Reflection: My Wicked SmART #NAEA19 Experience

Teachers believe they have a gift for giving; it drives them with the same irrepressible drive that drives others to create a work of art or a market or a building. – A. Bartlett Giamatti

It has been two weeks since 6000 art educators descended on Boston for the 2019 National Art Education Association annual convention. Imagine 6000 driven teachers who are as driven by their passion for art. Wicked SmART!

This is my reflective post after the event. Given that it was 4 days and 4 nights of nonstop activity, it’s a rather long post. To hopefully make it manageable, I’m dividing it by the days of the week and I’m including a boatload of photos, which will hopefully tell a 1000 words (each).

It was my pleasure to have been part of the hosting committee for the convention. We started meeting last June and have met at least monthly for the past year. When I think back on all the discussions we had and the decisions we made, I am really proud of the way the convention came together.

The Massachusetts Art Education Association’s logo for the convention


Tuesday began as a regular school day except that my suitcases were packed and waiting for the minute I got home from work. I left 3 days of sub plans and had the helpful advantage of going over the plans with my sub during the day. I had been laying down the groundwork for a few classes for the project underway, so I felt pretty good about the students being able to continue their work in my absence. Fifth grade students were working on charcoal still life drawings.

Fifth grade artists at work on charcoal still life drawings
Charcoal still life drawing in progress

When I got out of work, I flew home and jumped in my husband’s truck and off we went to drop me in Boston. When I checked in and got to my room, I was pleased to have a view toward Fenway AND a view toward Cambridge.

My view out the left side of my window at the Sheraton – Citgo sign dead ahead

Later that evening I met my friend Samantha for dinner at the Top of the Hub in the Prudential building. Samantha is a longtime NAEA and Twitter art education friend from Texas, who nominated me for the National Middle Level Art Educator of the Year award. We share a love of water and sweeping vistas, and I knew the Top of the Hub would afford us both of those things. The restaurant and views did not disappoint and as a bonus, it was Restaurant Week in Boston, so the Prix Fixe price was right, too.

Samantha and the view from the Top of the Hub
Samantha and me at the Top of the Hub
The view from the Top of the Hub
Creme brûlée – oh so good


Waking up in Boston with a view of the Charles River and Cambridge beyond

I watched the sun come up over the Charles on Wednesday morning, taking a last chance to get my daily schedules in order before the pre-conference session began with a 7:30am bus ride to the Boston Center for the Arts on Tremont Street. I was excited to participate in the Supervisor Summit Media Arts event.

Usually conventions find me scrambling for food as the schedule is so intense and there is no time for meals. I’m happy to say our sponsor, Davis Publications, kept us well fed throughout the day.

Thanks to Davis Publishing, we ate well all day! This is breakfast!
And this was a snack later on – popcorn with truffle oil – yummers!

After breakfast, we enjoyed keynote speaker Ben Forta, on the topic of The Case for Creativity in the Classroom. Then Rob Sandagata and Karl Cole put the Media Arts in context with an historical overview and lots of imagery. Next up was a tour of the artist spaces at the Boston Center for the Arts. This was invigorating and exciting to see working artists and listen to them talk about their work. Although we didn’t meet the artist of this painting, it was hanging on display. The palette matched my mood:

Touring studio spaces at the Boston Center for the Arts This piece is by Victor F. Ortale

And then there was a panel discussion followed by break-out sessions. The break out sessions were exciting and hands on, which I was grateful for at that point in the day. I especially enjoyed being back in the Apple fold, learning about and trying new apps.

Apple’s Everyone Can Create Teacher Guide
Apps we used during the Media Arts event
Ebook: Fostering Creativity with iPad
Matt Brooks, Apple

I also enjoyed learning about Adobe’s powerhouse trio of Spark apps: Page, Post, and Video, with Ben Forta:

Ben Forta, Senior Director of Education Initiatives, Adobe

It was super fun to be with Barbara Liedahl, who I met at ISTE 16 in Denver, here presenting on paper circuits:

Barbara Liedahl

After the break out sessions there were even more refreshments, including adult beverages, and then we boarded the bus back to the convention. Davis Publications was kind enough to compile all the resources from the day on a page at this link.

Wednesday Evening

Later that evening, I met up with ten friends who I know from the Massachusetts Art Education Association and others from across the country, who I know from Twitter. I had arranged this Tweet-up with a reservation at Summer Shack, right near the hotel. Needless to say, we had a great time:

Wednesday night dinner with Twitter friends: L to r: @ConantArt, @MarottaArt, @smelvin, @GrundlerArt, @stacy_lord, @ArtLadyHBK, @bellafiore3, @MonaLisaLvsHeah, @ArtGuy76, @TheresaMcGee
I loved watching my non-New England friends wrestle with lobsters


Thursday started long before sun up

Thursday was going to be action packed, so I got up pretty early to make sure “all my ducks were in a row”. The first  event was Amy Sherald’s opening address. I wanted to get there early in order to get a good seat.

