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Dr Phyllis Hill: Breaking the glass ceiling in art education

Published:Wednesday | January 16, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Dr Phyllis Hill

As a child, she often wondered if people saw the world the same way she did. From the veranda of her parents' home, she looked out on to the meandering road that led to the small district in Bloomfield, Manchester, and knew she wanted to experience and see the world in different ways.

As she watched her father paint, she was spellbound with art and spent every day thinking of how she could work with art and communicate with art enthusiasts. However, in those days, she was told art was not a career option.

This was no deterrent to Phyllis Hill, who knew she could shatter the glass ceiling associated with the profession and transform the canvas to paint the window to her world.

"As a young child, I loved the smell and feel of art materials and was fascinated by how my father could use a simple tool like a pencil to create a drawing so real, so lifelike, that the objects appeared to be jumping off the paper. I wanted to be able to have those skills," Hill said.

"Everyone told me not to pursue art. My parents, siblings and teachers were not keen on the idea, and I was not allowed to pursue art during high school. However, I read countless books on how to draw, paint, and how to make a collage. I also used various art materials to develop my competence in different art-related crafts," Hill added.




Still marvelling at her father's ability to convert landscapes, still life, and florals, magically taking shape and form on his easel, after her first year in training as an elementary teacher at St Joseph's Teachers' College, Hill defied the odds stacked against her and transferred to the then Mico Teachers' College to be trained as a visual-arts teacher.

"That was quite an experience. The then head of department, Burchell Duhaney, was very sympathetic to my situation as I had no formal experience with the subject. He took me under his wings and, following his guidance, I graduated with honours from the programme," Hill said.

During her sojourn at the college, Hill also copped most of the visual arts awards and the mantra of the institution, 'Do It With Thy Might' has remained an integral part of her life since then.

Hill continued to defy the stigma associated with art, and while employed at the St Andrew High School for Girls, she obtained a scholarship to pursue advanced training in textiles design at the Central Academy of Arts and Design in Beijing, China.

"The years in China were some of the most eventful of my life. It was during that period that the country was experiencing cultural turmoil which erupted in the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989," Hill said.

After she completed her studies in China, staying true to her country and her alma mater, Hill returned to Jamaica and joined the faculty at the then Mico Teachers' College, and her love affair with art education began.

"I am interested in how children learn, the role and function of art in human development, and how art can be used as a catalyst for national and global development," Hill said.

In pursuit of these interests, Hill completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in education administration at The University of the West Indies, Mona, and a Master of Arts degree in art education from the Ohio State University.

Hill yet again proved her critics wrong and completed a Doctor in Philosophy, in art education also from the Ohio State University, to advance her career in college-level teaching, research and leadership.




Her goals, she said, are to create art educators who are artists, innovators, and visionaries and who will challenge the status quo; through transformative practice and help in the creation of more access to training and development, particularly for those interested in accessing graduate and postgraduate degrees.

"I remain and continue to serve, humbled and grateful for every opportunity provided to serve the region. I want to continue to impact the next generation of art educators, who will in turn prepare and influence tomorrow's leaders," Hill said.

Hill has continued to pave the way for art education in the region and the United States. She has served on the examination committee for visual arts at the Caribbean Examinations Council and was chief examiner for the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate in visual arts.

She has also maintained strong ties with the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, where she fostered the development of the first online masters degree in art education for the Caribbean region in collaboration with the Ohio State University.

Hill is currently an assistant professor in art education at the Delta State University in Mississippi.

"I am forever grateful for the many opportunities that were afforded to me in this journey that has expanded my teaching skills and expertise in the development of art and art education," Hill said.