Department of Art and Art History News

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.

Interview with Brent Dixon (MFA in Design, 2015) as he prepares to begin work at the United Nations

Thu. May 28, 2015

fake hands coming from wall with wired gloves on with three screens in back
Image courtesy of the Visual Arts Center. Photo by: Sandy Carson.

Describe your background and what lead you to the MFA Design program at UT Austin.

Brent Dixon: I was a round, jowly, and gassy baby. When I was two years old my parents put me in a baby beauty pageant, and I won "Champion Chubby." As a kid I drew on everything and did science experiments in my room. One time I set my bed on fire by trying to electrify Nickelodeon Gak.

Fast forward: After finishing my undergrad in journalism, I co-founded a web and mobile design shop with a couple of friends. We always designed our first prototypes around a table with our clients, using markers, paper, tape, and hot glue before making something digital. From there I started working in consumer finance, eventually using some of the same design processes to help create financial products for people with limited access to credit. I also led design workshops for business people, and realized how much I enjoyed teaching. A friend and I started a group that organized pop-up hacker spaces for kids, which brought me back to hot glue and science experiments that set things on fire. I came to the UT Austin Design MFA program because I wanted more of that in my life. This program opens up the entire university as one giant playground.

In how to listen: 2015 Design MFA Thesis Exhibition at the Visual Arts Center, you displayed your educational work with children and focus on bringing technology into the classroom in an easy way for teachers. How did you begin working with this age group and thinking about education?

BD: One of the best ways to learn is to teach. I wanted to learn more about things that will have a big impact on our future — technologies like synthetic biology, robotics, digital fabrication —but that felt far outside of my realm of expertise. Designing hands-on workshops for kids provided a system to distill these big topics down to something learnable, fun, and usually messy.

Organizing the workshops helped me meet parents, teachers, and other people working in education. Austin, in particular, has this amazing community of people working to bring hands-on, curiosity-based learning into classrooms. I had actually avoided schools early in organizing these workshops because I was afraid of red tape, but spending time with educators who teach 6 year olds to solder and use power tools opened my eyes to the universe of smart, inspiring people as well as the huge amount of work to be done in formal education.

For the how to listen exhibition, each designer contributed sound clips for a compilation of influences on your projects. Can you tell us more about your selections? Number 41 (a first-grade girl scratches a turntable for the first time) and 58 (a third-grade girl describers her experiments and inventions) and particularly good.

BD: Number 41 was from a one-day workshop at Travis Heights Elementary. We had an extremely amazing of artists, scientists, and educators who volunteered their time to lead workshops with the kids. Three of those mentors were from Dub Academy, an Austin-based DJ and music production school. They taught kids at Travis Heights about new and old school DJ technology. That clip was from a little girl learning how to scratch a record for the first time.

Number 58 was a girl from Walnut Springs Elementary, one of the schools I worked with during my MFA research. In addition to the inventions she describes in the clip (which are amazing) she also helped write a grant to get the school a 3D printer. Later in the interview she encouraged other kids in Austin, saying that if they wanted something like a 3D printer or a community garden at their school: "Just write a grant! You can do it! It's easier than you think!" I was blown away by her.

You recently accepted a position with the U.N. What will you be doing and how did this opportunity come about?

I'll be working with a new group designed to help Secretariat organizations use emerging technologies to address challenges. A mutual friend introduced me to the head of the group and we've spent the last six months brainstorming and getting to know each other. I'm extremely excited to get started.

Margo Sawyer featured in Texas Society of Architects magazine

Wed. May 27, 2015

women sitting in chair surrounded by sculpture in front of painting poses
Image courtesy of Margo Sawyer

Professor Margo Sawyer is featured in the May/June 2015 issue of the Texas Society of Architects Magazine.

Dr. Stephennie Mulder provides expertise on threat to Middle East Antiquities

Wed. May 27, 2015

white overlapping hexagonal and cube shapes on green background
 

Dr. Stephennie Mulder has provided expertise on events surrounding the threat to Middle East Antiquities in the Los Angeles Times, BBC (20 minute mark), and RT America.

Xochi Solis presents work in group exhibition at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art

Wed. May 27, 2015

collage of gray, orange, brown, and green circles piled on top of each other
Signs of an omen, 2015, gouache, house paint, acrylic, acetate, colored paper, naturally dyed paper, and found images on museum board, 7 x5 inches.

Xochi Solis (BFA in Studio Art, 2005) presents work in Flatlander at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. The exhibition is on view May 21 – September 13, 2015.