Field Notes

kids need art

Art education benefits everyone.


There are two moments. The first is the moment an art teacher realizes that the room is completely silent. Not because no one is in the room, but because the students are completely engaged and concentrating too hard on the art they are making to be chatting with their friends. This is a beautiful moment.

The second is a different kind of moment. It’s the LOUD moment when the students are discussing, collaborating, and moving around the room, making so much noise no one could hear the art teacher unless she had a megaphone. This is also a beautiful moment. Whether silent or joyously cacophonous, the power of art is happening.

I have been advocating for more elementary art education in the Kalispell school district throughout my career as an art educator. Thirteen years ago, when I was a middle school art teacher at Kalispell Middle School, I made “art suitcases” for each of the elementary schools. With lesson plans and art supplies, the suitcases were a great first step, but certainly not enough.

“Whether silent or joyously cacophonous, the power of art is happening.”


Life took me away from the valley. When I returned, I joined KALICO Art Center as the executive director and connected with Shannan Reichenberg at Russell Elementary. When Shannan realized that her son would not have an art class she took matters into her own hands, receiving a Montana Arts Council grant to bring an artist into Russell to make art with the students. Unfortunately, the pandemic stopped this project short, but that did not stop us. With the remaining grant money we were able to offer professional development to all local teachers who were interested in teaching more art in their classrooms but did not know how.

But the story does not end there! Shannan collaborated with KALICO on a second grant, which is now funding an art teacher at Russell Elementary. Tasha Metallo teaches a six-week art program to all Russell students, kindergarteners through fifth grade. She shared, “For our first project, we are combining watercolor techniques, Charlie Russell-inspired landscapes, and referencing the use of metallics in Monica Gilles-BringsYellow’s artwork to create contemporary collages. Each artwork shares the student’s unique personality.” We hope to expand the program from this pilot experience at Russell into all the Kalispell elementary schools.

Art education is a powerful tool that cultivates critically thinking individuals who are well-balanced, open-minded, and excited about being creative. At KALICO, we put process over product, focusing on the experience of creating, not the worth of the end result. When individuals explore the art-making process, they build a personal toolkit that allows them to think critically and problem-solve for the rest of their lives.

Art education fosters empathy toward ourselves, others, our community, and cultures from around the globe. By bringing art into everyday life, we honor the innate creativity and compassion that is alive within all of us. Those who participate in art become confident risk-takers who are excited about creating their own reality. We must have art education in our schools in order to develop lifelong learners who are committed to being active members of our community.

Jemina Watstein started her career in education sixteen years ago in Flathead High School. She is now the Executive Director for KALICO Art Center.



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