The second city in our search for noteworthy art educators is Boston. Primarily known as a city for finance, Boston has a somewhat underrated art scene and that is largely propped up by one of the most diverse and prestigious grouping of colleges and universities anywhere in the world. Seriously, Boston is widely considered the city for higher education and with schools like Harvard, Boston University, Boston College, and Tufts all within a stone’s throw of the city, it’s easy to see why. We chose to highlight only 15 art professors but we understand that this is only a fraction of the professors who deserve recognition. We tried to spread out the schools and subjects we highlighted to give readers a chance to see the whole scope of the art education community. Enjoy!
Ray Carney, Film Professor, Boston University
Unlike some professors who were once directors or members of the film industry before breaking into academia, Carney is a tried and true film academic and also a highly regarded professor at one of the country’s best film schools. Armed with a Bachelor’s degree from Harvard and a PhD from Rutgers University, Carney has been an English professor at Middlebury College and a Humanities professor at both Stanford and the University of Texas. He is also an accomplished author with almost a dozen books to his name and is considered one of the leading experts on independent film and art film. He is also the General Editor of the Cambridge Film Classics and continues to contribute on many pieces on the subjects of independent film and more. Students give him high marks for his knowledge and passion for the subject and while they say he can be demanding and opinionated, most felt they left his class with an improved appreciation for film.
Sheila Blair, Art History Professor, Boston College
After getting a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Art History from Tufts University and a PhD in Fine Arts from Harvard, Blair began her teaching career as a lecturer on Islamic Art and Architecture at Harvard and MIT. Since then she has made numerous teaching stops and has become one of the country’s foremost experts on Islamic Art and Architecture. She is currently multi-tasking as a professor of Islamic and Asian Art at Boston College and as the Endowed Chair of Islamic Art at Virginia Commonwealth University. She too is an accomplished author who is at least partially responsible for 17 books and more than 200 research articles. She even served as a consultant on a PBS documentary about Islam as well. Her students appreciate her for her professionalism and nearly encyclopedic knowledge of the subject material. It’s not always easy to inspire undergraduate students to appreciate their classes, but Blair seems to have done that to a certain extent, which is why she deserves recognition.
Suzannah Clark, Music Theory Professor, Harvard University
No list of art professors from Boston would be complete without at least one professor from one of the country’s most prestigious institutions; and based on her experience and passion for the subject of music theory, Suzannah Clark seems like an easy inclusion. She has an MFA and PhD from Princeton University and taught at Music Theory at Oxford for a period before joining the faculty at Harvard in 2008. A specialist in the music of Franz Schubert, the history of music theory, and medieval music, Clark has published a book on Schubert, co-edited work on music theory and medieval music, and is currently working on a new book about tonality. You want professors to know their subject material cold, well Clark has enough experience in the field and has done enough research to forget more about music theory than most will ever know, which is probably why she is a well-liked very informative professor.
Mary Ellen Adams, Theater Professor, Emerson College
Given how finicky students can be when they are talking about whether they like or dislike a professor, it can be hard to find a teacher who is universally well-liked. That said, she may not be universally well-liked, but Mary-Ellen Adams is pretty darn close. Adams specializes in the makeup, crafts, and puppetry areas of the theater and is well-trained by Jack Stein and Vincent Kehoe at the Research Council of Makeup Artists. She has worked for Boston TV stations, historical productions for national parks, theater conferences and puppeteer organizations, and she is the go-to designer and costume expert at the College when it comes to department productions. Her students call her kooky and crazy, but it’s clear they mean it in a good way because they also call her the most energetic and nice professor they have ever had. Not only does she get high marks from her students for making the class fun and interesting, but they also praise her knowledge of the subject and can’t seem to stop raving about her sweet personality and helpful and calm demeanor. You get the feeling that even if she didn’t know anything about theater, students would still want to take her class, and luckily for everybody, she knows more than most.
Lydia Martin, Drawing and Painting Professor, Suffolk University
In 2011, Martin received the “Outstanding School of Art & Design Faculty of the Year” award from the Suffolk University Student Government and based on reviews from her students, not much has changed since. For 2013, she was awarded the prestigious Marion and Jasper Whiting Foundation Faculty Fellowship to study in Paris. During her research there on early 20th century artists and the Ballets Russes, she created a variety of art project assignments for her NESAD/SU students in Foundation Drawing and Painting, 2013-14. Boasting a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from West Chester University and an MFA equivalent diploma in Painting and Drawing from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Martin has the requisite knowledge and skill to be an excellent professor, but it’s her attitude and teaching philosophy that make her so well-liked. She promotes healthy competition in her classes, demands and expects high effort from her students, and genuinely cares about her students becoming better artists under her tutelage. She also happens to have a cheery disposition, a willingness and patience to help students, and a sense of humor that makes her class easy to sit through. Most students say they left her class as better artists than when they entered, and considering how difficult drawing and foundations can be for the uninformed, that is no small feat.
