Our Education team is integral to extending the reach of our multi-disciplinary programs to audiences both in and out of schools. We are delighted to shine a spotlight on our educators as part of the Wexner Center’s 25th anniversary celebration.
Director of Education Shelly Casto joined the Wexner Center staff in 2002 as the School and Teacher Programs Coordinator. She runs our Art & Environment teen and teacher course, and sat down with Development Assistant Diana Gerber to talk about art education and the Wex.
DG: What brought you to the Wexner Center?
SC: I was first here on campus in 1991 to do my MA in Art Education. I was a TA for the “Contemporary Art and Music since ’45” class and was bringing my students to the Wexner Center to amplify the course material. I was in the first class of docents ever at the Wexner Center, with Patricia Trumps and Mary Finke. It was really exciting, the multidisciplinary aspect, and I loved touring the architecture. I remember seeing Laurie Anderson come down the escalator into the shop and thinking “oh my god, this is so unbelievable!” Then I graduated and moved but had talked with Patricia about coming back. Eventually there was a position open and she invited me to join the staff.
DG: Can you talk about goals you have for programs that the education team runs?
SC: One of the things that I’ve really wanted to focus on is to make sure that the program is as interdisciplinary as possible, reflecting the [center’s] larger artistic vision. I’ve always got my eye on film and Performing Arts, to integrate and showcase those in the same way [as our exhibitions]. A greater focus on teenagers has been a major arc of the last ten years, because I feel that that is the audience where we can have the most impact given the nature of our programming, which is so sophisticated and attractive to teenagers. I think that is an important role for us: to bring young people to campus, to introduce them to the artistic programs that we have going on, to help them see what it’s like to be on a college campus and be inspired by being here.
DG: What is your indicator that a program was a success?
SC: We are really focused on moving people between different aspects of our programs. So for me the biggest marker of success is to have a young person come to [a program] when they are little, sign up for a WexLab when they are a teenager, and then become a docent here when they are an undergrad. So that’s one piece. Another would be to see that participation, even if it’s just in a one-time program, has made an impact on their career, or their academic decisions. So for instance, a student in Pages who was failing their English class but ended up starting a blog would be a big inspiration to us.
DG: I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about top moments in your time here at the Wex.
SC: I would certainly talk about Kerry James Marshall’s residency project. Kerry’s the kind of artist who everyone respects, from the art world to the local community. For good reason! He’s a scholar of art history, an amazing painter and an inspirational personality. To get to gather 20 high school students who had never stepped foot in the Wexner Center and help them develop relationships with someone like him was very inspiring. When we were recruiting for the project we had 100 kids show up who wanted to be a part of it. Kids were so fired up about his idea of African American superheroes and bringing them to life.
DG: How has your understanding of art education shifted here at the Wexner Center?
SC: I have always been really excited to work with living artists. I’ve become more interested [in] how art museum educators learn from the thinking processes of artists. A lot of times we are focused on the product, and that’s important and I don’t want to downplay that. Looking closely at artworks is a very important skill that art museum educators foster. But I’d also like to think about how we can help visitors to museums understand how artists value research and interdisciplinary knowledge in our very globally interconnected society. If someone is an accountant, for instance, that person can’t pretend that science or what’s going on in China doesn’t affect them. I think artists have a really important skill set to share, so I’m looking at how in an art museum we can make that skill set more visible.
DG: What are some of your artworks in any discipline that you wish everyone else could see?
SC: With an entire life built around art, it’s pretty tough to choose just a few! Some of the most moving experiences for me personally have been seeing works of art in person, such as a Mark Rothko, a James Turrell, or an Ann Hamilton, whose works really cannot be understood in reproduction. I also really enjoy the entire “art museum package,” so favorite places to see art include the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore and the Denver Art Museum. I have soft spots for 17th century painters Terbrugghen and Caravaggio after working with them over the years. I will never forget a theater production by Mabou Mines of Peter and Wendy. And there is nothing like seeing giant Bread and Puppet characters emerge over the mountains in northern Vermont during a sunset!
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.