After the tough decision to choose a major, Mary Jennings ’88 graduated from Moore with a major in Textile Design. She then proceeded to work in textiles for approximately six months before moving on to interior design, then mural painting. Now, as a fine artist and art educator, Jennings is vice president of Moore’s Alumni Council and a major supporter of the ImagineMoore Capital Campaign. Her support for Moore’s Teachers Summer Institute (which will be rebranded in 2022 as the Summer Artist / Educator Residency), will allow working art educators to take sorely needed time to refresh their practices, in and out of the classroom.
Kendyl Boyd, a 2021 BFA graduate in Art Education, knows firsthand the inherent value of supporting art educators. Thanks to ongoing scholarship funds, she is now enrolled in Moore’s Art Education graduate program while she works as the 2021–2023 FAO Schwarz Fellow in Community Engagement and Family Programs at the Barnes Foundation.
We brought Jennings and Boyd together to discuss their own journeys as educators, the magic of museum engagement and art classrooms and why it’s so important to support current and future art educators.
Editor’s Note: This interview took place in early October 2021 and has been edited for length.
Why is it important to support art educators?
KB: In my experience growing up, the arts were not championed in schools. And as an educator in training, I can see how art educators are also often not championed. I work at the Barnes Foundation in community engagement and family programs right now, giving people space to express themselves creatively. People who are facilitating those experiences need support and tools. The conversations I’ve had in my classes and the types of events at Moore, such as symposiums and art educator conferences, have given me a lot of professional development that's been significant in being able to reach different audiences. The program at Moore is focused on inclusive practices, which is so crucial but often forgotten about in schools or in community enrichment. As educators, it’s not only important for us to have support in that kind of practice, but also that our own creative well-being is supported.
MJ: I totally agree. I am an art educator, but not to the level where I selected that as my major and got formal training in it. That is partially the reason why I think it's important to support art educators. There's a level of empathy that goes along with being an art educator—having the heart to want to pour out to others. In art, there are special ways that teachers can connect with people and it requires a real fullness in how they prepare for their practice, how they show up, and how they take care of themselves.
Kendyl, it is so nice to meet you and to see that we share so much, as far as our desires for art educators. And it's really a treat to meet someone who has made the determination that this is the direction you want to take and getting yourself properly equipped. I love that you work at the Barnes Foundation. I want to be your friend now, like, hard. [laughter]
KB: Yes, I’m the 2021–2023 FAO Schwarz Fellow in Community Engagement and Family Programs. My role is very new. They crafted it to be someone who can go deeper and make the connections between what's happening in curatorial and in our community programs. So I'm connecting with the curators and the curatorial department and I’m finding the threads that are there in our permanent collection or a special exhibition, so that it can be connected back to our community programs. One of my main projects right now that's coming up in November is teaching an after-school workshop at McMichael School in West Philly, with third through fifth and sixth through eighth graders. I'll be with co-teaching with my teaching artists about the Barnes collection, and about our special exhibition artist this season, Suzanne Valadon.
MJ: That's fantastic. I would imagine the collaborative opportunities are immense. I have actually never been to see the Barnes collection. It’s on my absolute ginormous bucket list to head to Philly and see that, because I'm actually in Virginia, right outside the D.C. area. Do people approach you, Kendyl, for opportunities or are the programs already in place?
KB: This new after-school workshop I'll be teaching has been assigned to me. I'm really interested in teen programming so I’m starting to look at the teen population and research that. It’s a combination of supporting my teammates in existing programming initiatives, and then also taking things and making them my own.
MJ: My internship, when I graduated in textile design in 1988, was in New York City at the Cooper Hewitt Museum, which is part of the Smithsonian, in their textile design department. It was more or less documenting their collection, so it wasn't as exciting as interacting with people. I think museums have come so far in fulfilling some of their obligations as nonprofits, in putting out educational programming to others.
KB: In the Art Education program at Moore, I've been exploring museums since I was a first-year student—and I started volunteering at the Barnes in the same department that I work in now, so everything came full circle. There’s a lot of conversations from communities that have been historically excluded from museum spaces. The museum does not have a purpose today that it did years ago, to just remain standing on a hill as some structure. It has, honestly, a moral obligation to connect with the communities around it and to connect with people.
