Remember the old days that we can't wait to get back to? When we all walked around our campuses and just bumped into each other and had coffee? I do. And I especially do on the campus of the University of Wisconsin at River Falls, together with Dr. Kaylee Spencer. She has been a beloved Historian of Art there for a decade and a half. And also a faculty adviser and scholar in the Chancellor's Office. But you as what's so memorable about a campus coffee with Kaylee?
The fact that it takes so long, that's what. Because everyone on campus from the chancellor to the freshmen in her class know her and need to talk to her. Now. About the generous ideas she has already shared with them. And the art she has talked with them about. Or perhaps they need to query her on the future of the university? Pro-tip on Kaylee: If you need coffee, you'd better get it and then walk with her. Otherwise you won't get your coffee.
In my experience, when somebody is beloved like this it's not the universe being randomly kind. It means that the person in question was super kind, first. To everyone. And also followed through on things they said they'd do. Kaylee has been such an intellectual and empathic spark plug in UWRF's Art Department that her alumni call her the best teacher of their lives. Or as her current chair, Eoin Breadon says about her:
There's our awesome crew here, and then there's Kaylee. Students who have her classes worship her. There's just no way to describe the level of engagement she brings to her teaching and to their lives. I think I'm pretty good. And then I see what she does to open up the creative world for Art majors here. It's amazing, and we are so lucky to have her.
Kaylee has always loved travel. And she taught abroad for UWRF on a few occasions earlier in her career. The fit of being abroad with great students was something she wore well, so when she heard about The Catalyst she was keen to dive in and make London and Paris her new classrooms. Her first run with the program was the summer of 2019, when she helped Eoin Breadon teach his course on outsider art. She loved the students, and she loved what it felt like each day to bring the cities to life, as moving classrooms. Her only issue, she said as she planned her own course each day, was to design an immersive course for students that would go much deeper than just the gorgeous and iconic views that are everywhere in both cities.
I want Catalyst students to assess the very eyes they bring to looking at art. What are our biases? Where is our privilege? Where do we engage with beauty along lines that are class-based, race-based or lodged within what is socially normative in our lives? I want to show students beautiful things, yes. And I want them to see things they could never find on their own. But even more I want them to learn how to see aesthetics from a fiercely critical viewpoint. That also advances their own self awareness and cultural sophistication.
Kaylee's focus in her course are the key intersections between strategies of artistic representations and power politics. From architecture to formal portraiture to the most avant-garde art of post-modernism. Kaylee knows that London and Paris will be such deep resources for her teaching that not two years on The Catalyst will see her teaching the "same" course.
When Kaylee has finished a few years on The Catalyst, those of us who know her can imagine what a walk with her down a Parisian street will feel like. The café owners we have all seen forever and the market stall where we've all shopped from for ages? They'll bullrush past the rest of our faculty and staff to say hello to Mlle. Kaylee. Who will know their names, and about their dogs and kids, and how their aged parents are doing. And whether they paint or not anymore.
There's art on the walls. And there's an art to life. Kaylee is your hot-take expert on both.