Special to the Regional Review
The Eliot School of Fine and Applied Arts, Boston’s all-inclusive center for lifelong learning in craft, is delighted to welcome Titi Ngwenya as its first Director of Development and Communications. The new position is part of the Eliot School’s growth in the 21st century. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Eliot School was completing a period of research into space expansion to accommodate its far-reaching programs; that effort is currently on hold, as the Eliot Schoolhouse has been closed since last March. Ms. Ngwenya will steward expanded communications and development strategy as the school emerges from the pandemic with renewed commitment to its mission.
Titi Ngwenya is no stranger to the Eliot School, having served on the Advisory Board since 2017. She has worked in the arts (performing and visual) for over 20 years. She believes in the value of a good arts education and the transformative power of “making things.” Ngwenya earned an English degree from Yale University, a Master’s in Music from the New England Conservatory, and most recently a Core Leadership Certificate from the Tufts University affiliated Institute for Nonprofit Practice. As a Boston native, she feels fortunate to have grown up surrounded by so many institutions dedicated to the arts and arts education.
“I knew I wanted to stretch beyond the visual arts world, and ultimately shift my focus to have a stronger institutional impact in terms of social justice and equity in the arts. I am thrilled to join the leadership team at the Eliot School, an institution that has developed such fine partnerships with the Boston Public Schools and an excellent curriculum in woodworking, sewing, fiber arts, drawing, painting, photography, and other crafts.”
Ngwenya comes to the Eliot School having devoted 10 years as Director of Communications at Fuller Craft Museum, the 2020 recipient of an Award of Distinction from the American Craft Council. Her work at Fuller Craft spanned the tenure of three different Executive Directors including historian, writer, and artist Jonathan L. Fairbanks, who is founder and former curator of the American Decorative Arts and Sculpture department at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. As Fuller’s Director of Communications, Ngwenya was PR spokesperson, digital marketer, and graphic designer all in the interest of positioning the Museum for greater awareness and support. However, there was no role she enjoyed more than engaging with the Museum visitors, members of the Brockton community, the artists, and teaching artists.
“This vibrant eco-system we call the arts community—the artists, teachers, curators, students, funders, administrators, and the individuals from the community who engage in and witness what is created—this gathering of minds has great potential for understanding each other and our shared humanity through the lens of art and art-making.”
Ngwenya first worked with the Eliot School in 2013, when Fuller Craft Museum and the Eliot School joined a consortium of Massachusetts educational and cultural organizations collaborating to produce Make Speak, a popular public lecture series on craft. Since that time, she took interest in the 340-year-old institution and their mission to inspire lifelong learning in craft and creativity for all.
About the Eliot School of Fine & Applied Arts
The Eliot School is one of a small group of early colonial-era schools that survive today. In 1676, a group of local residents donated corn and land to support a school in Jamaica Plain. That year marked the end of King Philip’s War. In 1689, Rev. John Eliot, known as Minister to the Indians, endowed the school with an additional 75 acres, with the provision that it educate Native Americans and Africans as well as colonial children. For the next two centuries, it was a grammar school, adapting to the times.
Beginning in the late 19th century, the Eliot School turned increasingly to the arts. In 1874, it left the public school system and by the late 1880s had added sewing and carpentry classes. Wood carving flourished. Plumbing, basketry, and millinery also had their day. The school offered manual training for schoolteachers, instruction for adults, and classes for children both after school and during school time.
During this transition, neighbors Robert and Ellen Swallow Richards played a significant role. Professors at MIT, they were proponents of vocational education and home economics. Their efforts helped make “shop and home economics” staples of 20th century American public schooling. Robert Richards sat on the Eliot School board for over sixty years until he resigned at the age of 100 in 1944.
Throughout the 20th century, students attended the Eliot School “to satisfy that instinctive desire of human beings to create,” and as “relaxation from their sedentary vocations.”
Today, we continue to offer classes to people of all ages in fine and applied arts. We maintain an active relationship with Boston Public Schools, and still provide an outlet for people to relax from sedentary vocations and satisfy their need for creative expression and for making things by hand.