Department of Art and Art History Art Education

From the Death of Pachyderm to The Internet of Things: A profile of alumnus Alex Freeman

Thu. June 25, 2015

photograph of man wearing brown jacket in front of structure

“I studied at UT Austin at a very interesting time,” said Alex Freeman (MA in Art Education, 2009). “I saw the rapid advancement of certain mobile and social technologies.”

Originally trained as a painter, Freeman worked as a framer and then as a gallery assistant in Houston before entering the Art Education graduate program.

“After a bit of soul searching, I realized that my favorite part of the position at the gallery was talking to people about the art,” described Freeman.

His thesis focused on the historical importance of art critic Charles Caffin (1854–1918). Freeman explains, “it was the technology and the communication channels Caffin used that were of most interest to me—an idea that still plays out today with artwork via websites, blogs, and social media.”

While a graduate student, Freeman used Pachyderm, a microsite builder which used Flash, to create sites for the collections at Mexic-Arte Museum and The New York Graphic Workshop: 1964–1970 exhibition at the Blanton Museum of Art.

“I thought I had found my marketable niche as a Flash-based museum interpretive designer,” remarked Freeman. “Then the iPhone came out and smashed my dreams because Flash was all but dead when that happened.”

During his time creating Pachyderms and obtaining grants for digital projects, Freeman worked with Rachel Varon (BA in Art History/MA in Art Education, 2002/2007), who worked for the New Media Consortium (NMC). The connection would later result in Freeman’s recruitment into a position with the NMC.

“My work at Mexic-Arte and the Blanton provided me with the opportunity to experiment on digital projects that directly connected my coursework with actual museum practice,” said Freeman. “I don’t think I would have been into creating digital interpretives or using social media as much, had I not had an avenue to see how it worked in the real world.”

With Pachyderm out the door, Freeman was forced to apply his interests and knowledge in a different way to his work at NMC.

“Writing, lecturing, and creating digital assets—skills I gained in grad school—are key to the work that I do now at the NMC on the Horizon Project,” said Freeman. “The NMC Horizon Report > 2015 Museum Edition is a longitudinal study on the trends, challenges, and technology poised to impact teaching and learning over the next year to five years. It has generated a lot of buzz within museums circles.”

Freeman’s NMC report was released at the Smith Symposium at Balboa Park and again at the American Alliance of Museums annual meeting. In addition to releasing the report, Freeman was recently awarded an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian grant to pursue an online continuing professional development course for librarians and was also awarded a national leadership grant valued at $500,000 for a similar project for museums.

Later, Freeman was invited to present the NMC report to the IMLS board of directors. While in Washington D.C. for the IMLS presentation, Freeman was invited to attend an award ceremony at the White House, where Michelle Obama was in attendance.

“She [Mrs. Obama] said we could take the cocktail napkins but needed to leave the silverware,” laughed Freeman.

Q+A with Berangér LeFranc, MA candidate in Art Education

Thu. May 28, 2015

women in black blouse poses for photo in front of window

Describe your background.

Berangér LeFranc: In 2011 I earned a BFA in Sculpture & Extended Media from Virgina Commonwealth University. I first became interested in art education after spending a couple of summers teaching art to middle and high school students at a sleep-away camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Following undergrad I worked for The Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond for two years, managing afterschool and summer art programs for members ages 6–18. There, I developed a passion for working closely with the immediate inner city youth community. Since moving to Austin for graduate school, I have gained valuable experience in many facets of art education: teaching sculpture at after school and summer programs with the UMLAUF Sculpture Garden & Museum, facilitating art activities at multiple community events with Creative Action, working at the Visual Arts Center (VAC), and leading tours of exhibitions at The Contemporary Austin.

What attracted you to the MA Art Education program at UT Austin?

BF: When I began researching art education graduate programs, I was having trouble finding one that complemented my interests in community-based education. Most programs focused only on teacher certification for the K-12 public school environment. The art education program at UT Austin stood out to me for its three different research tracks: schools, museums, and communities. This gave me confidence this program would offer a more well-rounded and interdisciplinary approach to art education.

What is your research focus?

BF: For the last year I have been completing my graduate thesis on mindfulness and its applications for teaching artists. This thesis is an action-based research project during which I conducted research on my teaching practice and myself as teaching artist. In summer 2014, I completed an eight-week training with Mindful Schools, an organization out of the Bay Area that offers instruction for educators on how to develop a personal mindfulness practice and how to implement mindfulness into your curriculum. Throughout this training, I kept extensive journals with writing and art responses to the process. In fall 2014, I developed an art and mindfulness pilot program called “Mindful Making” and realized three lessons at an afterschool program with Creative Action.

During my time at UT Austin, I also completed the requirements for the portfolio program in Arts and Cultural Management and Entrepreneurship, a joint effort of the College of Fine Arts and the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

You have been working at the VAC this past year, how has that informed your research?

BF: As a community-based teaching artist, it is important to me to connect to my immediate community. During my time at the VAC, I was able to meet a wider array of students, faculty, and administrators in the Department of Art and Art History and make invaluable connections, both personal and professional.

Beyond the immediate academic community, the VAC was fortunate to host visitors of all ages from all over the state this year, enabling me to hone my skills conducting tours and engaging visitors in conversation about works of art. I also played a key role in the planning and implementation of this year’s Explore UT event, during which we had several hundred visitors come through our space and participate in gallery activities I planned with my colleagues.

What's next?

BF: This summer, I will spend a lot of time in coffee shops completing the written portion of my thesis. I am spending my second summer teaching several weeks of art camps with the UMLAUF Sculpture Garden & Museum — a painting & drawing camp and a sculpture camp, both set in the lush garden environment. At the end of the summer, I am returning to Richmond, Virginia to live with my partner and our four cats. I hope to gain employment with one of the many wonderful arts-based non-profit organizations in the city.

