When I came to Mount Vernon 7 years ago, there were only a small handful of teachers and students who considered themselves artists. When I realized how much unrealized talent and potential we had, I started sharing a simple message: “You are an artist”. It’s true, no matter who you are or where you come from, you have a unique ability to design, share, express, and create. I have always known that my students were created by the ultimate artist, with the purpose of designing a world that is better, brighter, and more beautiful. Over time, as more and more students believed in their creative abilities, we attracted more faculty who wanted to help students create original work and got to work innovating arts education.
Since then, our team has more than doubled in size, we’ve hosted arts conferences/workshops, won awards for music, dance, theatre, visual art, and arts innovation, we started producting 150+ events annually and evolved from MV Arts to Mount Vernon Studios. We now offer more than 45 Upper School Arts courses, have a student-driven film studio, produce podcasts and publish original student music to spotify. We have digital and virtual reality programs where students are learning how to transfer traditional art forms to digital pieces and vice versa. Our Middle School program has gone from having no dedicated Arts+Design faculty to have 6 full-time staff who are invested in the artistic and social-emotional development of our Middle School artists. Lower School has transformed general music classes into well-rounded performing arts programs and visual artists are building robust skills in 2D and 3D art. The road to innovation has not been an easy one, but giving students such a breadth of opportunities has continued to motivate me at every turn.
This summer, I will transition from Director of Visual & Performing Arts into the role of Chief Talent & Experience Officer focused on supporting staff wellness, retention, and recruitment efforts. With 53% of teachers across the country considering leaving the profession, it is not an easy time to be in education and I am excited to partner with Kristy Lundstrom and the MV community to create a culture of wellness, purpose, and belonging for our faculty & staff. This moment creates an opportunity to expand arts leadership to meet the needs of students and staff and I couldn’t be more excited for the future of Mount Vernon Studios. I will still be here to support our team and I will always be the Arts’ biggest cheerleader, but I’m excited to pass the baton to these incredible leaders who will take the program to the next level.
(from left to right: Kalen Curtis, Lynn Luster, Shay Jones, Spencer Stephens)
Shay Jones will become the Lower Campus Director of Arts and focus on building bandwidth for faculty to integrate creative strategies, physical development, literacy, and wellness into all classes. For five years, Shay has demonstrated mastery of Early Childhood Education. She has built a Performing Arts model that integrates music with movement and theatre fundamentals using innovative pedagogies such as mindfulness, yoga, literature, visual art, and occupational therapy. Shay has a unique ability to deliver a well-rounded creative education that meets students’ mental, physical, and emotional needs. In this new role, Shay will help other teachers develop these skills, continue to teach performing arts for Kindergarten & Grade 1, and coordinating arts opportunities/events for Preschool through Lower School. Shay is a kind, thoughtful, organized, and professional artist who will be a phenomenal leader and mentor.
Kalen Curtis has joined the team as Upper Campus Director of Arts and will focus on arts programming, event planning, communication, staff support, and partner with Mount Vernon Arts Alliance to coordinate volunteer opportunities. Additionally, Kalen will partner with Mount Vernon Ventures to help build capacity and strategy for Mount Vernon Online as we build out our global campus. Kalen joins us as after spending 10+ years with Savannah College of Art & Design where she led various admission teams around the world and oversaw the team responsible for growing the population of incoming international students to SCAD from Canada, Latin America, Africa, Europe, Middle East and Oceania. She holds degrees in Photography & Higher Education Administration. She is thrilled to be joining the MV Family and will have a huge impact on our programs.
Lynn Luster will step into the role of Upper School Connections Learning Architect and continue to build, enhance, and align our curricular programs. With degrees in Art & Creative/Innovative Teaching, as well as many years experience teaching Visual Art, MDE, and iProject, Lynn is the perfect person to lead the connectors in this role. Much like the other Learning Architects on Upper Campus, Lynn will focus on aligning learning outcomes and curriculum across grade levels and disciplines. She will be a phenomenal coach/supporter of the Arts Team and will foster a collaborative environment where teachers learn from each other to create interdisciplinary experiences for students.
This year, Spencer Stephens stepped into the role of Production Manager and will continue to manage AVL (audio/visual/lighting) elements for Arts Events in addition to managing the MS Theatre Program. Through initiatives like “Tech Tuesdays” and a slew of MS Theatre classes, Spencer has a unique ability to empower students who might never have found their way into the theatre. Not only has Spencer been in professional theatre and education for 20 years, he also has a background in business administration, which helps him to balance several theatrical productions each season and execute over 150+ arts events each year. He will continue to lead the MS Theatre Program and facilitate production meetings to make sure the technical elements of the Arts program continue to enhance our events and put students in the driver’s seat.
The remarkable skills of these team members compliment each other beautifully and will ensure that our Arts programs continue to grow and flourish while providing leadership and support for the next chapter of Mount Vernon Studios.
Thank you for all of the ways you continue to support the Arts at Mount Vernon, but most importantly, thank you for being an artist.