Nadra Haffar, assistant education curator at Utah State University’s Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, has been named the state’s art educator of the year. Make that years.
Haffar was named Outstanding Museum Educator of the Year 2007-08 and Outstanding Museum Educator of the Year 2008-09 by the Utah Art Education Association at its annual conference in St. George, Utah, held in February.
“I was very surprised and very happy to be the recipient of this award,” Haffar said. “As with all in my life, there are many who made this possible. I haven’t received this award alone.”
In addition to her role as an art educator at USU’s museum, Haffar is a single mother raising two daughters and is enrolled in a master’s program at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Md., the oldest, continuously operating arts school in America.
“The support from my colleagues, daughters, boyfriend and many others made this award possible,” she said.
The Utah Art Education Association defines the arts to include visual art, music, drama and dance.
Working with the association, Haffar organized its 2007 conference, planning last year’s event, selecting the keynote speaker and setting the theme, including work with a committee looking at and reviewing changes in the state of Utah’s core curriculum in the arts.
The State Office of Education conducted a pilot program on the curriculum changes this year. The new curriculum should go into effect next year.
“Many public school teachers are frightened and intimidated or even ill-prepared to incorporate the arts into the curriculum,” Haffar said. “Through my work at the museum, I feel it is my role to help with the process.”
At Utah State, Haffar works at all levels in the educational world and with a variety of groups that visit the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, ranging from children to adults.
“One of the things that is unique about the programming at the museum is building partnerships,” Haffar said. “We get to build strong relationships with the teachers at all levels. We want to help make the connection between what they are studying and art.”
USU’s museum has close associations with the Logan City and Cache County school districts. It also works with non-traditional groups, including disabled adults, at risk youth and residential treatment facilities.
The importance of art in the curriculum is clear and was established early for Haffar, noting she had unique experiences through classes that met at the metropolitan Museum of Art in New York when she was young.
“As a student, I went to once-a-week-classes at the MET,” she said. “Those experiences changed my educational experience and views at all levels.”
At USU’s museum, tours arranged and scripted by Haffar include hands-on activities that connect the experience to the theme or the artist the group is studying. However, it is most important that the students experience this in the atmosphere of the museum — not the classroom at their individual schools.
“The environment of a museum is important and much different than a school classroom or looking at a book or a video,” Haffar said. “With the arts, we are building a spirit of learning. We partner with teachers who prepare the students — we provide an immediate experience — then assist the teachers with the follow-up to continue exploration and growth.”
Haffar notes that the pendulum of including the arts in the curriculum — no matter how you define the arts — will continue to swing.
“But I think it is coming back,” she said. “Math and science are included in the arts, we just have to show how they are included in a creative way. As an art educator, I need to find the keys to let students discover how other disciplines are involved or are related. I always enjoy hearing young students on our tours say, ‘I’m so glad I got to come today. I’m missing math,’ and I get to say ‘Oh no you’re not, you are doing math right now,’ and explain or show how.”
Groups — large or small — can contact Haffar to arrange tours of the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art. She said she especially enjoys partnering with teachers, helping them prepare for tours and followup.
Contact: Nadra Haffar (435) 797-0165
Writer: Patrick Williams (435) 797-1354