Barbara Libby-Steinmann travels the creative road of a fine artist and art educator with vibrancy, passion for fresh ideas and a deep connection and dedication to art in schools. The proof? She was recently honored as Marin County Teacher of the Year and was a top 12 finalist for California Teacher of the Year. Her gift, beyond her own artistic talent (she was twice a finalist for our own Get Covered art contest), is that she connects all artists — those in her classroom at Bacich Elementary in Kentfield and in the greater community — through her enthusiasm and engagement.
1. Did you always know you wanted to be an art teacher?
When I was a little girl I would arrange my stuffed animals like a class and I would teach them how to draw or craft. Later, I fell in love with teaching when I was asked to teach an after-school art class in my West Marin community. I then knew that I wanted to create, communicate and share my experiences. I was not shy to take on the hard work it took to become an inspiring teacher and role model.
2. What do you especially love about teaching art to children?
I love teaching my students the language of the visual arts, connecting to history, science, social justice, personal views, and the world. Also, I enjoy seeing my students experience the magic of art as I guide them while they’re creating with their hands, shaping ideas and dreams into sculptures and images that everyone can touch and see.
3. Favorite art technique you teach to kids?
Annually I like to plan and direct an event/project that involves and connects my entire student body of 650 to the immediate community. The 2017 Bacich Elementary School upcycling art installation entailed one large art installation per grade level, temporarily installed in different locations around the Bacich campus.
4. Messiest classroom art project?
Creating art with kindergartners is messy most of the time; however, messy equals fun and full student engagement. Top of the messy list: papier-mâché, plaster, and glitter.
5. If you could bring in a famous artist to your class as a guest, who would it be and why?
Eric Carle. My students and I love his books and illustrations. I teach an Eric Carle lesson where students collage animals in an Eric Carle style, out of hand-painted texture paper.
6. Favorite artists?
Andy Goldsworthy, Georgia O’Keeffe, Dugald Stermer, and Friedensreich Hundertwasser.
7. Where are your favorite places in Marin to paint or sketch?
The redwoods on Bolinas Ridge, Wildcat Beach, Ridgecrest overlooking Stinson Beach, and Palomarin.
8. What local museums do you visit for inspiration?
The de Young/Legion of Honor museums and the new SFMOMA. I am also a member and participant of Marin Open Studios, and so I visit the local studios of my artist peers to fill my mind and body with fresh artistic energy.
9. Why is art important for young kids?
Integrating the arts is the key to a balanced education. The arts motivate and engage students in understanding their inner strengths and abilities to discover what truly inspires them.
10. Would you describe your teaching style?
Using a student-focused approach that emphasizes both experimentation and excellence, I invite students to push out the bounds of their own understanding, to follow their natural curiosity while engaging with materials and models.
11. What are the challenges you face as an art teacher?
In an ideal world, students would have access to arts education every day. Unfortunately, this is not what a typical public school schedule looks like. Due to funding challenges, arts education is limited or not present at all.