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STAFF PROFILE: Lilah Anderson, Educator of Visual Literacy and Learning

Posted on September 24, 2020 at 9:00 AM by Quinn Vandenberg

Imagine Iowa State University Museums as a web. Every strand in this web is a program, a work of art, or exhibition connecting University Museums to colleges and classes all across campus. Lilah Anderson, Educator of Visual Literacy and Learning, strengthens this metaphorical web through her work and is always looking for opportunities to make a new connection where one had not previously existed. 

Lilah was born in San Diego, California but came to the Midwest from the East Coast; she grew up in Rhode Island and completed her undergraduate work at Bard College in upstate New York. In her junior year of college, she took up a second major and added art history to her biology coursework. While the unconventional duality of a biology and art history major may be puzzling to some, Lilah saw the coursework as expanding her ways of thought and pursuing her passion. 

“I think that visual art gets written off sometimes as a frivolity or something- that it is not as serious as science or math. I think that visual art is something that we need. Without art in some part of our lives, we cannot be as productive or well-rounded people,” says Lilah.

She followed her fascination of art to Europe and received a Masters Degree in History of Art, Theory and Display from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland with a thesis on Italian Renaissance art. 

Lilah’s professional career has always maintained two key factors: education to the public and a blend of the natural world and art. Upon her return from Scotland, Lilah worked at Blithewold Mansion, Gardens and Arboretum in Bristol, Rhode Island as an Education Program Assistant, leading curriculum development and serving as an instructor for the summer camp.

“Having that job helped me find a way I could combine the things I love; arts and science,” says Lilah. 

Lilah then worked for the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden as the Youth Education Coordinator and later the Adult Education Coordinator. 

At Iowa State University, Lilah directs the museums’ education program. She leads students through exhibitions and around campus. She points things out to them and explains their context. Her passion for the visual arts, inquiry-based techniques and quick wit keep students engaged. In addition to her teaching responsibilities, Lilah also develops the University Museums’ public programming, oversees the Visual Literacy Program of curriculum integration, and coordinates and curates two educational exhibition series.  

“My hope is with every educational experience that I am leading or creating, that people are introduced to a new perspective or idea. Ideally, they come to that on their own. It’s so much more powerful when you feel like you discovered something on your own,” says Lilah.

ABOVE: Lilah Anderson, Educator of Visual Literacy and Learning, gives a virtual tour of Breaking the Prairie Sod by Grant Wood, which is located in Parks Library. Click here to watch this program.

TOP IMAGE: Lilah Anderson stands in front of Forward by William King in the Anderson Sculpture Garden.

Teaching college-aged students, as opposed to children and adults, provides a unique set of challenges and opportunities for Lilah.

“I think this job is exciting because I can be a part of curriculum programs. I work with faculty and courses across all different disciplines,” says Lilah. “I can bring ideas of teaching art education and visual literacy into a wide range of programs.”

Apart from assisting in curriculum development, Lilah also works with faculty to develop exhibitions, tailored to the needs and requests of their respective departments. 

Lilah’s first reACT exhibition, an educational exhibition series she coordinates, It Starts With Us, is a prime example of the connections she builds between departments. Collaborating with José Antonio Rosa, Professor of Marketing and faculty fellow in Diversity and Inclusion, It Starts With Us laid the groundwork for how Lilah wanted the reACT exhibition series to run. reACT allows faculty to apply to act as a guest curator for an exhibition on a relevant topic to the ISU community to facilitate discussion by looking at works of art in the University Museums’ collection.

As a result of Lilah’s work, the web of University Museums reaches students in English, Women and Gender Studies, Industrial Engineering, Classical Studies, Forestry, Music, Animal Science and more.

“Part of my challenge is to keep creating those connections with faculty and make sure they know what University Museums can offer their curricula,” says Lilah. 

So why does art matter? Lilah views the visual arts as a necessary part of being human and a mode of expression and communication.

“We want to destroy the idea of the museum as an elitist institution, but rather create one that’s uniting and open to all. Where we can have a space for thoughtful discussion and conversation. I want to allow entrance into the space through education and talking about art,” says Lilah.

Lilah holds particular affinity for Border Crossing by Luis Jiménez, a sculpture on central campus and a newly acquired lithograph that is featured in her newest educational exhibition series FOCUS: Critical Conversations with Art.. She also is very proud of some of the works of art in Parks Library that she helped select and install such as La Llareta #0308-2B31 by Rachel SussmanApril 12, 1963 by Bethany Collins and Cherokee by Blood by Emily Arthur. Installed in spring 2019, the paintings, prints and photographs are important works by contemporary women artists.

In her free time, Lilah loves spending time outdoors with her fiancé Sean, traveling (and visiting museums), cooking, gardening, swimming in the ocean, playing music and practicing her Italian. And, never tires of the antics of her two cats, Meemo and Pip and her dog, Buddy. 

TOP LEFT: Lilah and her fiancé Sean in the Anzo-Borrego Desert.

TOP RIGHT: Lilah at Point Reyes National Seashore.

BOTTOM LEFT: Lilah with pumpkins.

BOTTOM RIGHT: Lilah with her dog Buddy.

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