Joseph Quackenbush, Graphic Design Professor, Massachusetts College of Art and Design
The most well-known art and design institution in New England is probably still the Rhode Island School of Design, but the Massachusetts College of Art and Design probably isn’t far behind and professors like Joe Quackenbush are a big reason why. To call Quackenbush an experienced graphic designer is probably an understatement considering how many different clients he has worked for or with. Among the clients that Quackenbush – who, ironically enough, has his MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design – has worked with are: Arthur Andersen; Bryant University, the Consortium for Policy Research in Education; MIT; The New York Times; Rhode Island School of Design; and the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. He is also the co-founder and faculty member of a business program for artists and designers and is a principal at a print and interactive design firm as well. In addition to his impressive list of experience and accolades, Quackenbush is a well-liked professor whose critiques – while painfully honest – are designed to help students become the best designer they can be. Students laud him for his helpful and down-to-earth nature and they also give him kudos for the excitement and energy he interjects into the classroom. That combination of design experience and teaching talent makes him a shoe-in for this list.
Emily Grandstaff-Rice, Design Professor, Boston Architectural College
A graduate of RPI with a Bachelor of Architecture degree and a Bachelor of Science degree in Building Sciences and a graduate of Harvard University with a Master of Liberal Arts degree in Educational Technology, Grandstaff-Rice is both extremely well-educated and very experienced. In addition to her teaching duties, she is an associate at Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc., a multi-disciplinary firm in Cambridge, MA and she has worked on projects for clients such as the Boston Children’s Museum, the Liberty Hotel, and the Discovery Place World Alive Exhibit. Don’t forget that she was awarded the American Institute of Architects’ Young Architect Award in 2008 and she serves on the Boston Society of Architects Board of Directors. Oh, and she is the president of the Boston Society of Architects as well. Needless to say, she has her hands full, which is why it speaks volumes about her passion to education that she still finds time to teach at BAC. Students speak about not only how impressed they are with her credentials and skills as an architect but also her willingness to listen, her stern but fair demands of student work, and her positive attitude. Do we need to keep explaining why she is mentioned on this list?
Marlon Kuzmick, Writing Professor, Harvard University
It shouldn’t be a surprise to see more than one professor from Harvard make this list; but what may be surprising is that a big portion of Kuzmick’s teaching is at the Harvard Extension School, the school’s continuing education program. Officially, Kuzmick is the Creative Director of HarvardX Media and Associate Director of the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. He has a Bachelor’s degree from the University of British Columbia and a Master’s Degree from the University of Sussex and is working on his PhD in English at Cornell University. He boasts over a decade of experience teaching at Cornell, Wake Forest and Harvard, including courses on English Literature, Writing, Aesthetic Theory, and Visual Rhetoric. But whether it’s his extension school students or his other students, they all seem to agree that Kuzmick is a talented writer, a patient teacher, and detail-oriented grader who helps improve students’ writing during the class. They also applaud him for his energy and passion for the subject, and his willingness to work with the students to help them improve.
Jon Aldrich, Songwriting Professor, Berklee College of Music
No list of art professors in Boston would be complete without at least one representative from one of the country’s premier musical education institutions. Berklee has churned out more than its fair share of successful and talented artists and a lot of it has to do without the excellent faculty – which Jon Aldrich is an especially notable member of. A product of Berklee himself, Aldrich has displayed his work in a variety of studio and live performances; he has recorded music for Capitol and United Artists; he has composed music for many jingles you hear across media platforms; and he has performed on shows like All My Children, The Young and the Restless, and Beverly Hills 90210. He is also, at least according to his students, extremely friendly and encouraging as a teacher. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find a student who didn’t love taking a course with him. Students appreciate his blunt honesty, his occasionally crass humor, and his in-depth knowledge of songwriting. If that wasn’t enough, students also say that he is an excellent contact to have in the industry and is helpful when students are out in the real world looking for work. That combination of experience, teaching skill, and networking ability makes him worthy of inclusion on any art professor list – let alone this one.
Noit Banai, Art History Professor, Tufts University
Teaching art history is not always easy. Unlike other art subjects, it isn’t really a hands-on subject, and it can be tough for anyone who isn’t an art enthusiast to truly appreciate and dive into the subject material. Those observations are a big reason why Banai deserves recognition, because her students not only appreciate her vast knowledge base, but they also appreciate her engaging personality and her constant desire to interact with her students by seeking their opinions and asking for their criticism. Banai’s experience is nearly bulletproof. She has a PhD from Columbia, is an accomplished and prolific writer and lecturer, and a well-traveled scholar and student herself. Her areas of expertise include 20th Century Art, Post-War Art in Europe and the Americas, and Art in France and she knows her stuff cold. Students call her both “brilliant” and “funny” and are impressed by her command of the subject material. In review, not only will you get the opportunity to take an interesting art history class, but you will probably learn a lot too. We think that says all that needs to be said about Banai’s teaching chops.
