Monday, December 17, 2012

What the Arts Can Do in the Wake of Tragedy

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Memorial at Penn State University for the Sandy Hook Shootings. via pennstatealive on Flickr
We in the arts...have the great and good gift of dealing with beauty, with joy and hope...We do this in a world that is sometimes unimaginably ugly.   What can we now do?  Nothing more than to keep doing what we do; to continue to be part of what makes life good, what makes it worthwhile, what gives hope and joy and brings smiles to faces.

I highly recommend The Further Erosion of American Innocence from Barry's Blog  His beautiful and thoughtful post on what the arts can do in the wake of a tragedy like the shooting at Sandy Hook was moving and even comforting.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Art Advocado Arts Roundup: The Arts Go Gangnam Style

MoMA Staff go Gangnam Style in support of Chinese activist artist Ai Weiwei.
Via MoMA's Facebook page

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Before your tryptophan-induced food coma sets in here are a few arts and advocacy links, from kids' artistic interpretations of the news to art world Gangnam Style.

  • I recently found out about Kids Draw the News and thought you might interested in this fun project coordinated by the New York Times' City Room blog. Every so often City Room will put out a call for drawings of a specific current event. Past topics have included Hurricane Sandy, traffic school for cyclists, and my personal favorite, Mitik the baby walrus (who recently arrived in my home borough of Brooklyn). The feature is open to kids under 12 and you don't have to be from the New York area to submit. It's fascinating see how kids interpret each news story - it demonstrates how art develops critical thinking  and analytical skills. And many of the drawings are an absolute hoot.

  • This coming April cellist Yo-Yo Ma will give the Nancy Hanks Lecture at Arts Advocacy Day in Washington, DC. The Hanks lecture is the keynote of Arts Advocacy Day; past speakers include Alec Baldwin, Wynton Marsalis, and Arthur Schlesinger. (Arts Advocacy Day is April 8-9, 2013 - save the date!)

Happy Turkey Day!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Post-Hurricane Sandy NYC Arts Update

Hurricane Sandy Flooding East Village 2012 2
The East Village, NYC flooded during Hurricane Sandy, shortly before the power went out in downtown Manhattan for several days. Photo by David Shankbone, via Flickr.
I hope any readers on the East Coast made it through Hurricane Sandy safely. Despite my location in New York City I was largely unaffected. Other New Yorkers were not so lucky,  especially in Staten Island, the Rockaways in Queens, South Brooklyn, and Lower Manhattan. Many galleries in West Chelsea, including the non-profit Printed Matter (which focuses on artist's publications) were very hard hit and are still cleaning up now, over two weeks after the storm. Artists with studios in coastal or low-lying areas also suffered damage. Beyond the arts community, thousands in the city and throughout the region are still without power and some don't know when it is coming back. Though my own day-to-day has returned to normal the picture is much more grim for many.

But despite this devastation I am happy to report that the arts community is pitching in to help those in need. The Delaware Art Museum and the Newark Museum both offered free admission in the days immediately following the storm. Newark set up free wifi and charging stations for visitors without power. And Klaus Biesenbach, director of MoMA PS1 (a fabulous contemporary art institution in a former public school building in Queens, sort of a "little sister" to MoMA) has been a tireless advocate for the Rockaways, mobilizing his staff and others to volunteer in cleaning up the flooded that is still without power. I recommend you follow his Twitter feed if you are interested in keeping up with what is going on out there and, if you are in the tri-state area, how you can help.

If you are interested in further information on how Hurricane Sandy has impacted the arts in the tri-state area, I encourage you to follow's coverage, which has been tireless and comprehensive. It includes updates from museums, galleries, art spaces, and individual artists from during the storm as well as the aftermath and how individuals and organizations are helping cleanup and relief efforts. **UPDATE: This ARTnews piece also has great information including how Klaus Biesenbach has helped out in the Rockaways and information on a Queens Museum of Art fundraiser.

