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Arts Advocacy 2017

ambercoppings : April 16, 2017 3:16 pm : Spotlight, Teaching, Uncategorized

First grade hand-drawn tessellation

Every day that I work as a Teaching Artist is another day that I see the positive changes that art can bring to students, teachers, schools, and communities. Whether it’s with 5 year olds learning about spiders and the various environments that they can live in; or 7th graders learning how to use mandala art to calm down and reflect on their memories; or with women in recovery to learn new confidence and business skills… art helps healing, expression, connection and communication to happen within and between communities.

I know that art as a career path is not for everyone. However, creativity through the arts is a requirement for a well-rounded life, and perfect training for the creative problem-solving  and analysis that our busy lives and jobs require.  For people like me who learn visually and require hands-on elements to lessons, art can be the subject that connects us to new skills, experiences and confidence. There are so many “a-ha!” moments in my classrooms from students who just needed a topic to be presented in a visual way.

The arts are also an economic drive for local, regional and national economies. According to the National Endowments for the Arts (NEA),” Every $1 of NEA funding leverages $9 in private and public dollars and fuels a dynamic cultural economy and generates millions of American jobs. ” Also, “Arts strengthen the economy. The arts and culture sector is a $730 billion industry, which represents 4.2 percent of the nation’s GDP—a larger share of the economy than transportation, tourism, and agriculture. ” (Source:

Please join me and millions of other people across the United States in advocating for the arts. On a national level, the Americans for the Arts group has fantastic resources, petitions and Facts Sheets you can use to educate yourself and develop letters, phone calls scripts, etc… to get your voice heard about the arts!

If you live in Pennsylvania, then please go to the Citizens for the Arts website. On April 25, 2017,  I will be joining hundreds of advocates around the state in Harrisburg to meet with our state legislators. Find out here who your state reps are:  If your legislators are                                                Wayne Fontana, or Dom Costa, then feel free to send me a note about how the arts positively affects your life using the Contact link above on my website. I will bring your story to my meeting and present it to our legislators. If your PA state legislators are not the above, then contact them directly to tell them your positive art story!

Bobtown Elementary montage

Sewing embroidery stitches and patches onto our Galaxy tiles


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Avonworth Primary Center Artist Residency Project

ambercoppings : February 14, 2017 11:07 am : Spotlight, Teaching

In the Summer of 2016, I was asked to be a part of Studio A which was an endeavor organized by Avonworth School District. At Studio A, in-school educators, teaching artists and practitioners of design-based thinking, came together to learn how to incorporate the arts and design into curriculum topics for K-12 learners.

I decided to challenge myself and hang out in the Primary grade level brainstorming group. Even though I have been a teaching artist for almost 2 decades, I had never worked with the wee ones before.

Then, I met Maureen, a veteran primary school teacher who was beginning a new chapter in her teaching career as a Maker Space teacher.  Maureen and I were creative brainstorming partners instantly. By the end of the 3 days, we had basically planned an awesome artist residency project for 1st graders!

First graders! The joy!

Working with Avonworth Primary Center was a dream come true.

My first grade friends at Avonworth Primary Center were studying bats & spiders. Using a premise from project-based learning where, students show what they know using projects that are led by the students, we presented the students with materials and asked them to show us what a bat or spider looked like, and how it moved.

Students came up with wonderfully creative bats & spiders by the end of our first week. Many of the students incorporated other facts they knew about bats and spiders including what they ate, and the environment they live in.

One of our goals was to incorporate technology into the project that would be used to create artwork that could be displayed in the school. Since digitally drawn tessellations are a part of my studio and teaching artist practice this seemed like a good fit. After a lesson in how to use the tessellation drawing app iOrnament to the best of it’s applications, students were asked to draw three things using the iPad app: a bat AND a spider, a BIG spider with a little person (based on a Louise Bourgeois sculpture), and a spider with it’s web. Students chose their favorite to use in the final artwork.

The final artwork form we chose was a surface pattern design of all the bat and spider designs that was printed on curtains! I designed a simple bat and spider background design to try and tie all of the creative and varied designs from the students. For our last day, we had an Open House at the school to show off all of the work that the first graders had made in my class, and in their regular classrooms.

I recently heard an update from Maureen. She said, “Ms. Coppings completed a bat/spider unit with 60 of our first grade students this past October, 2016.  It was an incredible experience for the students, teachers and parents.

Ms. Coppings introduced students to sketching, drawing, patterns, tessellations, yarn structures and fabric construction.  Students ending this experience by hosting a family night where they proudly displayed their created works.

This learning experience was one that is still talked about with our students.  The learning continues with the skills that Ms. Coppings presented to our students and staff.”

So sweet! I am so glad the students are enjoying seeing the wonderful creations that their learning and efforts made possible!