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On my way to seeking the perfect seat, I stumbled upon (not literally) these two California artsed friends/Photo by Don Masse

Amy Sherald is most well known for having painted Michelle Obama’s official portrait for the National Portrait Gallery. Her reflection on the lack of representation of people of color in art museums and the mainstream culture was poignant and powerful. She is dynamic!

Amy Sherald takes the stage
Amy showed us her progress through her various portraits
Of course she spoke about her portrait of Michelle Obama, now hanging in the National Gallery in DC

Following Amy’s talk, I hurried to the Massachusetts Art Education Association (MAEA) table to help out. Those of us on the MAEA board had signed up for time slots to make sure there was coverage at the table. Every time I reported for duty there were several people there to help out. This first morning, we began selling the MAEA T-shirts right after the Amy Sherald event. The table was packed! We sold out of T-shirts within the first hour! Quick thinking Melissa Mastrolia (President Elect) created an online order option for those who were interested. Last count was somewhere around 500!

Working the Massachusetts Art Education Association table
The shirt was very popular!

At the MAEA table, we also had a free raffle of a Shepard Fairey signed print, 3 paintings by Boston artist, Bren Bataclan, and a Maker tools basket from Mobile Makerspace of Cape Cod. Using a list of restaurants curated by art teachers, I designed a document called Wicked SmART Eats, which we had on display with a QR code to the docs with active links to the restaurant websites. Last but not least, we passed out Wicked SmART stickers. (I passed these out all over Boston, to be truthful).

Our Wicked SmART eats poster

Leaving the table around 11am, I ordered an Uber for a ride to Harpoon Brewery over in the Seaport. I had arranged a tour for 15 people to tour the Autodesk Build Space followed by a tour of Harpoon Brewery with photography privileges. The brewery tour is only offered at 4:00 and I couldn’t reserve tickets ahead of the day, so I wanted to be there around when they opened at 11:00 in order to purchase tickets for the tour to ensure our group’s inclusion. My driver waited in the car  while I ran in and purchased the tickets. They even stuck a Wicked SmART sticker on the bar for good measure.

After my shift at the table I took an Uber to the Seaport to pick up tickets for the afternoon tour group

I had arranged three Boston tours for the art educators. I honestly thought they wouldn’t fill. But they did, all three of them! Two of them were scheduled to take place on Thursday afternoon, and the other one on Friday. Fortunately, Brandy Jackson of Mobile Makerspace was able to cover the Autodesk/Harpoon tour for me. (Thank you, Brandy!)

Next up was a return Uber trip to the convention center to meet the bus for the Harvard Square/Harvard Museum of Natural History tour I was leading at 12:30. My Uber driver delivered me in time and I met the group along with Tom, the bus driver.

Our bus for the Harvard Walking/Sketching Tour

On the way over to Cambridge I shared the landmarks we passed with the people on the bus, and Tom pitched in wherever I lagged. We arrived at the kiosk in the square, unloaded and walked into Harvard Yard. To follow are some photos of our experience.

Our tour group at the gate to Harvard Yard
These two students were so helpful in sharing information about their work, including sharing 300 year old pipe stems and china.
The archeology class in the yard
At the John Harvard statue
On the steps of the Harvard Art Museums overlooking Sever Hall

When we were on the steps of the Harvard Art Museums, Brandon (below) stopped on his way up the stairs and said, “Hey, so I’m already late for class. Is there anything I can help you with? Any questions I can answer?” I replied, “Well as a matter of fact, we are all teachers, and together we could probably write you one heck of a late pass.” We all laughed, but some people did have some great questions. Also, Brandon told us that we were touring on Housing Day, when sophomores find out which dorm they’ll be in for the next 3 years. He had been selected for Mather House (as you can tell by his clothing and headband) and was pretty excited about it.

Brandon takes questions

The next stop for the group was the Harvard University Museum of Natural History to tour the glass flowers exhibit and do some sketching in the exhibit rooms. My friend, Eva Kearney, was taking over for me here as I had to get back to the Back Bay for the awards ceremony. (Thank you, Eva!)

At the Museum of Natural History

Another Uber brought me back to the convention center where I found the room where the NAEA Art Education Technology group were having their awards ceremony. I took a moment to congratulate my friend, Christopher Sweeney, who I had nominated for the Outstanding Teacher award he was about to receive. I was sorry to have missed the ceremony, but I had to get up to the hotel to get ready for the NAEA National Awards.

