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.
Named a 2022 Presidential Engagement and Partnerships Professor, Kryssi Staikidis stands before the painting by Paula Nicho Cuméz, Woman Flying (Mujer Volando), 2007, Oil on Canvas.
“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.”
Caroline Kent, assistant professor of art theory and practice at Northwestern University, will deliver a visiting scholar presentation, Tuesday, April 12 at 6 p.m. in Room 100 of Jack Arends Hall, the Visual Arts Building on the NIU Main Campus. The presentation will also be streamed on Zoom.
Kent is a Chicago-based artist originally from Sterling, Ill. She is currently showing as part of the Chicago Works programming at MCA. Other notable venues in which Kent has had recent solo exhibitions include: Casey Kaplan Gallery, NY; ISU, Normal, Ill.; Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles; Tiger Strikes Asteroid, Chicago; Hawthorn Contemporary, Milwaukee; and TCNJ Gallery, New Jersey.
Kent has participated in international residency programs and numerous group exhibitions including at the California African-American Museum in LA, and the Art Institute and the DePaul Art Museum in Chicago.
“How does language structure our world? Who gets to be inside or outside a language? What would it mean to invent a new mode of communication? And what social conditions make creating a new language necessary? Chicago artist Caroline Kent explores these questions through paintings, drawings, sculpture and performance works that speak in an abstract visual vocabulary she developed over years of practice.” — Press, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
Malika Green has always been an artistic soul, and her passion for creating has manifested itself in several ways and stages throughout her life.
Growing up in Maryland in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., Green was always an introvert, but she never shied away from expressing herself through her arts.
“I liked crafty things, making things with my hands, making necklaces and earrings with found objects, like wire and paper and cardboard, old keys and my mom’s old jewelry,” she recalled. “I liked music, too. I started piano at age 8, and at age 10, I heard a steelband and loved it. At 12, I visited Trinidad and learned to play the steel pan. Then everything changed, steel pan became my life. When I returned to the U.S., it was with a steelpan, and that was it!”
Green started college at Drexel University in Philadelphia, where she completed her first two years. Wanting to take steelpan more seriously, she transferred to NIU because Drexel had no pan program.
“At NIU, I studied with Liam Teague and Cliff Alexis,” she said. “It was a huge change to be in the middle of cornfields of Illinois. I’d never been there before. It was good place to focus, practice and hone my craft.”
Green credits her late instructor, Alexis, who anchored the program at NIU for decades, with teaching her this flexibility and patience.
“He was a person who always supported his students, in the steelband and outside of the steelband,” she said. “He would always call the hallway in the music building his ‘office’ because that’s where he learned everything he needed to know about his students. If he felt like you were going after something and were motivated, he’d be your cheerleader. I always appreciated someone like that in my corner.”
Green appreciated that support so much that she stayed at NIU after receiving her B.A. in music in 2005, and she earned her master’s in music in 2007. Her last year at NIU, she took a fine arts credit, and the experience brought another of her passions to light.
“I took jewelry and metalsmithing, and I fell in love with it,” she said. “I loved the physicality of it, the sensuality. I loved the fact that you can hit something and see its shape change immediately, like tapping a pan and hearing the sound. There is an immediate gratification, although I also love the designing and the constant problem-solving to create something beautiful and special.”
Green meticulously works on her jewelry for MR Designs.
Jewelry-making became a hobby, and because there were none of the distractions of the big city, Green continued the discipline of practicing every day, which he had learned with music.
“When I took the metalsmithing course, I learned how to solder things, how to use the flame, when I needed to sand something a bit longer to get it just right,” she said. “I practiced constantly, and years of doing that and seeing improvement from day to day, week to week, year to year, it’s a very transferable quality. You develop the patience to say, ‘I may not be good today, but I will be if I practice.’”
She moved back to Maryland and spent four years working for the Cultural Academy for Excellence (CAFÉ), a program her mother started. In this role, she used the steel pan as a tool to help kids excel academically. Then, Green spent the next eight years in the Midwest, working with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras (CYSO), first as community engagement coordinator, then as director of the four steelbands she created. In her last years at CYSO, Green received a Fulbright Fellowship to study steelband pedagogy, which took her to Toronto, London and Trinidad.
