Joan Crisler honored for her lifelong dedication to art and children

Joan Crisler

For more than two decades Joan Crisler has worked tirelessly, as an educator and art patron, sharing with the artist works of African and African American artists in Chicago and abroad to ensure their legacy remains entrenched in our lives.

You were recently honored by the Delta Sigma Theta Alumnae Chapter for your work with Diasporal Rhythms and your outstanding work in education. Describe how it feels to be recognized by the community and the sorority.

I was very humbled by the honor.  I have worked as an educator since 1973; and, for me, it has always been a “labor of love.” Throughout my career, my joy and satisfaction have come from seeing my students grow and succeed educationally and professionally.That’s how so many of us who have dedicated ourselves to this challenging work measures our success. So, to be singled out for this recognition was very affirming.  It meant that the community was paying attention and that they respect and appreciate my effort, commitment and achievements.  The fact that it came from one of the premier organizations in our community, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., was “icing on the cake.” 

Talk a little bit about Diasporal Rhythms and its mission.        

The mission of Diasporal Rhythms is to “seek to build a passionate group of collectors engaged in actively collecting visual art created by contemporary artists of the African Diaspora as well as to expand the appreciation of those artists’ work.” 

This unique organization just celebrated its 10th anniversary with a phenomenal month-long exhibition at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago in the fall of 2013.  It was the culmination of a 10-year vision for the organization.  And, it was recognition and validation (at the highest levels) of the organization whose mission it is to make the collecting of the art of the diaspora accessible to and accepted by a broader and more ethnically and economically diverse community.

Diasporal Rhythms has grown from its original four founders to over 50 active and engaged members who dedicate their time and tremendous talents to fulfilling the organization’s mission.   

Please explain how you tied your dedication to education to your love for collecting.  

It really happened quite naturally.We, of course, wanted to beautify and enrich the students’ environment aesthetically. But, I also truly believe that education goes beyond just putting a textbook in front of a child. We must make a concerted effort to ensure that our children have the same access, opportunity and exposure that children in other communities have. It is also important that children come to know and to appreciate the richness of their history and culture. It is only then that they will develop the level of self-love and esteem that motivates them to aspire to accomplish great things. 

As a principal, I made a very intentional effort to promote and to celebrate our history and culture and the values that have undergirded the African-American community for generations. Art gave me another venue through which to communicate and to constantly reinforce this history and culture and those values. I found that displaying artwork that depicted these enabled us to “speak” to our children in a very unique way. In a way that allowed them to see what that history and culture and those values actually looked like and thus making their understanding more sustainable.

As a collector, I know the impact that art has on the mind and the senses.  I had no doubt that enriching their learning environment with art would have the same positive and lasting effect on our students.       


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