Faculty Feature: Passion for Art Fuels Enthusiasm to Teach
Lydia Brokaw grew up knowing art would be her life’s work—and it didn’t take long for her to discover teaching, too. “I knew from the time I was a very young person I was going to be in the arts in some way,” says Lydia. In the 1970s, she began her education at the University of Northern Colorado, but soon married and started a family. By the time she returned to college it was six years later and she was raising young children. “In a very real sense, my children taught me that I was going to be a teacher. I bring that same philosophy about learning from my students into the classroom today.” Lydia graduated from the Metropolitan State College of Denver with a Bachelor of Arts—magna cum laude, no less—in 1981.
A Winding Path
The job market was challenging when Lydia finished school, so she started out as a graphic artist for a small company and substitute taught around the Denver metro area throughout the 1980s. In the early 1990s, Lydia decided to go to graduate school. She headed to the University of South Florida for her Master of Fine Arts, where she started as a painter and eventually moved into sculpture. “Graduate school was phenomenal,” she says. “I started to realize that my heart is in the third-dimensional art world.”
It took Lydia until 1997 to get back to Colorado, and when she did, she started sending resumes to area colleges. She landed a part-time position at FRCC right away and substitute taught at several high schools until she was offered a full-time role in 2000. “It doesn’t feel like it’s been 12 years,” she admits. “Time flies by when you’re loving life. And I’ve enjoyed every single minute I’ve been here.”
An Artist, a Teacher, a Leader
Lydia has always taught, but in recent years she has moved into several administrative roles as well. Since 2009, she has been department chair of Humanities and Fine Arts at the Westminster Campus, overseeing all disciplines within the department (she also served as department chair from 2001 to 2004). She is the lead art faculty at the Westminster Campus, teaching Visual Concepts 2D Design and Visual Concepts 3D Design. And she is the statewide art discipline chair for the Colorado Community College System, a role in which she collaborates with art faculty from Colorado’s 12 other community colleges to arrange travelling exhibitions of faculty and student artwork.
Outside Front Range, Lydia is a member of the Spark Gallery, the oldest cooperative gallery in Denver in the Santa Fe Art District. Her next show is September 2012. Lydia’s art incorporates natural materials—leaves, tree branches, bark, even dirt. “I try to incorporate my own philosophy about art into my teaching,” she says. “I want students to feel that whatever they’re making is theirs, that they have a connection to it. Whether that means working with oil paints or sand, the most important thing is that they feel comfortable with what they’re creating.”
An Appreciation for Diversity
As someone who was a nontraditional student herself, Lydia’s favorite thing about FRCC is its diversity. “I might have a student who is 17 sitting next to one who is 79, and they’re both exploring and enjoying and learning from each other,” she says.
Although she’s taught some talented art students—some who have gone on to places like the Art Institute of Chicago and the Kansas City Art Institute—Lydia also welcomes and enjoys the person who simply enjoys art for art’s sake. “I have students who love their art classes, but aren’t ready for that to be the sole direction of their life,” she says. Her classroom is a great place for artists and non-artists alike, she says. “I always tell people that we’re all artists. It’s not about drawing a picture—it’s about viewing the world and how you interact with things, about thinking in new ways. So, students who want to study business or architecture are every bit as much an artist as I am.”