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Cleansing the Palette / NAEA News - August 2009

Message from the Director, Deborah B. Reeve, EdD

In the spring of 1984, National Public Radio commentator Susan Stamberg went to break on the NPR radio show, All Things Considered, with the tease, “When we return, we’ll learn about the new mayor of Portland, Oregon, who most people know only by his ankles.”

It turned out that the new mayor of Portland was an obscure tavern-keeper named Bud Clark, who really was best known for his ankles; he was the guy in the dark trench coat, back to the camera, who “flashed”  a curbside statue of a woman in the famous expose yourself to art poster. I mention Bud Clark not for his appearance in that art-advocacy poster; that is just a coincidence. The significance of Bud Clark to this “Palette” is that he rose from neighborhood barkeep to become mayor of one of America’s major cities.

This was not an orderly progression. Bud Clark was well known in his little corner of Portland, but he wasn’t a professional politician. He came late to the race and was still down 35 points 2 months before the election and he was taking on one of the Goliaths of Portland politics (albeit a conservative Goliath in a notably progressive city).

But Goliath had made assumptions that Portland politics would continue to work the way it had always worked … while Bud Clark ran a thoroughly unconventional campaign. Goliath figured he only needed to work the traditional channels of influence and didn’t need to take notice of the Main Street people … while Bud Clark worked Main Street—the grassroots—for all it was worth … and won handily by 13 points.

As visual arts educators, no matter how prominent we are in our own circles, we are the Main Street people of educational politics. But we are not without power. Over the past several months, we’ve been talking relentlessly about the power of community and connections. At national headquarters, we’ve rolled out the new website; this is rife with opportunities to share resources, build networks, and bring the power of the politically disenfranchised to bear.

Now it is the time to start wielding that power with greater force.

You could call this August issue of NAEA News our “back to school” issue. This is where we start gearing up for the new school year, setting our agendas, and planning to roll out our programs. Last year, I used the August “Palette” to establish our “Year of Seeing Dangerously” theme. Last year was all about shifting perspectives—from “how we’ve always done it” to the possibilities for doing it differently, and, as a result, more effectively in the future.

When you “see dangerously,” you see opportunities that you might have been blind to before—and you see new means for taking advantage of those opportunities and exploring their potential.

This year, we’re going to focus on those “new means”—on the action plans and tools and best practices. What’s more, we’re going to work harder than ever to put those new means into play, looking for proactive opportunities to influence policy-making, initiate programs, and pilot projects. We want to tip balances. Upset convention. Create artful digressions that blossom into inspiring examples of what is possible.

This year is all about activism. Call it “The Year of Acting Assertively.”

We have much inspiration to draw upon already. The diverse and provocative commentary from Learningin a Visual Age. The growing potency and reach of social networking. The overflow of energy generated by the NAEA National Convention in Minneapolis, which has many of us still buzzing. And mostrecently, the release of the NAEP 2008 Arts Report Card and Toolkit filled with resources to help you champion the value of arts education.

I’ve shared all these things with you over this past year as we have sown the seeds for a culturaltransformation in our organization. And, as evidenced during the Convention and through the summer regional conferences, there is no question that the transformation is underway and momentum for membership growth is in place. Our leaders and members are talking differently about their prospects. There is even more outreach, more crossing of lines, more hybridization of thought. There is a feeling ofintention and commitment that stretches beyond making change in the individual classroom or curriculum.

These are all actions that have gotten us ready. Many of us look at opportunities differently now. Many of us have been reading unexpected books that tell uncommon stories—about human potential … studiothinking … neuroscience influence. Many of us have turned serendipitous conversations in a convention hotel hallway—or through an NAEA listserv—into a working group that is actively planning a policy coup at a state department of education.

This is the year we jumpstart those action plans. It is time to turn more thoughts into deeds. It is a time to take the theory of dispersed decision-making and leadership … and make it real. It is time to make some serious policy-making, program-implementing noise on a broad and far-reaching scale.

I won’t lay out an editorial schedule for you here. So much can happen over the next year and I want to stay open to the unpredictable. But in this year’s “Palette” columns, as well as on the NAEA website, youcan expect to see discussions of activism on every level, from local to national. You can count on more reporting of what’s being done and less suggesting of what to do. And—I want to know what you’re doing, using all the communication channels we’ve set up. We’re already looking into adding a special spot on the website that will be all about activism: what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, what you’ve learned … from both your mistakes and your successes. E-mail your thoughts to

As important as this information-sharing is, however, the most important thing is to go out and do. Which brings me back to Bud Clark. His terms as mayor weren’t all sweetness and light; he had some notable setbacks. But despite his lack of leadership experience and conventional political clout, Bud Clark made major, positive change happen, largely by bringing to the job an irrepressible joie de vivre and a knack for looking at challenges from a different angle.

We’ve got that attitude and perspective to burn. So, in the words of that famous Nike slogan—which Oregonians in particular should appreciate—let’s Just Do It

Deborah B. Reeve, EdD, NAEA Executive Director
NAEA, 1916 Association Drive, Reston, VA 20191-1590

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