On Being Named MA Art Educator Of The Year

Two weekends ago I received the Massachusetts Art Education Association 2015 Art Educator of the Year award. I found out about the award earlier in the school year and was congratulated and celebrated in the local media at that time. I took it all in stride then and November 8th seemed so far away. As the day drew near, the thought of giving a speech in front of hundreds of people loomed large and scary, growing as each day passed.

Receiving the award with MAEA Past President Coni Moore and Awards Chair Eva Kearney – Photo by Sarah Carlisle

Having been fairly consumed with STEAM Education, 3D Printing in the Art Room, and iPads in Art throughout the past year, I have become hyper-aware of the similarities between the artistic process and the engineering design process, and I wanted to share what I have observed.

I also wanted to talk about my vision for art education, where students go to art class to learn the skills, techniques, and habits of mind of an artist, and art educators go into the classrooms to help facilitate the application of these skills and more as students complete projects. My vision doubles the number of art educators in our schools. 

All of the MAEA Art Ed award winners
All of the MAEA Art Ed award winners – Photo by Sarah Carlisle

Even more daunting than the hundreds of art educators in the room, my family would be there, including my 86 year old mother (sorry Mom – I had to give your age). And my family would be joined by the school superintendent (my boss). Between the honor of receiving the award and the people in the audience, I wanted to say important things. I worked on my speech off and on for an entire week while my poor husband endured a practice reading of each and every iteration.

Dr. Joe and Me
Dr. Maruszczak and me


I was introduced by MAEA Awards Chair Eva Kearney with these words:

“Another Mass-Art alumnus,and another person who jumped into our Board, hit the ground feet-first and has been “running” with it all ever since: our Art Educator of the Year teaches in the small rural town of Mendon, at the Miscoe Hill Middle School, part of the Mendon-Upton regional School District.

Though she collects and channels and shares all things “Mona Lisa”, I feel that Alice is more like the Renaissance artist who created the Mona Lisa – the female, current-day counterpart of Leonardo (da Vinci) himself!
She is part teacher, part artist, part scientist, part explorer, part experimenter, part technology guru – and a champion for all things humanistic – for all students and teachers – for all people in this life.
She is a woman of convictions, morality, kindness and generosity with a down to earth sensibility. She is always willing to participate, help, share and work for Art and Art Educators. Her motto is often “Let’s get this done!”

I am proud to present Alice Gentili, our Massachusetts Art Educator of the Year for 2014-2015.

Eva Kearney announcing my award
Eva Kearney announcing my award – Photo by Sarah Carlisle

Too late to turn back, I went up on stage, accepted  the award, and took the microphone.  The speech follows:

At the podium
At the podium – Photo by Sarah Carlisle

Good afternoon and thank you so much for this award. Congratulations to all of the other art educators who have received awards today! This is truly a special day for me. I am honored and humbled to be receiving this award at my alma mater, Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

I graduated from MassArt with a BFA in Painting long ago, so long ago that this was Boston State College at the time. MassArt was up at the top of Longwood Ave. The Longwood building stands out in my memory as the site of the annual egg drop contest, where package design students would perch on the fire escape to launch the eggs they had carefully protected with packaging to see whose egg best survived the fall. 

The other two buildings were the Fullerton building, down behind the old Sears Outlet, and the Overland building, which was right across the street from Fenway Park. Overland became a home away from home for me, once I landed studio space as an upperclassman. Believe it or not, I paid just $20 per MONTH to park right there beside the building for as long as I wanted every day. That was a great deal. Although during the Red Sox games, I would get parked in and have to wait until the game was over to be able to move my car. Fortunately, an artist’s work is never done and there was always something to do in the studio while I waited.

Also, going building-to-building down Brookline Ave with wet paintings could be a challenge. There is nothing like carrying a big canvas, wet with oil paint, on a rainy or windy day. The canvas would become an instant sail, propelling me along the sidewalk. Despite the challenges, I loved MassArt and I am most proud of the BFA I earned here. 

I want to thank Kristi Oliver, President of the Massachusetts Art Education Association, for her nomination for this award. Kristi is one of the most talented and hard working art educators I have ever met. It is truly an honor to have been nominated by Kristi and to be considered exemplary in her eyes. 

I’d like to thank the MAEA Executive Board for honoring me with this award. I have seen this board in action, working tirelessly to advance high quality visual arts education in Massachusetts. They are terrific people who consistently work hard on behalf of art students and art educators across the state. 

