Instructor Spotlight: Meet Rachel LaMarco
Reflecting on her path as an artist, Walters instructor Rachel LaMarco recalls a memory from childhood: “I always go back to this moment in preschool…I was sitting at my desk, coloring, and my teacher came up to me.” Rachel’s teacher proceeded to tell her what an amazing job she was doing. As Rachel talks, her face lights up, reliving the encounter. “[My teacher] showed so much excitement for what I was doing…I still remember how good it felt. I just wanted to keep going.” The affirmation she received that day gave her permission to embrace her creative expression with confidence and joy. A moment that might have otherwise been fleeting and long forgotten instead became pivotal in Rachel’s development. As she sees it, it was the beginning of her life as an artist.
“Having access to arts education as a child was beyond integral to my life,” Rachel says. “Art was always a safe space to explore and be myself. And there’s a hugely important emotional component…In art, all students can express themselves and succeed, regardless of mental or physical ability, or even language skills. Art is for everybody.”
Moved by her own empowering experiences with art and determined to share them with others, Rachel went on to earn a BA in Fine Arts and an MA in Elementary Education. She became not only an art teacher but a true advocate for the arts. “One dream I have,” she says, “is to see arts education available to every single public elementary student…It’s incredibly important. I consider it a basic need.”
Rachel’s teaching philosophy stems from a deep understanding of the emotional core at stake in creative expression. “There’s this tremendous power in a teacher to either destroy or uplift. I want to be the voice that uplifts,” she says. In the classroom, she champions her students’ innate potential. “Whether it’s a preschooler, a senior citizen, or anyone in-between, the goal is to give the student a sense of personal accomplishment and self-expression...The older people are, the more set they become in what they think they can’t be or can’t do. They insist they can’t draw beyond a stick figure. But that’s not true. It’s just not true.” She adds, “I pay close attention to the atmosphere in the classroom. I stay emotionally attuned and use verbal and nonverbal cues to figure out what’s going to make everybody most comfortable. And I adapt. I try to find the best position for each person to learn and succeed in their own way.” Rachel makes a strong case for the joy and power of creativity. “Whether it’s a career or a hobby,” Rachel says, “find a place for art in your life.”
Outside of teaching, Rachel is an avid cake-artist. She baked her first cake in college for her then-boyfriend (now husband), and has baked ever since, including the wedding cakes of two sisters. Recently, she designed an ice cream themed cake for her daughter’s cake-smash ceremony—a growing international trend that celebrates a baby’s first year by letting them destroy a cake in adorable ways. “People ask how I can put so much work into something just to watch it get eaten, but that’s the joy in it. People just love cake. They get to enjoy its beauty and then they get to eat it. And I just have so much fun doing it. Instant gratification.” There’s a generous and joyful equivalence between Rachel’s cake artistry and her work as a teacher—be it cake or classroom, she serves to delight and inspire.