School of Art Associate Professor Aaron Coleman was selected as the recipient of the Provost Award for Innovation in Teaching. Coleman earned the honor after developing new printmaking studios and new curriculum around other traditional and contemporary techniques — such as both in stone lithography and screen printing – seldom offered in a research university setting.
Plus, he has made a real connection with his students. Coleman has served on 20 MFA committees, chairing seven. “In the School of Art, this is an astonishing number,” according to the nominating letter.
“It feels great to be acknowledged by the University for the work that I do,” said Coleman. “Our students are a major priority for me and I hope whatever work I do here – because I do it for them – gives them the tools they need to be successful in whatever future they pursue.”
Coleman joined the faculty at the School of Art in fall 2006.
“Since the day of his arrival at Arizona, Aaron has shown an unwavering commitment to teaching and mentoring students,” said School of Art Director Colin Blakely. “He is the model of a holistic approach to student engagement and community-building, with his commitment to teaching extending well beyond the classroom or any specific curriculum. I am excited to see this recognition bestowed upon the work he has done.”
Coleman designed an entirely innovative curriculum in print-making, including alternative methods in screen-printing and lithography, relevant for art as well as commercial production. His diverse knowledge and excellent skills in intaglio, mixed-media, collage, and other print-making methods and proficiencies have contributed to the entire 2D curriculum. With the new curriculum, Coleman also developed new screen print faculties.
“I’m honored that I was trusted and supported in bringing this new program to the school,” Coleman said. “The School of Art is always pushing forward to stay current with contemporary art practices in regards to technologies and interdisciplinary curriculum. Introducing screen print has allowed us to bridge a gap between printmaking, painting, photography, installation and even sculpture.”
Coleman introduced processes and materials not generally covered by the main areas of printmaking study (Intaglio, Relief, and Lithography), allowing students to explore both old and new methods like monotype, chine collé, and collagraphs, all of which blend other disciplines like painting and drawing into the printmaking matrix. This synthesizing of old and new techniques allows Coleman to both keep certain traditions alive even while enlivening them for future innovation.
Both in and out of the classroom, Coleman is a dedicated instructor and mentor to his undergraduate and graduate students and advisees. Coleman is sensitive to the needs of students, develops lasting bonds, and is committed to their overall success. In 2018 Coleman co-founded The Sienna Collective for Students of Color in the Arts which serves as a peer support group for both graduate and undergraduate students, offering professional advice and exhibition opportunities.
“I never had a mentor of color in education,” he said. “In a way the absence of that experience lead to a sort of built in lack of understanding that it was ever a problem. As I moved through my academic career and on to teaching it became more and more apparent that I was deprived of critical interactions that could have helped me in so many ways regarding my research and studio production … and maybe even just a general understanding of who I am.”
Coleman, who grew up in Washington D.C. and later in Indianapolis, said, “I don’t want any of our students to experience their education the way I did. I hope that my presence helps them feel as though they belong here and encourages them to speak from a perspective influenced by their own life experiences and interests.”
Coleman’s efforts to support diverse voices within the program have resonated with students.
“He was the first professor that I had after five years of art school who possessed similar origins, influences, and was working through contemporary theory that deeply affected my own growth and was relevant to my work as a student,” writes Karlito Miller Espinosa (MFA ’19, Studio Art). “I have been influenced by incredible mentors previously, but I always felt like I had to adapt to their language, points of view and taste whereas Aaron’s mentorship and constant presence was in many ways, a reflection of myself, making him an ally for a plurality of students who have shared the experience of a lack of representation in educational institutions – socio-economically, materialistically, and culturally.
“He never reduced my experience to just being a student of color of a particular medium, rather, pushed me in ways that expanded my awareness of my own subject position and empowered me to confront the complexities around my background and the field of art and how the two powerfully interact. I believe that I would never have been accepted into the Whitney Independent Study Program had Aaron not given me his time, dedication, and confidence.”
Several recent graduates benefitted from Coleman’s guidance:
- Karlito Miller Espinosa from Costa Rica is an accomplished artist and muralist, known as Mata Ruda. Karlito earned numerous awards while at the School of Art. Upon graduating, Karlito was accepted as a studio program resident for the 2019-2020 Whitney Independent Study Program. This highly competitive and internationally-renowned program provides emerging artists with a year-long New York residency and has been a launching pad for many. In 2020, he created a new mural on the Joseph Gross Gallery.
- Nassem Navab (MFA ‘19), an Iranian American, and, an African American. Navab’s recent achievements include securing a residency this fall at Art Produce Gallery in San Diego; inclusion of her video artwork at the Oaxaca Film Festival in Mexico; and exhibitions at the Los Angeles Digital Arts Center, San Diego Art Institute, and the Visual Arts Center in Austin.
- Kennady Schneider (BFA ’19, Photography), as an undergraduate photography student, wouldn’t have normally worked with Coleman. However, with special arrangements, Coleman mentored Kennady during her final year. Schneider, an African American, addressed the exploitation of the black body in college athletics in her work. Her series #Black was the 2018 portraiture winner for the Julie Margaret Cameron Award, exhibited at the Gallery Valid Foto in Barcelona in 2019. She is now an MFA candidate at UCLA.
Those students are grateful Coleman’s advice. People remember their mentors; those who took the time to listen.
“My mentor in graduate school was Michael Barnes,” said Coleman. “He was tough, but he really shaped my graduate school experience (at Northern Illinois University). His technical knowledge and conceptual feedback were crucial to my success. He gave me so much of my time and mentored me through my research, teaching, shop management and job applications. There’s no way I’d be where I am now without his guidance and his mentorship is with me every day in my classroom.”