Kathleen Keys 

click to enlarge JEREMY LANNINGHAM

Kathleen Keys, a Boise State assistant professor of art education, loves to see the community involved in art. Keys recently received the 2008 Art Educator of the Year award from the Idaho Art Education Association, which agreed with a nomination letter that her classes are compelling, rigorous and rewarding. Keys is not sure who nominated her, but suspects it may have been one of her graduate students.

What kind of a feel do you get from the Boise art scene?

Visiting art exhibitions and participating in visual art events is a big part of my life, and I think there are many positives about the Boise art scene. It is amazing to see what creative and hard-working groups of people can create. The Boise State Art Department has approximately 800 students majoring in graphic design, art education, visual art, illustration or in the history of art and visual culture, representing a strong and continued interest in visual art in Boise.

How did you end up in Boise?

When I was in graduate school in Ohio, my partner, Brian Taylor—musician, writer, and freelance social critic—and I started exploring the idea of moving out West. At that same time, the Idaho Commission on the Arts was searching for a new director of community development. I was offered the position, and we moved to Boise in the fall of 1999.

How did you start teaching?

I began working as the art department's gallery director and teaching as an adjunct professor in the fall of 2003. In 2005, I began in my current position of assistant professor of art education.

Are you proud of the art program that the university offers?

Most definitely. The department is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. We have a great faculty, diverse degree program offerings, the Visual Arts Center, an active Visiting Artist and Scholar Program and hard working students. Specifically in the art education program, our graduates are working as art teachers or in other community teaching contexts and bringing relevant and rigorous content into their work with students. The graduate students in art education regularly present at state and national conferences and bring new ideas into their art education practice during and following their graduate study.

What are your responsibilities within the department?

As a faculty member, I conduct and publish art education research, coordinate and teach in both the undergraduate and graduate degree programs in art education, and take part in community service.

Do you believe that the community is involved in the Boise art scene?

I think we have a reasonable amount of community involvement and know that many of our art organizations and other entities, including the art department, are working diligently to draw in new audiences and find ways to creatively involve, serve or reach out to the community.

Do you wish that there were more involvement?

I would like to see community members in the active roles of not only participating, but planning, collaborating and taking part in the development of Boise's visual art programming and cultural life.

Do you believe that there should be more push toward educating younger generations in art?

Definitely. The challenge that we have in Idaho and pretty much echoed at most places across the nation, although not all, is that we don't have art teachers in elementary school. The hiring of art professionals and art teachers is primarily done at the junior high and high school level. And I think that it's a shame to make students wait until seventh grade to have their first art class.

What kind of programs would you like to see to get kids engaged with art?

Kids need access to highly qualified art educators and artists. Teachers and parents must advocate for art programming in schools and community wide. We need art teachers at the elementary levels and to keep and expand the junior high and high school curricular offerings. I would like to see high quality after-school, Saturday and ongoing workshop opportunities for art students at all levels offered in the community by diverse organizations. Education moves slowly, and to be honest, it is always a bit behind in terms of keeping up with art and technology and what kids are interested in and want to do. Today, young students can create videos and photography with their cell phones, post artwork and writing on blogs or Web sites, and current K-12 art curricula rarely investigates these exciting developments.

You talk a lot about community arts pedagogy. What exactly do you mean by that?

This is the approach I bring to both my research work and how I educate students to teach about art. It is about cultivating learning environments grounded in ideas of community and creating community within the classroom. It also means incorporating the strengths and changes in the outside community and taking that into teaching, whether it is traveling exhibitions, artist lectures or new technology. Much can be learned from quality community arts projects and thinking about these kinds of possibilities for use within formal K-12 and higher education contexts.

Tell me about your class that's involved with bringing art to Boise refugees.

Starting next week, my Multicultural Arts students and I are implementing a six-week service-learning project with the International Rescue Committee and the Boise Language Academy. We will be working with refugee students grades seven through 12 in an after-school program, teaching art and facilitating art activities—and hope to conclude our time together with an exhibition. Coinciding with the practice of community pedagogy and service-learning in general, we won't just show up and say, "OK here is what you need to learn about art and here is what we are teaching you," but rather we plan to engage the students in our planning and ask, "What are you interested in, what might be helpful, and what can we do together that will be mutually beneficial over the next six weeks?"

What is one of your pet peeves?

My biggest pet peeve is when creative thinkers stop thinking creatively.

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