Friday, October 30, 2015

Faculty Spotlight: Anna Nuttall Receives Governor's Arts Education Award

Anna Nuttall with Governor Maggie Hassan receiving the 
2015 Governor's Arts Education Award.
Photo by Abbigail Saffian.

PMAC couldn't be more proud of Anna Nuttall.

This year, she was one of the recipients for theGovernor's Arts Education Award, an award that recognizes an individual, nonprofit organization, school district or community that has made an outstanding contribution to arts education within the past three years.

An arts educator in Portsmouth for over 15 years, Anna has worked tirelessly to bring art to the forefront of education and community. Anna helped launch PMAC's Visual Art Education program as our first Director of Visual Arts and remains on our faculty today.

Anyone that knows her, knows how deeply and passionately the Arts and Arts Education are embedded into the fabric that makes Anna. We are honored to have her on our faculty and be a small part of Anna's creative world. We asked her a few questions to share with you why this award was perfect for Anna:

Portsmouth Music and Arts Center: First and foremost, congratulations on receiving this award! You have impacted the lives of so many students so greatly – how long have you been teaching?

Anna Nuttall: Thanks, it’s been a very special couple of weeks. I am very grateful to the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, and to the folks who nominated me. I think the best part has been all the students past and present sending congratulations, high-fiving me in the grocery store and emailing the sweetest notes!

I have been teaching for about 16 years in Portsmouth public schools, (8 at Little Harbour Elementary, and 8 at the middle school) and I think just over 10 of those here at PMAC. Love ‘em all!

PMAC: What can an arts education do for a student?

AN: Oh, that is so quick to ask, and so long to answer!

I think what art can do for a student is only a part of what it can do for the whole child (and teenager, and adult!) The visual arts engages our intrinsic motivation to learn by igniting new individual interests and enriching existing ones – which supports all disciplines in school and life, not only art. Practicing visual arts exercises communication and expression skills, build collaborative skills, demands creative thinking skills and a lot of perseverance. And while most times art is a lot of hard work, and draws out our sweat and tears…it is also very often a lot of FUN!

An education with visual arts can also help to inspire and develop students’ empathy and compassion, things we can never have too much of. We aren’t just painting a pretty picture, we’re analyzing people in our lives, self-reflecting, developing symbol systems of expression, solving engineering feats, and yes, creating beautiful things too. Art isn’t a thing, it’s a way of thinking; a process (or many thereof). These are not just skills that prepare students for future career pursuits, but are all ‘human’ skills, needs, and qualities that prepare them for life. The question might be, “what doesn’t the arts do for students’!? (I know – I’m a little biased).  

I love teaching in public schools because I believe that visual arts education is something every child should receive. I love teaching at PMAC because it further extends and enriches those arts opportunities to youth (and adults), also regardless of socioeconomic status - as it should be. Visual art is “core content” for being human in my book!

PMAC: What is the most rewarding thing about being an arts educator?

AN: There are so many rewarding things about being an art teacher, but definitely what keeps me feeling most nourished, rewarded, engaged, enthusiastic and inspired year after year is simply working directly with the kids.

As much as I love to dream up programming ideas and curriculum (which I do love –it’s my total nerd-zone), I am still always trying to filter it all through the minds and eyes of my students the best I can. 

I am always asking for their opinions and I think that not only gives them a voice, but is instrumental in my ability to make programming and projects for them meaningful, engaging (and thus rewarding) when it comes time to actually doing it! That leads to a room full of momentum and not a room full of just following directions.

Being able to work with so many amazing minds each day and discuss and create work about their ideas, challenges, opinions and feelings is inspiring, interesting, (and sometimes hilarious, frankly). They are so incredibly smart, intuitive, insightful, creative and dynamic; I absolutely learn from them as much as I do about them.  I often find they aren’t aware of just how smart they are! Working with them challenges my own thinking, reasoning, knowledge  - everything –which is great, I grow! I credit them with keeping me sharp - if not also with some of my gray hairs.  

PMAC: You’ve done some exciting projects in the past few years working with the Seacoast African American Cultural Center and other community organizations to bring together the community and your visual arts students, can you tell us a bit about them?

AN: Yes, I really have fallen in love with doing outreach projects that partner students with our community. I it really says a lot about our community here – they have always said “yes” enthusiastically when I’ve approached them about working with my students (at either PMS or PMAC!)! The Seacoast Food Pantry, Seacoast Local/(H)EAT campaign, SPCA, Portsmouth Public Library, SAACC, In Ears 'n'Eyes, galleries and other retail, restaurants, individual artists or civic leaders – all of them have been amazingly generous with their time, and energy while working on these projects.  

The most important part of the project design for me is that quality visual arts experiences are at the heart of it, and the kids are having authentic and meaningful experiences that help them make personal connections with both art and the people and places in their community. 

A community and/or grant-funded project can look great on paper, but it has to be a collaborative experience where everyone is somewhat equal, and everyone wins – including students. Their voices aren’t often heard, nor their skills tapped at this age in the broader community, but they have a lot of great things to share. It’s always the hope with these projects that they’ll feel a bit more connected to the world outside of school and see art in a variety of new and relevant contexts.  The added bonus is the the community gets to know the kids and their work, too! 

PMAC: Do you make your own personal artwork outside of teaching? What drives you to create?

AN: Ah - I do!  Though the balance of time making art and time teaching and programming is forever a challenge, I do think it's important to keep creating in some way, be it big or small projects. If I am excited and engaged with art, I can definitely better serve to inspire and excite my students about their process, and their art! It is also important to share one’s work with students I think. Just here and there – but it helps them get to know you, your interests and skills (and areas you are working on, as there are always things to get better at!)   I’m excited to have a new studio space as of this month actually, in the Button Factory just next door to PMAC, and thus am embarking on a new body of work I'm excited about!  Some mixed media pieces (printmaking, collage, watercolor mostly). Space has been a challenge the last several years and I’m so grateful to be able to spread out a little and get creating again, full-steam ahead!

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us, Anna! 

Check out Anna's work during the Button Factory Open Studios Weekend on December 5 & 6. More info about Open Studios Here.

If you're interested in taking an art class at PMAC, check out all that we offer on our website.