissandra Seelaus, one of Dr. Gaither's students helping with the workshop, noted that it only took 18 minutes before we overheard someone say "I love her." I think that is a new record. Participants came away from the workshop talking about how they were going to incorporate what they had learned into their classrooms with promises of keeping Dr. Gaither informed on their progress. It will be fascinating to see how large Dr. Gaither's quilting community grows as a result of this workshop.

Throughout the conference, Dr. Gaither received multiple requests for presentations, lectures, and articles from people and organizations around the country. If everything works out, she will definitely be living up to the idea that you are busier in retirement than you are in your working life. Given how much she runs (and has me running with her) now, my head is spinning at the prospect. Spinning in a good and excited way, though. The Energizer Bunny has some worthy competition. I will keep a running list of her upcoming speaking engagements and appearances here on the blog as soon as I have them.

I think that is a long enough posting for today. We took several pictures at the workshop this week, but unfortunately for me they are all on Dr. Gaither's camera. I will kidnap the camera at some point soon and post a few of the images to show off everyone's handiwork. ***UPDATE! As you can see, I got the pictures. Enjoy!

Oh, one other note on speaking engagements. Dr. Gaither will be giving a lecture on her work and J2WH at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore on 1 May 2010 at 2:00 p.m. The lecture is free, but you do have to purchase a ticket to get into the museum which is $8.00 per person.

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