Ms. Mcdonald is the moment! An interview with Southwest’s new visual arts teacher

Her thoughts on classroom community, the creative process, and why arts education is necessary in the 21st century


Green Day – Self-Portrait by Edie Mcdonald

Maddie Tatum, Featured Writer

This fall brought a new face to the West wing of the school building. Southwest welcomed Ms. Mcdonald, taking on Painting 1 & 2 classes, Intermediate Art, and AP Studio Art.

Edith ”Edie” Mcdonald grew up in Winnipeg, Canada, figure skating and cross-country skiing at a very early age. On top of being in the art room teaching and advising art club on Wednesdays after school, Mcdonald was also an assistant coach for Southwest’s Nordic Ski team this past season.

She earned her Bachelor’s of Education in Art/Art Studies and BFA in Painting from the University of Manitoba. Mcdonald has over sixteen years of experience working for Minneapolis Public Schools. 

“Field, Whittier, Sullivan, Laney, Windom, Loring…” Mcdonald lists off the schools she’s taught at. I had the chance to sit down with Mcdonald a few weeks ago. She says every school has taught her a lot, learning much from the different populations of the school and staff. Mcdonald considers herself more of a middle or high school teacher, mentioning briefly her love for past students she knew as middle schoolers at Field and her curiosity in what they’re up to now at Washburn. She has enjoyed leading many community-based creative projects over the years.


“The most important thing to me is that students feel safe in the space, safe to take risks, and safe to feel like they will be supported,” 


When asked how teaching at Southwest has been so far, Mcdonald replied, “It’s amazing. I’m so glad to be here. Everyone is really focused on creating and exploring, not afraid to take risks, [and] very supportive of eachother.” She added doing gallery walks—an activity where students are invited to move around the classroom, viewing and discussing their peers’ artwork on display—has helped build class community, something she’s really enjoyed getting to watch happen. “The most important thing to me is that students feel safe in the space, safe to take risks, and safe to feel like they will be supported.”

I nod in agreement as a student, having taken art all four years at Southwest. In a subject that requires students to dig deep and create work that is often deeply personal, establishing a safe space for students to express themselves is crucial in fostering an inspiring environment. “You’re vulnerable!” Mcdonald chimed in.


“It might feel uncomfortable, but look how far you came”


Mcdonald encourages students to experiment, understand the process of their ideas,  and not get too hung up on the end result. Shifting mindsets from being frustrated with beginning technical skills to finding joy in the do-ing, not forgetting to document their thoughts and ideas to look back on (sketchbooks? no… time-capsules!) “That in itself has been really interesting,” Mcdonald says. She tells students who are trying new mediums and new techniques, “it might feel uncomfortable, but look how far you came.”



“To grow and evolve and have a whole academic program, the arts are crucial.”


Anyone with an arts elective in their 2021-22 schedule can recall the moment news broke about last year’s budget proposal meeting, which sent a shock wave through Southwest’s arts departments. Questions of whether the guitar program would exist this year or if student-led theatre would continue spread quickly and caused feelings of sadness and frustration for many.

So I asked Mcdonald, when arts programs are consistently on the chopping block, what do you wish people—who maybe haven’t ever stepped foot in an arts class before—knew about visual arts classes?

“To be in the 21st century, we have to be able to read images very quickly. We have to understand design—the way we interact with our world is completely different. We are much more visual now so I would say that visual literacy is as important as academics,” Mcdonald continued that students need the creative outlet, specialized instruction, and materials art classes offer, arguing that anything otherwise is doing a disservice to students. “To grow and evolve and have a whole academic program, the arts are crucial.”


“Kids don’t want to just be nose-to-the-grindstone all the time. They need their imagination and their feelings,”


She points out art classes keep kids in school, and not simply that but motivated, enjoying, and doing well in school. “Kids don’t want to just be nose-to-the-grindstone all the time. They need their imagination and their feelings. Otherwise, I think we’d lose quite a few kids without those sort of incentives”

AP art student Vivian Jackson (‘24) enjoys the open studio aspect of the class and the flexibility fifth hour offers to make and create whatever. AP art student Sarah LaBarre (‘23) enjoys printmaking and is thankful for the “lifetime supply of linoleum” from Mcdonald, said as she carves into a block. Jackson agrees.

Though trips haven’t been possible the past three years due to COVID, this year students from IB and AP classes get the chance to visit Chicago in April. “We’re going to see a bunch of museums… visit Chinatown…,” Jackson says. The itinerary is booked full of good eats, art fairs, museums, and shows.  

AP student work is still up on display at Jones Coffee’s 43rd St location from a show that took place in December. Students now are preparing for another showcase coming soon this Spring.



( projected classes for next year ) there are shifts from this year!



length: semester

foundational class, learning the basics 

(expect: color theory, design principles, etc.)

Art & Design 

length: semester

experimental /geared for students who want to explore more materials and learn more about themselves as artists before jumping into higher level classes (AP &  IB art with other visual arts instructor Zhao)

(expect: printmaking, collage, 2D and 3D exploration, design principles in practice)