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The Heart of an Artist

Rob Panzer Strives to Keep Art Alive in Peoria Schools

Article by Angel Fuchs

Photography by Christine Andert—Picture Lady Photography LLC

Originally published in North Peoria Lifestyle

Early childhood advocate and author Sydney Gurewitz Clemens once said, “Art has the role in the education of helping children become like themselves instead of more like everyone else.”

Using art to help kids define who they are also holds great importance to Robert Panzer, Director of Arts Education for Peoria Unified School District (PUSD), who has dedicated over 28 years to that mission. 

Panzer, 53, is originally from Illinois and moved to Arizona in the seventh grade. He attended Moon Valley High School in Phoenix and was drawn to the arts. Panzer received his bachelor of fine arts degree from Arizona State University and his master's in curriculum and instruction from Chapman College in California.

He started his education career teaching photography and art at Sunrise Mountain High School in Peoria. After 17 years in the classroom, he moved to his administrative role, overseeing the art education program for PUSD—42 schools, 147 art educators, and 37,000 students.

“Creating is my passion,” says Panzer. “I used to be a working artist, and I've sold some of my work, but I don't have much time these days."

That's because he's busy “giving back what was given.” Panzer's high school art teacher inspired him early on and showed him that it was possible to express himself through art. 

“Inspiring the next generation of thinkers is important to me. Art literacy in children can help them with problem-solving by teaching them to think creatively,” says Panzer. “Art is helpful in all pathways of life whether it's related to art or not. It creates not only artists but also thinkers. It helps kids connect to something bigger than themselves.” 

Panzer says he does miss being on campus and having direct interaction with students, but he is confident he is exactly where he needs to be to make the most impact.

The district's art program encompasses visual arts, performing arts, general music for elementary school, and visual and performing arts for high school.

Panzer says what sets PUSD apart is the Arts Pathways courses offered to students in junior high. “Pathways courses help the students expand their options and get them connected,” he says. “It is a great way to reach the kids and help them explore through art.”

Panzer has had countless proud moments over the years. “I love watching what others are doing,” he says, adding that he enjoys watching the students' achievements at school and after graduation.

Robert Panzer, Director of Arts Education for PUSD, firmly commits to keeping the arts alive. In addition to his work with the school system, Panzer is on the City of Peoria Arts Commission board. 

Panzer resides in Peoria. He is married and has three dogs.