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Cleansing the Palette - April 2009

 Message from Deborah B. Reeve, EdD, Executive Director

WHERE WERE YOU AT 12:05 PM EST ON JANUARY 20, 2009? Earlier that morning, my taxi got within eight blocks of the Capitol Building before I got out to walk to my designated space to watch Barack Obama be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. As I walked, I watched in rapt amazement as nearly 2 million people flooded onto the National Mall in Washington, DC—many abandoning taxis and shuttles, walking across bridges, eager to arrive at the historical moment.

Why had so many come? What drew them to wait in endless lines, in bone-chilling temperatures—to see something that, for all but a few thousand, would have been more visible on their own TV screens?

Was it merely the historical moment: the inauguration of our first African-American president (or, as Stephen Colbert pointed out, our first Hawaiian-American president)? Or was it something more?

As I think ahead, toward our own gathering in Minneapolis for the NAEA National Convention in just a few weeks, I believe it was the call of community that brought those millions together that cold January day. The sense of sharing in a great and momentous endeavor, of being part of a movement that was much larger than themselves—and through which, by being there in person, they could truly affirm their commitment to that movement.

I have friends in New Jersey who, on the one weekend a year when they take time away from their children to spend some rejuvenating time as a couple, booked a lovely little B&B in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania … and devoted their days to canvassing for Obama. And they were not alone. There were people who took time off from work … at a time when taking time from a job could have been a rather risky proposition. They flew and drove from all over the country, taking even more time away from their families and loved ones, to spend hours on the phone and knocking on doors to talk with complete strangers.

This highly emotional investment in a hopeful future and a noble cause is what I am hoping we can foster among all of our nation’s art educators who believe so powerfully in the vital importance of the visual arts.

In fact, there is an evolving post-election model from the Obama campaign that can inspire our efforts. The grassroots organizing campaign—OFA: Obama for America—has begun to operate now as OFA 2.0: Organizing for America. It’s not about electing a president any more. Now it’s about supporting progressive policies, developing advocacy strategies, bringing individuals together in highly mobilized groups, and carrying the message to the statehouses and education board meetings and even to neighbors in the checkout line at the supermarket.

The first OFA 2.0 meetings were held in early February … at 3,300 locations around the country. Project teams were established, ideas were exchanged, agendas were set, and marching orders were handed out to make the people’s voice heard over the often too-political machinations of our elected representatives.

It is this same energy, this same sense of commitment, that is so critical to our future success. And we can take heart—and direction—from these words in President Obama’s inaugural address:
“…what is before us now is a new era of responsibility … a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept, but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.”
Which reminds me of the age-old saying about how you can tell the difference between being involved and being committed: in a bacon and egg breakfast, the chicken is involved, but the pig is committed—it literally has “skin in the game.”

It is this distinction that I hope we all keep in mind as we look forward to our National Convention at the end of this month. I am looking for us to come together with that truly empowering sense of being a part of a great communal gathering of educators and artists who are fervently committed to learning in the visual age. We need all of your perspectives—from practitioners, to scholars, to administrators, to the college students who are the next generation of visual arts educators—to provide the richest mixture of ideas and insights. We need all of your energies and your passion. We need all of your wisdom and experiences to weave the powerful tapestry of our story and our message.

But most of all, we need your physical presence. I am hoping that more of you than ever before will join us at this Convention, realizing what a transformative experience it is when we all come together as a community. As powerful and dynamic as our new virtual community is becoming, there is nothing quite like the nurturing and enlightenment—and serendipity—that can come from the face-to-face real-time presence of community.

In fact, our challenge in this “year of seeing dangerously” will be for us to both create and take away unexpected and bold ideas from our National Convention—and to translate these ideas into fresh and even more effective action plans in our communities and states.

On that note, I am proposing something unexpected of my own: I’m planning to extend “Cleansing the Palette” into a platform for community. Starting with the June issue of NAEA News, the Palette will become a quasi-blog post, inviting online comment, discussion, alternative views, and insight that can be shared among us and perhaps further fuel our imaginations and organizing efforts.

It’ll be June, the end of the school year, and I’m hoping that you will have a bit more time on your hands to gather your thoughts and reflect upon your own practice—why you do what you do. In fact, I’ll give you a sneak peek at the June Palette: my inspiration will be Eric Booth’s book, The Everyday Work of Art—not a new book, but one that may have finally found its time of resonance.

Yes, this year feels like a “time of resonance” in many new and unexpected ways—and Minneapolis promises to be a nexus for it all. I hope to see you there!

Deborah B. Reeve, EdD
Executive Director

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