Hello, my name is Jennifer Davis. Most everyone calls me Jen, sometimes Jennifer, and never ever Jenny. I'm a visual art educator and the owner of smARTStudio where I facilitate art workshops, homeschool instruction, pARTies, and private lessons for all ages and skill levels. I also host creative opportunities in the Northeast Ohio community that explore and introduce FUNdamentals in a variety of media and art making processes including fiber arts, watercolor, clay, and pop culture portrait painting.
I'm a lifelong resident of Akron, an alumni of the Akron Public Schools and the University of Akron, and have lived in the Highland Square neighborhood for the past fourteen years. In celebration of our 13th anniversary, my partner and I tied the knot on Halloween at one of Akron’s oldest theaters, The Civic. Fun Fact : The Akron Civic Theater is one of only five remaining atmospheric theaters in the country where patrons experience a twinkling star-lit sky and intermittent clouds moving across the horizon, all while sitting inside the auditorium.
When we're not wrangling our quad squad of rescued senior chihuahuas, renovating our century+ old farm house, or planning our next motorcycle cross country adventure, my partner and I are busy preparing to become grandparents in the spring. A few of my favorite things : alliteration, autumn, Frida Kahlo, spending as much time as possible in the National Parks, clogs, macrame, the seventies, The Shining, true crime documentaries/podcasts, and I'm such a sucker for a good pun. Even More Fun Facts : Our last vacation was a motorcycle adventure from Akron to Yellowstone National Park. I won the sixth grade spelling bee at my elementary school. Don't even try to teach me how to drive a manual transmission vehicle, I will blow that clutch out in record time. I have Frida Kahlo tattooed on my forearm as an homage to the artist but also for my grandmother, whose name was Freda.
LET'S GET smART!
I’m sharing MY experiences in art education, this post does not reflect every art educators’ experiences and not all art educators’ experiences are similar.
Art has always been a significant part of my life from a very young age. I have a vivid memory of sitting on our living room floor at a four years old, watching Sesame Street and the Electric Company while filling copious amounts of paper pads with crayon drawings. My mom was always supportive of exploratory expression and unstructured art making, we had a well stocked art supply bin of tape, a variety of papers, scissors, crayons, collage materials, and glue. I was introduced to the wonderful world of coloring books when we would visit my grandma Freda on her farm. Saturday mornings were spent sipping on Shirley Temples, watching scary black and white films, and coloring in her collection of coloring books.
School was an interesting experience in visual art. My kindergarten teacher was a rock star in her ability to incorporate art into classroom curriculum. Anyone remember The Letter People? I remember anxiously awaiting the arrival of a new letter to learn and create a corresponding paper bag puppet. Fourth grade visual art class was disappointing, the teacher approached learning with a cookie cutter approach : we glued cotton balls to create a beard onto a pre-cut, pre-drawn Santa. High School was a new horizon (as it is for most of us) I was introduced to art history and a plethora of visual artists, learned a wealth of new art making processes/techniques, and fell head over heals in love with hand built ceramics. And then… I graduated.
After graduating from high school, I embarked on what most consider a “non-traditional” journey. I didn’t attend college right after HS like so many of my classmates. Instead, I moved into my first apartment and adored my position as Assistant Manager at a locally owned video store…Viva la 90s! I made the decision to put higher education on hold for numerous reasons, most importantly, for financial reasons. Knowing that I would be responsible to pay for my own education, I wanted to wait until I had a clear indication of what exactly I wanted to do. I knew that one day I would pursue a degree in art, but I had not a single clue as to which path I wanted to take and nothing at that time really “spoke” to me.
Fast forward to the early 2000s, I was a recent divorcée, my daughter was ready to begin kindergarten, and I had enrolled in my first semester at the University of Akron. Encouraged by my mom, who asked a very poignant question during a discussion about my desire to begin a college degree but also unsure where I wanted to concentrate my learning. “Why haven't you thought about becoming an art teacher?” And there it was. Yeah, why hadn’t I thought about becoming an art teacher. In 2000, my Visual Arts Education journey began and I completed my degree program in 2006, attending classes part time in order to schedule around my daughter’s school day.
What advice would I give new Visual Arts Education graduates? Substitute teaching gets your foot in the door, I secured my first teaching position in 2008 after subbing at a local school district for a year and a half. Substitute teaching allows you to build a rapport with the students, teachers, and faculty in a district/school where you may want to work. The experience of subbing in “regular” classrooms provides a priceless opportunity to gain insight into a variety of teaching philosophies, practical application of pedagogies, time management, and professional issues.
Why did I leave my public school teaching position? After teaching art at a local school district for five years, I made the very difficult decision to leave in 2013. By this time, I was traveling between school buildings with a total of 1000 students, my mental and physical health had deteriorated, and my personal relationships were strained. The defining moment was falling asleep at the wheel on the way home from work and this was the quite literally the end of the road for me. The next day I approached my union rep for information on how I could navigate leaving a contracted teaching position. The remainder of that school year was a blur, I flew through my accumulated sick days in order to schedule doctor appointments so that I could begin the road to getting both my mental and physical health back on track. Remember, I’m sharing MY experiences in art education, this post does not reflect every art educators’ journey and not all art educators’ experiences are similar.
I opened smARTStudio in September of 2013 with the goal of providing art enrichment workshops and creative opportunities for all ages. I see myself not so much as an educator, but as a facilitator, guiding participants on their journey of enjoying art making processes. My philosophy of art education reflects the Reggio Emilia approach to learning with an emphasis on emergent curriculum. smARTStudio is a “one woman show” meaning I wear all the hats involved in the studio’s operations, whether managing finances or posting to social media, and I find great fulfillment in owning a small business. The past five (almost six!) years have been a whirlwind of learning, growth, reflection, and celebration. Fun Fact : when I intially started the studio, my main focus was to have a steady enrollment in homeschool art instruction and after school classes. Never would I have imagined the countless workshops I’ve been so ridiculously fortunate to facilitate in Northeast Ohio and I’m eternally grateful for all the relationships that have formed along the way. I’m tickled pink to see what is possible in the next five years!