What’s so special to me about the Barnes is that Dr. Barnes wasn't an art historian or an artist himself. He was the person who invented Argyrol, which was given to babies to prevent them from going blind, when it was so common for mothers to have gonorrhea and their babies could be born blind. That's how he made his fortune. And so for him to have gone into the arts and provide art education for the people that were working for him in his Argyrol factory...he was benevolent in that he believed that art was for all. He bought lots of artwork with the money he made, because he didn't know what else to do with it, and then shared that with the people who were working for him: Black people and women that were working for him in the early 20th century.
What I'm doing at the Barnes is continuing to facilitate and provide art education for people who continue to be historically excluded. It’s about taking it a step further. With the after-school workshop, our community partners don’t even have an art room. So it's that much more important to me. The support, resources and training that I received in the Art Education program at Moore really prepared me for facilitating experiences that are going to be nontraditional.
MJ: I really struggled to find my major. I was like, do you have to major? Why? And you have to make that decision, sometimes, before you're ready. I remember sitting in one of the big windows on one of the heaters, thinking, what am I going to do?
The textile design department really appealed to me because I was able to be a fine artist but make it commercial. I loved patterns and I knew that it would probably teach me some good design skills that would be useful. My senior thesis had to do with what to do if you got yourself into an artist block. It was basically a lesson instead of a thesis; if you're feeling like you're unable to create, how do you bring yourself out of that? It’s funny because I do that still today, as I teach.
I only stayed in strict textile design for a whole six months and then I went into interior design. Then I went into mural painting. But the teacher thread has always been there. I'm artist in residence at a resort in Middleburg, VA, the Salamander Resort and Spa. I teach adults and I only have them for two hours so it's very quick. My philosophy is that everyone's an artist, but you would be surprised how many “stuck” people come—you know, “oh, I can't draw a stick figure.” When you are stunting your ability to be a creative person you are cutting so much off. It's not about technique, it's about making better choices, being a better citizen; it's a whole picture. So when I'm teaching adults, I have to help them overcome so much. I create an environment, even though it's in a resort, and even though they want to act like it's nothing. They see that I'm working hard to welcome them, and they actually leave with something. It makes me happy that I've used this little opportunity to actually teach them something. Color theory is one of the main things that I teach, but also composition and mainly the courage to make something. I think that there's an untapped population of people that have missed out on developing creative abilities. I also love teaching children but the adults are more in need.
It does seem like there is a bit of magic that happens in an art education classroom that doesn't necessarily happen in other types of classrooms. What do you each think about what makes an art education classroom different than other classrooms?
MJ: It's always a little bit at risk, the environment. I don't know that an art educator always feels like they're set. And so they have to be sturdy and appear resourceful; they can't appear like they're not making magic happen. I think art educators have a lot of work.
KB: I'm in my STEAM class right now for the master's program, and I've been thinking a lot about this. The art room or the art-making environment is a lot like a lab where exploration, observation and experimentation can take place. A lot of the same things do happen in both a science lab and an art studio. Playing, tinkering, experimenting—that is something that scientists, engineers and artists all do, so in my ideal art room situation, that's something that's possible for any student or any community participant. There should always be an underlying structure but the less prescriptive, and the more opportunities for play, experimentation, innovation, the better. That is when students and participants experience the most growth, or the most production. I’m imagining an early-stage Montessori for older people. [laughter]
MJ: Yeah, creating a space where it's safe and it feels safe. I actually figured out that I enjoyed teaching when I was teaching preschoolers. I had to show up with five lesson plans in my mind, but be prepared to pivot at any given time because you have to roll with how they roll.
MJ: You have to be ready to welcome them warmly, but also look like you're completely in charge with your five lesson plans. These little kids were the best because they would tell you like it is. And it was a safe place; they felt like they had everything they needed. So you have to have everything ready for whatever direction a creative path will take, like you say, for experimentation. Kendyl, are you very organized with your materials?
KB: When I was student teaching at Friends Select School in the Quaker schools here in Philadelphia, we were “Art on a Cart” during the pandemic. And so it was hard to be organized, but we had to be. I think art teachers have to be organized out of necessity, even if we're not organized in our own practice or in any other regard. The more organized an art teacher is, it allows for students and participants to have that experience where they can explore and do whatever, because we have that set up for them. Also, students or participants with diverse needs can be overly stimulated by things, so it really helps to have things organized for them because otherwise it might be sensory overload for them.
