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Beyond the Classroom with Joanne Mitchell

2017 Excellence in Teaching Award Winner

Joanne Mitchell, assistant chair and full-time faculty member in the Foundation program, is a 2017 Teaching Excellence Award winner and an artist in her own right.

A crucial time in the Otis College experience, the first-year Foundation program is an immersive curriculum of studio and Liberal Arts and Sciences courses that give students essential design, critical thinking, and research skills that they can then build upon for the rest of their college career and beyond. Described as "cool, calm, collected, and patient," Mitchell is a mainstay in the program, guiding students through what can be a challenging time with care and a hands-on approach. 

Each year, the Teaching Excellence Awards gives students, faculty, department chairs, and other Otis community members the chance to recognize three outstanding faculty members for their commitment to Otis, their clear, effective teaching, and their ability to respond to a diverse student body. Mitchell is joined this year by fellow Excellence in Teaching awardee Jessica Ngo of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Distinguished Educator Award­-winner J.T. Steiny of Communication Arts. All three recipients receive cash awards, are introduced at the Commencement ceremony on May 14, 2017, and are honored at the Faculty Convocation event in August. 

We asked Mitchell about her own art practice, her favorite spot in Los Angeles, and more. Read the Q&A below.


What is it like to teach emerging artists and designers? Do you find it refreshing, a challenge, both?

It is a great challenge and pleasure to teach Foundation students. Students bring curiosity, energy, and a wide range of skills and experiences to the classroom. I am always amazed at how willing and able students are to support one another in the studio.


What have your students taught you? 

To be patient and appreciative of all learning styles. Creativity and innovation emerge from a variety of conditions.


If you could study any field aside from your own, what would it be? 

If I could, I would be a student forever. I would like to study philosophy as much as data visualization. In fact, a hybrid approach to examining the ethical implications of data analysis and representation would be very exciting.


Can you describe your personal art or design practice? What influences your work and how does teaching influence it?

I am a multi-disciplinary artist whose work explores the role that social memory plays in contemporary life. I engage in the strategies, histories, and trajectories of feminism and queerness.


What is something you wish you would have known when you were first starting out in a creative field?

I wish I had the opportunity to study the fundamentals of art and design in a Foundation year. I see now how important the basics are to every project I work on.


What are three adjectives you would use to describe Otis College or its community?

Committed, hard working, and collegial.


At Otis, we have the benefit of being a part of the larger Los Angeles art and design community. What do you think attracts artists and creatives to live and work here?

The combination of a vibrant art community and the great outdoors.


What is your favorite spot in L.A.?

Running along the bike path in Santa Monica



Photo: Projects on display in the Foundation gallery at Otis College of Art and Design.