NYC Art Educator Interview #3: Katie Walters
The field of Art Education is large and encompasses everything from art teachings in traditional schools, to teaching artists, to museum educators, to administrators in art education non-profits. There are different paths that one can take to get to these positions. This informal interview is designed to help share the knowledge, experience and expertise of those currently working in arts education positions around NYC with current graduate students in Art Education programs in NYC!
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do in the field of Art Education.
My name is Katie Walters and I am currently a full-time high school art teacher at a private school downtown Manhattan. The school is pretty small, so I am the only art teacher and wear quite a few hats. I teach Introduction to Art, American Art, Advanced Placement Art History, Advanced Studio Art, and Advanced Placement Studio Art. Planning for all of the courses that I teach can be challenging, but it is very exciting to have a long range plan for my students, and to see their growth over the years. It is my goal for all my students to see that art is not just for a chosen few, but that we are all artist with a unique artistic voice that can be used to change the world. I also moderate the Art Club and the Magazine Club. These two clubs are mostly student run and our goal is to have fun.
Although my schedule is pretty packed, I find time on the weekend to lead groups of students through the galleries of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. These gallery experiences are inquiry-based and student driven. Having art experiences outside of the classroom informs my teaching. It is in the galleries that I am able to free myself of the constraints of the Advanced Placement Art History curriculum, which moves very quickly, and just enjoy hearing students discuss art. These 60 minute gallery experiences do not allow me to build the kind of relationships that are built over the course of a year, but the 60 minutes does teach me to look at art from a new perspective that I can bring back to my students.
Q: Where are you originally from and how did you end up in New York City?
I am originally from North Carolina, around Asheville. If you have not heard of Asheville, it is the land of the Biltmore Estate, look it up, it is cool. Asheville is a place with many drum cirlces, and bumper stickers that say, keep Asheville weird. I grew up climbing trees, hiking the Blue Ridge Mountains, and exploring Black Mountain, NC. It was not until later in life that I realized how a mountain lady like my myself could end up in NYC. I grew up close to Black Mountain College, an experimental school that saw the likes of John Cage, Willem DeKooning, Robert Motherwell, and some of the Beat Poets. It is the legacy of Black Mountain College that influenced the landscape in which I grew up, and also nurtured my love for the arts. I ended up NYC in order to be closer to all things art related.
Q: Where did you attend school (undergraduate and graduate)? What were your majors?
At first, I did not know what I wanted to major in, until I studied abroad in London and took my first art history course, then I was hooked. At the time of studying abroad I was attending Elon University, in Elon North Carolina, and they did not offer art history as a major. While still in London I applied to transfer to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in order to study art history. I graduated with a B.A. in Art History in 2008. A few years after undergrad I attended CUNY at City College and graduated in 2014 with a M.A. in Art Education.
Q: And how did your major/school affect your career in art education?
For a short period after college I worked for a gallery in NYC, it was this experience that pushed me towards art education. I remember finding comfort amongst the business through simply looking at the art work, and I realized that I just wanted to have a conversation about the art. I have always loved art history for the conversation and the conversion that I personally experience when I look at art. At UNC-Chapel Hill I wrote a research paper on aesthetics and justice, looking particularly at Claude Monet’s Haystack series through the lens of Professor Elaine Scarry’s book On Beauty and Being Just. It was during this research that I began to see art as transformative, and a means of producing hope. I teach art because it gives me hope, and I think that it has the power to give hope to students as well.
Q: Are you doing what you thought you would be doing when you were in college? (If yes, what is it? And how did you get there?) (If not, what are you doing now? And how did you get there?)
When I was in college I though that I was going to be a full-time docent. It was not until later that I realized that docents are often times volunteers and that it would be difficult to be a docent for a living. I never thought that I would become a teacher, but when I graduated in 2008 there were few jobs to be had. I waited tables and simultaneously interned at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA) in the Education Department. So when an art teaching job opened, I applied having had no training, and surprisingly got the job. I am currently teaching at my third high school.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to follow the same career path?
There are many facets of the arts, and many avenues to get to where you want to go, do not be afraid to try several of them before you solidify your path.
Q: What do you do when you’re not educating?
When I am not educating I am spending time with my kitties, biking, reading, and making art.
Q: Any last words of wisdom to share with current art education graduate students in NYC?
Make friends at CCNY and keep in touch with them, because sometimes being an art teacher is lonely. Although there are many wonderful ways to engage our students in social issues, artistic risk taking, and experimentation, at the end of the day you need to have a solid plan for how you are going to teach your students the mechanics of art and art history. I do not think you have to follow a textbook, but The Elements of Art and The Principals of Design cannot be forgotten in a beginning art course. Check out the book, Drawing from the Left Side of the Brain. This is a great book for teaching drawing. Also, find a seasoned art teacher and ask her or him what works for them. Do not be afraid to ask for all their lesson plans.