Since moving to Trinidad in 2019, Green has worked with the University of Trinidad and Tobago Pan Fellowship but her passion for jewelry was always an undercurrent. Then, when she interned with a local jeweler—Robert Mouttet of Mouttet Jewelers—she was swept away by her passion for the process of making jewelry out of metal.
“I did a lot of repairs, fixing chains, making school rings, maybe doing simple designs for necklaces out of stones laying around the shop,” she said. “Then, when I was not in the workshop, I focused on my own work and commissions for people, creating Caribbean-themed bangles, working on new designs, finishing whatever items I needed to add to my stock at the store where my pieces were sold.”
Suddenly, this art took precedence over everything else.
“It was all I wanted to eat, sleep and drink,” Green said.
Today, through her business, MR Designs, Green sells handmade metal jewelry online.
“I like to work with silver and gold. All my materials are recycled, and I like slow-made work. Everything is handmade. Even the tiny, tiny rings I use as connectors I make myself. I like having a hand in every part of creating the piece, from beginning to end,” she said. “I like knowing that every piece was thought out and made for that specific item and person and is not just a generic component bought somewhere.”
Green also likes the tangible aspect of this work and the close relationship she must have with the metal.
“You have to know what it’s going to look like at each stage, so you don’t ruin it,” she said. “It’s just a few degrees between a melted piece and a masterpiece. I like the excitement, the risk of making a one-of-a-kind piece. And I get a huge sense of satisfaction when it’s completed.”
For Green, jewelry-making is fulfilling because of what it becomes for the customer.
“When you think of where people wear jewelry—at the neck, arm, fingers, arms, ears, the parts of your body that only they touch on a daily basis… There’s a joy in knowing that someone is so connected with something you made that they want to wear it on special occasions,” she said. “To be part of someone’s joy and journey in that way, it’s really fulfilling to me.”
In general, Green’s pieces are inspired by nature, and she likes to incorporate multi-colored stones that have many inclusions and can change shades at different angles.
“I love textures. I love flowers and leaves and shells and things you find in the sea,” she said. “That’s just an extension of my love for tangible things. I want to touch something, I don’t want it to be completely smooth, I want it to have a unique texture, a memorable texture.”
Today, while she is temporarily working in the U.S. with CAFÉ in Maryland, Green splits her time between arts administration and teaching, and making her own jewelry—a perfect balance of two loves. Whether it’s with the steel pan or with a metal piece of jewelry, Green is proud of her work.
“I’m proud of the new body of work I’m now doing with jewelry,” she said. “II’m now using a technique that’s new to me—wax carving followed by lost-wax casting. I’ve fallen in love with that technique, and it’s changed my approach to making my pieces. It’s more daring, more artistic and I’m really excited about a collection I’m bringing out late in March.”
Green credits Cliff Alexis with giving her the peace of mind to know it’s okay to leave music and pursue other passions.
“He’d seen so much in his life, and he’d done so many things and taken risks,” she said. “At the age of 20, he couldn’t imagine getting an honorary doctorate and influencing so many young people. He was always the one to say, ‘It’s okay, you don’t owe anyone anything, it’s your life, live it with joy.’”
This article originally ran on myniu.com.
The annual World Music Festival in the NIU School of Music features six concerts between April 11 and 16. All concerts are free to attend.
Monday, April 11
Japanese Taiko Concert
Boutell Memorial Concert Hall
Wednesday, April 13
Chinese Music Concert
Thursday, April 14
Japanese Shubukai Dance Concert
Thai Music Concert
Friday, April 15
Saturday, April 16
World Music Concert
Boutell Memorial Concert Hall
The World Music Festival is sponsored by the NIU School of Music, the NIU School of Art and Design, the NIU Center for Southeast Asian Studies, the NIU Division of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the NIU Asian American Resource Center.
NIU School of Art and Design students in ARTD 464 Advanced Photography: Post Production created a paper snowflake that measured 44 feet, six inches, besting the current Guinness of Book of World Record of 20 feet and one half inch. The students, led by Jessica Labatte, associate professor and head of the photography department toiled for more than ten hours laying out, tracing, cutting and folding the snowflake on the floor of the NIU Convocation Center.
They will submit the official supporting materials to Guinness to have their new world record certified.