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Keeping Arts Alive in Schools with the NAEA

TeachHUB Interview

width=266Dr. Deborah Reeve is putting a new spin on modernism.

This artist and National Arts Education Association president is bringing art education into the 21st century. We had the opportunity to speak with her about the organization's bold new approach to reviving the role of art in schools.

The NAEA touts the value of arts education in the future of students. In addition to advocating for art education, how are you able to integrate visual arts into your career?

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I am a practicing artist. As a practicing artist, I create my own art and am a member of a cooperative gallery in the DC area, so I express myself in my own art.

I also bring the artistic process to my leadership within the non-profit world. In my previous position, I brought that creative thinking process to my leadership to bring about change and transformation. 

Thinking creativity is taking what you know and putting it together in new and different ways to create new and different meanings. Whether you’re applying creativity to leadership in an organization or you’re actually creating a personal piece of art, there is a unifying element: how you see the world and how you are in the world. 

For me, practicing my own art is incredibly important as well because it is both the personal and the professional.


What do you miss about the classroom?

For me, whether you’re the teacher in the classroom who is up close and personal or you’re visiting a classroom or a school, it’s always about the magic that happens between teachers and students. We’re all learners and we’re all teachers. You may be the teacher in the classroom, but I think you’re learning just as much as your students. That’s very exciting. 


What you’re really talking about is developing human potential through any and all of those interactions. That’s what I think is energizing. It’s exciting. It lights your passion. 


If you talk to teachers, really great teachers, that’s why they are in the classroom. They’re called to service. That’s what brings purpose and meaning to their lives.

Thanks to technology, video and visual communications are becoming increasingly integrated into all levels of society, including business, the classroom, etc. How has this shift affected the NAEA approach?

It’s bringing the NAEA, whose mission is to promote and advance art education, and its longstanding, rich, traditional community and adapting it to a 21st century environment that is constantly shifting and changing with emerging technologies and their impact on what has traditionally been visual arts. 


How do you bring all of that together in a way that you leverage that to benefit our next generation of artists, designers and those who are responsible for nurturing that whole next generation? How do you impact their teaching and their leadership to be able to maximize the development of human potential?


The NAEA is moving from a very traditional, not-for-profit model to a 21st century entrepreneurial organization. That’s really what’s required if you’re going to survive and thrive in this world. 


We are creating brand new IT infrastructure, designing and launching a brand new Web 2.0 virtual community of practice. We are reviewing all of our programs, projects and governance structure. We are teasing out our rich history and core values to then examine processes and systems of structures that need to be brought up to speed in terms of 21st century life.


How can art survive in a school system that increasingly favors core subjects and test-driven curriculum?

It’s interesting because there is now a worldwide conversation taking place around 21st century skills for students – what students need to know and be able to do. The emphasis is around creativity and innovation.


Principals, teachers, parents, school board members, superintendents, writers, and taxpayers are beginning to say: Where does this happen in our schools? Where is creativity nurtured and fostered? Where are there opportunities for students to be imaginative and innovative? 


I think a large part of our role as visual arts educators is to really deepen the awareness and understanding among those outside of the arts community of the value in developing human potential and developing the whole child. 


Art is the first language for all human beings. It’s common to all human beings. Some experts are saying that we as a species are moving from spoken and written text to this universal language of images. A lot of that is being brought about through technology, the icons and images that are universal. Think about your cell phones, your iPods and all of those things. It’s an interesting evolution of the species.


Dan Pink’s book A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers will Rule the Future talks about how we’re moving from an information and knowledge age to a conceptual age as a species. Of course, concepts are all about images and pictures.


Reading fluency has always been a gateway to learning other content areas. Do you see art fluency the same way?  

As a matter of fact, there are studies that show how children’s developmental stages of creativity are a primer for their readiness for reading and writing. Children show where they are at expressing themselves through their mark making.


That’s why it’s very important for young children to not be given coloring books or mimeographed sheets, but to give them lots of blank paper and opportunities to make their own lines and their own marks.


What inhibits children is where there is only one right response, like when children are given color-by-number sheets or anything with step-by-step directions. Those are the kind of things that paralyze and take away opportunities for children to think creatively and be imaginative. I think a lot of teachers are not aware of that. Certainly they don’t do it intentionally, but they are often impeding creativity through their teaching without realizing it.


How can teachers in every subject integrate arts into the classroom?

I think there are a couple of ways:

1. Art is extremely personal, first and foremost. What sets us apart, as human beings, from all other species, is that innate desire or urge to create. That plays out in many ways beyond creating art. It’s creative thinking in every way. That whole idea of creativity and expressing yourself is highly personal.


A teacher should think back in terms of their own experiences. You should think about who, in their life and school, are the people that you think of as creative and what do they do. This will help you to get in touch with your own creativity.


2. Connect with the art teacher in your school and think of your art specialist/teacher as a real resource to not only value what that art teacher teaches your student, but also how that art teacher can work with you to reinforce learning for students. 


Many of our dynamic art teachers are looking not only at their learning objectives for art, but also learning objectives for other teacher’s content areas. They are making that connection between the two objectives. That’s what we know as we continue to discover more and more about how students learn. It’s how those connections are where achievement takes place.

How can teacher outside of the arts get involved with the NAEA?

They can visit our new website at We also have an associate membership for anyone not directly working in visual arts but who has an interest in visual arts education. It gives you access to digital electronic galleries of students art and lesson plans and electronic portfolio and all sorts of things.

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