1. How long have you been a teaching artist?
I have been a teaching artist for 13 years.
2. What discipline(s) do you teach?
I teach the skills and techniques of art making and the context of art history and the current art world. I teach Art as it relates to other subject matter, daily life, cultural and personal experience, nature, the environment and current events.
3. Describe the setting(s) in which you teach.
I teach in K-5 public schools, special education centers for teens and adults, senior centers, community groups, and I lead field trips at the Fine Arts Museum.
4. What funding source(s) support you as a teaching artist?
My jobs are funded by grants, city funding, the school district, the PTA, and a variety of contracts from non-profit organizations.
5. Who shaped your initial thinking about teaching art?
My parents taught me to think intelligently and creatively about the world and to be observant and inquisitive and to appreciate art and music. Then my professors at college and grad school shaped my ideas about methods of teaching and learning about art. Reading Howard Gardener’s theories about multiple intelligences, was an enlightening revelation about my own learning style, my trouble with traditional education and an eye opener for teaching a diverse body of students.
6. Describe the relationship between your personal art practice and your art teaching?
I feel that my art making and my art teaching are equally important in my life and I am constantly trying to balance the time to do both. This includes marketing, exhibiting, applying for jobs and shows and making and doing work. Both disciplines inform each other in many ways. I am always looking at the world and observing art in galleries and museums and on the street. These observations inform both my own art and ideas about projects for the students. Sometimes the students give me ideas that I pursue through my own art. For example, a recent site visit to Maya Lin school to Emily’s 1st Grade classroom inspired the direction of my new body of work. The students were working on the gloomy city project and they had very insightful paintings and statements about what our world would be like if there were no plants left. My own work depicts urban decay, construction sites and overlooked areas of the city. Using the children’s ideas I figured out how to emphasize the contrast of urban decay and the beauty of nature.
7. How do you sustain your art while teaching?
I need time to dive into my work in the studio. Hopefully this happens on a day off or a weekend. When I have started a few projects it is easier to go into the studio in the evenings after work. Teaching is very draining and I am often discouraged by not having the motivation to focus more in the studio. Although when I have too much time on my hands I find that teaching helps motivate me to work on art too. I belong to a gallery have scheduled exhibitions ahead of time to work towards. I am always following a new path or working towards a new show or idea for a body of work. And I am always looking at the world as I commute and sit in traffic and ride the bart, there is inspiration everywhere.
8. Where do you get your lessons or project ideas?
Artists and Art works and art historical themes and techniques
Nature and Science
Culture and tradition in art around the world
9. What training in the arts and/or education have you had?
I attended Hampshire College in Massachusetts, majoring in Painting and Drawing. I also studied science, nature, literature and art history in undergrad. I received my Master’s Degree in Art Education from the School of Art Institute of Chicago in 1999. There I studies printmaking and ceramics as well as art education and educational theory. I wrote my thesis on The Environment as Art Education. I also have my clear teaching credential for Art k-12 and adults.
10. What are the biggest challenges you face as a teaching artist?
The first challenge is finding consistent work that is sustaining and fulfilling both monetarily and motivationally. I have spent years working several part time, short term gigs that are okay but disconnected and not necessarily work I can count on. I enjoy doing a variety of jobs and projects and am happy to finally have a few jobs that are more secure and that have a fair wage for all of the work that is put in to planning and teaching. Sometimes it seems like art is an after thought and the fact that you love it means you don’t need to get paid very much or it is not as essential as other subjects and therefor the budget for art is very limited.
Other times the challenge is the particular job because of the extreme conditions of our youth in schools in Oakland. Some schools where I have worked both the teachers and the students have limited resources and extreme frustration and behavior are evident in every layer of the school day. It is difficult to come into this situation and teach an art class. The students do not trust or listen to you and they do not respect the materials or have the patience to listen and understand the concepts you are trying to teach. They may not have any art skills to speak of, they may not understand how to solve a problem on their own, etc.
11. What are the unexpected rewards of being a teaching artist?
You get to be the celebrity that visits the classroom and brings joy and paint to the kids! You get to witness discovery and expression at its purest form through the art of children. You have the ability to challenge the students to teach them to be thoughtful and precise and to express there own capacity to create.
12. What advice do you have for other artists interested in teaching?
It is rewarding but it is very hard and exhausting and it is not going to make you rich!
What is your hope for the future of arts education?
My hope for the future of art education is that it is valued as an essential part of human development and as important as math and reading in a child’s education. Someone said to me art is a priviledge not a necessity in human society. I answered Then why does every culture throughout history have there own art integrated into their society. I believe it is a necessity not a priveledge for children to learn through the arts and make their own decisions about what is important to them for their future.
Please share one anecdote of a memorable Teaching Artist experience.
One of my jobs is in museum education at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco. When giving the tours of the museum collection we use the VTS strategies to guide the students to talk about the work. Recently leading a group of first graders I found them to be particularly insightful about the works of art.
Please share any upcoming events or shows you are involved in so we can find out more about your personal art practice. Provide links to websites, event sites, etc.
I belong to Mercury 20 Gallery as an artist member. My next solo show will be up on Sept. 26th, 2013. I am working towards it now.
I am also hanging two exhibits this summer: The Urban Legends Wine Cellar in West Oakland in July and the 817 Café on Washington St. in downtown Oakland for July and August.
I have my own website: www.jillmclennan.com
Mercury 20 website: www.mercurytwenty.com
I am also involved in projects in my own community of Jingletown in the fruitvale district of Oakland. We just completed 2013 Open Studios tours last week.
Our website is www.jingletown.org