Interview with Kitty Conde

How did you get started with art in your school?
"When I started at Ravenswood I made a very conscious effort to get to know the curriculum of the other teachers. Understanding what the third graders were learning in science or social studies was just as important to me as what they were learning in the arts. I had an advantage though; I was bringing my art instruction into the classroom, so I could see what was on the walls. For nine years I didn't have a classroom, so for nine years I would see "Oh, they're doing anatomy or geometry," and I would make mental notes and start to look for connections through that. The other advantage to not having a classroom was that the teachers then saw me teaching art. I think that you have to make a conscious effort to go in and be there when the teacher is doing art with the kids. The teacher sees that it's not so scary to make art. It doesn't have to be this huge mess."

Can you describe that specific technique of how you get a teacher comfortable with painting?
"When I started teaching, I was going into the room and setting up systems that were replicable: I had a bucket with two sides to it, one side for dirty water and one side for clean water, so the kids could come to one bucket without having to leave the room and go to a sink. That was a big deal! Teachers saw little things like that as completely doable. Other things they previously saw made them say "I'm never doing that on my own." I wasn't consciously trying to teach the teachers how to do painting in their room. I just did it, and slowly teachers were less and less intimidated by art materials in their room."

What is a comfortable starting point?
"I think getting over the painting barrier is a big one. Trying to figure out how to get those juices flowing with richer materials is important. For example, there are some cleaner materials that are juicy like oil pastels that can get a kid excited... blending colors and doing all these great things with just an oil pastel, which can be packed away in a box and be done at the end of the class period. It's a matter of systems."

Have you seen teachers take on your practices?
"Yes, they have essentially set up a studio in their room. I've seen an array of aesthetically pleasing materials.Teachers have put materials in color order. They've made paper and drawing materials available. One primary teacher made an art center that the students go to. She puts an artist of the week or month up and they do projects based on that artist. I can think of a teacher in our building who has taken on arts-integration and how she creates community in her classroom. They have rugs, they have spaces, and they have classroom meetings, so a sense of community is already there with her classroom. So I wouldn't say arts-integration and the studio alone makes this classroom a community. I would say the type of teacher who embraces it is also the type of teacher that embraces kids. They don't look at this as a job but as a passion."