If you want to help the arts community, I suggest donating to Printed Matter, Smack Mellon, or the South Street Seaport Museum, which are all non-profit organizations that were hard hit by the storm. And if you want to help beyond the arts community, I suggest a purchase from Occupy Sandy's "wedding" registry, a wish list of needed items for relief efforts throughout the city. (No matter what your thoughts are on the Occupy movement, Occupy Sandy has been doing incredible on the ground work to help New Yorkers affected by the storm - like getting nurses into high-rises without power to make sure elderly and incapacitated residents receive medical treatment.)

A final thought - more than ever, the aftermath and cleanup from Sandy has driven home for me the importance of creativity and problem solving skills. In the past I have talked about those skills in the workplace, but what about for disaster relief? Some of the most effective relief efforts here in New York have come not from the usual suspects but from creative upstarts like Occupy Sandy and the New York City Food Truck Association, who, in a stroke of genius, have been serving food to hungry and powerless areas of the city. Times like this are not just when we need art's power to soothe but also creativity's power to help rebuild.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

This is Your Brain on Art: Art & Science Collaborations

"Neon Brain X-rays"
Neon Brain X-Rays by Gyumin Hwang, 6th grade, College Station, TX. via Flickr

In the past I've written about the synthesis of science and art and how the two seemingly separate fields can inform each other, with incredible results. Whether we're adding an A for Art to the STEM subjects (that makes STEAM!) or looking at the artwork of Tauba Auerbach or Mel Chin, science and the arts make wonderful allies. Read on to learn about two collaborations capitalizing on this sometimes-symbiotic relationship between science and art. Both projects have some very exciting potential for arts advocacy, and for the world beyond, too.

Museum Receives Funding to Study Arts & Early Brain Development
Baltimore's Walters Art Museum was awarded a substantial planning grant to create museum programs that will research art's impact on cognitive development in preschool students. The Walters is partnering with the Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University on the program, which will be called "Start with Art." The project received $50,000 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (a federal agency that supports, you guessed it, museums and libraries). IMLS awarded these funds through a grant program that utilizes museums and libraries to address school readiness. (A full list of grantees is at the IMLS website - worth noting that the Walters was the only visual art program.) I'm excited to see the research that comes out of this program, as it could be a boon to arts advocates, as well as the lucky kids who participate. More info on this program is at the Walters' website.

An Art & Science Museum Grows in Brooklyn?
Brooklyn, NY is home to thousands of artists, writers, and intellectuals (as well as me!). Now, a group in the neighborhood of Greenpoint is now hoping to capitalize on this wealth of talent to create a museum dedicated to science and art. The Brooklyn Science and Arts Museum's proposal describes a symbiotic approach to learning art and science. "The approach is for people to learn more about science with the application of art and to learn more about art through the application of science," says Susan Anderson, the board president of Town Square, the Brooklyn nonprofit proposing the Science and Arts Museum. As of now the museum is only a proposal but Anderson says she is eager to fundraise and find space for the museum. Read more on the proposal here.

Programming Note
The bad news: my day job (which I love) has made it challenging for me to post here as much as I want (which I hate). The good news: to remedy this problem I'll be posting shorter pieces that I think will be interesting, useful, or just fun for arts ed advocates and art teachers. I'm looking forward to spending more time here again and I hope you like the new format!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Art Advocado's Second Annual Back-to-School Art Teacher News Roundup!

When shopping at your farmer's market this summer, did you come across any advocatoes?
Jennifer of Oklahomans for the Arts did, and she submitted this picture as proof.
Thanks for reading and submitting, Jennifer!

Hello advocados (advocatoes?)! I'm back from my summer sabbatical from the blog. I hope you got exactly what you wanted out of your summer vacations, whether that was relaxation or productivity (or a combination of both). It can be both exciting and challenging to get back into the swing of things after the summer, whether you're a teacher who was off for the summer or an office denizen (like me) who just gets into the summer state of mind between Memorial Day and Labor Day. So let's kick of fall with some art teacher inspiration. Read on for my second-annual Back-to-School Art Teacher News Roundup (here's a link to the first one).

