From visual art to dance, Holland Hall’s arts teachers cover a broad spectrum of artistic disciplines. They have many qualities in common: a thoughtful passion, a student-centered mindset, an innovative spirit. But one stands out. Most of these arts teachers are creating beyond the classroom as well-established artists themselves. We talked to a few of them to learn more about what motivates accomplished artists to teach.
An art class at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Washington D.C. began Hong Kong-born Byron Shen’s love of art. His painting eventually led him to attend the prestigious Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. After teaching at several arts organizations, Holland Hall’s longtime Visual Arts Department Head, Eleanor Carmack, invited Shen to have an art exhibition at the school. Later, she asked him to join the department.
When asked what such a gifted painter enjoys about teaching, Shen says he loves “being with students and helping them improve as artists as they find more understanding about themselves and the world. Art has that unique ability to be transformative both individually and collectively.”
Shen speaks affectionately about Holland Hall’s support of the creative arts. “Holland Hall’s warm sense of community and desire to help develop an overall thoughtful and caring individual, where the arts are an important part of that development, sets it apart.”
Enrolled in formal dance lessons from three years old onward, Tyne Shillingford has been in her students’ shoes. She’s a Holland Hall alumna and says she was honored to step into her former dance teacher’s position.
Regarding teaching, Shillingford says she’s always been interested in creating and sharing movement with others, young people in particular. “They are so curious and honest, and I really love helping them discover their own creativity through movement,” Shillingford says.
Last year, Shillingford led her students in a production highlighting Tulsa’s Greenwood District’s history and legacy. “It was the most meaningful and collaborative production I have ever done at Holland Hall because of the investment and support I received from the entire Holland Hall community,” she says.
Photography teacher Mazen Abufadil, originally from Lebanon, remembers time spent daydreaming as a child. “I often spent quiet moments simply observing everything around me, picking out intriguing sounds, details, textures, colors of my environment, and watching things move,” he says.
Abufadil says his students are one of his most significant sources of inspiration, always keeping him thinking and engaged. “I am grateful that I have time to converse with my students - about art and life, philosophical debates, materials, techniques - every element has been a significant part of my being as an artist,” he says. His hopes for his students’ artistic development are simple. “When a student is better able to see even a grain of sand that is integral to their element, then I am content,” Abufadil says. He appreciates the depth of arts education Holland Hall encourages. “We have time to craft relationships, to gain understanding, and to develop concepts, not just to use tools and techniques to make art,” he says.
Abufadil was part of a recent exhibit at Gilcrease Museum highlighting the contributions of immigrant artists. He exhibited photo frescos representing his immigration experience.
Leslie Long, Holland Hall’s upper school theater teacher, didn’t fully realize her passion for theater until she started college at KU. Her road took her to Holland Hall, where she sees her students learning important life skills that reach beyond a set.
“It’s not necessarily about students becoming actors. That’s very rare. For me, it’s more about teaching students to find the confidence to express themselves, no matter what age they are, and that ability to trust others and to be vulnerable and empathetic,” Long says. “It’s not a lonely discipline.”
Long grew up with a cousin who had Down Syndrome, and soon after she started teaching at Holland Hall, she knew she was ready to do something to serve the Down Syndrome community.
Her idea blossomed into a rich partnership between Holland Hall’s upper school students and the Down Syndrome Association of Tulsa. Long and her upper school students hold acting classes, put on productions, and host summer camps and fundraisers for people with Down Syndrome. “Holland Hall is a second home for them,” she says.