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
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. …