Celebrated artist and educator brings message to Mercyhurst

Art in schools has long been the budgetary whipping boy. When financial constraints force school officials to make cuts in programs, it’s typically art that gets the knife, the underlying assumption being that art in education is a luxury.

Championing the cause against that mindset is world renowned artist, educator and Fulbright scholar Leonard Lehrer, who will bring his message on the value of art in education to Mercyhurst College Tuesday and Wednesday, Oct. 7-8, when he assumes the role of artist in residence.

Lehrer speaks passionately about the importance of art in schools and its link to self-identity, self-esteem, clarity of thinking and lifelong learning.

A native of Philadelphia, Pa., Lehrer’s lithography and mixed media paintings are represented in the permanent collections of more than 70 museum collections worldwide, among them the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art and National Gallery of Art.

His distinguished academic career includes chairing art departments at the University of New Mexico, Arizona State University, New York University, and presently the School of Fine and Performing Arts at Columbia College, Chicago, Ill., the latter of which is widely recognized for the strength of its interdisciplinary arts program.

With Mercyhurst pursuing its own groundbreaking program in aesthetic education, a combined effort of the education and fine and performing art divisions (see cover story), Lehrer’s visit is viewed with great promise.

“One of the important reasons that he is here is to provide insights on how we might implement that program,” said Dr. Richard Hamwi, assistant professor of art at Mercyhurst.

While on campus, Lehrer will meet and work with faculty and students in education, art education, art therapy, dance, and music education programs.

“All students should be required to study art,” wrote Lehrer in The College Board Review. “Without it, they will be unable to think with sufficient clarity and keenness to realize their fullest potential.”

Lehrer echoes the same message brought to Mercyhurst last year by world-renowned pianist and educator Lorin Hollander, who also served as an artist in residence.

Both artists were brought to Erie through the collaborative efforts of several groups; this year’s being Mercyhurst College, Stairways Behavioral Health, WQLN Educational Services and the Humanities-In-The-Arts initiative administered through the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and funded primarily through the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. The Erie Art Museum, Erie Book Store and Presque Isle Artists’ Association are also assisting with Lehrer’s Erie visit.

In addition to his Mercyhurst agenda, Lehrer will present “Creativity Beyond Crayons: Why Creative Expression Matters” on Tuesday, Oct. 7, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at Zurn Hall, Villa Maria Center. The free lecture, which is geared toward educators, school administrators, and mental health professionals, is the second in Stairways Behavioral Health’s lecture series, “Visions of Hope: The Healing Power of Art.” Call 878-2073 for reservations.

At 8 p.m. Tuesday, Lehrer will give a presentation at the Erie Art Museum, and on Wednesday, he will meet with administrators and students at Edison Elementary School, Mercyhurst Preparatory School, and the Neighborhood Art House.

Lehrer will make a return stop in Erie Dec. 8-9 to further guide and help implement recommendations made during his original visit.

“I believe we have gravely underestimated the importance of art in our curriculum…” Lehrer wrote in the Review article. “Without it, we may sadly continue in that benign, half-awake, half-asleep world of deprivation that robs us of the ability to think as clearly and as deeply as we are able. Our children and our own future deserve better.”
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