A Champion of the Arts

Kim Defibaugh, president of the board of the National Art Education Association (NAEA), and Max
Kim Defibaugh, president of the board of the National Art Education Association (NAEA), and Max

Maxwell with Kim Defibaugh, president of the National Art Education Association

“Your art is like your handwriting,” says Kim Huyler Defibaugh. “You have your own personal way of expressing [yourself].” 

At the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards ceremony on June 7, I spoke with Defibaugh, who is president of the National Art Education Association (NAEA). Founded in 1947, the NAEA is the leading membership organization for visual arts educators. Its mission is to advance the arts in schools through mentoring, funding, and networking. 

Defibaugh knows the joys of teaching art firsthand. “When I taught art to fourth graders,” she says, “I was always learning from my students. They would do something that I didn’t think of, and they took it a bit further.” 

Art, Defibaugh believes, can be a great outlet for children to express feelings of fear, anger, and helplessness. The recent high-profile school shootings, she observes, led many students to respond with “social justice art.”

Often, Defibaugh says, kids “express their feelings [through art] because they don’t know what else to do.”



Defibaugh vividly remembers how self-expression helped children cope after the terrorist attacks in New York City on September 11, 2001. At that time, she was based at a New Jersey school. She gave her young students the opportunity to create cards for first responders. One child drew a picture of the Twin Towers in Lower Manhattan and wrote, “Thank you for trying to find my dad.”

“Little children don’t have money, but they can write ‘thank you,’” Defibaugh says. “Sometimes, children can’t express themselves in words. Maybe they’re not mathematical wizards. But they can draw something.”

Defibaugh also believes in the power of art to help us understand our history. “We need to look back at how people expressed themselves in the past,” she says, “so that we can learn about who they were, how they lived, and what they believed in. Twenty years from now, people will look back at our artwork. What will it tell them?”

Photo courtesy of the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps