For nearly as long as Angela Zokan can remember, few things were as important as her little yellow paint set and brush. All it took was the swoop of a brush to engulf her in her work and transport her to the place of her choosing.
Years later, the Gilbert Elementary School visual arts teacher is passing along that same passion and recently was named the South Carolina Art Education Association’s 2014 Promising Young Art Educator of the Year. The Lexington 1 instructor was recognized for her work outside the classroom to better her community including her work with a local artist to create a mosaics at the Gilbert Community Park.
Zokan’s artwork has been displayed across the state, including at the Flowertown Festival, Southeastern Wildlife Exposition, Charleston’s Artist Guild, SC State Fair, Tapp’s Art Center, Artista Vista, the Lexington Old Mill, and Red Bird Gallery, and Calhoun Street Gallery.
She spoke recently about her passion for the arts and how that passion continues to shape her.
How did you first become involved in the arts?
Zokan: My passion for art really started at a young age. I was greatly encouraged by my parents and teachers to continue art. Art was something that I could turn to during some of the darkest times as a child and I continue to turn to it as an adult. I would not be in a job that I love if I wasn’t encouraged through the arts.”
What are some of your favorite works to create and why?
Zokan: “I feel the most connected to paints and inks. In the past I was solely focused on realism, because I had a very formal teaching of the arts growing up. These formal elements were a great base and allowed me to look at my own art with a keen eye. Since college, I have begun to experiment with textures, layers, abstracted forms, and the feel of the paint versus just making something realistic. This has allowed me to truly expand my own understanding of art. These two-dimensional studies allow me to sit down, even if it is just for a few minutes, and create.”
Can you tell us a little about some of your work outside the classroom and why this particular work is important to you.
Zokan: “I am an active participant of the National Art Education Association, I have a few of my personal artworks in several galleries, and I work with the community to create community based art.”
How do those things tie in to what you do in the classroom?
Zokan: “Outside and inside the classroom have really begun to be intertwined to one another. Focusing on community-based Art has been a breath of fresh air, literally. I worked and volunteered with Khaldoune Bencheikh for three summers on the creation and installation of a 650 square foot mosaic on the exterior walls of Transitions in Columbia (at Main and Elmwood streets).”
What are some of the biggest rewards to teaching the arts to students?
Zokan: “One of the biggest rewards is seeing the students grow through the use of art and how they create their own self efficacy. I am inspired by the students understanding of very abstract concepts at a young age. I love to see the students experimenting with the different media and creating new knowledge.”
And what are some of the greatest challenges?
Zokan: “Funding and larger class sizes are always a challenge. I would love to have visiting artists to come in and work with the kids. Likewise, I would love to take students out to see these different artists. The arts always seem to be one of the first things to get cut. Also, as class sizes increase it becomes more difficult to be productive. The larger class sizes hinder what can be done in the short time that I have with them.”
How do you access the local public’s understanding an appreciation for the arts in school?
Zokan: “I believe I can access the local public’s understanding and appreciation of the arts due to their participation in art events. Public attendance at art events, displays, and performances are the best indicators. (Recently), for example, we had a chorus performance and art leaders’ art show. Turnout was great. The auditorium was filled with parents and students.”
What do you think can and should be done to continue to fuel that understanding and appreciation?
Zokan: “Keeping arts in the public schools is essential to continue to fuel better understanding and appreciation. Art is everywhere. It really is everything from architecture, media, fashion, design, graphics, food, etc. Exposing children to all of these different art forms at a young age allows them to be aware and appreciative of the world around them. I also believe that student art needs to be displayed all over the schools.”