Sunny Spillane

Assistant Professor

Art - Art Education

Dr. Spillane’s research and teaching focus on two major areas, which are intimately interconnected in her practice: (1) advancing educational equity for marginalized and underserved students; and (2) exploring the intersections of contemporary artistic practices with qualitative research methodologies and diversity pedagogy. She has integrated these lines of inquiry in her dissertation research, which employed a participatory, arts-based methodology to elicit and articulate the experiences and unique perspectives of veteran arts educators in urban public schools. Her research has an avowed social justice orientation, with a particular focus on challenging deficit-based characterizations of urban students, schools, and communities.

Spillane began her teaching career as an elementary art teacher in a lower income, predominantly African American community in Florida, where she grew to develop strong relationships with her students and colleagues, and a feeling of solidarity with the school community. Her former students’ impact on her life and work and her sense of responsibility to them have shaped her scholarship and her teaching practice at the university level. With over ten years of experience working with a diverse range of students in a variety of contexts at the elementary, secondary, and college levels, Spillane has come to believe that effective teaching requires teachers to become engaged and self-reflective learners in every aspect of their practices. Her conviction that teachers must also (and perhaps foremost) become learners reflects her deep commitment to educational equity and social justice, and her belief in learning through respectful dialogue among people with diverse experiences and perspectives.

In addition to her research and teaching, Spillane also maintains an active artistic practice. Several strands of her personal, artistic, and intellectual experience inform her work. She is primarily an abstract painter and locates her work in relation to the history of abstraction, particularly American hard-edged and color field painting. Although her work has a strong formal relationship to that tradition, she rejects the historic dogma of abstraction as a purely visual or phenomenological expression without personal, emotional, or narrative content. Her recent work, created during her 2012 artist residency at 621 Gallery in Tallahassee, FL actively seeks to reinvent and redefine her artistic practice and the work that emerges from it. This work reaches back to her early interests in fibers, pattern, fashion design, and performance, and pushes forward into new territory that combines painting and performance, and privileges viewers’ active participation as co-creators of the work.

Spillane’s art education philosophy is anchored in the belief that good teaching is inherently a social justice practice that asks teachers to become the change we want to see in the world. It requires connectedness, flexibility, and caring as well as rigor, creativity, and (self-)criticality. She is committed to arts-based pedagogy and envisions learning as a creative, holistic process that integrates scholarly knowledge with students' developing professional practices and their lives.

Curriculum Vitae