Spotlight on Linda Hightower: Returning to teaching with passion
By Liza Scales
Linda Hightower during her recent trip to Turkey
“I’m very pleased to be back in the classroom!” says Kennesaw State University Art Professor Linda Hightower. After a 15-year career as an actively exhibiting gallery artist-owner, art department chair at Mississippi State University and Shorter College and as Associate Director of the School of Art and Design and the School for American Crafts at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, Hightower returned to Georgia to chair the art department at KSU for five years. In the fall of 2008, she stepped down and became immersed in teaching again. “I love the in-person contact with students,” says Hightower. “Administration is much broader and you have to deal with all the details of daily issues. There was just no time to really focus on in-depth lesson plans, research and creative activities.”
Hightower instituted the portfolio as a requirement for acceptance as an art major, which made KSU a more competitive school in the art sector. She is also on the committee that evaluates the portfolios of incoming students. She teaches her first-year students how to build their resumes and advertise their work through websites in order to be as prepared as possible when they enter the art world. “Even freshman must have the mindset of presenting themselves as professionals to be able to earn a living. As soon as they have portfolios, they need to start advertising themselves.”
In addition, Hightower initiated the art learning community for incoming first-year and transfer students with less than 15 hours of coursework. These students studied together as a group and took “Drawing I,” “Two-Dimensional Design,” “KSU 1101” and “English 1101,” focusing their composition writing about art instead of general subjects. The composition course was integrated with the Department of English with criteria designed by Hightower.
In her “Two-Dimensional Design” course, students also learn about art as social action. The final project is to choose a social issue and create a two-dimensional work that would draw a viewer to look more closely at the work and prompt interest to further explore the issue. “I was so impressed with how the students took this assignment to heart. It’s so fun to watch the light bulb go on in their minds. They came up with some amazing work.” Past student topics include smoking, the slave trade, and birth control.
She also teaches “Professional Business Practices in Art” for seniors. Its primary focus is on the final senior exhibition showcase.
Several KSU professors, including Hightower, visited Turkey this spring as part of the KSU Center for Global Initiatives “Year of Turkey” program; their trip was also sponsored by the Istanbul Center in Atlanta. “Turkey is one of the most sophisticated places artistically and architecturally I have ever visited,” she says. “Not only is the art and culture amazing, but the Turkish people opened their homes to us, they cooked for us—they were so welcoming.” Hightower calls today a great time to dialogue with Turkish people, including educators, about tolerance and respect.
She is more actively involved with the Istanbul Center with the help of KSU Associate Professor of Art Education Sandra Bird. “This organization is committed to many social projects—such as poverty and feeding people in the U.S. and other countries. It’s exciting to work with a group that is interested in creating dialogue about humanitarian issues,” says Hightower.
Hightower received her master’s degree from Georgia State University and her doctorate in art education from the University of Georgia. She is setting up her studio again and continues to publish on art as social change.