In October I was elected President Elect of the Tennessee Art Education Association (TAEA), so this year at the National Art Education Association (NAEA) Convention in Seattle, Washington, I attended the NAEA’s Delegates Assembly for the first time with our TAEA President, Kathy Dumlao. I didn’t quite know what all to expect in regards to this meeting. However, I did know that we would be handing out and receiving trinkets from all of the other states and provinces of our members. Kathy and I distributed gear-designed buttons that read, “Geared Up for Art in Tennessee.” We received everything from magnets to buttons, and state-themed snacks to branded highlighters. Some were elaborate, some were simple, but each and every one was a symbol of hospitality. So, when I took my seat at the table next to my election paddle and saw this pile of eclectic bounty, I viewed it as the symbol of a diverse group of people with different gifts, backgrounds, and views, but driven with one united passion—to make a difference in the lives of others through art.
After a series of welcome speeches and introductions by the leaders in Art Education, we were given the task of considering revisions of several NAEA position statements. After previewing these statements on a large screen projection, they were then posted on the back walls of our large meeting room. We were then instructed to review these statements again and, using notes provided, to write in any suggestions or comments. What occurred in this process was a meaningful exchange of ideas and viewpoints with other art educators from across the US and Canada. As some of us made observations, others encouraged us to write those comments and leave our mark on the wall. I remember the first note I wrote and the empowerment I felt, so I encouraged others to do likewise.
Later that same day, we viewed the statements collectively again. This time, our suggestions were included in RED on the document. When I saw statements included that I had witnessed being suggested earlier in the form of a little yellow Post-It note, I got a bit teary eyed. I no longer just saw it as a wordy sterile document. I was able to attach a “face” to it. I knew the person who suggested it among a few new colleagues. And then my colleague, Kathy Dumlao nudged me and said, “Look, there’s your statement!” And so, it was included--in bright red—to be carried on to the National Art Education Association Board for a vote..my suggestion!
As I walked away from this meeting and reflected on the events of the day, I realized three things; I have a voice, NAEA has an ear and policy has a face.
The next day, my friends and I would tour Pike Place Market in Seattle, we would sip coffee in the very first Starbucks, eat amazing fresh Alaskan Salmon and some would visit the Space Needle and the Chihuly Gardens. But perhaps one of the most meaningful places we would visit would be a long alley in the heart of Pike Place that is simply known as The Gum Wall. Look it up. Here passersby have been leaving chewed gum for decades, out in the open for all to see. Here is Public Art that at first glance appears to be a colorful, non-objective abstract mosaic. It is strangely beautiful. What a perfect installation to reflect my impression of Delegates. We all leave our marks in the world in different ways, but collectively, there is power when we work together for a common goal. We could just focus on the things that divide us or worse, never become involved at all because we think no one’s listening. If we do that, we can be guaranteed to never move any further than our own opinionated, bitter selves, hiding like hardened gum under the desks at school. Let us instead focus on what unites us and move forward with the goal of making this planet a place where those we teach can make their own uniquely wonderful marks in the world. Just chew on that for a while.