Man on a Mission

Opening Up Art to New Audiences

By Ric Burrous

Nate Heck holding microphone in front of sculpture.

Nate Heck is a man on a mission, 
a mission with vision — to open the doors of the world of art to students of all ages, from grade school to post-graduate life. And, backed by his web-based program ArtRageous with Nate, the elementary school art teacher has a vehicle custom-designed to help young audiences explore that world.

Heck, an art teacher at Mt. Comfort Elementary School in Hancock County, picked up his master’s degree in educational technology in 2008 from 
the IU School of Education at IUPUI,
 and also teaches at the School of Education. But his passion for teaching is most evident in ArtRageous, which has already produced one 22-minute webisode on French painter Georges Seurat. He is now hard at work on a new segment on renowned glass-blowing artist Dale Chihuly, whose DNA Tower has graced Mills Atrium in the Van Nuys Medical Sciences Building for nearly a decade. Chihuly also has a piece on display at the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis.

Why feature Dale Chihuly in his program? “He’s extremely famous,” Heck says, “and he made glass an art form. Because of his trailblazing, art — and a new type of artist — moved from factories into studios.”

Nate Heck welcomes guests in ArtsGarden.

Nate Heck welcomes guests to the ArtsGarden in Circle Center Mall to view the Chihuly-inspired creation of his student artists.

Besides, he notes, kids are fascinated with the process of blowing glass and turning it into something beautiful and memorable.

And, for Heck, that’s the primary reason he launched the show, with help from friends and others who share his mission. “Our goal with ArtRageous is to interest kids and get them in the doors of museums and art galleries,” he says.

In a difficult era for public education, Heck has been frustrated by limitations placed on teaching such subjects as 
art and music, as well as divisions between fields. “These subjects are intertwined,” Heck insists. “One doesn’t exist without the others!”

Just as importantly, he wants ArtRageous to carve a new path. “Showing a child a painting or a picture of artworks doesn’t cut it,” he says. “I want them to experience it, to get a sense of the scale of the work, to see it live, even touch it.”

That’s what ArtRageous is designed to do: let his pupils and viewers not only see a finished project, but get to know the artists, who they were, what their lives were like.

Heck is “always researching artists, trying to figure out their human side,” he laughs. “Did they take cream or sugar in their coffee? Did they have a job? If you get to know what their lives were like, maybe it tells you more about how their vision shaped their work.”

Heck has big dreams for ArtRageous; he’d like to take it national, and is working on an iPad app for his project. But to achieve those lofty goals, he needs funding — lots of funding. “We’re always looking around for possible grants, like from the Endowment for the Arts and places like that,” Heck says.

He comes by his penchant for teaching naturally; both of his parents were educators and eventually school principals. “I’ve always loved connecting with kids, presenting information and letting them explore new worlds,” he says, adding with a chuckle that “as 
the father of three kids, I know kids want hands-on experiences. I also desperately want my kids — and others — to be more innovative.”