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emPOWERment project Artist-in-Residence

ambercoppings : February 9, 2017 10:35 am : Spotlight, Teaching

In 2016, I was lucky enough to be the Artist-in-Residence at POWER, the Pennsylvania Organization for Women in Early Recovery.  It was a project that I had been thinking about since 2012 after a meeting about the POWER Collection, a collection of artworks inspired by POWER, created by local artists, and sold to raise funds for both the artists and POWER.

The long-term vision of the POWER Collection was to somehow involve the women in the house in the entrepreneurship process. Since I have 15 years of teaching artistry experience, it seemed like a project I could handle and would love to participate in. After securing funding through the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and Shadyside Presbyterian Church, the emPOWERment project arts program began in June 2016.

The goals of the program are to use art to: heal; to gain skills and confidence; and to give back to our community. In order to do this, we started with easy, expressive art techniques: lines, patterns and colors. The first day I heard someone say, ” But I can’t draw!”. The same woman at the end of the first class was overheard saying this: ” I didn’t know lines could do so many things!” It was one of my finest moments as a Teaching Artist.

We moved  from creative doodling through several weeks of adding other skills and materials such as color theory, painting, oil pastel and watercolor resist, Zentangle, Japanese shibori fabric dyeing and more. Each woman created a portfolio, then filled it with art and sketches.

After 3 months, we focused our creations and started market research on greeting cards. 11 final card designs were printed by Print Management, a local printing company. We divided the cards into 2 variety card packs. Women from the program wrote an insert that is given out with every purchase that explains that the intention of the cards are to”…help all those, and their families, who struggle in their recovery.”

One additional card design was printed as a Recovery Encouragement card. Every woman who leaves the House writes a note of encouragement to the woman who will take her place on her road to recovery. POWER Staff let me know it is something that all of the women look forward to doing as a way to give back and support the next generation of women who choose to face their addiction.

the program wrote an insert that is given out with every purchase that explains that the intention of the cards are to”…help all those, and their families, who struggle in their recovery.”

Some of the women opted to attend a local indie market to help sell the cards, and to get more exposure to what an indie sales market is like. The card packs were sold at the Neighborhood Flea Market, and are now available by contacting the POWER administrative offices (contact info here).

One participant wrote this about the program, “The colors and textures make me look at the world differently, not just black and white into shades of grey (as in my addiction). Now I see hope and light.”

Check out the photo gallery below for more information on this project. We will be continuing into a new round of the project in May 2017 where I will work with both alumni from the previous program, and current women in the House. We have applied for funding for a Long-Term Residency Project which would fund a year-round arts program for women in the POWER House. The Pennsylvania Council on the Arts has recommended full funding contingent on funding form the National Endowments for the Arts, and the Pennsylvania State budget. Neither public source of funding is guaranteed as of yet (*see below). However, we have secured the private funding match (that is required for any publicly funded arts program funded through the NEA and/or Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Shadyside Presbyterian Church has generously confirmed they will fund the year-round program- Thank you!

*Please make sure to contact your state and federal legislators to urge them to keep arts funding in the budget! Otherwise, programs such as these that help the arts thrive, and help human service agencies operate on much needed levels, will not be able to continue. A good place to start is the Americans for the Arts website.*

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Artist Residency Project- Brashear High School

ambercoppings : June 22, 2016 5:04 pm : Spotlight, Teaching

I am so grateful that I had the chance to be a Residency Artist with Brashear High School’s Fiber Art students!

This project was a collaboration between myself and fellow artist Rose Clancy. We worked with high school students at Brashear High School, art teacher Jennie Canning and the Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh’s outreach endeavor, Pop des Fleurs.

Students worked with a myriad of materials and processes, including rusting, shibori fabric dyeing, sewing, assemblage, outdoor art installation planning and exhibition and more!

The finished art piece and documentation of our process can be seen at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts thru July 31 in conjunction with the Fiberart International.

Next up on my Resident Artist agenda is a 3.5 month project at POWER, Pittsburgh Organization for Women in Early Recovery! This project has been in the works for 3+ years, so I am extra excited to be starting in late June 2016.


Itajime Shibori dyed by students- Amber Coppings- Brashear Pop des Fleurs- web Fiberarts 1- WrappingObjects- Brashear Pop des Fleurs- web.2Rusting Bundles- Brashear Pop des Fleurs- Rose Clancy and Students- web Student Attaching to Mosaic- Brashear Pop des Fleurs- web Finishing Touches- INstalling- Brashear Pop des Fleurs- web 2.18.16- Brashear Winter Garden- web



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Artist Residency Project: Beechwood Elementary School

ambercoppings : May 8, 2015 8:03 pm : Spotlight, Teaching

Fourth graders are Beechwood Elementary rock! I was fortunate to work with these students in May 2015. Each student was assigned a State of the Union to research. We used the symbols of each state to create a motif that each student used many times over: in ipads drawings, tessellations, stamps and drawings!

See what we made in the photos below…

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