Marilyn Casey is a 28-year-old woman who gets into her pajamas in the early evening and is sound asleep by 9:30. She is not to be pitied, however, because unlike most adults Casey goes to bed with a smile, thinking about the next day at work, where she will arrive, peppy and prepared, 45 minutes early.
She spends her days pushing a three-level, plastic cart brimming with art supplies through the halls and into the classrooms of Manhattan’s northernmost school, PS/IS 18 in Inwood. “I don’t have a classroom, but I don’t let that stop me,” says Casey. “The teachers welcome me into their space and the kids look excited to see me and the cart.”
Casey has taught art at PS/IS 18 for just one year. Since Casey has no classroom to store her supplies or to exhibit student paintings, she dries work by hanging it off her cart and laying it on the floor of her of office. “Anywhere,” she says, “where I see a blank space.” She is grateful that teachers share their classroom wall space for the finished creations.
The school is housed on four floors, so up and down the elevator Casey and her cart go. “You just deal with it,” she says of life with a traveling trolley.
Casey has always been in a hurry to get exactly where she is today. But it took a bit longer than she planned. Growing up near Asbury Park, New Jersey, Casey would skip lunch periods in high school to take extra art classes. Casey’s mom, who was a teacher, told her stories about her maternal grandfather who had been a printmaker and upon retirement got a degree and took his craft to the classroom. “Teaching is in my blood,” she says proudly.
After she graduated with a degree in art education from SUNY New Paltz, Casey was ready for a classroom of her own. Sadly, it was 2009: “Nothing,” she says. “No jobs.” Eventually, she went to work for the Rubin Museum of Art, where she became the assistant manager of school programs. She did a project with one particular school that stood out: PS/IS 18. “It was a small community where everyone knows each other; teachers know the kids, the principal was welcoming and the staff worked together,” she says. “I remember thinking that it would be so great to work in a school like that.”
She applied, and the rest is history. These days, the small ones study Eric Carle’s creations, the 3rd-graders are wild about pointillism, the 4th-graders learn the particulars of making pigment and the older students create collages and work on their portfolios. “The little ones have unbelievable enthusiasm but the trick is to harness all that great energy for their art,” says Casey. “The older ones sometimes lack enthusiasm or, more likely, pretend to lack enthusiasm. But once they get into it, we use more materials and we do more rigorous projects.”
Casey may be young and exuberant, but she is no pushover. “I tell all of my students that there is only one way to fail my class,” she says. “‘Don’t try.’ I’m proud to say that so far there have been no takers.”