  • With so much negative rhetoric floating around these days surrounding teachers, sometimes you might feel like you "can't get no respect" (apologies to Rodney Dangerfield). So it's thrilling to hear that a gallery in Vero Beach, FL is honoring the hard work of their art teachers. This August, watercolors by Scott Walker, art teacher Vero Beach High School, are on view at Lighthouse Art and Framing. "We wanted to honor art teachers for all that they do and felt like they needed to have an outlet, just like their students, but for their own artwork," said Tammy Torres of Lighthouse, who organized the show; she also said she hopes to show art by local art teachers every August. Hear hear to that!

As you know, I'm always on the hunt for inspiring and fun stories of art teachers around the country and beyond. I hope these pieces will give you some fuel going into the academic year (whether you're in school or not!) Remember you can always submit stories about an art teacher you know (even if it's yourself!) to be included here - leave a comment, email me at alisondwade (at) gmail (dot) com, or tweet at @DavisPub.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Art Education and National Security: A Missing Link?

Tribute in Light 2011
Tribute in Light 2011. Image via flickr user Wasabi Bob

Hello art advocates! If you follow art policy news you've probably heard that there has been a lot of new arts education research lately, some of which could spell great news for arts advocates. I'll have more to say on that research later. But right now I'd like to draw your attention to a nugget I found in a report only tangentially related to arts ed. The report is on a fascinating subject - how shortcomings in our education system can have implications for our national security. So where does arts education fit in? Read on to find out.

A"failure of imagination"
     The report in question is the Council on Foreign Relations' Independent Task Force Report No. 68: U.S. Education Reform and National Security. (The Council on Foreign Relations is a nonpartisan membership organization and think tank that works to help members and the public "better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries.") It's a fascinating report for anyone with an interest in our education system, no matter what your politics are. The research examines everything from graduation rates to civics education. The data is then interpreted through the lens of national security - in terms of workforce preparedness, both for employees of government agencies as well as businesses and nonprofits.
     So how does this relate to the arts? Check out this quote, from the report's Recommendations portion:
"The 9/11 Commission highlighted four U.S. shortcomings that opened the door to the terrorist attacks. One of these was a failure of imagination on the part of U.S. security agencies.  In 2001, the failure to spot and connect the dots was catastrophic for the United States. The Task Force believes that all young people—those who aim to work in national security and those who aim to work in corporations or not-for-profit organizations—must develop their imaginations from an early age...The Task Force members believe that to retain this important competitive edge, lessons in creativity— whether in the arts or in creative analysis or imaginative problem solving, must begin in early elementary school." (page 47)

In other words, U.S. security agencies were so lacking in critical thinking skills that they were unable to "spot and connect the dots" that spelled tragedy and disaster in New York, Washington, and across the U.S. - and the world.

The Creativity Crisis meets National Security
     If you're familiar with the "creativity crisis" - the idea that strident focus on teaching to the test in American curricula is creating a workforce ill-prepared for the challenges of many of today's jobs - this realization that a "lack of imagination" can be catastrophic will not be terribly surprising. But this is the first I had seen the issue brought up in the context of our national security. 
     Of course I'm a little disappointed that the report does not take this important realization and translate it into a recommendation for an increase in arts education funding and resources for art teachers (it mentions extracurriculars and arts integration - both important, but not a replacement for a strong arts curriculum). Still, there is potential for implications of this report to become bigger if someone else took the recommendations and conducted further research.

Do you think this connection between the importance of imagination and creativity and our national security could help arts advocates? Have you seen examples of students ill-prepared for the challenges of the workforce? Tell me in the comments!

Friday, March 30, 2012

A Powerful Piece of Advocacy: The Artistic Rebuttal Book Project

Happy almost April! It's officially arts advocacy season, with Arts Advocacy Day in Washington just around the corner. Sadly, I won't be able to make it down to DC this year (even more of a bummer since Alec Baldwin, aka 30 Rock's Jack Donaghy, is giving this year's Nancy Hanks Lecture!). But I'm not going to sit this advocacy season out. Aside from writing to my senators and representatives on the relevant issues (as always), I'm going to submit a rebuttal to the Artistic Rebuttal Book Project. Read on to learn more about this project and how you can submit a rebuttal of your own!

