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Provo art teacher honored with lifetime achievement award

By Braley Dodson daily Herald - | Mar 10, 2020
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James Rees poses for a portrait among student artwork in his art classroom at Provo High School on Monday, March 9, 2020. Rees has worked as an art teacher at the high school for 28 years, and recently won the Utah Art Education Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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James Rees poses for a portrait in his art classroom at Provo High School on Monday, March 9, 2020. Rees has worked as an art teacher at the high school for 28 years, and recently won the Utah Art Education Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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James Rees poses for a portrait outside his art classroom at Provo High School on Monday, March 9, 2020. His recently-won Lifetime Achievement Award from the Utah Art Education Association is displayed outside of his classroom. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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James Rees poses for a portrait among student artwork in his art classroom at Provo High School on Monday, March 9, 2020. Rees has worked as an art teacher at the high school for 28 years, and recently won the Utah Art Education Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

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James Rees poses for a portrait with student artwork in his art classroom at Provo High School on Monday, March 9, 2020. Rees has worked as an art teacher at the high school for 28 years, and recently won the Utah Art Education Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

Two Provo City School District art teachers have been awarded recognition from the Utah Art Education Association, including a longtime Provo High School teacher.

Elicia Gray, an art teacher at Lakeview Elementary School received the elementary art teacher of the year award and James Rees, who has taught at Provo High School, was awarded the lifetime achievement award.

“It’s always nice to have colleagues acknowledge your work and your contributions,” Rees said.

Rees, who works to get his students’ work displayed at ARTcetera, an art gallery in the Provo Towne Centre shopping mall, cafes and the Springville Museum of Art, said that students shouldn’t only learn how to create art but also how to curate and display it.

“If you do art and it is under your bed and never sees the light of day, you’re missing a key component,” Rees said.

Knowing their art will be displayed, he said, leads to better work and students who are more open to critique and suggestions.

He urges his students to be open to making mistakes. He’s shared his own with them, which have included a video about how a project didn’t work out.

“You have to be willing to take risk and make some ugly surprises along the way and not be afraid of failure,” Rees said.

In one project, he asks students to use digital storytelling to explore what it takes to be an American today. Rees said it’s his job to make sure students have a safe space in his classroom for those discussions and exploration of creativity.

Gray, who has spent 20 years teaching at the elementary, junior high, high school and college level, views art as just another skill, like reading and math.

“A lot of people think the arts are just a superfluous secondary thing that is meant to support all of the rest, and that’s not the case,” she said.

Elementary students, she said, absorb information easier than at other grade levels.

“They are not as afraid to make mistakes as older students,” Gray said.

She links art into other subjects they are learning, like when she’s had students design their own plastic plates that are then manipulated under a blowtorch to mimic shaping glass and explain different states of matter.

In her project-speckled classroom, she’s more interested in teaching students how to be good observers than focusing solely on creating skills. If they are passionate about their idea, she said, they’ll be more motivated to pursue the skill.

“For me, the skill is not as important as the brainstorming or coming up with a good idea,” Gray said.

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