Jessica Labatte, associate professor and head of the photography department at the NIU School of Art and Design has accepted the position of director of the school effective July 1, 2023.

Labatte will succeed Douglas Boughton, PhD, who is completing his three-year term as director. Boughton is a professor of art education and previously served as director of the school from 2008 to 2014.

Paul Kassel, dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts lauded Boughton for his work as director, including his leadership during the school’s accreditation renewal process, the challenges of the pandemic and financial constraints.

“I look forward to working with Jessica to build upon Doug’s good work,” Kassel said. “To continue the successes, create new ones and to further mission, vision and values of the school, college and university.”

Labatte said being selected for NIU’s Emerging Faculty Leadership Program helped to spark her interest in the director position. The professional development program is designed to develop and expand faculty members’ capacity for leadership in higher education.

“Through the program I’ve seen that I can lead and make connections with other areas and faculty across campus,” Labatte said. “With the skills I’ve developed and the experiences I’ve had in the classroom and as an artist, I’ve realized that my ability to creatively solve problems would be an asset in leadership. The arts have a very important role in everything that our campus does and potentially could do. I feel like I can make the connections needed to create even more opportunities for our students.”

She is excited to be working with students from all areas of the school.

“Throughout the interview process I heard from students in other areas like illustration and art education what they would like to see in our school,” Labatte said. “I am excited to share what we’ve been doing in photography in collaborative experiential learning projects that have a connection to the community. I’ve worked to expand outreach in the arts and I’ll be able to do more of that as director. We have a great faculty with great ideas, and we’ll work together to make some wonderful things happen.”

She first came to NIU as a visiting assistant professor in 2012, and started on her tenure track in 2014. In addition to her academic roles at the university she has spearheaded a number of collaborative initiatives on and off campus. Faces of Belonging was a project in collaboration with the NIU Office of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the City of DeKalb to create portraits of marginalized identities in STEAM professions. She worked with the Ellwood House Museum and the DeKalb Regional History Center on the Past and Pleasant exhibition.

In March 2022, she worked with campus and community partners as her ARTD 464 Advanced Photography Post Production class successfully created the world’s largest paper snowflake as certified by the Guinness Book of World Records. The snowflake is the focus of an exhibition at Founders Memorial Library from March 20 through April 10 with a special event scheduled for Thursday, March 23 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the library.

Labatte earned her Master of Fine Arts and her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Photo: Jessica Labatte
Photo credit: Amy Fleming, 2023