Arts Leader Spotlight - Lisa Stuart Whitehead
Beloved by her colleagues and active in national and statewide arts education leadership, Lisa Stuart Whitehead is an inspirational leader. Her recent artwork is currently on display at Crossing Borders at BWI’s D/E International Art Gallery until September 20th–where she continues to inspire reflection and inquiry!
MSDE: When did you first realize you were an artist?
Lisa: I think when I was in high school. My parents were going through a divorce—art and the art classroom became the place where I felt comfortable. I felt like I belonged. My teacher really supported me and she encouraged me to take more art classes. She included me in extra activities. I went down to the Smithsonian Museum and was invited to do an etching course. Acid etching, which you don't usually do in high school. The piece that I created from those workshops, I still have. Everyone in my family has a copy of it and they all keep it hung in their homes.
I also started taking Saturday classes at the Corcoran and took some figure drawing classes throughout my high school time. So, I had an opportunity to learn a little bit more than I would have in a high school classroom. That is what led me to being a teacher.
MSDE: How do you think that creativity shows up in your day?
Lisa: As an administrator it shows up everywhere! Having to be creative with everything I do! As an administrator it's a lot of paperwork and emailing, but I think creativity is woven through all of that, especially when problem-solving. I'm looking for creative solutions to problems, thinking about how to fit the arts into any initiative the county has. All those different moments that come out in the day-to-day that show the arts in everything we do. I feel like I'm just constantly talking about the arts!
MSDE: Why does arts education matter to you?
Lisa: It matters because a lot of time it's where students have that outlet. It's the class that they get to come to where even though we have a curriculum and standards, it's fun and our teachers make it fun and it's okay that it's fun! I think that students walk through the door and they can breathe! “This is my class where I get it and I can be successful and I can excel and show what I know and I feel comfortable.” It's important because we allow students to use that side of themselves that they might not always be using.
MSDE: As a leader in arts and education what are your goals for this coming year?
Lisa: First I want to talk about increasing the number of our teachers in my district, so I wrote a proposal to add 25 new elementary art teachers over the next five years. This year I got the first installment of five positions. It’s awesome, however it comes with a big challenge: filling all the positions. We're in a teacher shortage nationwide and it absolutely has affected the arts here in Maryland. My colleagues and other school systems are also struggling to fill all their positions. I'm very excited that my school system sees the value in wanting to add more art positions, however if I can't fill them, then I don't foresee them continuing with my plan of adding 20 more teachers. It's a goal and it's something that keeps me awake at night.
Personally, I've written two books and I have a goal of getting the word out! (See links to both books below.) I presented over the summer at the National Museum for Women in the Arts which was amazing because we got to use artwork from the museum to do the activities in the book! I'm also presenting at the Kennedy Center for their Supervisor Leadership Program. I'll be presenting to supervisors from the Washington DC area and leading conversations about arts integration, literacy, visual art, and what visual art can do to encourage literacy and engage students who learn in different ways.
Another personal goal is to get my fourth grader to love school! He has ADHD and dyslexia and was accepted into a new school! He's going to receive a very specialized reading and learning program. He was talking to me this morning about not wanting to go to school and hating school. If I could just get him to somehow love school it would be amazing! I'm hoping that this school will be where he feels like he's with his tribe.
MSDE: Tell us about something that has inspired you recently. A person, book, piece of art?
Lisa: My artist husband Christopher inspires me. He is the Visual Art Teacher Specialist for AACPS by day and an artist by night. He eats, sleeps, talks about making art all the time. He has dreams about the artwork he will create and then wakes up telling me about his new ideas. He keeps little journals in his pockets of artwork he wants to create. He carries a sketchbook on him at all times. Our house is full of hundreds of pieces of his work, they are stuffed into every corner of our house, even stored under the stairs! He was classically trained and even studied abroad in Italy. His work is highly illustrative and he loves finding new ways to make art with items such as cardboard, postcards, zip ties, pegboard, fabric, sewing machines, buttons, beads, pipe cleaners, string, etc. Check out his Instagram page where he posts one of his artworks per day @infinitypondstudios and his website where you can see all of his work: www.infinitypond.com
Lisa Stuart Whitehead is the Visual Arts Instructional Supervisor with Prince George’s County Public Schools.
Lisa Stuart Whitehead’s books:
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