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Teresa Christmas, My Story: My Favorite Theme
11 Sep 2013
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In the spring of 2009, I was the Artist in Residence at Cumberland Trace Elementary School in rural Warren County, Kentucky. Not a member of the itinerant cadre of County art teachers who scurried around to two or three schools per week, running up the miles on their cars, teaching over 900 children, each semester, satisfying the demands of the factory model of education but rarely satisfying themselves, I was instead a grant funded teacher who worked part time at only one school.

I was able to watch my students grow up - some of them blossoming into great artists, some of them not – but a great many of them finding in my art room a place in the public school system where they belonged – a place where they could be valued and their abilities appreciated.

At the end of that spring, though, my luck appeared to have run out. The Great Recession came crashing in and the state grant money was all gone.

It was then that I turned to the Kentucky Women’s Foundation, who supported me for a year to not only continue my work at CTE, but to develop a curriculum called Art Herstory – a hands on interactive curriculum in which my students were inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe, Maria Martinez, Faith Ringgold, Frida Kahlo, Mary Cassatt, Augusta Savage, Clara Driscoll, Maia Lin, Helen Frankenthaler, Louise Nevelson,  Juane Quick-to See Smith, Guan Daosheng and Lois Mailou Jones  just to name a few.

It was a great year.

But everything comes to an end, and soon I was once again at a crossroads. Renew my Triple A roadside assistance plan and become a County art teacher or…what?

It turned out that my students were not the only ones inspired by Art Herstory. If all these amazing women could take a giant leap of faith why couldn’t I? I found a little house for rent hidden behind two giant oak trees just two blocks from the town square, and when I told my potential landlord what I wanted to do with it, he gave me the first two month’s rent free.

In May of 2012, I opened up the Art Matters Community Art Studio and Gallery. I exhibit art from artists in my community - some with reputations well established but most of them completely unknown and almost all of them women. I charge no commission and I throw a big party at every opening.

The core of what I do, though, what enables me to pay the rent and throw the parties -is to teach art to children - children who need art. Now they have a place to come. A place to be.  A place to create. Those who can, pay. Those who can’t, don’t.

We learn a lot about art from all around the world. In the summer, we have a different theme every week and on every Friday we have our own art reception attended by parents and family.

My favorite theme?

Art Herstory.

* Photo credit Katie Meek

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The artist or arts organization telling this story was supported in part by a grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women. KFW is based on the belief that when women and girls advance, so does Kentucky. For more information about the foundation and the social change artmaking being done by the individuals and organizations it supports, visit www.kfw.org." 

Tags
Art Found Art Multimedia Painting Sculpture Community Empowerment Gender Local Rural-Urban Women Youth Museum/Exhibit Non-Profit Practice Project/Initiative Southeast Teacher Visual Artist
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