Jane Amidon, Architecture Professor, Northeastern University
Amidon is not only a Professor of Landscape Architecture and the Director of the Urban Landscape Program in the Northeastern University School of Architecture, she is also an extremely well-liked teacher and accomplished landscape designer/theorist in her own right. With a BA in History from Williams College and MLA from Harvard University she has certainly earned everything she worked for. She has lectured extensively on urban landscape and is an accomplished author who has contributed or written a number of publications or books on the subject as well. She was even the founding editor for Source Books in Landscape Architecture series and has helped organized symposiums on the subject as well. Amidon teaches a variety of courses including studio, lecture and seminar courses focused on design strategies of changing cities. She also teaches those classes quite well according to her students who give her high marks for her willingness to help, her intelligence, her personality, and her dedication to helping her students improve their architectural skills.
Whit Browne, Music Professor, Berklee College of Music
A self-professed “jazz guy”, Brown teaches bass (jazz bass in particular) and is one of the most well-liked professors at a school full of well-liked professors. Don’t bother questioning his credentials or his own ability as a jazz musician, the graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music has performed with jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, and Sonny Stitt; and he is also a three-time Boston Music Awards nominee for Outstanding Bassist. It’s always helpful to have a teacher who knows what he is talking about, especially in music classes, and Browne clearly passes the experience test. He also apparently passes the teaching test as students can’t stop talking about how much he genuinely cares about their improvement and about how approachable he is as a teacher. They do say he can be intense and tough, but they also say that a lot of that is just his way of making sure that his students are learning and improving. They are impressed with his skill, his direct teaching style designed not to waste students’ time, and the individual attention he seemingly gives all the students in his class. Any other questions about why he is on this list.
Michelle Johnson, Journalism Professor, Boston University
Boston University has one of the best journalism programs in the Northeast and it is partially because of their ability to recruit talented faculty members like Johnson. Students should want their journalism professors to be experienced journalists and Johnson is all of that and then some. Educated at two of the finest journalism schools in the country, the University of Maryland and the University of Missouri, Johnson is a former editor for the Boston Globe, was part of the team that launched the Globe’s award-winning website, and was an editor for the Metro, National, Foreign and Business sections of the newspaper before that. She has served as Assistant Political Editor, Senior Assistant Business Editor, Senior Assistant Night Editor, and for many years as a copy editor, before being named the first Editorial Manager of the website in 1995.
She has numerous awards for excellence from the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) and has taught numerous multimedia workshops for both professional journalists from news organizations around the country and student training programs for a variety of professional journalism organizations. She approaches her classes with the same professional seriousness and her students recognize that her approach only helps them grow as aspiring journalists. Journalism is not an easy profession to break into and it takes more time and effort and skill than some people think, which is why it’s great that excellent journalists like Johnson agree to pass on their knowledge and skill to the next generation.
Paul Burdick, Music Professor, New England Conservatory of Music
Berklee isn’t the only well-known music education institution in Boston and some would argue that the New England Conservatory of Music is on the same level as Berklee when it comes to prestige. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to ask Burdick, who got his Bachelor’s degree from the Berklee College of Music and now teaches solfege and other subjects at the Conservatory of Music. A composer, theorist, and educator who specializes in music and technology, Burdick has developed composition software that is used as theme and underscore for nationally syndicated cable television. He has also composed for film, with broadcasts on PBS and WNET in New York and his orchestral works have been performed by the Buffalo Philharmonic and his chamber music has been performed by the Josquin Cage New Music Ensemble and in the Brookline Library New Music Series. He is also an experienced teacher, having taught at Northeastern University before coming to the Conservatory where he is well-liked for his disciplined teaching, his willingness to help, and his ability to make class fun and interesting.
Luke Jorgensen, Theater Professor, Boston College
Dr. Jorgensen has the academic credentials having received his Bachelor’s degree from Boston College, his Master’s Degree in Theatre from Northwestern University, and his PhD from Tufts University. He also has the professional experience having acted in works such as The Shaughraun at the Huntington Theater and Smoke Signals at Chicago’s Remains Theatre in addition to his variety of roles in television and film. He also has the teaching credentials as he is currently the Artistic Director of the Tufts University Children’s Theatre and he has directed university productions such as Noises Off and Six Degrees of Separation. Oh did we mention that his students find him engaging, funny, colorful, and approachable? At Boston College, Jorgensen teaches acting, creative dramatics and introduction to theater and his students love his ability to connect with them, his passion for the subject that makes classes fun, and his patient approach to helping his students learn.