The Artistic Rebuttal Book Project: A Brief History
     In January 2011, artist, arts administrator and arts advocate Amy Scheidegger heard some teens dissing the arts while out and about in Philadelphia, where she lives. In that moment, Scheidegger got fed up and turned her anger into action. That very night, she "built the concept and logistics of asking everyone I had ever known to tell me why they make art." Scheidegger then put out a call for artistically rendered statements asserting the power, impact, and importance of the arts - hence "artistic rebuttal." The ARBP was born. (For more background you can check out the ARTSblog piece I wrote on the ARBP last year.)
     According to Scheidegger, last year the project received 274 artistic rebuttals from 22 states (wowza!). Rebuttals came from the usual suspects (artists, museum and theater workers, writers) and some unusual ones too - ARBP also received submissions from the medical, newspaper, and social work fields, among others. 109 of the rebuttals were from kids. (I think this would be a fabulous project for an art class - and some art classes have taken them on!)
     All rebuttals from the state of Pennsylvania were combined into a book that was presented to PA Senators and Representatives at Arts Advocacy Day last year. In addition, a Kickstarter campaign funded the publishing of Artistic Rebuttal books, which were distributed to key people both within and outside the arts. Founder Amy Scheidegger has also been hitting the lecture circuit, speaking at both Drexel University and Louisiana State University. She was also named a 2011 Philadelphia Creative Connector (for obvious reasons). 

 What does an Artistic Rebuttal look like?
     I love this project because the rebuttals themselves are so powerful- both individually, and as a whole. They spell out everything great about the arts, and the aesthetic adds to that power. The artistic rebuttals themselves are as diverse as their creators, in terms of both visuals and message. If you've read this blog you know there are a myriad reasons to support the arts, from economic and urban planning to those reasons that are harder to express - the soul. Many of these reasons are reflected in the rebuttals. You can view a gallery of all rebuttals at the ARBP website. (And here is one of my favorites.)

What's next for the ARBP?
     So there's your 2011 history of ARBP. What's happening with the Project this year? The success ARBP enjoyed last year has paved the way for an ambitious 2012. Partnerships with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, Apiary Magazine, Appalachian State University, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the Beaufort County Arts Council in Washington, NC. And ARBP has gone from an idea to a staffed organization - of which Scheidegger is the Director. "By introducing this book to the world, I...charged myself with a task that would ask more of me than I ever asked of myself," she says.

So- it's Friday now. The deadline for to submit a rebuttal this year is Friday, April 6 - a week from today! I guess you know what you're doing over the weekend, right? RIGHT? (If you didn't get that, I'm encouraging you to submit an artistic rebuttal!) I know I'm making one this weekend (note - if you're not artistically inclined, write your thoughts down and take a picture!) Information on how to submit is available at the Artistic Rebuttal Book Project website.

Monday, February 27, 2012

NAEA Preview: Artists Changing our Worldview (or at least making us think)

TASK Party at Illinois State University, Normal, IL. Image by tlindenbaum on Flickr

Recently I was reading this post from fabulous contemporary art blog Hyperallergic about artists at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The piece covers three artists whose artistic practice also has a tangible result rooted in social or environmental change. But even artists without such a straightforward social mission have potential to change the way we think. That's part of what makes art so vital, and why advocates work to keep art accessible, both in schools and out. Read on to find about two artists whose work might change the way you think. Added bonus: if you're lucky enough to be attending this week's NAEA (in my home city of New York, hooray!) you'll have the opportunity to attend events featuring these extraordinary artists. And if you're around on Saturday March 3, you can even become part of the work...