Stopped by to see Chris prior to his award recognition

The NAEA National Awards were at 4:00 in the Hynes Auditorium. I had just enough time to scoot up to my room at the Sheraton and change clothes before they started. It was a rush, but I made it in plenty of time. Being named 2019 National Middle Level Art Educator of the Year is truly an honor. To be able to receive the award in my home city was even more special. It went something like this:

The awards program




Seth Freeman Photography
With Kim Huyler Defibaugh and Pete Curran /Photo by Sarah Dugan
With Samantha Melvin, my friend and nominator
The beautiful glass award
The certificate of award

The award experience was truly exhilarating and afterward I met up with friends to celebrate. From there we went to the NAEA Opening party, followed by the Artisans Marketplace, where art educators sell their wares, and finally at 9:30 pm, to the Capital Grille for dinner and celebration with longtime MAEA friends. It was a long, awesome day!

Dinner at the Capital Grille


I had an early morning commitment at the MAEA table on Friday. The crowd had calmed down from the day before, yet there was a steady stream of people wanting to buy shirts and asking questions about the area, mostly about food and museums. Maybe in that order.

Working the MAEA table with Kay Furst on Friday morning

After an hour or so, I went to the auditorium early to save a seat  for my colleague, Jess Fowler, to see Peter H. Reynolds. Peter was funny, tender, and wears his compassion on his sleeve. A few years ago, Peter featured one of my students in his magazine Hutch as she told her story about how his book The Dot had influenced her artistic journey.

With Mendon Upton colleague Jess Fowler in the front row for Peter H. Reynolds
Peter H. Reynolds
Peter H. Reynolds
The themes of the books by Peter H. Reynolds

After Peter’s talk, I scurried over to the Boston Public Library where I met my tour group for our docent led tour of the art and architecture of the library followed by a Copley Square tour. The group gathered outside, and once we ascended the steps, we were off.

Our group for the Boston Public Library tour in front of the museum
Gathered in the lobby before going up the stairs
Ascending the stairs under the watchful eye of the lions
Among the murals
Among the murals
The John Singer Sargent murals
In the courtyard
In Bates Hall

It seemed like the minute we stepped outside on completing the tour, the wind kicked up and the air grew cooler. The winds of weather change were in Copley Square, but we were not deterred as we explored Trinity Church, the Copley monument, Old South Church, the Kahlil Gibran and Tortoise and the Hare monuments, the marathon finish line, and Newbury Street.

Standing with John Singleton Copley
Copley Square

Meanwhile, during the tour, the NAEA Eastern Region gathered to have their own awards ceremony. I was being acknowledged as National Middle Level Art Educator at this event as a Team EAST teacher. Because I was leading a tour at this time, Melissa Mastrolia, President Elect of MAEA, accepted my award gifts for me. (Thank you Melissa!)

Program from the Eastern Region award ceremony
A gift from the Eastern Region (Team EAST)
A note from the Massachusetts Art Education Association
Fantastic sketchbook gift from the MAEA

On my return from the windy tour, I was feeling the effects of the sinus infection, asthma, and bronchitis that had started the week prior to the convention. Still on Prednisone for the asthma, I had rallied through the first 3 days, but it caught up to me with the wind in Copley Square. On my way back to the hotel I picked up some hot soup and Tylenol and took a little break to rest up before the Friday night fun began.

Hitting a wall – a little self care

And then Friday night began! I had invitations to many meet ups, four of which were taking place between 4:30 and 8pm. With a little help from Uber, I expected to at least drop in on all of them. The first was with the “way back” MAEA crew:

Tim O’Connor and Eva Kearney – two long time MAEA friends

And then the MassArt mingle in the beautiful Design and Media Center:

Mass Art mingle with Mosie and Eva

Although I graduated from MassArt with a BFA in Painting, not education, my recent interaction with pre-service art teachers made me feel right at home:

MassArt mingle with Billy Claire and Eva Kearney

From there we Ubered up to the Pour House where the #K12ArtChat people were gathered. This meet up gave me a chance to at least say hello to friend, Tricia Fuglestad, who was otherwise busy showing people how to use the Doink products.

At the #K12ArtChat meet up with Tricia Fuglestad

It was good to have a relaxed moment to catch up with Christopher Sweeney and Sophia Georgiou at this event, too:

At the #K12ArtChat meet up with Christopher Sweeney and Sophia Georgiou (Morphi app developer)

From the Pour House, it was a quick walk over to Summer Shack, where the Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) force was meeting for dinner. Although I didn’t eat, I had a chance to say hello to many friends I had met at the summer TAB course at MassArt:

Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) meet up at Summer Shack – pictured here are Kathy Douglas, Pauline Joseph, Diane Jaquith/ Photo by Roni Rohr


Saturday morning view over the Charles to Cambridge

I was pretty excited about Saturday morning. This was the day my education guru, Dr. Howard Gardner, would be speaking to the art teachers! I’ve heard Dr. Gardner speak many times and I always take away something that I end up thinking about for days. I enjoy his humor and I respect his insight. Of course I got there early to get in the front row again and was happy to be seated with my Texas art education friends and Massachusetts art educator, Sarah Tomkins.

