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The Passionate Journey of Shelly Breaux

May 22, 2019 02:45PM ● By Scott Brazda

 “As an art educator, I’m studying art, making art, learning more about art,” says Shelly Breaux of the David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy. “It’s a full-circle of my passions in life, so becoming an art educator made sense. I am in the right place.”   

Breaux pauses for a second. “This is what I’m supposed to be when I grow up!” she laughs. 

The laugh, however, quickly disappears at the suggestion that it’s just art. “People will ask me, ‘Why is this important? Why did you choose that?  You’re a smart girl.’ But it is who I am, and I love what I do.” How many people can say that?”

A native of Houma, 40-year old Shelly Breaux lived a rather typical childhood: She liked riding her bike and, in a neighborhood full of children, loved being outside and playing in the dirt. But there were signs and clues as to what Breaux would be when she grew up, one of which was how much she enjoyed watching her grandmother paint and create flowers. “I liked being outdoors, and I liked to make art,” she remembers, which led to her initial endeavors as a childhood artist. “I’d create things out of paper, and I’d tape them all over the walls in the house. I was very creative, and my imagination was way out there!”

Still, her college career — like those of many other people — had brief stops in a number of interests: Elementary Education.  Architecture. Criminal justice. Fine Arts. “But when I started taking art classes — I never took art in high school — I really enjoyed it; and then all of a sudden, I’m gonna’ be an art major! That was the point at which my father said, ‘Oh, great. She’s going to be an artist, she’s gonna’ move back to Houma, and she’s gonna’ live with us FOREVER,” Breaux laughs.

But it was her father, in a way, who gave her the final push into the world of art education. “I graduated from UL in graphic arts in 2003 and pursued marketing and graphic design,” explains Breaux, “but when my dad died unexpectedly when I was 28, I realized I still didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. Graphic design wasn’t something I was passionate about, and Dad’s death was a huge reset for me.”  

“I’m a ‘jump now, think later’ person, a ‘go-getter’.

 Which led to? “I decided, ‘I’ll go back to school and become an art educator’.”

Shortly thereafter, David Thibodaux Stem MAGNET Academy was ready to open its doors, and the inexperienced--yet passionate--art educator was about to get her start. “It was a transition; it was exciting to be starting from the ground up. But I had no idea what that was. I remember calling the principal asking, ‘Is this a public school? A private school?’” The answer and the career fulfillment for Shelly Breaux had begun.

“Opening a new school was different because I was fresh out of college and hadn’t been in an art classroom as an instructor,” recalls Breaux. “It was very exciting to be a part of that growth--making that five-year plan--then 10-year plan. It wasn’t just about starting a school, it was creating a culture.  I remember thinking, ‘I’m setting up an art program in this wonderful setting, and it’s my baby... Wow’.”

Breaux says she wasn’t the least bit overwhelmed, even with so many new things happening and more responsibilities being thrown her way. “I’m a ‘jump now, think later’ person, a ‘go-getter’. I knew I was in the right place, I knew this was the right choice, that this was the career. It was fun.”

In only nine years as an art educator, Breaux has seen and done a lot. She’s been recognized as an arts advocate on both regional and national levels; in fact, in 2018 the National Art Education Association named her the Southeastern Region Secondary Art Educator of the year. “I don’t do it to be recognized; that’s never what it’s about,” believes Breaux. “But, to be recognized among the art educators in the country, you suddenly realize, ‘oh, wait; I’m one of them?’ I am proud, especially when it’s my peers who have recognized me, people who are phenomenal art teachers. It’s really cool, it really is.” 

Personal awards are nice, says Breaux, but when her students are honored?  Those are the moments that truly matter.  “It’s really neat for them to be recognized for their time, effort, hard work, compassion, although I look at everything my students create—award-winning or not—as a celebration of their growth.  But for them to be recognized for something they grew into, just makes everything worth it, because they accept me pushing them and they accept my critiques, so it’s wonderful for them to be recognized for anything positive.”

For an art educator, daily surprises are there, particularly when it comes to finding her students’ ‘inner artist’. “In art, it’s not always the kid you think is going to be the artist,” Breaux explains. “It isn’t always the kid who’s really interested in art, so you never know.  And it’s really cool to celebrate and watch them celebrate their art.”  

 In all of her classes, from Art I to Art IV, It truly does come back to Shelly Breaux’s students; they are indeed at the center of her proudest moments. “My students are the reason I go to school every day.  It’s watching all of the ‘ah-hah’ moments happen for them, and it’s them trusting me to give them this exposure into my world, into the art world.”  Following the opening of the door, so to speak, comes the next phase. “Then I get to watch them grow,” she continues. “When they see how good they really are; when they are comfortable enough to just try it and to be open-minded; art is a lot about failure, and it’s o.k. I don’t care about the end-product; it’s really the process and that experience.”

Want to get an even more passionate response from the amazing and artistically-passionate Shelly Breaux?  Go back to a comment made earlier in this article, and ask her why art matters. Breaux says she can respond on two distinct levels, as an educator and as an artist.

“As an art educator, I’ll sometimes hear, ‘Why art? My kids can’t even draw.’ Well, I teach life skills. It’s constructive criticism, it’s problem-solving, it’s conceptual development. It’s learning to stand your ground, learning your voice. My students—no matter what career path they follow—I am giving them skills to make them better.  It’s not about the drawing; it’s about trying something new and being open-minded.”

Then, there’s the answer from the artist herself; Breaux, you see, is an accomplished painter and multi-media artist. “Art is a part of our lives,” she believes. “Whether you say, ‘that’s cool’ or not, take art out of our world and what’s really left?” That’s because Breaux thinks art is about way more than what you see. “Art’s not really just about the visual or the painter; it’s the thinker, it’s the writer, it’s the musician. It is all the masters in their respective crafts.”

“Take art out of this world?” ponders Breaux. “It affects everyone; everyone lives with it.  It creates culture, it creates people, it creates community. Through the arts you can do so much in your community and give back, and pull people in and… everyone can do it.”

Ask Breaux what she wants to be when she grows up, and the answer comes across as both repeated and freshly enthusiastic. “I want to teach art education.”

“You don’t have much to complain about when you’re doing what you love every day, and you see success through students’ struggles in making art,” explains Shelly Breaux. “It’s fun, they’re refreshing and we laugh a lot.” 

 “When you find what you want to do when you grow up, why would I complain?” 


Cover Story by: Scott Brazda

Photography by: Moore Photography

Photo Location: Mouton's Bar & Special Events

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