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February 03, 2010

Andrea Karpati
Andrea Kárpáti

Fulbright scholar will remain connected
to NIU School of Art after return to Hungary

DeKalb, Ill. — Andrea Kárpáti lives in Budapest, a city of nearly 2 million people that is not only the capital of Hungary and its largest metropolis but a thriving hub of creativity.

Coming to DeKalb last fall to begin a five-month stay in the Northern Illinois University School of Art as a Fulbright scholar, and lured by the Division of Art Education’s global reputation, Kárpáti expected that the school would sustain “deep scholarship and high-level research” regarding her passions of art education and visual culture.

But she didn’t count on finding such a lively and nourishing community of imagination and invention amid the cornfields. NIU’s full menu of art exhibitions, concerts, plays and cultural field trips to the international museums of Chicago and the intimate galleries of tiny towns kept her busy and spellbound.

“Every day, every week, I had invitations,” Kárpáti says. “You have a fascinating cultural life here, and I did not miss the cultural life of the big city.”

Kárpáti, who bid farewell to NIU over the weekend, will return to Eotvos Lorand University later this month with new insights into art education and plans for continued collaboration.

Most notably, she and NIU professor Kerry Freedman are involved in a project to better understand “new learning communities” where children and adolescents form groups through the Internet to collaborate and teach themselves. Educators who comprehend how children learn outside of the classroom in the 21st century can improve their teaching.

Kárpáti already had a good example. While still in Budapest, she became aware of a group of teens who were unimpressed with some of the programming they watched on Hungarian television.

“So they made their own,” Kárpáti says, “and these are not communications students.”

The successful teens – the oldest is only 21 – now manage a Web site where they post weekly newsreels that also enjoy precious airtime on a local TV station. Group members switch roles constantly to improve their learning: This week’s director could become next week’s second camera operator, something that “doesn’t happen in real life.”

(Kárpáti’s son, Gergely Andras Szirmai, asked to join the group after he was filmed skateboarding; during a visit to NIU to see his mother, he sat in a class taught by Laura Vazquez. “The methods she teaches of artistry and technical professionalism are world-class,” Kárpáti says.)

“We have to make art teachers aware of this,” she says. “There is an expressive thirst out there.”

Kárpáti also is chair of the 2011 World Conference on Arts Education, which Hungary will host for the International Society for Education through Art, and has promised prestigious speaking spots to Freedman as well as to Doug Boughton, acting director of the NIU School of Art, and to Deb Smith-Shank, head of the school’s Division of Art Education. Delegates from 60 nations are expected.

She’s already an enthusiastic ambassador for the NIU College of Visual and Performing Arts.

Although the first word that springs to her mind is “efficiency,” she also labels her temporary home as “friendly, artistic, professional, polite and industrious.”

Work already has begun between Kárpáti, Boughton, Freedman and retired art professor Stanley Madeja on a position paper that will champion the preservation of arts education.

Many of the School of Music’s concerts enthralled her, especially last fall’s Civil War-themed multidisciplinary showcase that Smith-Shank helped to plan, and another that included a Lithuanian folk song on the program. Kárpáti was invited on stage so that the audience could hear a correct pronunciation of the lyrics.

“I like singing,” she says, “so I sang them the song.”

Kárpáti also appreciated NIU’s devotion to diversity. She speaks five languages (Finno-Ugric, English, French, German and Russian) and is a great admirer of minority-produced art, including the works of the Hungarian Gypsies of her homeland.

She gave talks to NIU students about Hungarian Gypsy art and how to maintain its survival, something she compared to the Native American folk art found in this country.

Some of her travels in the Midwest including visits to Native American art galleries. Before she leaves the United States in a few weeks, she will spend some time at the University of New Mexico to study at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe.

Kárpáti also loved the appreciation of art shown during last fall’s Latino Heritage Month.

“Multicultural is not an empty phrase here,” she says. “Latinos came in and associated with artists, and I’m sure it is reassuring for every culture to see at an art exhibition the exhibits of their own culture or to hear at a concert songs of their own culture.”

NIU’s faculty and students gained just as much from Kárpáti’s presence in their classrooms, hallways and offices, Boughton says. Her time offered invaluable “insights, anecdotes, research and understanding of people in the various parts of the world she’s lived in.”

“You can’t really put a value on it. It’s inestimable,” Boughton says. “It’s consistent with our mission to bring in as much international perspective as we can.”

Kárpáti has special words for Smith-Shank, who hosted her in her home the past five months.

“I’m absolutely grateful for her professional advice and her insights,” she says. “She really made me feel welcome, and I thank her with all my heart.”

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Media Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Media Relations and Internal Communications
Phone: (815) 753-9472
Email: mmcgowan@niu.edu