Testimonial #36: Yvette Heyliger, Playwright/Individual Artist/Teaching Artist

How has your life been indelibly touched by a teacher who utilized the arts for whatever reason and acknowledge how they were instrumental in breaking the mold to allow you to become who you are today?

When I was growing up, I had the benefit of a holistic education–one that included instrumental and vocal music (where we learned the National Anthem and other songs as well as how to play them on instruments given to us in class), visual arts and electives, like “drama club” or “orchestra.” We even had prayer (or a moment of silence) and recited the Pledge of Allegiance daily. These activities planted seeds of patriotism in my heart that have stayed with me and shaped my character. (Yes, I have been known to tear up at the singing of The Star Spangled Banner!)

I attended a newly-formed performing arts high school, Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Circumstances resulting from decisions made by a very conservative school board in reaction to the activities and functioning of the arts school necessitated that I become an activist. As president of both the junior and senior class, I fought for the artistic freedoms and philosophies my school championed which were unheard of at any other school in the District of Columbia at that time (to my knowledge).

As I reflect on my career as a student, I can say that the early marriage of arts, activism and love of country within my youthful heart continued into adulthood, resulting in life-long fidelity as a citizen artist.

Testimonial #23: Kathleen E. LoPinto Vignolini, Retired, substitute K-8 & Art K-8; BA Art Ed K-12 Teacher

For me the old proverb, “Necessity is the Mother of Invention.” has always been a truism, as creativity sparks more creativity.

How has your life been indelibly touched by a teacher who utilized the arts for whatever reason and acknowledge how they were instrumental in breaking the mold to allow you to become who you are today?

Today my motto is “Life is Art. Art is Life.” That’s because doing Art gave me life. It let me excel at something, something I loved to do. Being that I’m dyslexic and that back in the ’50s & ’60s, there wasn’t any classification, nor help, for those of us having difficulty in school. Growing up, Art was my life saving subject! It seemed my only chance to do well at something, and I wanted so much to be good at something. I loved art from the first time I scribbled on paper. Then too, my uncle was an artist in NYC and I loved and was fascinated by his work.

In school, we only had Art once a week, if we had time! Schools concentrated on the academics, the 3 R’s, along with History, Geography, and Science. Some teachers in my parochial school incorporated art within other subjects, or made sure there was time for visual art, while others did not. In my second 6th grade (I failed my first one), Sr. Marie Peter’s motto was “Observe, observe, observe!” every thing, every where, every day! She encouraged me to “be me” and that I could do more than I imagined. One “Art lesson” was to draw a tree. Sister didn’t show us how, she just told us to draw one. Everyone else did the typical round top tree, with or without fruit, some did a simple pine tree. I hesitated at first. Then, out of our window, I saw a grey sky and a leafless tree, and began to draw its dark and lighter bark. Sr. walked by and asked about my drawing. (As I had just memorized & recited Poe’s “Annabel Lee”, I thought she was concerned about my mental state.) When I showed her what I saw across the street, she smiled & said she was pleased that I observed well. Sr. also encouraged creative writing and research writing, and had us participate in class debates.
Off I went to High School. After I’d handed in a few untypical projects, my only Art teacher told me that what I lacked in talent (but can be learned), I more than compensated for in creativity. I took it wrong though, and had the emphasis on “lack of Talent” and didn’t even hear the “can be learned” part. Later I began to realize her meaning. My World History teacher, Sr Jean d’Arc, also emphasized art through out the ages. In her class we studied “history through Art” of every era, as well as the names, dates, and facts. In Glee Club Sr. Virgine added to my Arts Education. She brought NYC professionals in for our school plays. All Glee Club members were automatically in for the parts or in the chorus. Sr. also brought us to New York, to the old Met, introducing many to Opera. At my home, we cleaned our house to WQXR’s Saturday at the Opera.
Because of these and other teachers using art in their curriculum and their encouragement, I continued to doodle, and I copied those small images from Encyclopedias onto 9 x 12 paper (without graphing). I also drew all 6 of our kids faces from photos. I had hopes of going into Art Therapy, but our many military moves, and rearing our kids prevented that.

