UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN River Falls
June 6, 2022 – Ann E. Lawton knows the importance of art to help and serve others.
Lawton, a University of Wisconsin-River Falls lecturer in the Art Department, the art therapist in Student Health and Counseling Services and the campus violence prevention coordinator, has received the U niversity of Wisconsin System Board of Regents’ Academic Staff Excellence Award. The award was announced by UW System today.
She will be honored at a ceremony in Milwaukee on Friday, June 10.
“To receive the Board of Regents’ Academic Staff Excellence Award is an immense privilege that I am humbled by,” Lawton said. “I could only have achieved it through the support of my colleagues and community at large.”
As part of the award, UWRF received $7,500. Half of it will go to pay a violence prevention graduate intern and event programming and the other half will go to provide more art therapy services on campus, Lawton said.
Lawton, a UWRF 2008 alum in broad area art, started teaching at the university in 2011, became an art therapist with Student Health and Counseling in 2013 and the violence prevention coordinator in fall 2020.
“All of my work shares the common mission of cultivating connection and relationships,” Lawton said. “Yet what often goes unsaid is that art is the running thread that emboldens the efficacy throughout my roles and binds them together.”
As a lecturer, two of the core classes Lawton enjoys teaching are Introduction to Visual Arts and Introduction to Art Therapy.
In the classes, her goal is to have students develop critical thinking skills and understand history and culture better through art. She also believes she learns just as much from students in her classrooms as they learn from her.
Art therapy can help those impacted by unhealthy relationships and relational trauma including domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, sex trafficking, stalking, gender-based violence and harassment.
“When we are affected by hardship and trauma, words often fail to describe experiences and affect recovery,” Lawton said. “Where words fail, art thrives in the ability to heal, cope and transform.”
Art can also help educate, noted Lawton, who has a master’s degree in art therapy from Mount Mary University in Milwaukee.
“When art-based experiences are paired with challenging content, something remarkable occurs in participants, regardless of their background or skill level with art,” Lawton said. “Artmaking alleviates psychological defenses, creates opportunities for verbal discussion, builds self-esteem and promotes self-awareness and empathy. These are all attributes necessary in addressing and facilitating change to dismantle the culture of sexual violence and unhealthy relationship behaviors.”
In a letter nominating Lawton for the excellence award, Nathan Riel-Elness, UWRF student conduct coordinator, noted one fitting example of Lawton’s excellent performance is her work with Athletics, particularly a training module to educate student-athletes about healthy relationships.
“This will ensure that everyone is on the same page with baseline information about sexual, domestic, and intimate partner violence,” Riel-Elness stated. “This allows Ann to have more time focused on deeper conversations and providing a more impactful experience with the students. This module can be expanded to be used for all student organizations as well.”
Lawton received the UWRF College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Teaching Award for Excellence in 2018. In 2021, she received the Chancellor’s Academic Staff Excellence Award, said David Travis, provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs.
“Ann’s work impacts our entire campus and community in a way that truly embodies the ‘Wisconsin Idea’ in that her ‘education hugely influences people’s lives far beyond the boundaries of the classroom,’ or in Ann’s case, far beyond the boundaries of her job,” Travis noted.
Lawton also has presented on art therapy in the community and facilitated individual and group art therapy sessions throughout the area.
As an artist, Lawton tends to work in mixed media creating collages.
In January 2022, Lawton had an artwork included in the “Home” Juried Art Exhibition at the Artless Bastard Gallery in De Pere. In June 2022, Lawton will be presenting her use of art and her violence prevention work and facilitating a project at Kolaj Fest in New Orleans. In the fall, she will exhibit her art in a Group Exhibition as part of the Indiana Green Invitational at the Levee Gallery in Princeton, Wisconsin.
“The arts form community and relationships,” Lawton said. “But most importantly it serves as a catalyst of empowerment.”
To learn more about Lawton and her artwork, view her website at aelawton.com or Instagram: @ae_lawton.
UW System Academic Staff Excellence awards also went to Robin Jens, assistant dean of student service, College of Nursing and interim student service director, Zilber School of Public Health at UW-Milwaukee and the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at UW-Eau Claire.