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January 5, 2021

Faculty spotlight: Williams teaches compassion through art 

By Lindsay Schluntz  

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Collin Williams has felt the depth of value that his role as an art professor at UM brings to campus and to society as a whole.  

In light of the pandemic, in addition to balancing multiple modalities and significantly increasing the amount of content prepared onlinethe most substantive change that he determined to make to his teaching has been to prioritize compassion.  

“None of us asked for this,” Williams said. During his acceptance speech for the UMNAA Outstanding Commitment to Teaching award, he shared great concern for the University’s students whose lives were interrupted by the pandemic.  

Teaching and making art are both highly individualized activities, and as such, Williams always chooses to lead his students from a position of compassion balanced by setting high expectations. He recalled someone recently describing his teaching style as equal parts taskmaster and cheerleader, and while he had never thought of his teaching in those exact terms, he found it to be an apt analogy. 

Williams does not isolate his artistic endeavors to the classroom, though. A number of years ago, he started teaching a Community Arts course with the idea of exploring how art could make an impact on the community outside of the rarified air of galleries and museums. 

“I believe that we all have a responsibility to contribute to our communities within the purvey of our individual talents,” he acknowledged. With this in mind, he determined to create a mural for the UM Bookstore titled, “Make Your Mark, Montevallo.” 

This project was funded by the University of Alabama Center for Economic Development as the first in a series of wayfinding murals across the state. The mural was supported by the City of Montevallo under the leadership of Mayor Hollie Cost, and by the University of Montevallo and brought together artists of all ages including art students and teachers from all of Montevallo’s public schools, UM art students, Main Street Montevallo, and local artists Patrick Mayton ’98, Andrew Cost, Robin Metz ’83 and UM librarian assistant Joel Bullock.   

Fortunately, these artists were able to finish their mural projects in the spring before the implementation of social distancing in response to the pandemic. Although they had to cancel plans to have a small celebration for the participants, a small ribbon-cutting ceremony was held. 

UM special education professor Dr. Hollie Cost, recognizes the great value that these permanent art installments bring, not only to the city but also to the students who worked together to create them. Thus, she and Dr. Kelly Wacker, professor at art nominated Williams for the prestigious Outstanding Commitment to Teaching Award 

“During this public art course, he worked intently with not only his students but local school children to conceptualize and install a number of murals throughout the city. His dedication to instruction, quality, community and compassion toward his students surpassed any instructor with whom I worked,” the mayor wrote in her nomination letter.  

“With 18 years of observation, I can speak directly to him as a highly deserving candidate for this recognition,” Wacker said. “He is always an advocate for students and I have always been impressed by the time he spends with his students talking through ideas and advising strategies.” 

Williams said he feels extremely privileged to work with UM students as they endeavor to discover their voices as artists, telling their truth of what it means to be human.