I was never trained to draw, but early on I asked for a Jon Gnagy drawing set that I saw in a TV ad. I thought that if my work was any good, I’d show them to my Uncle and ask him to teach me. But when I looked at the work in Jon Gnagy’s book, then to my own drawings, I thought mine were very poor. (I changed that opinion, when I was studying to be an Art Educator, some 40 years later.) I adored my uncle, but my awe for him and his work also kept me from asking him to teach me. After they moved to PA I’d spend a few weeks with Uncle Ferdie and Aunt Dorothy, for several summers. (Aunt Dorothy got me to memorize Poe’s Annabel Lee, just by reading it to me!) Unlike his 3 boys, I was allowed to go into his home studio to watch him paint. By this time, his work was Non-objective; just lines, shapes, and colors. Once, he told me that he “saw the whole piece before he even began to stretch his canvas.” The whole composition, every element of it, was in his mind’s eye. I didn’t believe him, so he showed me by pointing to where several drops of liquefied paint would stop on the piece he was working on. I still didn’t believe him, until years later working on my own I began to know and understood what he meant. I was doing just that! To this day I wonder, did they have me spend those summers with them, so I could ask my uncle to teach me about art? I so wish I had swallowed my fears.
At 43, I went out to start College and took an art class each semester, which in my mind, helped me get through the tougher courses. I wound up on the Deans list twice, and Graduated with a 3.5 GPA, with 2 majors: Education & Art Education. Sadly, no one wanted to hire a 50 yr. old teacher. But I became the only substitute for an Art Teacher in one school, and also substituted for K-8 in other subjects. One day I decided to finally join a local art guild. That helped me delve into other mediums, and the networking boosted my self esteem of my artwork.
My love of art and the creative process has filtered through every aspect of my life. I’ve used that creative spirit in everything, from setting up each of the 13 homes we lived in, and designing rooms to be remodeled, to making things from scratch for our kids and home, to writing memoir of my parents and grandparents. Creativity also guides me in how I handle people in various situations, and helps me continually refine my world view.
For me the old proverb, “Necessity is the Mother of Invention.” has always been a truism, as creativity sparks more creativity. Like when, after I’d just finished one painting, an idea came to do another in the same method. Then before I finished the second painting, another idea came to me. Each time I did a painting in that technique, another idea would come earlier and earlier in the process of working! The end result, was a series of 7 very different paintings!

Lindsay Shield’s Classroom

My students need your help! We just got a sewing machine donated to our drama program, but we don’t have any thread or notions! Give back to NYC education. For the next TWO DAYS, any tax-deductible donation to our project http://www.donorschoose.org/lindsay.m.shields gets matched dollar for dollar! Help the next generation of theater professionals!

My students are 11th and 12th graders at a New York inner-city high school of over 3,000 students. They are brave and bold, with 90% receiving free or reduced lunch. This class is comprised of seven different cultural backgrounds. The students have learned to work together as a theatrical ensemble to address social issues. They recently finished film projects on child soldiers, police brutality, and poverty in the U.S. Despite their own personal and financial hardships, they work toward the greater good, illuminating world problems for their peers through drama and film.

National Arts Advocacy Day

National Arts Advocacy Day is on Tuesday, April 9. Americans for the Arts Action Fund is in the final stages of preparing to welcome more than 500 arts advocates to Capitol Hill. Now here’s where we need your help.

Even though you cannot attend in person, you can help your state arts advocacy delegation members who are coming to DC. We need you to write to your Members of Congress by this Friday, April 5th at noon. We are going to tally all of these letters so that your state arts advocacy captain can walk in each Congressional office and say, “Today is Arts Advocacy Day and I want to add my voice to the number of other constituents who have already e-mailed you about the importance of the arts and arts education in our state.”

Take two minutes to send a pre-written, customizable Arts Advocacy Day letter to your members of Congress.