20 Years at Fleisher: Catching up with Mr. Bob

Teaching artist Robert Reinhardt is celebrating his 20th year at Fleisher in 2017. We sat down to chat with “Mr. Bob” about his experience working with the high school students in our Saturday Young Artists program, the terror of his first day teaching a room full of 5-year-olds, and what keeps him coming back term after term. Spoiler alert: it’s the students.

Work by some of the students enrolled in Reinhardt’s Saturday Art Foundations and Independent Study classes. 

Tell us a little about how you got involved with Fleisher. What drew you to teaching art?

I visited Fleisher during my second year of graduate school at University of the Arts. We had a series of observations to complete and Fleisher was on the list. I had a wonderful experience that day and the place seemed magical. After graduating, I worked with the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Education Department in various capacities and met several teaching artists who were associated with Fleisher. They tipped me off to some job openings. I applied and the rest is history.

I came to teaching after having been a gallery director in Center City for over 18 years, kind of the flip side of the coin. I was looking for a new adventure and decided to pursue a degree in occupational therapy. While completing an associate’s degree in science at community college, I fell into a residency with Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts. I really enjoyed the teaching experience and working with the students so I switched gears and enrolled in a masters program at UArts. I continued to work at Philadelphia Museum of Art while still at Fleisher and also had a full time job at Friends Select. Many other jobs followed.

Twenty years in the same place, not to mention the same studio, is a long time. What keeps you coming back term after term?

The students do. Every term they come to me as open books and I am given the opportunity to instruct and guide them in creating visual skills and finding a creative voice to fill that empty space. Then there are those students who already have much of that in place and need guidance and support to get to the next level. It’s all very exciting! It often reminds me of my journey when I was a young artist seeking direction and instruction. I had an amazing high school teacher named Bill Hart. I always strive to be just like him and give to my students what he gave to me.

Fleisher teaching artist Robert Reinhardt, center, with a number of his students in front of the mural designed by fellow teaching artist Mike Storm at ARTspiration! in 2014. 

Fleisher has changed a lot since you began here. What sticks out the most to you over that span of time?

I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t first mention the upgrade of the physical space in the past 20 years. Installing the elevator, air conditioning, connecting a maze of old, inefficient room configurations, and upgrading all the lighting has been a major benefit to me and the program. I’m still in the same studio on the fourth floor, and I love my room. I have been given a lot of trust and personal freedom to grow at Fleisher. We are all in this for one thing: the students. Although, at times, progress is slow and one has to be patient, there are really exiting offerings for the students now, especially high school students. I feel I have been allowed and encouraged to make some of that happen. Allowing someone their creative freedom is better than a paycheck.

Tell us about a favorite moment or memory here.

My favorite moment at Fleisher is every Saturday at 12:30 p.m. when my classes begin with Independent Study and end with Art Foundations at 3:00 p.m.

My favorite memory is the first day of my first class here at Fleisher. Along with teaching high school students in the afternoon, for many years I taught the morning 5-year-old class. It was the grooming of “Mr. Bob.” I was terrified that first day when 20 wee ones were all staring at me, some crying for their moms, and I was the official adult in the room. It got better.

Robert Reinhardt, “gatehouse,” 30 by 24 inches.

Between leading art instruction here and at Germantown Friends School, how do you manage your own artistic endeavors?

You can add two more important titles on to that list. For the past six years I have truly enjoyed working for Philadelphia Parks & Recreation teaching their Summer Senior Citizen Art Camp. It keeps me on my toes as they are polar opposite classroom situations, but I love the jolt going from one to the other. I also have been teaching special projects at St. George’s School for Girls in Edinburgh, Scotland, for the past 10 years, but that now has transitioned into focusing on historical preservation work with local historic cemetery societies.

The consistency of these diverse teaching environments has promoted my learning of new and diverse skills. Digital technology was mandated by my graduate program at UArts and it has carried through all of my other teaching experiences. This definitely had an effect on my work and influenced my visual voice. Although I continue to draw, most of my art production is based in photography and images that are created in Photoshop.

The balance of day work and studio work was something I had to learn to sort out early in my teaching career. When I’m able to overlap my own personal studio work into a classroom environment experience that is always helpful. That has been the case with my Independent Study class and sometimes with the Art Foundations class. My biggest boost of studio production time is my summer break from Germantown Friends School. During that time I am able to shift my focus and change the percentage of teaching time into studio time. There seems to be a good balance in that equation.

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