As art professor and curator of Lord Hall Gallery, Laurie Hicks teaches both in and beyond the classroom, through exhibitions and research. Her background in art and anthropology inform her study of cultural artifacts and art education. Hicks is a native of Oregon who joined the UMaine faculty in 1987.
In layperson’s terms, what are your academic (teaching, research, scholarship) interests?
I come from a background in art and anthropology. Throughout my career, I have focused on the relationships between cultural artifacts, human belief and behavior. In other words, I am interested in how cultural artifacts both embody and express human beliefs and also help to shape human behavior. My scholarship and publications have, therefore, explored ways in which art can have an impact on cultural identity and social justice. I am also very interested in the role that art can play in addressing contemporary environmental concerns. Though my focus is broad, I am particularly concerned with how I might contribute to rethinking the content and purpose of contemporary art education in schools and other community-based settings.
Why did you choose to pursue those interests?
These are interests I’ve had since I was a young child when I was encouraged by my parents to read books on people such as Clara Barton, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sacagawea, and Crazy Horse, people whose lives and histories were not always included in “the” history to which I was exposed in school. These interests were further solidified when I was a teenager, growing up in the activism of the Civil Rights Movement and other social actions of the 1960s as well as in the shadow of the Vietnam War, and were reinforced when I was a young art teacher in an urban area. In that context, my students helped me understand more fully the challenges faced by minority and immigrant children as they came of age in a country not fully accepting or welcoming of cultural differences.
What is your most memorable event or experience as a member of the UMaine faculty?
This is extremely difficult to say. In addition to teaching my students and serving as a member of the Department of Art, I’ve had many opportunities to explore new possibilities for learning and contributing. For example, I’ve held a number of positions on campus – such as interim director of the University of Maine Museum of Art, interim chair of Theatre, interim director of the Intermedia Master of Fine Art program, curator of the Lord Hall Gallery and chair of the Department of Art.
However, if I need to focus on what was probably the most memorable, I would have to say an opportunity to conduct research, along with colleagues from the University of Oregon and University of Central Florida, on traditional and contemporary artists and art forms in China. This research enabled me to take three trips to different areas of China. On two of these trips I invited two former students, Jaclyn Bousquet ’11 and Hilary Kane ’14, to become part of the research team. They worked with me to document the rich traditional and emerging cultural forms we encountered. It was a truly extraordinary experience to work with these alums outside the context of the university.
Of all the courses you’ve taught at UMaine, which one do you enjoy the most?
Again, a difficult question to answer. I teach a number of courses that I truly enjoy – in part, due to the content, but primarily due to the students. If, however, I need to identify a single course, I would say that it is AED 372 Foundations of Art Education. In this course, students explore historical, philosophical, political, psychological, and sociological foundations of art education, critically examining contemporary research, trends and issues. I see this course as a means of encouraging students to actively engage with the nature of art education in such a way that they come to understand and reflect upon its complexity and the role it plays in helping develop well-educated and socially responsible citizens. In all the courses I teach, but perhaps this one in particular, I have found my interactions with the students to be wonderfully challenging and rewarding. As a result, I learn from them in ways that continue to make me a better teacher. I also have the opportunity to see them come into their own as future educators.
What is your favorite place on campus to spend time?
Lord Hall. Lord Hall is the home of the Department of Art and where I spend a majority of my time. Not only does it house my office and the classrooms in which I teach, it is also home to the Lord Hall Gallery where I curate exhibitions. It is in Lord Hall that I have had the greatest opportunity to interact with my colleagues and students. In addition, I spend time in the University of Maine Museum of Art, the recreation center, the Collins Center for the Arts, and at the Farmers Market on the river front, as well as walking along the extensive system of trails behind the University that make up its wooded area.
Aside from your faculty role, what are your interests or favorite things to do?
I spend time away from campus reading, traveling, hiking, camping, and making art. I also enjoy time in museums and attending music, dance, and theater events (on and off campus).
What advice for students do you have to help them succeed?
See your education and all that it has to offer as a privilege not something you are owed. Value it as an opportunity to explore and understand the richness and challenges of the contemporary world as well as to gain insight into the complexities of the histories that brought us to where we are today. You may never have such an opportunity again so take full advantage of what higher education and the University have to offer. Be active and participatory in your studies, not passive. Don’t expect knowledge and your education to be handed to you without effort and dedication.
What advice for new faculty members do you have to help them succeed?
See the University as a shared community based on the creation of new knowledge and intellectual dialogue. Seek out colleagues and opportunities that both support and challenge you. Take full advantage of all the University has to offer but also be dedicated to making contributions that help others. Learn from those around you, including your students.