Mary Blatherwickc, BA, BFA, MA, PhD, Visual Art and Creativity Educator, Faculty of Education, University of New Brunswick
2) What is your educational background?
I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art Education and a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax NS, a Masters in Art Education from the University of British Columbia, and a PhD from the University of Roehampton, London England.
3) Talk a little about your career path? Where did your passion for the research/work that you do originate and how did it develop?
Art as a lifelong pursuit was encouraged in my family. As a teenager I offered art classes in our front porch and at this young age discovered a passion for teaching. In the summer before I entered university I worked as the art teacher in a speech and hearing clinic and developed a lifelong fascination with how children can use imagery to often convey deep personal feelings and stories to each other.
The Nova Scotia College of Art and Design offered a program in art education and so I applied. After I completed this degree I started my teaching career in the Halifax school system. Three years later I took a leave to begin my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree through NSCAD’s off campus program, which allowed me to travel, study and work overseas. I moved to London, England where I found a job at the British Museum of Natural History. Being submerged in such a rich visual and cultural environment left a lasting impression on my interests in art. I can still see influences in my work from the drawings and watercolors I studied in classes I took while in London or as a result of my frequent visits to the Victoria and Albert museum, which housed collections of artists’ work like Turner and Constable.
After working, studying and travelling through Europe, I returned to Canada and I took a job as an art teacher/coordinator in the local schools and art centre of St. Andrews, NB. My interests in designing and teaching art programs, organizing exhibitions and working with artists deepened in this position. The creative practices of local and regional artists for instance formed the basis of future arts-based research that I conducted through documentary film making.
I can attribute those wonderfully challenging and rewarding early years as a teacher, traveller and artist for starting me on my career path that lead to my work as an art educator at the post-secondary level.
I returned to university to complete a masters of arts degree in art education at the University of British Columbia. My thesis topic was a result of my years as a coordinator in which I was exposed to the issues and fears faced by teachers who were required to teach creative subjects such as art with little or no background in this area of learning.
After graduation I accepted a position as an art educator at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. During this time I continued to research the concept of creative practice in order to inform my teaching and my interests in visual art.
On more than one occasion I returned to public school teaching. After 4 years at the art college therefore, I took a position at Fredericton High School. For me, the public school classroom has always provided a ‘lab’ for exploring creative possibilities and offering research opportunities. For instance, an after school initiative that I started for new comers became the catalyst for my PhD research. Students from China, Central America, Iran and Singapore came to my room each week. Together we explored their worlds and shared them openly with each other. From that culturally enriching experience I decided to examine how intercultural understanding can be increased through the exchange and discussion of students’ cultural images. My PhD research lead to the creation of a provincial art education resource for teaching intercultural understanding.
4) Tell us about one or two of your current projects?
Presently I am working on the completion of a series of films on the creative practices of prominent Visual artists of New Brunswick. So far I have completed 11 featuring artists such as Molly and Bruno Bobak, Romeo Savoie, Hermenigilde Chiasson, Suzanne Hill, and Fred Ross. It is hoped that these films will expose students and the public to another way to experience the world and the richness that results from creative practice.
Another project that I am presently working on is the final editing and publishing of a text titled Creative Practices in Teaching and Learning in the 21st. This project grew out of the need for post-secondary level Canadian texts on this topic.
5) How do you see your research/work in terms of possibly contributing to evidence-based public policy?
My work could have a positive effect on those developing public policy in the area of art education and the arts. More research is needed to support decisions that are made about arts funding and creative industires in general.
My research, teaching and leadership in the area of creativity could potentially have a significant impact on public policy as our province moves towards a more creative and innovative economic and cultural future. Being part of the discussion about creativity and innovation and finding ways to explore these concepts through interdisciplinary initiatives is central to my work and research as an art educator at UNB, and more recently as the chair of the Atlantic Centre for Creativity.
6) Discuss any past achievements that were significant to your professional path? Have any contributed to the promotion of evidence-based public policy?
Throughout my career I have always regarded my ability to instil creative confidence in my students as a significant achievement. My passion for teaching has been recognized on a number of occasions. I received the Province of New Brunswick Award for Excellence in Art Education In 1997. A few years later I was awarded the UNB Allen P. Stuart award for excellence in teaching, and was nominated twice for the Award of Distinction in Teaching Excellence in Atlantic Canada.
In addition to teaching I have been a strong advocate for community-based art education initiatives undertaken by New Brunswick art galleries, art centres and museums. For my community-based work as a chair of two art centres, regular presenter, instuctor and art education advocate, I received the Canadian Society for Education through Art Association’s Art Educator of the Year Award in 2014. Promoting art education and creativity throughout the educational system and at the community level has been essential in my career.
My work as member of various committees has led to changes made in provincial curriculum and policy documents related to both art education and the fine arts. Evidence collected by art educators over the years has resulted in modifications to educational policies and helped to instigate more creative approaches /solutions to public school and private sector art education programing.
7) Describe in a couple of sentences your involvement with NBSPRN and how your relationship with the Network has contributed to your research/work and/or to social/economic policy?
NBSPRN has been very helpful in assisting me with the application process for two SSHRC grants, which were for projects with Doc Talks and the Atlantic Centre of Creativity. They also assisted me in securing a grant from ARTSNB for a recent film project.
8) Any last thoughts?
The belief that everyone’s life can be enriched through an involvement on some level with creativity has fuelled my career as an art and creativity educator. It is my hope that educational programs at all levels will provide more opportunities for critical and creative thinking. I regularly hear from students how their lives have been changed as a result of thinking ‘outside the box’, taking risks, exploring creative problem solving and expressing themselves in new ways.