Artists Who Care Interview #1 Miriam Rankin part I

March 4, 2010

Receiving the New York City Art Teachers Award

I’ve been wanting to feature different artists, who are using their creativity to heal, transform, or otherwise improve the world.
Miriam Rankin is the first artist in this new feature, Artists Who Care. If you know someone whose story would fit here, please let me know.

I met Miriam  8 years ago through my online artists support group. I later visited her for several days in her Brooklyn home where she and her family graciously received me.

In our group she is a highly inspiring voice. She is pragmatic as well as creative, which is probably why she has achieved so much. When I got to know her, she was working plus going to school 7 days a week to finish up her masters 31 years (after graduating with a B.A. in 1972).

4 short years later, she received the Art Teacher of the Year award from the New York City’s art teachers union.

In conversations about art, Miriam would often express a yearning to practice her own art more. But what is our ‘own’ art? Instead of making paintings in a studio,  she has used her creativity in a highly effective manner to improve the lives of thousands of children.

Here is her story:

Miriam, please tell us something about your background
I’ve designed appliqués and embroidery for a well known children’s clothing firm, designed and built costumes for a college theater group, painted murals and furniture, made beaded jewelry and funky laminated pins, been a teaching artist for seniors and young children through various art organizations, and my most creative job of all- I’ve raised three children who all are artists themselves. 

Once my children were grown, I became a teacher I suppose because I was “genetically” programmed to be one. 

What was the situation like when you first took the position of art cluster teacher at your school?

Ten years ago, the art cluster position was basically babysitting for students while the classroom teacher got a break. 

I worked out of a closet, I didn’t have my own room or even a cart to carry supplies.  I had an impossible schedule, seeing 25 classes weekly- that’s about 600 students and I had a limited time I could spend with each class! 

What were your own wishes and dreams for these kids?

Most of the students in my school are new immigrants and come from low income families where most commonly both parents work and struggle;  many are unable to speak or understand English. 

We also have a large special education population, children with learning frustrations and self-image problems. 

I wanted to immerse these students in art- not just visual art but all the creative arts.  I wanted them to feel the power of it and learn by being motivated by it. 

  ….and how did you begin to realize those dreams?

Besides teaching art, I was given the title “Project Arts Coordinator”.  
It was a vaguely defined position with no inherent power; the idea was that someone be “in charge” of making sure that the arts were present in each school. 

I took it seriously and expanded it to include not only visual but other art forms- drama, music, creative movement and dance.

I designed my visual art program to be skill-centered.  I united the school with yearly themes (one year, it was “Harmony,” which of course relates to colors, voices, and people getting along- a wonderful connection to inspire creative art). 

I help the teachers by designing professional developments sessions: how to plan trips, how to display artwork, how to extend art projects from the art room into the classroom, connecting them to other subjects in a fun, productive way. 

The principal and teachers know that they can depend on me for a welcoming central hall display, booking trips, ordering buses, filling in forms, planning good events, and dozens of other chores that come up in the school year. 

I photo document every part of the program, so that when visitors come or donors want to know how we’ve used their grant money, I can readily show them heartwarming pictures of students engaged in art making and the glorious results. 

Over the years, I brought in thousands of dollars in grant money to provide the school with richly creative programs that brought my young friends experiences they would not have had otherwise.

continued in next post

2 Responses to “Artists Who Care Interview #1 Miriam Rankin part I”

  1. madsilence Says:

    Is there a gene for creativity?

    • szoutewelle Says:

      Hi MS, You are referring to the comment about ‘genetically programmed’? I had to edit the interview rather drastically, here is what got cut out, it provides a context.

      “In my generation, women had three options. Those who did well academically became nurses or teachers and those who didn’t became secretaries. Once I became a mother, that was my main occupation and I will always be grateful that I had the chance to stay home to raise my children. When they were grown, I became a teacher I suppose because I was “genetically” programmed to be one”.

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