Year Five of Art21 Educators: Ryan Schmidt and Erin Shafkind

We’ve already introduced two pairs of this year’s Art21 Educators. Today, let’s say hello to a third: Ryan Schmidt and Erin Shafkind.


Ryan and Erin teach art in Seattle at South Shore Pre K–8 School and Nathan Hale High School, respectively. Ryan worked with Erin as a student teacher and the two educators remain close friends.

Founded just over a decade ago, South Shore is a public school partnered with the private New School Foundation. South Shore focuses on early childhood education, in particular pre-kindergarten to grade three.

Ryan’s concern for the future of his nearly 165 students reflects South Shore’s commitment to life-long education.

“I want my students to have relatable knowledge of what’s happening currently in art so that they don’t feel like an outsider when they come across contemporary artwork beyond the boundaries of my classroom,” he tells us. “Next year I want to stretch my curriculum beyond art history. I want to start incorporating current art and contemporary ideas into my lessons.”

While asking his students to think conceptually and exposing them to unique perspectives, Ryan hopes to broaden his own point of view through the Art21 Educator program.

“I’ve been following Art21 from the very first season. It was a source of inspiration throughout college and student teaching. I still turn to Art21 when I need a break from my own artwork, or when I want to show my students what it looks like when an artist is working in his or her studio…As an artist myself, I gain so much from peer critique. One of the amazing aspects of [Art21 Educators] is the program’s feedback structure from knowledgeable art educators from all over the country…”

Erin has also been sharing Art21 artists with her students at Nathan Hale, a fifty-year-old public school with nearly double the enrollment of South Shore. Part of the Coalition of Essential Schools—an organization seeking to affect policy in school systems across the country—the school aims for education reform through equity and personalization.

“I am deeply concerned with the teaching of art that goes beyond what I call, ‘Teaching Shading.’ As art teachers we have a responsibility to support visual literacy as well critical thinking through the arts. My training to become an art educator came out of California when The Getty Museum’s Discipline Based Art Education was just taking off in the mid-90s. I earned my MFA in 2010 through a low residency program while I taught full-time. While I understand my responsibility to the art community, as an educator I have a responsibility to my students to create bridges. I am excited that I get to teach students who may never get to art school—just regular people who will be exposed to so many concepts based in art.”

Teaching with contemporary art, she says, means confronting both the questions and answers it creates:

“In a way I feel torn, compelled, and repelled by contemporary art. Some of it feels isolating and inaccessible, and some of it is exciting and truly accessible. I am interested in working with teachers, Art21 artists, administrators, and others in the realm of art education to help create bridges for those who might not be interested in art or who are repelled by it. I would like to continue to deepen my knowledge and experience and hopefully find new portals of access for myself and students, especially relating to twenty-first century skills.”

Check back in two weeks when we profile Art21 Educators Thomas Dareneau and Domenic Frunzi.