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Newsmaker / Sarah Tambucci: As new arts council member, she teaches by example

Monday, February 16, 2004

By Pohla Smith, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Sarah Tambucci grew up in a family named Michelangelo, and she was its master artist from the start.


Tony Tye, Post-Gazette
Click photo for larger image.

Name: Sarah Tambucci

Occupation: Executive director of the Arts Education Collaborative

In the news: She was recently elected to the newly created Arts in Education Council of the Americans for the Arts, a national private nonprofit group concerned with advancing all arts.

Home: North Strabane

Age: 57

Family: Husband, Arthur

Education: Bachelor's degree in arts education from Edinboro State College (now Edinboro University of Pennsylvania), master's in education and doctorate in education administration from the University of Pittsburgh

Quote: "Skills learned in the arts result in higher ordered thinking, analytical thinking, [ability] to synthesize and apply knowledge to complex problem-solving situations."

At school, she was one of two students chosen for art lessons through the Carnegie's Tam O'Shanters program, and she drew and painted constantly.

At home, she said, "I was always redecorating my room. I had to have the best ensemble possible in my clothing. I decorated the house for Christmas. I set the table and made it look nice -- that was my job while everyone else was in the kitchen. I was the Martha Stewart of the Michelangelo family."

And she had one other great passion: children.

"I always played school in the back yard," Tambucci said. "My mother said all the children in the neighborhood had to be in my class whether they wanted to or not."

She never lost her passion for the arts or education. She spent 23 years as an art teacher and 10 years as principal of Chartiers Valley Intermediate School. Over the years, those passions became intertwined in a belief that education in all the arts should be emphasized as much as math and reading and would, in fact, enrich and enhance the standard curriculum.

Without it, she said, "we are missing the opportunity to influence the quality of life of future generations. The skills learned in the arts lead to higher-ordered thinking skills ... many of the things you do in life track back to the arts."

Tambucci's passion led her to positions as president of the Pennsylvania Art Education Association and the National Art Education Association.

In the summer of 2001, she got a chance to preach to a larger congregation when the Heinz Endowments and Grable Foundation hired her as executive director of the Arts Education Collaborative. The collaborative does things like train teachers to incorporate arts into their curriculums.

Now, she has been elected to serve on the new Arts in Education Council. It was created to advise Americans for the Arts, a national nonprofit group devoted to making arts accessible to all people, and a sub-group called the Arts in Education Network.

In short, the council will do what Tambucci has always done: teach teachers and students the importance of the arts -- not just the visual, but all of them.

"She was very outspoken, very passionate about the importance of arts education and could make non-arts educators aware of the importance of the arts," said retired teacher Betty Kripp, who was a department head and fourth-grade teacher under Tambucci.

Kripp bought into the philosophy. For example, when she taught Pennsylvania history, she would take her students to the Carnegie Museum to see how Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh artists portrayed the commonwealth's history.

Another time, Tambucci had the co-founders of Attack Theatre, a dance company, meet with her teachers to talk about the use of dance in education.

A third-grade teacher then used dance to teach the solar system. One student had to use body movement to show the heat of the sun; one had to be very small to demonstrate Pluto.

"Afterward the teacher said, 'I've never had a class that got it before,' " Tambucci said.

The people who oversee the collaborative are delighted with the work that Tambucci has done. It has included working on the Wilkinsburg assessment of art education and the curriculum for the City Academy for Performing Arts. The collaborative also has teamed with the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild and the Allegheny Intermediate Unit to instruct 20 teachers how to apply the state's new academic arts and humanities standards.

"She's a wonderful leader because of her enthusiasm and passion," said Grable Foundation Executive Director Susan Brownlee. "She's wonderful with people because she likes them."

Robert Frankel, chairman of the collaborative's steering council, said her enthusiasm has sparked the council.

"[She has an] ability to come up with creative ways to achieve the mission of the organization," he said. "The council is made up of both teachers and city school supervisors and a lot of what she has done is instill the same enthusiasm she has. This was not an easy undertaking."

Pohla Smith can be reached at or 412 263-1228.

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