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Johnston Art Teacher Spotlights Local Artists to Highlight Creative Professions

Artists are known for being creative and thinking outside of the box and that’s exactly how Johnston Charter Academy (JCA) art teacher, Valerie Niemann, is approaching remote learning.

Niemann recently launched “Artist Spotlight”, which entails a guest artist “visiting” the art room.

“One of my goals for this year was to help students see the impact artists have in society and that is not limited to studio and visual artists,” Niemann shared. “The breadth of artists who impact our world includes architects, computer and graphic designers, photographers, animators, logo and software designers, clothing designers, home improvement and interior decorators, to name a few. I want my students to know that art is all around them and they have a multitude of different areas where they can use their creative skillsets.”

For the first artist spotlight, Niemann brought in Jennifer Harrison, one of their very own Johnston parents! Harrison is a painter and also has her own business with laser burning. She has created “ear-savers” for people who wear masks frequently, whether in the medical field or those who wear them for health safety concerns.

Week two, Taylor McGee, a local artist and art teacher at the Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) of Raleigh was in the spotlight. For her artistic craft, McGee creates fabric art including weaving, fabric and mixed media installations, and decorative wall hangings. She even has her own Etsy shop where she sells some of her artwork.

Even artists from nearby National Heritage Academies (NHA) schools have been in the spotlight. Most recently, Mrs. Sarah Harrison, art teacher at Peak Charter Academy, was featured for her wealth of arts education experience and talent. She was able to share some pieces from college to present, which included portraits, metal works, pottery, and printmaking.

Students enjoyed seeing the local artists share their artwork and hopefully inspired them to reach for their goals in using their creative talents for the betterment of society!

To accompany each spotlight, Niemann included a short demonstration video tutorial as an art assignment that went along with the artist spotlight of the week to reiterate and teach her students how to create something like the featured artists.

Remote learning has been an obstacle that teachers have been handling with courage, perseverance, and compassion. Given that art is such a hands-on learning experience that involves various resources and tools, Niemann had to get creative and ended up learning lessons along the way. “While it’s been difficult, this experience has helped me learn other ways of implementing technology into my lessons and allowing my students to become more responsible for uploading and sharing their artwork through the internet,” she shared.

One of her favorite resources currently is Artsonia.com, which is a way for students to upload and share their artwork digitally. Here, they have been able to establish and maintain an online portfolio that they can share with their family and friends.

Throughout the experience of remote learning, Niemann learned something about herself as an educator. “I will never stop learning. During this process, I have had to stretch myself professionally to learn how to use various remote learning resources and tools to ensure that my students are given the best access to education that they deserve.”

Niemann has been teaching art at NHA for four years and is passionate about art education because it’s important to provide a well-rounded education that accommodates diverse learners. “Not every child is academically gifted, so I hope to provide a space for our students to explore their talents and potential in a positive way,” she said.

Kerry Chisnall, principal at JCA, shared how he feels as a school leader seeing his teachers go above and beyond, “I am super grateful and proud that our teachers are so dedicated, creative, and caring. I was very impressed with how Mrs. Niemann adapted and took our end-of-year school art show online as a virtual art show for our students and families to watch!”

Artist credit:

H. Willitts, fourth grade. 

M. Flegel, sixth grade.

K. Rollins, first grade.