MJ: Yeah, when I teach my adults, some of them don't realize they have diverse needs. But you have to have everything laid out so it's almost like a place setting; it's very inviting. It gives them the confidence that you've got their back throughout the process. It’s a very vulnerable experience to learn something, to learn art, and to express yourself.
KB: I think that’s true of anything. Coming into this new job, my first job out of college, I have a really awesome supervisor but like sometimes I'm just like, I need someone to lay out the tools or show me how to do things. Obviously, I'm going to learn, but it can be intimidating, when I'm not told the process for how to do something. As you said earlier, people are vulnerable coming into a new space. The less barriers, the better, and the more accessible it is.
Mary, tell us why you gave to the ImagineMoore Capital Campaign, and specifically why you were interested in the Teachers Summer Institute program.
MJ: The Teachers Summer Institute (TSI) appealed to me because I understand how much it takes for a teacher and what's required of them during the regular school year. If a teacher is interested in pouring into themselves during their time off to be a better teacher, and to pour out again during the school year, I want to reward them in the way that I can.
As a teacher of adults, I can't tell you how many times I've heard stories about teachers that might not have been fully aware of how worn down they were and how they might have impacted a student in their elementary years, [to the extent] that they are still telling the story about how the teacher said this about that. I mean, they are in their forties, telling me their stories about their experience with art teachers who might have been over poured. I absolutely get it; you really can't know everything you're saying, and you can't take it back. But I applaud the teacher that wants to pour in and wants to grow, wants to develop, wants to really invest further in being a better teacher. These teachers are passionate about their development; they put forward the research to discover Moore and TSI.
Also, I was asked to give. That was very important. We all know as soon as we graduate, people want us to give back in some sort of way, but being asked was really helpful to me. And it was in a time, in a season, when I could make that happen. But it wouldn't have happened if I hadn't been asked.
Kendyl, as someone who has been in Moore’s undergraduate and graduate Art Education programs, and who is an emerging art educator, what does this kind support from donors mean to you?
KB: I have been really, really blessed to have a lot of support from different donors throughout my Moore career. It’s made it more accessible, in terms of not having to worry about it. This fall semester, I was preparing to pay for tuition, and I literally had a zero balance bill. This was amazing. It allows me to not have to think about that aspect; I can focus on professional development. I'm now starting to balance a new job as well as trying to provide myself with training and all the other things that are going on in this pandemic era. It’s literally making my education so much more accessible and allowing me to focus. It provides space and agency in my brain to ask myself the questions that I need to ask as an educator, or asking my colleagues or my classmates the questions that we need to be asking in order to continue pushing ourselves in our careers. I cannot be more grateful for the support that I've received over the past five years of more in my education.
MJ: It gives you a little bit more gas, knowing that someone cares enough about your journey to invest in you, without even knowing who you are. It feels like somebody is giving me a rah-rah that alleviates some of the financial burden and, like you said, you have room in your mind to be able to work. A lot of people carry this huge burden while they're trying to pursue something that they feel is very valuable, but they don't really feel supported, either by their own family or by their own circumstances. To get that little push…even if it's a small scholarship. I got a small scholarship when I attended Moore and it just felt like they really wanted me. It’s so encouraging to get that extra help.
KB: I feel like every student at Moore has that experience because we all receive a scholarship. I remember other students when they were entering in my year, saying, ‘Moore really wants me’ and I was like, ‘They want all of us!’” [laughter] It allows me to work deeper, as you said, but I don't have to question the value of the education that I'm pursuing. I think a lot of people, with the cost of higher education and the degrees that we're paying for, question the value of school. I don't have to think that way because I know that I'm getting professional development. Again, this semester I had a zero balance. I didn't have to think about whether I should have deferred it to after my fellowship or anything like that.
MJ: What’s also really impressive, Kendyl, is you made the step regardless. You were prepared to take that challenge. Moore is, I feel, particularly unique in that they really work hard to take care of the students, but it takes risky behavior in enrolling and going forward and, honestly, knowing your value without being endorsed in some way beforehand. So, bravo. I really look forward to meeting you one day, Kendyl.
KB: I do, too. Likewise.