My superintendent, Dr. Joseph Maruszczak, joins me at my table today. I am honored that Dr. Joe took time out of his very busy life to be here as I receive my award. Dr. Joe is sitting at my table and so is my mother. Which means my mother is sitting at the same table as my boss. I’m just a little bit nervous about that. It reminds me of the note some schools send home at the start of the school year. In this case, it goes something like this: “Dr. Joe, I would ask that you promise not to believe everything my mother says happened at home, and in return, my mother will promise not to believe everything you say happens at school.” All kidding aside, Dr. Joe is a champion of the arts in our district, and he leaves us alone so we can get the job done. As an administrator, he provides the desired combination of extreme support and benign neglect. 

My mother cried when I told her about this award. And I know my dad smiled down from above. My seven siblings and I are blessed to have been raised by two loving parents. My parents were educators who somehow found the patience to come home after a day at school to a houseful of kids needing their attention. With our big family, our house was always busy with activity. Early on, I loved art and would spend my free time drawing or painting, usually at the dining room table in the center of the house. While family activity swirled around me, I would retreat to a quiet space in my head through my art, and my family always understood and supported my need to do that. 

I have to thank my husband for coming into the city to be here today when he would always rather be back on our little farm with the chickens, goats, alpacas, and peacocks. When I went for my Masters in Art Ed, I was advised to get to know the custodian, to always be on good terms, because art is messy and sometimes dangerous and the custodian will help the most. Some would say I took it to heart. I married my custodian/maintenance man and I can no longer imagine my life as a teacher without him in the building. He starts the kiln for me early in the morning, he fixes my sinks, and he moves the heavy stuff. Now that I think of it, maybe he should be the one getting this award! 

I’m so glad my son and his girlfriend can be here today as it is a work day for both of them. They’re both great kids and very funny, yet both of them are blessed with deep compassion. We don’t get to see them a lot due to busy work schedules, so I treasure any time we find to catch up and share stories after a long day or hectic week. I am happy to have them at my table.

I am receiving this award at an interesting time in art education, and I believe it is a good time for art education. I believe art educators are needed more than ever right now. With a nationwide focus on STEM, the importance of Design Education has never been greater.

Nationwide, art educators are pointing out the ways in which science, math, and technology are used on a regular basis in their art rooms. Whether or not we identify this content for our students and administrators, we all know these other subject areas are integral in what we do every day, just as they were when MassArt students were dropping eggs from the Longwood fire escape. 

Over the past few years my focus in art education has been in developing curriculum to integrate iPads in the art room. Last year I was able to kick it up a notch thanks to a grant for a 3D printer. After a lot of trial and error, I found a way for my middle school students to design for 3D printing using their iPads. We have had great success with it and I have written curriculum where 3D printing is the medium for artistic expression. 

Next week, I will wrap up a STEM/STEAM Certificate program, for which I have been writing STEAM curriculum for the past four months. Through this work, I have had a lot of time to think about the role of art education in schools today. 

While integrating other content area is organic to our discipline, even more important is the problem solving which occurs within every art project. In fact, the artistic process is mirrored in the five basic steps of the Engineering Design Process as follows:

1. Ask – What is the problem, what are the constraints?

2: Imagine – Brainstorm ideas, choose the best one

3: Plan – Make a rough draft, gather materials

4: Create – Follow the plan, test it out

5: Improve – Consider what might work better




Revise, and so on.

Doesn’t that sound familiar? Our art students follow this process every day in the art room. Today’s students need art class to develop their problem solving skills, to learn to take risks, to push ideas until they are fully developed. 

Students today must also learn how to communicate visually. In order to do that, they must acquire the skills defined within the visual art curriculum.

Consider this:

Scientists, Engineers, and Mathematicians can have the most amazing ideas and develop truly innovative products, but without design and visual communication skills, the products remain on the drafting table. Artists contribute to the STEAM field through the generation of original ideas, the aesthetics of great design, and in visual communication for marketing to investors and consumers.  

As you know, none of that can be accomplished without our commitment to developing creativity in our students. As our nation overall deepens its commitment to testing and relying on data generated through assessment, the groundswell group of those advocating for Project Based Learning is growing. And with that, so is the need for the processes we art educators understand and are able to facilitate in others. 

I await the day when education planners and policy makers implement programming that recognizes the need for art educators to not only inform and empower students to learn the skills within the traditional art curriculum, but also to facilitate visual communication within collaborative efforts such as STEAM education and Project Based Learning. Until then, let’s keep learning new things, let’s keep on sharing, and let’s keep nurturing our own creativity. Thank you!

Thank you, again, Massachusetts Art Education Association for this award. I am thrilled and honored to be named Art Educator of the Year. I promise to work hard to fulfill the obligations of this role.


One comment

  1. Thank you for sharing this with those of us who couldn’t be there in person! You are remarkably talented and I feel honored to have worked with you in my first years as an art teacher! I am lucky to have you as my friend!! Congratulations Alice!!! You truly make a difference in the lives you touch!

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