Rita L. Irwin, Ed.D.
InSEA Past President 2014-2017 and 2017-2019
IJETA Principal Editor 2017-2019
InSEA President 2008-2011 and 2011-2014
InSEA Vice President 2005-2008
North American Rep. 1999-2002 and 2002-2005
Rita L. Irwin was born in a rural area of Southern Alberta, Canada March 6, 1955. She grew up attending a very small country school before changing to a consolidated high school in a larger farming community. Her mother was her artistic inspiration and her greatest mentor. All through her formative years, Rita and her mother shared artistic engagements and continuously pursued new artistic ways of becoming. While there were occasional artistic activities in her schooling, it was her parents love of all of the arts that encouraged her. As Rita considered a career, she wanted to improve education for all learners through artistic and creative activities and became an art and drama specialist (BEd) who ended up teaching mostly art and music for the Lethbridge School District (1977-1986), Alberta, Canada for elementary aged children. She also served as an art consultant in this district, a position she thoroughly enjoyed. While teaching, she completed her master’s degree at the University of Victoria (summer program emphasis) before pursuing a doctoral program (EdD) in art education at the University of British Columbia. Her dissertation studied the practical knowledge of an art consultant as she tried to effect change in her district. Upon completing her EdD in 1988 she moved to Thunder Bay, Ontario, where she was an Assistant Professor of Art Education at Lakehead University. She returned to The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada as an Assistant Professor of Art Education in 1992 and eventually was promoted to Associate Professor (1995) and Full Professor (1999). She began her administrative career in higher education taking on the Headship of the Department of Curriculum Studies (1999-2005) before becoming the Associate Dean of Teacher Education (2005-2015). She is currently Distinguished University Scholar (2017-2022).
Rita has been an educational leader for a number of provincial, national and international organizations including but not limited to being President of the Canadian Society for the Study of Education, Canadian Association of Curriculum Studies, Canadian Society for Education through Art, International Society for Education through Art and Chair of the World Alliance for Arts Education. Her research interests have spanned in-service art education, teacher education, socio-cultural issues, and curriculum practices across K-12 and informal learning settings. Rita publishes widely, exhibits her artworks, and has secured a range of research grants, including a number of Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada grants to support her work in Canada and in a number of other countries. She is best known for her work in a/r/tography that expands how we might imagine and conduct arts practice-based research through collaborative and community-oriented collectives. Rita is an artist, researcher, and teacher deeply committed to the arts, curriculum studies and education. In recognition of her many accomplishments and commitments, she has received a number of awards for her teaching, service and scholarship including the distinction of Distinguished Fellow of the National Art Education Association, the Ted T. Aoki Award for Distinguished Service in Canadian Curriculum Studies, the inaugural Canadian Art Teacher of the Year Award, the Killam Award for Excellence in Mentoring from The University of British Columbia, the Elliot Eisner Lifetime Achievement (NAEA) and the Herbert J. Coutts Award for Distinguished Service to the Canadian Society for the Study of Education. While her life in education has offered her tremendous opportunities, she is especially proud of the many research creation projects she has pursued with her arts education colleagues and graduate students. It is in this space of living inquiry through the arts, curriculum studies and education that has sustained her very being.
A lover of all the arts and experiencing new cultures, Rita Irwin can often be found in museums and galleries around the world learning about the nuances of what it means to be human. She also lives her art through her walks along the Fraser River and the Pacific Ocean near where she lives in Steveston, a fishing village annexed by the City of Richmond, British Columbia, Canada. Whenever possible, she also walks the enlivening trails of Pacific Spirit Park, a second growth forest on the edge of her university. Working with colleagues living nearby and elsewhere, she encourages story telling about how walking is a powerful method of research for artistic research and particularly a/r/tography. Through photography, painting, poetry and prose, Rita Irwin thinks deeply about life questions, pedagogy and art itself and seeks to live a life of compassion and passion. Her greatest joy is witnessing her students embrace their own passions as they seek to instill compassion in their own lives.
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