NMAEA June 2020 Member Spotlight
By Steve Heil, Membership Chair
Meet Cristina González
This past school year a number of new members joined us from Santa Fe, thanks in part to this month’s spotlighted member, Cristina González, Art Coordinator for Santa Fe Public Schools. An artist first and always, her artistic career has flowed from a BA in Art at Yale University to an MFA at University of Washington in drawing and painting, Program Manager with the Santa Fe Art Institute, teacher at the college level, and Founding Chair of the New Mexico School for the Arts Visual Arts Department.
In an administrative role at SFPS for the past year, she is not in the classroom except to observe, but, she explains, “I’m learning an awful lot, especially from the younger students and their teachers.”
I asked Cristina to discuss what prompted her to recruit so many new members. Her response revealed a strong value as a teacher for being part of a network of professionals. “I think the primary advantage and opportunity of connecting the teachers with NMAEA is plugging the teachers into a regional and national network of art educators,” Cristina said. “It’s not just being part of the network it’s having access to all of those resources that the network provides—professional development opportunities like the national webinars on all kinds of topics. I attended a webinar recently on culturally responsive practice in art education. It was phenomenal. It was so well done. It starts to open doors to teachers to learn new strategies, to be exposed to divergent thinking, and to address growth areas in their own practice. All of that is the reason I support the teachers being part of our professional organization.”
Cristina helped to send 20 SFPS art teachers to the 2019 NMAEA state conference in Taos for essential professional development. She told of a new high school art teacher, for example, who was excited to see at the conference a nationally known keynote speaker and published author on Teaching for Artistic Behavior at the high school level. “I saw her really kind of light up”, Cristina added.
Cristina suggested that networks of teachers in other disciplines are not quite like our association of art educators. “Locally and regionally, there is a shared language when we do get together at state conferences, summer PD, in chat rooms, on discussion boards.” She noted that this community is continually being built by art teachers in NMAEA “to improve teaching and learning in the arts. I’m thinking of the potential of those NMAEA memberships as a way to raise professional expectations.” She also pointed to an important result of high expectations she calls “collective advocacy.” A passion to advocate for arts education also motivates Cristina as she helps to lead the New Mexico Advisory Council for Arts Education as the Chair Elect.
Cristina told about one time when she taught upper elementary students. She had her back to the fifth-graders, writing on the board for a sophisticated lesson about Basquiat. When she turned around to face the kids, there were two girls in the front in rapt attention, then there was a middle group with their arms draped on each other, and then there was an army of boys in the back whacking each other with cardboard tubes. “Before I turned around I had no idea,” she explained. “It gave me really deep respect for our K-8 art educators and something I know so little of.”
Her vision for art education in her own district is to ramp up the opportunities for students to start to go deep with authentic art experiences. Students could learn in such specific media as ceramics and photography in middle school and electronic media and design in high school, rather than be limited at many levels to broad exposure in more introductory art classes. “Those media-specific programs can be built with a lot of strategic thinking,” she explained. “Those kinds of experiences can be really rich, with a nuanced understanding of art,” which she described as a more “accurate picture of the role that art education can play in engagement.”
“I think there’s communication around the relationship between fine arts, media arts, and design,” Cristina added. “That intersection speaks to the New Mexico economy and we haven’t cracked that yet.”
Overall, Cristina expressed a desire to leverage what is already here and deepen it. She maintained that “art in school can be more. It grows visual communication skills, and it can utilize the assets of the learner to build content and pedagogy that is culturally responsive.”
About culturally relevant education, Cristina emphasized, “That is something we have to get closer to and the arts are a great way to do that. Students’ lived experience is rich territory for learning. That’s the home for students’ cultural identity. We need to use the arts to address that—as content, but also to keep students engaged. The arts are a prime field to do that in a really deep way.”
Balancing ambitious goals for arts learning with the measured practical sensibilities of a competent administrator, Cristina advised that, “We can’t do everything. We can do anything, but not everything.”