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Artrageously Engaging

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When Nate Heck uses the word "loves," he leans into it and it's clear he means it. Hands slightly splayed to the side, he throws his head back when he talks about his looove for science, art history and working with community partners like The Glick Fund, all in an effort to promote educational opportunities for preteens and youth up to age 16. Heck is the founder and host of Artrageous with Nate, an Indianapolis-based video series that's gaining national attention.

Heck explains that about four and a half years ago, "I was looking for what I wanted to make and I couldn't find it ... I started storyboarding what felt like a kids' show." The result was episode one of the arts series, Get to the Point: Georges Seurat and Pointillism.

Heck describes the videos as "YouTube-y" -- eight- to 10-minute-long videos that offer quick exposure to people who are creating (or have created). Other videos in the series profile artists in or near Indianapolis; The Artist in Your Backyard has featured creative types from Chicago, including muralist Jeff Zimmerman, sculptor Juan Chavez and painter Mary Lou Zelazny, among others. The videos offer a "hands-on experience for a hands-free generation," according to Heck, recognizing that today's viewers consume much of their information in small bits on iPads and iPhones.

Nate Heck highlights various artists and their creative methods in his Artrageous series. Juan Chavez, in a recent episode, designed skateboard ramps before expanding into fantastic installations like Points to Blossom, seen here in downtown Chicago.  - COURTESY OF NATE HECK
  • Courtesy of Nate Heck
  • Nate Heck highlights various artists and their creative methods in his Artrageous series. Juan Chavez, in a recent episode, designed skateboard ramps before expanding into fantastic installations like Points to Blossom, seen here in downtown Chicago.

A lot of preparation went into the formation of Artrageous, including conversations with teachers about how the program should work. Heck drew on his background in telecommunications and his master's in educational technology to create an interactive curriculum, which was the same approach he used at IUPUI while instructing teachers how to enhance their lessons with tools like video. And though he doesn't teach now, Heck says he feels very much like a teacher. Clearly, he's still an educator. It just so happens that his instructional model now includes a green screen and a unicycle.

Heck knew he wanted art history to be a part of Artrageous. He also wanted the program to be approachable with the goal of getting kids to understand, relate better to artists, go to museums and make museums more accessible. "Eight- to 10-year-olds get one thing," he says. "They see the artwork and get the art history because it's animated." His concern is for older kids, those who have left middle school and moved on to high school. "That's the age where they go from 'I can do it' to 'I don't fit in here,'" Heck explains. "I don't want to see kids get to high school and believe they can't draw. You always have it. You didn't lose it; you've just changed what you're creative and innovative about."

Because Heck struggled in school -- he jokes that he was in third grade twice -- he has a passion to make learning fun. He's also concerned about standardized testing in schools and the fact that so many art programs have been eliminated. Math and sciences are very important, he stresses, but also points out that the number-one attribute that Fortune 500 companies are looking for is innovation.

"The idea is that being creative and innovative is crazy important," Heck says. "I don't really care if you become an artist. If you can make it work, great! But more importantly, I want you to stick with the idea that you're creative and innovative. It doesn't matter what your career is; you'll be leaps and bounds above the pack."

Heck is all about making connections with his subject matter, especially between disciplines such as art and science that might not initially seem linked. When planning upcoming episodes for Artrageous, he meets with artists, physics professors, engineers, art teachers, art historians and museum personnel.

"We go off on some wild idea," Heck says, "and the professor says, "This art form is tied into this element of physics." Reaching the child and/or adult who didn't know art and science could mix so easily is "really, really important to me," Heck says.

The eight shows that Heck and his team have put together so far have all been art-driven, but will soon expand to include engineers, an architect, and, Heck says, even a CPA. He wants "something oddball," something unexpected to better broaden the discussion topic. Heck is reaching preteens and young adults, but he's also communicating with parents, 40 percent of whom make up his viewing audience.

To reinforce the learning process, Heck includes fun step-by-step instructions for kids and parents to create similar art projects. - COURTESY OF NATE HECK
  • Courtesy of Nate Heck
  • To reinforce the learning process, Heck includes fun step-by-step instructions for kids and parents to create similar art projects.

Artrageous has been able to progress as far as it has due in part to WFYI, who gave Heck and his team audiovisual equipment so they could stop renting the items they needed to produce videos. The team was able to pile into a car and visit Toledo,Ohio, -- "the birthplace of glass" -- to profile glass artist Dale Chihuly in Shattering the Mold: Chihuly and the Science of Glass Blowing.

"I never thought the show would go beyond Indy," Heck says, explaining why he's passionate about staying in the Circle City.

"It's awesome; we're right in the middle. I could plant myself in New York because of the art and museums, but kids can't pack up and go [there] or Chicago. Indy is good. We can find small museums and they're accessible. We have one foot in Indy and the other foot goes somewhere else. We travel but we always come back."

Heck's current goal is to produce Artrageous on a national scale. A proposal to American Public Television to syndicate nationally was successful; now the funds just need to come in. The show is in preproduction for 10 episodes that will be shown alongside SciGirls, a science and engineering series on PBS for tween girls. "All the [Artrageous] episodes are planned out," Heck says. "I want to have the ball rolling in preparation for the funding to come through."

Heck spends much of his time discussing innovation and creativity with business leaders and talking about the state of children's education. He discusses the best ways to foster a generation of innovators and helps executives and employees model their business practices to meet the needs of potential future employees. The companies' support can go a long way toward the futureĀ  success of Artrageous. "It's crucial to involve community," Heck explains. He certainly likes to keep things local. He's worked with artists at The Harrison Center like Justin Vining and teacher/papelpicado artist Beatriz Vasquez. "I love community art experiences," he says.

Nate Heck uses humor to engage viewers and teach about artists and their various styles of expression.like Georges Seurat. - COURTESY OF NATE HECK
  • Courtesy of Nate Heck
  • Nate Heck uses humor to engage viewers and teach about artists and their various styles of expression.like Georges Seurat.

Heck is pouring everything into the city he calls home and his continuing role as an educator. "I left teaching about two years ago," he says. "I wanted to be 100 percent with the show. It was one of the scariest things I've ever done ... but we're moving forward and that's good." Heck and his team are encouraged to keep working hard because "you never know when you're going to spark someone."

He explains that a boy from Michigan saw Splat: Pollock and the Science of Paint Viscosity, the Artrageous episode about painter Jackson Pollack.

The viewing resulted in the child's family traveling to New York to see the late artist's work. "That's the motivation to keep going," Heck says. "Get kids excited. Make something. Get your hands dirty."

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