Wonder Women is a blog series that lets me introduce you to amazing businesswomen doing remarkable work. Meet Patricia Lannes, Founder and Director of CALTA21, which stands for Cultures and Literacies Through Art for the 21st Century.
CALTA21 is a model initiative program where art and literacy education converge in museum and classroom settings to strengthen English language skills and voice. Patricia developed the model that trains museum educators, public school teachers and community-based educators to use art in museums to instruct their students in English language skills. Through her work with CALTA21, Patricia was nominated to be recognized at the White House as a Champion of Change, an award for Americans with innovative ideas who are making a difference in their communities. Patricia says, “I get to see the effects of training teachers to feel comfortable with art, and to help students decode its messages. If you think about technology and where the 21st century is going, it’s all visual. You open your phone and you are bombarded with images. Learning to express what those images mean opens a world of culture and literacy and language skills.” Find out what an arts educator can teach you.
Q: When did you first realize you were doing your life’s work?
A: I studied history and art and I was ready to do research and really dive into the language and the idea world! When we came to New York, we brought our daughter who was two years old at the time, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And I see restrictions everywhere. I think: “how on earth do I engage with this child so I can talk about art and look at art and make it enjoyable for her?” That’s when I changed my focus and started understanding what makes art enjoyable for anyone. That’s when I started to work with art, museums, and children. Then, when I worked in the museum galleries with any age or audience – from a very savvy person to one who had never been to a museum — I saw the possibility of art to engage people in deep conversations and that was it!
Q: Where do you see art education going in the future?
A: What is happening in many places is that education is too focused on the tool. It used to be a pencil; now it’s a laptop. It doesn’t matter, it is just a tool. The real question is how do we use tools to develop independent thinkers? People who read independently, and people who go to art museums on their own. How do we train people to be thinkers? I think that’s critical.
Q: What is the one word that best describes you?
A: I’m optimistic by nature and I do see opportunities where people might see despair. For me it’s about optimism, but it has to be matched with persistence and resilience.
Q: What’s the one daily practice that energizes you the most?
A: Reading. Reading is my thing. It would be looking at art, but I cannot be looking at art all the time. So, it’s reading, and in the morning, it’s the paper. I get sources from three different places, I read in Spanish, the paper from my country then I read news in French and lastly, I read news in the US. The day starts with that and it energizes me because I get to see what’s going on and then I just need to go to work. Then reading at night is a different kind of energy. It’s the reading that I love, whatever that is. Most of the time it’s centered on art or thinking or reading. It’s different because it is an energy that calms you and the other one gets me going. Like caffeine and wine!
Q: What can women do to realize their ambitions?
A: Find a mentor or look at people who you admire and see how they did it. Then find your passion or something you like to do because ambition just for the sake of success or having money without the drive, I think it’s harder. You need a belief or an idea. I think that one of the things that we need to do as women is trust our voice, develop and strengthen it. Then practice it in public, just go and say it and see how it’s received. Also find a group of like-minded women who will support you and be sincere. Women are good at networking and building a network of trust is key.
Q: How has communication enabled you to be an effective leader?
A: Communication is a tool! First you have to give a lot of time to thinking and to developing ideas so that you can articulate them. It’s part of strengthening your voice. There is a way of starting small and keep going on to testing it in larger environments. The same thing I always tell people when they are looking at art and they say, “I don’t know anything about art!” I just tell them to trust your eyes, brain, and emotion. You have a gut emotion when you look at art, there is something you are seeing and it’s going into your brain. Find ways to articulate it. I think it goes the same for communication. You have to find a forum where you can practice. For me growing up in South America, the idea of self-promotion bothers me a lot. It’s very hard for me so it’s finding who can help you find the ways to put it out to the public. There has to be someone there to help you! That goes back to my idea of education, going through your own thought process to develop your own ideas. Once you get those ideas, how do you articulate them and for what purpose? It has to have a purpose. Communication has to be about content and it is how you articulate your ideas.
Q: Who are the most interesting influencers for you right now?
A: For me it’s my desire for justice, so it’s not a person. The books I read at night drive me, are the basis for my professional praxis as a museum education leader and agent of change. The intersection of my work with museums, schools, universities and community-based organizations, in the US and abroad focuses on changing the way we function as cultural institutions, so we are representative of the society we live in, and are relevant and meaningful to its users. Cultural institutions that are part of the community, listen to them and represent them, become relevant and a forum for public discourse. Art is about ideas, through the uniqueness of a work of art we can find universals that connect us and support our understanding of each other. We find relevancy and connection. I just finished Landscapes by John Berger. It is brilliant. He talks about how to contextualize a work of art so it is still relevant today. The next book I have is Reader Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World by Maryanne Wolf.
Q: What motivates you?
A: Learning and curiosity. It’s the drive to always want to go into something new, listen to people and what they are doing and saying and how I can relate to it. People motivate me; it’s all about people and not just about me. That is what drove me to work with art and not just study it. It’s a people connector. When those connections happen at a cultural institution, such as a museum, the artwork is the instigator, the public space becomes the forum for civic engagement and the potential for social change.