A photograph of Amanda Hudson

Amanda Hudson is a Cincinnati-based abstract painter who serves as a Community Education Instructor at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. In this role, she teaches after-school art to kids in Norwood City Schools through a program called Avenues for Success.

Enriching Art Education in Public Schools

Hudson still remembers the look on students’ faces when she showed up for a class with thirty boxes of pantyhose from the Dollar Store, along with wire cutters, wire, needles, and thread. Everyone was skeptical.

“They were looking at me like ‘this isn’t an art supply,’” recalls Hudson. But once she introduced them to artist Lee Bontecou, it began to make more sense.

“I try to base [projects] on an artist in history and what they were influenced by and why they used these materials.”

So by the end of their Bontecou-inspired project, everyone had taken their canvas, poked holes in it with wire, stretched pantyhose over the wire, and painted the pantyhose. Because “anything is an art supply!”

With Avenues for Success, Hudson is consciously carving out space beyond the pressures of the school day. If kids have been using a pencil all day, she wants to bring in other materials. If they’ve been following instructions non-stop, she wants to support them in exploring and expressing their own opinions.

Growing up in small-town Indiana came with its own pressures and challenges, says Hudson, but working with “at-risk” kids in Indianapolis during art school opened her eyes to another level of pressure. The stakes can be really high to get good grades.

“I just feel like they’re so scared of saying the wrong thing—[like] they’re gonna get docked for it somehow.”

So when Hudson moved to Cincinnati and began teaching through the AAC, she had some specific ideas for enriching art education.

“I did not want the class to be arts and crafts. And I didn’t want it to feel like an extended time at school… I didn’t want there to be any kind of pressure. I just wanted them to be comfortable with the materials and to be versed in art […] I’ve tried to bring in art history and put it on a level of primary school, to where [kids] could understand… We [also] look at things around the city.”

Whether it’s Charlie Harper at the Cincinnati Zoo or the murals at Union Terminal, if a student can recognize an artist that’s familiar to them, it helps reinforce art as something relevant and accessible.

Hudson is quick to identify the ways that teaching in urban neighborhoods has shaped her work in the studio.

“I couldn’t turn it off when I went home. And if I couldn’t turn it off, of course, it was going to come out in my work,” says Hudson. “The places—that’s kind of what spoke to me. Those places where I knew what went on, I knew who lived over there […] I would take pictures of architecture and then abstract them into my paintings.”

As a practicing artist, Hudson pulls lessons from her own work and brings them back into the classroom.

“Yes, I am a painter—that’s what most of my shows are,” she tells students, “but you don’t have to stay within the square of the painting. You can go outside of that.”