For nearly 20 years, Kryssi Staikidis has, through her work as a researcher and an art educator, been asking fundamental questions about how artistic engagement and intercultural exchanges within communities on a global level form bridges of mutual understanding and enable community and educational dialogues.
“How can a more holistic model for teaching art enhance the skills-based methodology in art studios in higher education? How can we steer away from a predominantly Euro-American white male art history that excludes alternative viewpoints and artmaking strategies? How can curricula be modified in ways that penetrate the invisible Eurocentric paradigm that remains at the center of art education pedagogy so we might include multiple perspectives?”
Her work in the classroom, in the community and out in the world makes her an ideal recipient of the NIU Presidential Engagement and Partnership Professorship.
Staikidis has been teaching the NIU School of Art and Design since 2004, and is currently Professor and Head of Art and Design Education. This past year she received the June King McFee Women’s Caucus Award from the National Art Education Association, which honors an individual who has made distinguished contributions to the profession of art education with an exceptional and continuous record of achievement. The award was bestowed in recognition of the lifetime scholarship and global engagement partnership she has maintained with Maya communities in Guatemala and for her many publications and presentations based on lifelong research practice.
Her extensive work with the Maya Tzu’tuhil and Kaqchikel artists of Guatemala resulted in the publication of her book, “Artistic Mentoring as a Decolonizing Methodology” in late 2020. Mentored in painting for 18 years by Guatemala Maya artists Pedro Rafael González Chavajay and Paula Nicho Cúmez, Staikidis used both Indigenous and decolonizing methodologies involving respectful collaboration to continuously reexamine her positions as student, artist and ethnographer as she sought to redefine and transform the roles of artist as mentor, historian/activist, ethnographer and teacher.
“Dr. Staikidis strongly exemplifies the notion of ‘community engagement’ in her deep commitment for bringing Indigenous voices into the classroom and into the larger society,” said Joseph William Johnson, director Arte Maya Tz’utuhil. “I worked with her on several occasions when we arranged for the Maya artists to visit the United States and participate in programs that highlighted their unique roles in preserving a visual record of their cultural traditions. In two programs that Dr. Staikidis organized in Milwaukee and at Northern Illinois University, we worked together closely in selecting from hundreds of original oil paintings that I and others loaned to the exhibits. Her emphasis in the selection process was always on the point of view of the artist and what their vision could teach us about our common humanity. And in such ways, the students who were both directly and indirectly involved in such exhibition and artistic residency programming were also exposed to the vision of the Maya and how we as a university collective could not only learn ourselves but involve external audiences in learning about initiatives that foster understandings of common humanity.”
In 2015 Staikidis was the recipient of the National Art Education Association National J. Eugene Grisby Jr. Award, given annually to an individual who has made distinguished contributions to the field of art education in advancing and promoting the celebration of cultural and ethnic heritage within the global community.
For 17 years, she has overseen the Middle Level Teaching Program, a partnership between the NIU School of Art and Design and St. Mary’s School in DeKalb. The result has been significant public outcomes involving 610 art education university students and 4,250 fourth through eighth grade students. The programming was a direct result of the partnership with the Maya artist-mentors that informed the curriculum design and lessons.
“Dr. Staikidis is committed to her work and committed to giving the best possible education and opportunity that she can to her students and to ours here at St. Mary,” said Marissa Dobie, an eighth-grade teacher and NIU art liaison at St. Mary School. “To say she is passionate about teaching and her love of art is an understatement. She is a diligent problem solver and works to make learning as positive and rewarding as she can for her learners. I have witnessed her compassion as an educator and her great role modeling as a teacher. Dr. Staikidis and her undergraduate and graduate students have been a tremendous resource for our students, allowing them to explore learning in a whole new way.”
Staikidis has also written a book with Christine Ballengee Morris titled “Transforming Our Practices: Indigenous Art, Pedagogies and Philosophies” that is used by professors in higher education nationally as well as PK-12 art educators and is contributing to the transformation of the field through engagement with Indigenous perspectives.
Through a partnership with Conexión Comunidad, the DeKalb Latino Community Center, Staikidis’ NIU pre-service Art and Design Education students formed an intergenerational partnership with Latinx Elders, and Latinx youth. They used Maya pedagogical structures like mentoring as relationship, decentralized teaching, cultural and personal narrative, negotiating curriculum, and a novice expert model to create a large-scale mural based on an Aztec narrative chosen by community members. At the conclusion of the three-year project, Staikidis and her students presented at national and state art education conferences and published a peer-reviewed article in the journal Art Education.
One of those students, Elizabeth Rex, has gone on to become a lecturer in Art Education at Peck School of the Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She was part of both the St. Mary School partnership and the mural project as an undergraduate and graduate student at NIU, and reflected on how Staikidis’ teaching style impacted her as a student and now as an instructor.
“From the first course I took with Kryssi, I was keenly aware of the care she demonstrated toward students, followed closely by the high expectations she set for us,” Rex said. “Kryssi is exceptionally knowledgeable, but also transparent and generous in sharing her own learning journey. She centers her students in the classroom community and spoke often of empowering students by leveling hierarchies between student and teacher. While there was an expectation that issues of social justice and civic engagement were central to the content of the curriculum we developed in her courses and field experiences at St. Mary’s School, for me, some of the most poignant influences were the relational values she expressed outright and modelled, including a commitment to reciprocity in partnerships and community work, fostering joy, and recognizing and valuing the unique stories and strengths of individuals.”