National Artist Teacher Fellowship

Meet a Fellow

Welcome to the “Meet a Fellow” page of the National Artist Teacher Fellowship Program Website. Below are two fellows: Matt Christenson and Dionne Smith from the Round 13 of NATF! We hope this page will help you more fully understand the application process, and see some great projects!

Meet Matt Christenson!

“I had a fascinating time and learned a lot. I feel completely moved and inspired. I wouldn’t change anything”

Matt Christenson.


Matt Christenson, NATF 2013 Fellow, City Arts and Technology High School, San Francisco California

Matt is a Visual Arts Teacher from City Arts and Technology High School in San Francisco California.

He has been teaching in an arts high school for 7 years. For his National Artist Teacher Fellowship, Matt created a mural for his neighborhood, which is in the heart of the Excelsior District of San Francisco. Matt conducted interviews of the people in his neighborhood, used their ideas for the imagery of a mural, photographed all of the visual references for the mural, trained with master muralist Susan Cervantes in painting a community mural, and then painted his proposed mural with the help of students and community members in a public space in his neighborhood.

Matt’s Fellowship Project Application (excerpt):

“The neighborhood I live in has a desperate need for a dynamic, uplifting mural. On a major intersection entrance to several public schools and the second largest park in San Francisco stands a thirty-six food long wall with tremendous artistic potential. My fellowship proposal is to interview and survey numbers people in the Excelsior District about their ideas for the themes and imagery of the mural, create different sketches based on the data I receive, reveal sketches to community members and create the mural based on community feedback.

In order to create this project, I would need to take hundreds of striking photographs to inform the drawing and painting of the mural imagery. Instead of using the internet to use random photos to make this mural, I would like to take all of the photographs that inform the pieces myself. By taking the photos personally, I can use the actual faces, flora and fauna that I interact with in the process of creating this mural.

This Fellowship will advance my role as an artist teacher. The nature of my Visual Arts class is what I consider to be Mural-Based Art Education. My goal is to acquire experiences that will allow my workshop with students to extend beyond the school walls and into the community. By working with community members to create a mural for a community location, this experience could help open the doors to future workshops that bridge my students and the community to interact and create a collaborative dialogue that informs public murals. By studying and collaborating with master muralist Susan Kelk Cervantes I would enhance my own painting knowledge and practice. This will help me become a better artist teacher, especially in the form of Mural-Based Art Education.”
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Short Documentary by Paul Ferraris, Colleague and Teacher at City Arts and Technology High School of Matt Christenson’s Fellowship

Matt’s Post Fellowship Funds Application (excerpt):

“My co-worker and I have proposed that our school creates a “Lip Dub” video.  A Lip Dub is a video that follows students throughout the school who are lip-syncing to various songs while incorporating the entire school body.  The Lip Dub is a great way to involve an entire school body while giving students creative freedom to design what they would like to do/show during the video.  This “Lip Dub” project connects with my fellowship in various ways.  First of all, the planning is being done through collaboration with numerous groups.  Each advisory is responsible to bring a piece of their ideas to the table to form one large piece.  I gained a lot of experience with this through the fellowship.  People had tons of ideas for the mural, and my job was to look for patterns, find ways to incorporate different topics, and know when to cut some ideas loose.  The technical material management that the fellowship made me grow with will also be useful.  As the art teacher, my advisory will be in charge of distributing supplies to other advisories.  We will be premixing and rationing paint just like I had to do in the mural.  When an advisory says that they need certain colors for certain amounts, our job will be to figure out what size container that they need for each color, how many brushes, and then mix and fill their colors.  This was the exact process I had to do for each different color in the mural I painted.”

Meet Dionne Smith!

“I have never felt so honored and appreciated for what I do. I am so thankful to have been given this opportunity! I have so many new ideas that I can incorporate into my program, my teaching and my approach to my art”

Dionne Smith.


Dionne Smith, 2013 NATF Fellow, Governor’s School for the Arts, Norfolk Virginia

Dionne is a Music teacher from The Governor’s School for the Arts in Norfolk Virginia.

Dionne has been teaching for 8 years subjects including Music History, Cello sectionals, Music Theory, Chamber Ensembles and Aural Skills. For her fellowship, Dionne studied cello with Julia Lichten, observed the Orpheus Chamber Ensemble’s rehearsals in New York City, and presented a professional chamber orchestra performance in Norfolk, VA using the Orpheus Process™ as a rehearsal model.

How post fellowship funds impacted Dionne’s students:

“… students collaborated alongside professionals to rehearse and perform… without a conductor, empowering us to contribute our artistic ideas, thoughts, opinions, and suggestions for the sole purpose of evoking the composer’s vision to the audience. In performing side by side with professionals, students were able to see their leaders challenging and reinventing themselves with such a unique music-making process.”

Dionne’s Fellowship Project Application (excerpt):

“My musical training and passion on the cello have always emphasized small chamber orchestra performance (groups from 13-10 musicians). Sharing this background with students at The Governor’s School for the Arts and other area arts programs has been a great joy for me, but in the past years, I have sensed a shift away from my own development, sacrificing my own growth for the time-consuming and complex needs of the students. This artistic neglect has affected my teachers and my skills as a cellist.

With the help of the fellowship funds, I propose to reinvest in the exploration of my professional chamber ensemble performance skills by studying cello individually with Julia Lichten, while observing the rehearsals and day to day operations of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra performs without a conductor and divides the conducting responsibilities amongst its members. This unique rehearsal process where the orchestra runs itself, coined The Orpheus Process™, allows for a more democratic artistic experience.

Our area only supports small ensembles (3-6 people) and the mammoth forces of the Virginia Symphony (over 80). The chance to offer an ensemble like this, directed by a local musician with recent experiences involving the finest ensemble and its leaders could inspire many to continue programming for ensembles of this size, under this type of directions (without conductor), especially at the middle and high school level. Increased performances opportunities will reinvigorate the content I share with students. It is important for young musicians to see their leaders challenging and reinventing themselves. It will also present a change to reevaluate current practice and performance habits with a different musical authority, revitalizing my depleted artistic confidence and spirit.”

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Dumbarton Oaks Final Performance of Dionne Smith’s Fellowship

Dionne’s Reflection on the Fellowship

“I was completely blown away by the generosity of my colleagues and their willingness to devote so much time to do this project right. Their dedication in making the first performance happen was amazing, but when everyone requested to perform the piece again completely donating their time, I was moved to tears. They believed in the concept and showed me I should perhaps not hesitate to do projects together in the future. In performing side by side with professionals, students were able to see their leaders challenging and reinventing themselves with such a unique music-making process. This revitalization of my musical spirit has given me a greater capacity to inspire and motivate the young minds of the Governor’s School for the Arts. The small chamber orchestra ensemble size is already apparent at my school, but the idea of it being conductor-less is something to consider for the future.”

Dionne’s Post Fellowship Funds Application

Post-fellowship funds will be used to bring Julia Lichten of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra to work with students directly at the Governor’s School for the Arts. Julia will offer master classes, coach the chamber orchestra, and have students play for her individually in preparation for college auditions.

We would like to thank Dionne Smith and Matt Christenson for sharing their experiences and applications for the National Artist Teacher Fellowship. For more information on Letters of Intent (LOI), applications, or other inquiries, please contact: Adriane Brayton, Program Coordinator, by email:, or phone: (617)635-6470×312.


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