Oliver Herring: changing how we think about interaction
     For me, the main event at NAEA will be Oliver Herring's TASK Party taking place on Saturday, March 3. You might already know about TASK; parties have been held at museums, high schools, colleges and at other venues in the US and abroad. But if you're not in the know...what is a TASK Party? On the base level, it's just what it sounds like: a group of people come together at a designated place and time to brainstorm and complete various tasks together. Tasks come from a communal box or pool, and once a participant completes a task they write down a new one for the pool. It's a collaborative, improvisational art event designed to get participants creating and interacting in different ways. Herring sets the proverbial (or perhaps, literal!) ball in motion at a TASK party, but after that a Frankenstein-ian element can take over as participants have creative control...not the artist. Some sample tasks: "Ask someone if you can paint him or her on a wall." "Make a chicken hat." " Create an extra limb. Then find a doctor to amputate it."
     Perhaps now is not the time to bring up the "but is it art?" question as it pertains to TASK. (If you're reading this, you're probably not a skeptic!) Lucky for me Art 21 already asked Herring about that. Here is his articulate and inspiring answer:

"When you can communicate to anybody that it is possible to make something meaningful out of something that’s simply around you...I think it becomes clear that if you find meaning in that, you might also find meaning in similar situations in your life. You might just simply look at life slightly differently. You might not look at a mundane situation as that—you might see it as holding the potential to turn it into something more beautiful or meaningful or something with which you can communicate to another person." -Oliver Herring
For one person, participating in a TASK party might just be a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon. For others TASK might totally change your perspective. You might find yourself looking for potential in the mundane - whether that's objects or interactions. Perhaps you'll bond with a stranger over your chicken hat. You might create something beautiful...or perhaps the interactions you have with others is the beautiful part, and the best end result.

Chance City Installation 2
Jean Shin, Chance City, 2009. From Jean Shin: Common Threads at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, May 2009.
Image via americanartmuseum's Flickr.
Jean Shin: changing how we think about stuff
     Jean Shin's artwork is all about the potential in the mundane, but in a different way. And while TASK might make you consider your interactions with other people, Shin will make you think about your relationship to stuff--discarded stuff. Shin creates installation pieces from discarded items, resulting in large sculptures that inspire the viewer both aesthetically and conceptually. What does what we throw away say about us, individually and as a culture?  By reassembling great amounts of discarded objects, like pill bottles or lottery tickets, Shin makes them new again, while raising new questions about their significance. I love sculpture that raises these (at this risk of sounding pretentious) Duchampian ideas about the aesthetics and significance of found objects.
     One such work is Chance City - a model-sized city built completely from discarded losing lottery tickets. The visual richness of the work, the materials, and the construction can all lead to different interpretations that might make the viewer thing. Is the work a comment on the fragility of the housing market in the US? Or is it about the viability of the American Dream? Is it about luck? Another work, Chemical Balance, turns collections of those familiar orange prescription pill bottles into stalagmite and stalagtite-esque chandeliers that are illuminated from the inside. Again, there are any number of ways to interpret this work. When I look at the work, I see a rumination on the modern dependence on prescription drugs, for better or for worse. Someone else might see it as a comment on chemical versus natural forces. Yet another might see a new chandelier for the dining room! And that's the beaty of it.

To learn more about TASK and Oliver Herring check out and Art 21's Oliver Herring artist page. Craig Roland also has a nice description of TASK and a list of example TASKs at his blog.

 For more on Jean Shin check out her website, This 2009 piece from NPR's Morning Edition also talks about Shin's artistic practice/

For more information on where and when to find these two artists at NAEA
go to this schedule. You can bet I will be there- if you see me, say hello!

P.S. My apologies for the lack of posts in the last month. Aside from a variety (yes, a variety!) of illnesses, my grandfather, Gil Davis. He was a great man, a World War II vet, an ardent fan of Boston sports teams, and a terrific grandfather. And most importantly for this blog, he inherited Davis Publications from his father and grandfather, and worked there for nearly 60 yaers. It's safe to say if it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here blogging today. This post is for him.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January Refreshment: Feel-Good News from Art Classes Everywhere!

Diffuse winter
"Diffuse winter" by flickr user Malik_Braun. Note: it looks nothing like this in my home of New York City right now.
Hello, Art Advocado readers! I have to confess: January is not my favorite time of year. It's cold (though not as cold as it could be at the moment), the holiday fun is over, it's dark before I leave the office, spring seems forever away, and work has been absolutely bonkers. In need of a pep-up to get me through the month, I turned to my trusty google alerts and news aggregators to find out about some terrific things happening in art classes across our fair nation. Following is a roundup that will lift your spirits no matter how deep you are in the January Doldrums! Read on to find out about do-gooder art classes, Martin Luther King Day celebrations, and much more!

"Sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures": Celebrating MLK Day

Aw, shucks! Art teachers and their students doing good in their community

Art Teacher Positivity Potpourri 
  • Hamilton, Ohio art teacher Abe Harris overcomes an incredible physical challenge to do his job:  he was born without arms. He was inspired to become an art teacher by an instructor he had at Miami University who noted that Harris's experiences could be an asset to a career in education. "He said I had unique perspective on how art was created and was able to help people solve problems in new ways." Fifth-grader Natalie Taveras says her remarkable art teacher "shows us how not to feel bad about yourself and to believe in yourself." Extraordinary and inspiring.
  • Rockford, Illinois art teacher Crystal Swanson also has a unique perspective on teaching art: she didn't start until she was in her fifties. Swanson's passion for art education belies her late start in art education. "Art is where students are encouraged to be creative," she told the Rockford Register Star. "Sometimes a kid will come to art and it’s the only thing that will keep him in school. You don’t ever want to shut a child down.” Swanson also attributes her school's high test scores to the strong art ed program. Sounds like someone the art teachers - and arts advocates - should be glad we have on our side!

I'm always looking for new stories for roundups and for posts, so if you've got something let me know! For every story I get to highlight in a roundup there are probably hundreds that I miss...or that might have missed the paper. You can post a comment here, email me at, or get me on Davis Publications' Twitter page.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A New Year's Resolution for Advocates: Focus on the Local

Support Your Local Art Gallery by via Flickr

Happy New Year! Last time I wrote here, I had food on the brain...and though we're now in post-holiday detox time, I'm still thinking about food. (Honestly, I'm ALWAYS thinking about food...) The concept of eating locally - purchasing food produced or harvested nearby your respective home - has gained a lot of traction in the last few years. This idea has spread beyond food to other realms - like Small Business Saturday, which took place during the holiday shopping season and encouraged consumers to buy at local business. So what does this local movement have to do with art advocacy? Whether you are a brand-new or a seasoned arts advocate, it's never a bad idea to focus on the local....or even the hyper-local.

Staying Informed
     When I first became interested in arts advocacy I found it easiest to focus on the big picture - like how much money the NEA received and the state of, er, state arts councils across the country. Those issues are important because of their broad impact on the field- whether you work in a school or at a non-profit arts organization. But it's important not to neglect the issues going on close to home.
     That's where this post from ARTSblog's Tim Mikulski comes in. Mikulski points to hyper-local journalism and blogs as a valuable resource for advocacy information, since sites like Patch and the Examiner (which have local editions all over the US) frequently cover local politics. "The information coming through my alerts from sites like Patch includes coverage of events and information vital to the arts community," Mikulski says. (I've noticed the same thing, and it's definitely reflected in my arts education round ups - many of the stories come from Patch and Examiner sites!)

Getting The Word Out
     In his blog post, Mikulski urges advocates to utilize hyper-local sites and blogs as resource for local issues where answers can be hard to track down. But what about using Patch and similar sites as a way to get the word out? I propose a New Year's resolution for art teachers and arts advocates: utilize hyper-local news outlets or blogs in your advocacy efforts. Op-eds are a great way to advocate for your program, and when your audience is located in your surrounding community, you have the advantage of making super-specific local references that might not have the same impact if writing to a broader group. This editorial by a Florida music teacher is a great example.
     No time to write an op-ed? You could even go more informal just by letting your local bloggers and journos know what's going on in your art room, through email, local connections, or even social networking - Mikulski notes that hyper-local reporters are often active on Twitter. After all, advocacy is all about relationships. Only have a few minutes? In a world where blog comments can get really nasty, and really grammatically incorrect, coherent and articulate comments could help garner some positive attention.
     The most seasoned arts advocate I know has a mantra: "You can't make friends when you need friends." Getting the positive word out through hyper-local press could come back to help you later when you need to garner support - rather than knocking on doors when push has already come to shove. Making friends and allies now - in person or virtually - is a good strategy particularly in this politically contentious climate.