At Tennessee Arts Academy, Teachers Share Their Zeal for the Arts

Article excerpt

THE watermelon was perfect, the entertainment first-rate, the people warm and friendly, but what I remember most about my three days here at the Tennessee Arts Academy was the enthusiasm for the arts that were shared by everyone.

My first indication of that came when I entered the building at Belmont College here, where the classes were held. Dozens of drawings, most of them highly accomplished, had been taped to every available surface. A truly impressive sight, they were the product, I was told, of the advanced drawing class of artist/professor John Dropcho.

From my first sight of those drawings, to the sound of the Academy Chorale, composed of music teachers singing during the closing ceremonies, I felt surrounded by talent and enthusiasm. I never knew if the person next to me would suddenly burst into song (one did, and in an excellent voice) or would be someone whose books I had long admired.

Nothing had prepared me for this event. It brought together close to 350 of Tennessee's most committed teachers of art, music and drama, 25 arts professionals and educators from around the United States, and several fine artists and performers. Also present were staff members from the Tennessee Department of Education and the Tennessee Arts Commission.

We had all come here to participate in the academy's fourth annual summer teacher-training program, a widely acclaimed educational/cultural event designed to promote and enrich the teaching of the arts in the Tennessee schools.

One of the academy's primary objectives was to reaffirm each teacher's sense of purpose and commitment to the teaching of art.

"It's essential that art teachers value themselves more than they do," said Joe Giles, founder of the academy and director of arts education for the Tennessee Department of Education.

The academy is designed to reinforce for teachers "the importance of what they do," says Mr. Giles, "to remind them of what they knew when they first began teaching but may have found difficult to remember during the day-to-day routines of their jobs."

As a member of the academy faculty, I was there to present my views on how the methods and insights of art criticism could be applied to the teaching of art in Tennessee classrooms. My colleagues - artists, university professors, scholars, consultants, musical and theatrical performers and educators - were all fine arts specialists who had come to share their expertise with teachers of their respective disciplines.

The academy's brochure stated that "participants ... choose a major for their academy study in either art, theater or music. This major is emphasized in over 30 hours of constructional time during the week-long session. Participants enjoy a lunch/performance every noon, several evening performances by major Tennessee performing groups, and a variety of social occasions. …