Samantha, me, Sarah, Laura and Matt
With Pete Curran before Dr. Howard Gardner
Dr. Howard Gardner

The giant audience full of art educators nearly lost their minds with applause when Dr. Gardner said, “It may be true that going into the arts will improve math scores but we all know that nobody goes into art to improve math scores, they go into it because they love it and they love to use their minds.” Boom

The slide below was Dr. Gardner’s way of acknowledging his wife, Dr. Ellen Winner, who all art teachers know from her work as co-author of Studio Thinking. In fact, when we were making keynote suggestions last June, I mentioned the idea of a shared keynote between Winner and Gardner. That might have been awesome.

Dr. Gardner discussed his work on Multiple Intelligences and pleaded with the audience to please, never confuse multiple intelligences with learning styles.

He also discussed his current work on The Good Project.

Buoyed by an excellent keynote, I went off to find the space where MAEA was having a meet up prior to their awards ceremony. During a hosting committee meeting, when we had discussed refreshments for the meet up, I pitched the idea of whoopee pies (because they’re fun), and I’m happy to say, we got them!

Whoopie Pies

At the event I saw many people I don’t get to see every often:

With Kathy Douglas at the MAEA award ceremony
At the MAEA award ceremony with Ruth Starrett and Kristi Oliver

And I was pleased to be in the room when we remembered our former MAEA leader and friend to all, John Michael Gray, for the first official time since his passing in 2016. It was great to see the book many of us contributed to then, presented to John Michael’s life partner, Tim O’Connor, at the award ceremony. One day I would love to see the book and treasure the memories of John Michael Gray.

MAEA honored the late, great John Michael Gray at this event

After the MAEA awards, I scurried up to my room and gathered my things in order to check out, yet leave my suitcase at the desk. When I got downstairs, I realized I was not the only one doing so, and had to wait a half an hour while the hotel found room for all the luggage. I don’t think they anticipated all the stuff art teachers would make and collect during the convention; it’s probably different for a business convention.

Last shot of the beautiful view before checking out and leaving my luggage at the front desk – note the sailboats on the Charles

My last official commitment was to participate in a panel discussion with the middle level award winners in the various regions. Because Peter Curran, then Director of the Middle Level Division, has done this before, he made it very easy for us, with a brief introduction and then questions from the attendees. It was fun.

Middle Level Award winners

Middle Level Award winners panel discussion

After this session, our MAEA hosting committee was meeting in the Exhibit Hall to take care of any items that were being left behind. Once that obligation was fulfilled, I was off to meet a few friends for beverages before the Leadership Reception a little later on.

I’ve got to say, the “light hors d’oeuvres” were delightful, as were the beverages and the company. It was so nice to relax and know that everything was finished. As pre-arranged, I exited the party at 7:30, gathered my luggage and stepped outside just as my husband, like a knight in shining armor, pulled up to the door. It was seamless. And it was beautiful!

Home sweet home

Waking up the next day to ordinary wonderful things, I was still flying high, but grateful to be home. I realized, though, just how sick I was and that I hadn’t shaken the respiratory issues I’d been powering through. I ended up taking an extra day to get my strength before returning to work.

When I got back to school, my students were about mid-way through the project I had introduced before I left. I could tell by their progress that the substitute teacher had been attentive and followed all the instructions (Thank you Rosa!)

Artists at work

And then at the end of the day, our principal gathered the staff to announce my award and share a congratulatory cake. How nice!

Two weeks later now, it is all officially over. I’m so grateful to the many people who helped me out with my scheduling conflicts. I’m so happy to have spent time with my friends from across the country, friends I maintain relationships with on Twitter and Facebook. I’m glad to have reconnected with many art teacher friends here in Massachusetts and I’m proud to be part of the MAEA, which is growing by leaps and bounds in not only number, but in enthusiasm. I appreciate my school district approving my time away and acquiring a great sub for me. Lastly, I am thankful to the NAEA for the care and thoughtfulness with which they plan our art education conventions. These conventions are truly a shot in the arm that inspires us as we go forward in our work of shaping human potential. Thank you!

One comment

  1. Thank you so much for this great and in depth post! I loved reading about your experiences and the accompanying photos made me feel as if I were almost there myself! I wish I had attended after all. I am especially curious and interested in the apps and Adobe programs and how they might be integrated into the classroom…

    Thanks again!
    – Adam

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