Wyoming art educators convene in Newcastle

By: 
Shane Sellers

Shane Sellers

NLJ Reporter

 

The Wyoming Secondary Art Educators Association held its Fall Conference in Newcastle last weekend. Usually convened in Casper, Cheyenne, or Jackson Hole, this year the association brought its professional development weekend to the Newcastle Lodge and Convention Center.  

Credit the boon to WSAEA’s current president, Newcastle native Jimmie Josephson, who recognized the convention as an opportunity to bring attention and a measure of commerce to her hometown.   

“I wanted my colleagues to experience our city, and also the beautiful Black Hills with its incredible art influences,” Josephson explained. The WSAEA convention brought 20 art instructors from around the state, all of them K-12 teachers.  

“Usually we see 10-12 teachers in the fall. I believe attendance this year was higher because the locale changed, and because we arranged a professional artist from our state as a presenter,” Josephson said, describing the turnout.    

The three-day Fall Conference kicked-off Friday morning with a colored pencil workshop presented by Eileen Nistler, a regional- and national-award-winning professional artist who hails from Upton. Other professional development activities included tours to nearby art attractions, among them the Glass Blowers Studio in Keystone, S.D., and the Buffalo Round-up Art Festival at Custer State Park.   

The WSAEA promotes art education in Wyoming. The association’s most viable presence is the State Art Symposium, a springtime event that offers Wyoming art students opportunity to display their work and experience other creative pieces from around the state. The Symposium, happening next April 25, 26, 27 at the Casper Event Center, also features a collective art competition for high school students, the only competition of its kind in the nation.  

Symposium planning begins during the Fall Conference, and this year was no different. However, issues impacting the health and orientation of the entire art curriculum dominated discussions during this year’s convention, more so than in years past, with emphasis on educational support to art programs.  

“It’s not just funding,” Josephson said.  “All teachers are asked to do more with less. That’s part of being a teacher. But with art, we have to create resiliency in our core curriculum, our departments, and our schools,” she added, stopping just short of declaring art programs in a fight for survival.  

“Creative arts cannot be assessed with standardized tests,” Josephson explained. “Art is an expressive activity that comes from the heart, not the mind. Art is a passionate process; there is no right or wrong, yet we (art teachers) are constantly being asked to justify our students’ creative expressions and the grades we assign them.”  

The prospects of creative
expression were championed in a seminar Josephson delivered to the convention Saturday morning. Lecturing on “The Energy of Artistic Expression: Closing the Void,” the WSAEA president touted expressive arts as a way to enhance creativity and empower students by re-connecting them to their inner selves.  

“Students are separating from their inner selves at an alarming rate,” Josephson said, “which leads to learning problems, at-risk behavior, suicide and mass violence. The violence we’re seeing is from (results from) the void. Empowering the creative thought processes helps close this void.”  

Asked what might be done with concepts like ‘closing the void’ and other information shared at the convention, Josephson pointed out that the association is a non-deliberative entity dedicated to promoting art education. Its meetings and actions serve only to influence education policy, not make it.  

“The goal of the fall
conference is professional development. Our teachers take back to their classrooms, buildings, and districts the pieces of information they believe are pertinent,” Josephson
concluded.

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