Hurwitz Center

Pamela Lawton

Pamela Harris Lawton, MFA, EdDCTA, is MICA's current Florence Gaskins Harper Chair in Art Education.

Dr. Pam Lawton was born into a family of artists, writers, dancers, singers, actors, and musicians who were all educators and actively participated in her socialization.  As a fifth-generation educator from Washington, DC, she spent much of her formative years engaged in the arts with her grandmother, great uncles and aunts, cousins, parents, and siblings as a form of learning about the world and how to survive and thrive as a woman of color.  These intergenerational arts-based lessons stayed with her. Her scholarly and artistic research revolves around visual narrative and intergenerational arts learning in community settings with specific emphasis on BIPOC communities.  As an artist-educator-researcher, Lawton’s artwork is grounded in social practice, seeking to illuminate contemporary issues, cultural traditions, and the stories of people impacted by them.

Her personal work, mostly prints and mixed media pieces, is a visual narrative of the people, places, and traditions that influence her life. Lawton combines both images and words in her work to tell a story that many who have viewed it find both inspirational and familiar, for it tells the story of everyday life that many people understand and have experienced. Lawton coined the term, Artstories to describe both her personal art practice and community-based teaching practice. As an educator she collaborates with students, colleagues, and communities, creating works addressing the needs and ideas of diverse groups of participants and connecting them through a common art experience. 

I see art as a call to action, a language that transcends, transgresses, and transforms. As an artist-educator, my goal is to develop global citizens with empathetic understanding and respect for difference and the ways in which diversity enriches and transforms collective human experience through artistic endeavor. 

I was thrilled to be hired by MICA. The institution has a reputation for commitment to community through social practice art, developing artist-educators and designers equipped to engage with communities to make more visible their assets and concerns. This position is my dream job-- combining my interests and expertise in community, school, and museum-based art education with learners across the lifespan.

Teaching is a second career for Lawton.  After earning a BA degree in Studio Art and Sociology from the University of Virginia, she worked briefly for the Social Security Administration and then as a Benefits Administrator in Human Resources at USA TODAY for 13 years. After completing an MFA in Printmaking from Howard University, Lawton began teaching art at the high school level in Prince George’s County, MD.  She then moved to New York City to attend Teachers College, Columbia University where she obtained her EdDCTA (Doctor of Education in the College Teaching of Art).  

Her doctoral research, also called Arstories, was an epistemological action research study of an age-integrated, reciprocal arts learning program she developed, examining the learning and social relationships that evolved among three generations of women and girls, previously unknown to one another, who worked together on a collaborative visual and verbal narrative based on their life experiences. This first Artstories experience was followed by similar collaborative community-based projects in the United States and abroad to foster communal, youth/intergenerational, and multicultural understanding through shared oral histories, collaboratively written identity pieces on life themes related to psychosocial development, and visual treatments of these themes created by a group.  The resulting artstories are then exhibited/read/performed for others as a means of furthering multicultural and communal understanding through artstory sharing.  Artstories projects are designed to trigger critical self-reflection and sociocultural transformative learning.

Lawton has conducted artstories projects in Washington, DC, Charlotte, NC, Richmond, VA, Nicaragua, Mexico and Scotland.

Community-based art education is education for action with art as the medium for learning. Everyone has a story to tell and we all deserve to be listened to and heard.  

Lawton has written/co-written over 20 peer reviewed publications including, Community-based art education across the lifespan: Finding common ground, a full-length book with colleagues Margaret A. Walker and Melissa Green.  She has given over 40 peer reviewed presentations and participated in over 70 juried and invited art exhibitions.

My current scholarly writing seeks to illuminate the histories of BIPOC art educators, marginalized within the art education profession, to educate about the accomplishments of little known or recognized art educators and help recruit more BIPOC art educators into the profession.

In her 18 years of college teaching experience, Lawton has taught at research universities with robust art programs (Temple University/Tyler School of Art, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and Virginia Commonwealth University) and was Director of Education Studies at the Corcoran College of Art + Design.  She comes to MICA after five years at Virginia Commonwealth University where she was a tenured full professor.

Her awards include: 2019 Fulbright Distinguished Chair/Scotland Visiting Professor at the University of Edinburgh; 2019 Tate Modern Exchange Associate Artist, Tate Modern, London, UK representing Virginia Commonwealth University; 2018-19 Distinguished Faculty in Research Award, VCU School of the Arts; 2017 Southeastern Region Higher Education Art Educator Award, National Art Education Association, and the 2010 Betty Foster Outstanding Teacher Award, Corcoran College of Art + Design. She serves as commissioner-at-large on NAEA’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Commission, founded the peer reviewed scholarly journal, International Journal of Lifelong Learning in Art Education, and serves as a reviewer for several professional art education journals including Studies in Art Education.


Her artworks are in several private collections as well as the Tate Britain Library Artists’ Books Collection; Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH), University of Edinburgh, Scotland; Virginia Commonwealth University Cabell Library Special Collection of Artist’s Books; the College of Health and Human Services, University of North Carolina at Charlotte; Teachers College, Columbia University; Northwestern University; Morgan State University; Georgetown University; The Corcoran School of the Arts + Design/George Washington University Print Portfolio Collection; the Frederick Douglass Museum and Cultural Center; the Washington, D.C. Superior Court; and the Eugene E. Myers Charitable Unitrust.