by DeeGee Lester, Education Director, The Parthenon

Camilla Spadafino, K–4 art teacher at Lockeland Elementary Design Center, initially resisted then yielded to the time-honored advice follow your passion. “For a long time, everyone told me that I should be an art teacher, and I would say that I was afraid to teach the thing I love the most because it might saturate my day with art, causing me not to enjoy it. My fears were in vain. Teaching has transformed me and has taught me how to be an open, expressive, and inspired artist.”

Tapping into the energy and uninhibited imaginations of elementary students, Spadafino grasps the true meaning behind Pablo Picasso’s quote, “It took me years to learn to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” Spadafino appreciates her students’ lack of censors as well as their freedom to express themselves. “It’s a total gift, and I’m honored to be privy to that.”

That honor is expanded as she regularly invites other East Nashville artists to share the experience. “Lockeland is unique, truly an East Nashville school,” she says. “Many of our students live close enough to walk to school. I am grateful to be in a community where arts are nurtured and respected.”

Many of the parents and neighbors are artists who donate their time and expertise to her classes. From Herb Williams’s 3-D crayon sculptures and Andee Rudloff’s murals to Cindy Wunsch’s poetic art and text or Lindsey Bailey’s partnering with second graders, they and other talented volunteers go beyond just showing up for a class. These talented individuals make a big investment in the process—meeting and brainstorming, learning how to plan a teaching unit and how to design activities that are age-appropriate.

Spadafino says that these volunteers inspire her as well as the students. She carries many of the ideas and techniques she learns into her after-school art programs for area middle school students or into an arts-methods class at Vanderbilt where she has introduced classroom teachers to ways to incorporate art into their subject areas.

“Several years ago at a Brain-Based Education Conference in San Francisco, I was taught that all learning is is remembering. The more senses you use when remembering, the deeper the memory,” Spadafino says. “I feel that art classes are about more than art. Students learn how to navigate through life, how to listen to their own intuition as a person and an artist. It’s a huge responsibility. Art is a reflection of who you are. I get to see all of that unfold, and it’s magical.”

See works by Spadafino’s students at the Metro Nashville Arts Gallery in Imagination & Collaboration, a Boys and Girls Club. The exhibit is the result of a collaboration between Lockeland students and artist Lindsey Bailey and will be on view through August 3.

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