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  • Photography by Heather Canterbury

Q&A: Lydia Washburn, Participating Art Teacher in Thea's Arts Reconstruction Summer 2019 Pro


Being an educator is no small feat, which is why Thea Foundation seeks to provide aid (in a variety of ways) for art teachers, who are often the victims of budget cuts in public schools. During the third week of June, Thea Foundation partnered with UA Little Rock to host a professional development week for several Arkansas art teachers at the Windgate Center of Art + Design. This week-long program provided teachers with a thorough instruction on cyanotype, which is a photographic printing process that produces a cyan-blue print.

Furthering the education of and resources for teachers is an important part of Thea's mission as the Arts Reconstruction program also provides funding for the supplies to implement the new medium in classrooms across the state. As a way to highlight the impact of this program, we followed up with a few of the teachers who took part in this summer's professional development week, and we'll be sharing their feedback before the new school year begins.

Lydia Washburn, an art teacher at Bryant High School, kicks off our special Q&A series. Find out more about Lydia's experience below.

How many years have you been an art teacher in Arkansas? Where do you currently teach and what grades does your instruction cover? Yearly average amount of students taught?

I have been an art teacher in Arkansas for 5 years, beginning my 6th year this fall. For the last 3 years, I taught Art 1 to 9th grade at Bryant High School, but will be teaching Ceramics and 3D Design next year for 10-12 on the same campus. Each year, I have between 135-150 students.

To date, what has your experience been with the Thea Foundation? Have you benefited from programs outside of the Arts Reconstruction’s professional development week?

The Thea Foundation donated supplies to my art classroom when I was a teacher at NLRMS in 2015. I have also been to gallery shows and exhibits in the Thea Argenta space.

During the 2019 professional development week, what were some of the personal highlights from learning about cyanotype at UA Little Rock’s Windgate Center of Art + Design?

I felt as if the new processes were things I had some knowledge of, but had not experimented with myself in a studio setting. The instruction and immediate ability to explore the material were a highlight for me. Any chance to work with other professionals in my field making art is such a treat. I loved the trial and error aspect of many of the processes. Photograms with paper and Cliche Verre combinations were my favorite, and I feel as if I produced good work from using these new processes in tandem. I was also so grateful to meet new art educators and make friends in a fluid, organic setting.

How confident do you feel about incorporating this new medium during your 2019-20 school year curriculum?

I am very excited and confident to explore this with students. It will take some work to get the dim room set up. I will need to adapt the lesson plans to a more 3D format, but I feel as if my 2D counterpart, who was also at the cyanotype workshop, will be a great team member to complete cross-curricular lesson planning once we get back to it this fall.

How do you think your students will benefit from this new addition to your curriculum?

They will learn a craft that is not common from the ground up. My students, because they are upper-level, will be able to create the chemistry, plan their pieces, find imagery, etc. The entire process can be applicable to a high school art program. The process can then be a way to build on the why of the finished product.

What do you wish others knew about the needs of art educators in Arkansas?

I wish people understood the amount of time, planning, and out-of-pocket money it takes to teach art to 150 students. And many art teachers have preps for multiple sessions of different art classes. Most art teachers do not just teach one class all day. Many have a variation of classes: photography, painting, Art 1, Drawing, AP, etc. Each of these classes requires its own specific materials, preparation, planning... The most common comment I get from people who find out I am an art educator is, “That must be so fun!” It is SO FUN in so many ways, but it is also a BOATLOAD of work to do it right. I believe people don’t immediately understand that.

#professionaldevelopment #arkansasartteachers #artteachers #arkansaseducation #artsupplies #theafoundation