Rising sophomores look back on their first year at UT Austin

Wed. May 20, 2015

print of octagonal 3D forms in beige fog
Guneez Ibrahim, Baucis, 2015, digital print.

"My favorite thing about UT Austin thus far is the size of the Department of Art and Art History. By the end of the year, all the freshmen faces become recognizable, and it begins to feel like a small Twin Peaks-esque town."

Guneez Ibrahim (BFA candidate in Design)


people sit for photo beside sawdust design on street
Alfombra built by students and faculty during Holy Week in Guatemala

"My favorite experience from this year has definitely been going on the Holy Week trip to Antigua, Guatemala. On our second day there, we were on a walking tour of the town, and we walked past a shop playing Livin' On A Prayer by Bon Jovi.

I said, "Bon Jovi?"

Jason Urban turned around and said, "That's basically our life this week."

So, even though his comment didn't make perfect sense to everyone that heard him, one of the themes of our week became livin' on a prayer for sure."

— Kendall Bradley (BFA candidate in Studio Art)


student in blue button up posing for camera with sketchpad
Abbie Weller inside the BOT Greenhouse

"My favorite experience during my first year at UT Austin was visiting the BOT Greenhouse with my drawing foundations class to sketch. The light was really beautiful in the early spring, and it was nice to discover a new part of campus."

Abbie Weller (BA candidate in Art History)


photography of orrange and green shapes
Seth Murchinson, Knossos, 2015, photography.

“One of the best things about coming to UT Austin is being able to interact with people in all disciplines. It really helps you to approach your own studies from a unique perspective.”

— Seth Murchison (BFA candidate in Studio Art)


woman with asymmetrical hairstyle posing for photograph
Image courtesy of Madalin Beavers.

"Probably my weirdest, yet funniest, experience during my first year was when I was walking back to my dorm late at night and came upon two guys trying to film a skate video in a street intersection. The guy being filmed was very slowly going across the intersection while the other guy was clumsily skating in front of him and filming. Both of them were wearing sunglasses, khaki shorts, weird hats, dress shirts, and ties — and looked barely conscious."

Madalin Beavers (BFA candidate in Visual Art Studies)

Leslie Moody Castro, curator-in-residence, at CentralTrak presents I Should Have Been a Pop Star

Fri. May 1, 2015

woman holds up blank poster in front of her body and partially covers her face
Photo credit: Hueso sin Huesito Productions, Jesus Garcia, and Armando Miguelez, 2015.

Leslie Moody Castro (MA in Art Education, 2010) presents I Should Have Been a Pop Star: Evaluating Value as curator-in-residence at CentralTrak. Castro's residency will take place April 18 – May 16, 2015.

The press release states: 

The exhibition will exist within the conceptual framework of a series of articles in The Dallas Observer titled "I Should Have Been a Pop Star: Evaluating Value." In these weekly articles she will reveal her own struggles with value in the industry, as well as interview pertinent characters and voices that can offer insights into visual culture and how it is valued.

Students showcase products, art, and arguments during Research Week

Thu. April 30, 2015

people stand around posters in large ballroom
The 2015 Longhorn Research Bazaar took place on April 22 in the Texas Union Ballroom.

From community-based social design to art exhibitions, symposia, and ethics in art education, department undergraduate students demonstrate the importance of research in Art Education, Art History, Design, and Studio Art.

Students presented projects and artwork during Research Week alongside colleagues across campus. Events included an exhibition of visual art for the duration of the week, presentations at the Longhorn Research Bazaar, and the Undergraduate Art History Research Symposium.

Third year Design students Alexandra Mann and Cassidy Reynolds presented sparkbuddy, a website that enables children to set health goals and connect with other children with similar goals.

“We probably spent around 75% of the semester researching and 25% of the semester formally designing,” described Alexandra Mann. “Good design is well informed within the context of each project. Its not possible to go through the full design process without gaining an in depth understanding of the ‘who, what, where, when, and how’ of your project.”

three women pose for picture in front of poster
Students present projects at the Longhorn Research Bazaar. From left to right: Jacky Cardenas, Natalie Gomez, and Chelsea Chang

Natalie Gomez, Visual Art Studies undergraduate, presented a group research project entitled, Speak up! Should artistic expression in art education receive the same degree of legal protection as other types of freedom of expression?

When asked about the impetus for the research topic, Natalie Gomez explained, “It was an issue that we felt would be extremely beneficial to us and our peers as artists and future art educators.”

On Friday, April 24, seven Art History seniors presented their honors theses papers at the third annual Undergraduate Art History Research Symposium. The event celebrated the end of an intense semester spent writing a thesis paper alongside the students’ normal coursework. Art History senior Tracey Borders presented a paper entitled, Urbi et Orbi: Politics and Patronage in the Papacy of Boniface VIII.

people in raised auditorium listening to woman present with presentation
Tracey Borders presents in front of full room.

“This process has helped me grow as an art historian and as a person,” said Tracey Borders. “It has been one of the most challenging experiences but entirely worth it. I hope to get involved in government after graduation, and the tools I have acquired through the research and writing of my thesis will be extremely useful for the career path I hope to pursue in Texas politics.”

The university’s Office of Undergraduate Research organizes Research Week every year with the School of Undergraduate Studies and the Senate of College Councils. Each year, Department of Art and Art History students participate in this university event and proudly present work resulting from hours spent in the studio, library, and in the community.

“There is no ‘education’ without research,” Natalie Gomez remarked. “Research is essentially a thorough inquiry and that skill is required of all students entering any profession.”

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