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.
After completing an MFA, Jean Pitman moved to Ohio from Hawai’i to work with teens outside of school for internships, in WexLabs, and through community organization collaborations. Pitman, Wex educator for youth programs, and Development Assistant Diana Gerber talk about art education and the impact of firsthand arts experiences.
DG: Can you talk about some of the goals that you have when you’re running your programs?
JP: I very much want people to feel welcomed, and I very much want people of all ages to engage in some curiosity about the Wexner Center for the Arts. I want them to have a positive experience of wonder and surprise. And I also want them to consider feeling comfortable with discomfort. And feel like it is OK to think in a new way.
DG: When you’re running a program like WexLab, which is typically a day-long workshop, what indicates to you that the program is a success?
JP: I want it to be easy to get in to, so a quick, easy start. I want people to get a sense that they are a professional component in a real project. I want ideas to flow in a way that is light, speedy, and non-judgmental.. That is integral to the way creativity functions, to have a certain amount of courage or lack of fear, and to just plunge in, and start messing around with materials, start messing around with gear, and see what happens. And those can create some of the most delightful end results. But it’s also very process-oriented. But then also the clock is running. We have a limited day. So you have to keep fluid, you can’t say “Oh I need a month in order to develop this idea,”—you just don’t have that option. And as a professional artist, you don’t have all the time in the world to say, “Oh I need to feel inspired.” Professional artists are actually working all the time. They are thinking, sketching, storyboarding, developing ideas, it isn’t just, “Oh, when I feel like it I’ll do it,” it’s very highly disciplined and daily. And I want kids to know that: making a video isn’t all glamour. It’s a lot of work.
DG: Can you talk a little bit about a top moment during your time here at the Wexner Center?
JP: I have to say that the Weinland Park Storybook was probably my favorite project. That really came together in a way that was sort of surprising and kind of brilliant on a number of levels in that it’s become quite beloved in the neighborhood—and I feel like my toughest critic was going to be the neighborhood. I feel very proud of that book.
DG: The book was a project unlike anything we had done before. How has your understanding of art education shifted over your time here?
JP: I started to learn this a few years ago when I was in Honolulu, but it became very clear here, the more I did my job, is that each young person that comes into the situation is not alone, that they are a part of a constellation of a whole family, culture, religious, neighborhood, socioeconomic [situation], they come with all these connections, that they bring with them. And when a kid has a positive experience here and they go home or they go to school and they talk about it, that’s a huge deal. And when that is happening over and over again, that creates a real viral, sort of positive word and I didn’t realize that was quite as powerful as it is.
DG: What are some of the contemporary artworks that you’ve come into contact with that are your favorites or just that you wish that other people would have a chance to see?
JP: Oh my. The thing about this is that I’ve been massively, massively impacted by contemporary art at many times in my life, but it had to do with where I was at. I think one of the pieces that had a huge impact on me early on, was by the artist Janine Antoni, and she made this performance piece called Loving Care. She had long, long black hair at the time. And she mopped the floor of one of IMMA’s gallery spaces in Dublin, Ireland, with her hair and this dye in a bucket. That piece made a huge impact on me, as far as what an artist feels she needs to do in order to communicate her ideas. It was gorgeous. Black dye and metaphors of women’s labor. But then the process of her actually doing it, being able to witness that and watch that in real life, was monumental to me. Actually seeing art happening changes your understanding of it in a fundamental way.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.