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Professor uses childhood experience to inspire students to pursue art

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2015.1.19 OVERDEVEST_01
Photo by Jonathan D. Lopez

By Jacquelyn Zeman – Chief Web Editor

When she was 6 years old, Grand Rapids Community College Professor Kimberly Overdevest decided she wanted to be a teacher and an artist. Overdevest credits her interest in art to her grandmother, who instilled a love for art in her.

“My very first memories about anything are of her teaching me about art,” Overdevest said. “Her teaching me about van Gogh, Picasso and all the great artists…I knew at a really young age art was going to be it for me.”

Overdevest is from Grand Rapids, but spent early years of her childhood in Anderson, Indiana. She described herself as “the artist in school” as she took art classes through high school before deciding to take her interest to the next level. She described having a high school art teacher that would not let her get away with “less than my ability.”

“While everyone else was doing a two hour drawing, I was handing in a 20 minute drawing,” Overdevest said. “It was better than the others, but she would look at me and say ‘that’s not your best work. Go back and do it for me again because I know you can do better than that.’ She was calling me out…I love her for that.”

Overdevest ended up going to Kendall College of Art & Design to study for her bachelor’s degree in fine arts, with a focus in graphic design. There she mostly focused on studio art, illustration and graphic design.

“For me I had a great inability to feel confident in my talent,” Overdevest said. “At some point I knew that was not going to be the route for me, but at the same time I knew that art was going to be very much a part of who I was…I believe if you pursue your passion, the universe will reward you in some way.”

Overdevest went back to school for a second bachelor’s, this time in Art History, at Kendall. At the time they had just started the Art History program. After attending Kendall’s program, she went to University of Madison, earning a Masters of Arts in 2003. There she realized that what she truly loved was reading about other artists.

“I really liked getting in their heads…reading about their trials and tribulations,” Overdevest said.

Throughout her time in college, Overdevest participated in two different study abroad programs, both of which were trips that took students to many different cities in Europe to see and study the art and architecture. She said the most priceless thing for her was not seeing the art, but seeing her own passion through another culture’s lens.

“I could talk about it forever because it was such a life changing experience,” Overdevest said. “If I had my way every student would take a study abroad class, because it shrinks the world down…none of us are different from each other.”

After earning her master’s degree, Overdevest embarked on her first teaching experience in New York City as a graduate student, where she was studying at The Graduate Center of CUNY (The City University of New York). She described her experience there as an epiphany of what she should be doing.

“I took a job as a teaching assistant,” Overdevest said. “I just was hooked. I loved teaching people about the artists, teaching students about how to relate to the images, teaching them about history through art, and art through history.”

Overdevest taught at several different institutions while she was there studying for her Ph.D. She discovered that teaching art was her real passion. Overdevest received an ABD (all but dissertation) and an MPhil (which is the equivalent to Ph.D work with no dissertation) from The Grad Center of CUNY. She ended up moving back to Grand Rapids when she was doing work on her dissertation.

The job at GRCC opened up in 2006. Overdevest decided to move back because she is a “Midwestern girl.”

“She is a master of story telling, making art and history come together,” said GRCC French professor Hillery Haney. “Her enthusiasm and committed belief that students should all experience an international education is unwavering.”

As someone who considers herself a Grand Rapids native, Overdevest is a fan of ArtPrize. She says she loves to see the “good, bad, and ugly of ArtPrize.”

“To focus on art, how wonderful,” Overdevest said. “At a time when art programs are being cut…to bring the focus back on art, I think is great. I love it all…to have Rick DeVos start this, to have it become what it has…and have a sense of community develop because of this, even just the discussions and conversations that are going on about art…the controversies just helps promote art.”

Overdevest said she also thinks it is great for students to expand their knowledge of the art world and of other people through art.

“It is a great way for students to perhaps…see themselves in (other artists), and learn from that,” Overdevest said. “I think it is a great way for students to see artists who have came from all over the world…I think it can be quite inspiring.”

Hannah Tawney, 20, a former student of Overdevest’s said she would do all sorts of activities in class to help her students remember the material they were learning.

“One time she was attempting to recreate the pose in a painting to explain why the person was posed that way… (she is) passionate and knowledgeable about art history and shows it during class,” Tawney said. “She is easy to talk to and is always willing to help students.”

Taylor Sirard, 21, had a class taught by Overdevest each semester at GRCC. Sirard credits her to having a “great effect on my work as an artist.”

“She turned what could be a boring, typical lecture into an interesting and interactive experience,” Sirard said. “She has a passion for what she does, and it shows in her teaching methods. Professor O was, and remains the best professor I’ve ever had. I am so thankful for her.”

Overdevest said that she understands that it is hard to be an art student because of the stereotypes people have, that artists don’t make any money.

“We still have this very misled stereotype that artists aren’t employable,” Overdevest said. “If a student wants to go into art, and parents say there is no money in art, and they are not going to support that…I think that stereotype that needs to be dismissed.

“I understand that someone who is going into the ‘STEM’ (science, technology, engineering, math, medicine) education…that might seem more lucrative…to steer away from going into art because money cannot be made there, or you cannot find a lucrative position, I think that is a big hurdle that students need to overcome.”

Overdevest said to her, some of the most interesting art is from artists who use their art as social or political weapons.

“Those (who) use their art to bring about social change, or to call attention to some great social wrong that needs to be corrected,” Overdevest said.

Overdevest teaches classes in the visual arts department at GRCC, and will be co-leading the France Study Away trip this coming May. Overdevest has a 6-year-old daughter, Fiona, with whom she spends her time drawing and painting, as well as teaching her about art.