CCIAEA has been supporting the region’s art teachers since 2003.
Most people can cite a teacher somewhere in their history who touched and influenced their lives, perhaps even had a hand in determining the course of navigation. In “non-traditional” careers such as those in the visual arts, theater and music, that type of encouragement can sometimes make all the difference in validating the tough choices encountered while pursuing a dream. On the Cape and Islands, an organization exists that is dedicated to empowering the region’s visual art educators with resources and support so they can deliver robust, empowering and diversified art curricula to their students. Linda McNeill-Kemp first conceived The Cape Cod & Islands Art Educators Association (CCIAEA) in 1999, when she worked as a Cape coordinator for School to Careers, an art internship program for Bay State high school students.
“A few years into the intern program, I realized that I would like to offer another element to the overall experience,” Kemp, a Brewster resident, recalls. “I wanted to offer professional development points for the teachers.” Since most of the art teachers are working and exhibiting artsits, Kemp presented a workshop for teachers who wanted to learn how to photograph their students’ art for portfolios. “I invited all of the teachers of the students from the art internship program, and I was amazed that they didn’t know one another.” To Kemp, emeritus member of the CCIAEA, that first workshop exposed a need for networking and the sharing of ideas. The following year, visits were made to the studios of the interns’ mentors, and field trips to schools and other artists’ studios have since become a regular part of the organization’s monthly meetings.
Founded in 2003, the art educators association cuts a wide swath across the region as it supports teachers in grades K-12, in public and private schools as well as the colleges on the Cape and Islands. According to Kemp, early meetings saw constrained, quiet interaction among the members who didn’t know each other. Today, the organization is an active, thriving group that has seen growth through the establishment of a board of directors and officers, an advisory committee, a scholarship program and the annual Visual Arts (VISI) Awards, which acknowledge community advocates who demonstrate an outstanding commitment of support for visual arts education on the Cape and Islands.
Budget cuts to art departments as well as school consolidations across the region have become today’s accepted norm. How best to deal with these challenges is a topic that has generated an exchange of ideas among association members as well as an overall strengthening of relationships among like-minded professionals. Lenore Lyons, founder of The Key Project, Cape Cod’s largest community art project, and president of the association’s board of directors, illustrates how important the professional connections have become for the group. “At a meeting a few years ago, we encouraged new art teachers to voice their concerns and share their experiences,” Lyons says. “One of the new teachers said how isolated he was. That is often true, particularly in the lower grades, that you are the only art teacher—and I think that is where there is so much value in this group.”
In an effort to highlight the challenges facing today’s art educators, the group regularly communicates with state legislators. Lyons recalls art teachers teaching from a mobile cart rather than a dedicated classroom, and one teacher at Sandwich’s Henry T. Wing School who was responsible for providing art education to more than 800 students per week—all issues that Beacon Hill may be able to positively affect.
Dan Springer, chairman of the visual arts department at Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School, is credited with crafting the association’s original mission statement, which conveys the need for advocacy within the group, at the state level and also within individual school districts and towns. “The group became important in unexpected ways, like when teachers needed a letter written to a superintendent or a local newspaper in order to justify their position or program funding,” Springer says. “Other than like-minded parents to support them, there was no network of professionals to raise awareness until we became an organization.”
Each year, the art educators association acknowledges individuals from across the region that have made a positive impact on Cape and Islands art education by awarding them a VISI award. Past recipients include Dave Willard, director of community relations for Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank’s Charitable Foundation, and former State Senator Dan Wolf, the founder of Cape Air. The awards themselves are individually interpreted and crafted by student artists who present their creations to the recipients at the reception in March.
The association also awards annual scholarships to a handful of local high school seniors as it strives to foster the students, not only in the region’s classrooms, but as they take the next step forward in their pursuit of art studies.
Tom Coute, a Dennis-Yarmouth High School graduate and a sophomore at Rhode Island School of Design, is a recent recipient. Coute credits Springer’s knowledge of exactly what each college was looking for in an applicant’s portfolio. “Mr. Springer helped me determine exactly what to submit to each school,” Coute recalls. “Without that, I would have just submitted what I thought was best. As a result, I had a lot more control and flexibility in choosing where to study.”
Eddie Calle, another of Springer’s former students, is in his junior year at MassArt. “I wasn’t a very social kind of kid,” Calle says. “I would rather just get lost in my art. Mr. Springer recognized that quality in himself when he was younger, and really worked to connect with me. That allowed me to really explore my art.”
Lee Connolly-Weill, a retired Barnstable High teacher and a CCIAEA board member, was at least partly responsible for shaping two members of Cape Cod Life Publications’ creative team. Jennifer Dow, creative director for the company, and Meredith Schulman, a former graphic designer, both credit Weill with their choices to pursue a career in art.
“Ms. Weill taught me the ‘art’ of graphic design,” says Dow. “Introduction to that area of art immediately made me realize I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. She allowed me to explore and take chances outside of the standard curriculum; that taught me to think and problem solve for myself.”
A career in the arts can take many forms, and as in most professions, challenges arise along the way. For art teachers on the Cape and Islands, a solid organization will continue to support their passion as they continue to identify, foster and encourage the artists of tomorrow.