Interview with Beth Anna Ottelart from The Garden

Here is our interview with Beth Anna Ottelart who is the educational manager at The Garden Academy of Art and Language.

When, where and how did you find out about FUSAC for the first time ?
I picked up a copy of a Fusac for the first time in 2005 when I first started wandering around Paris. I think it was at a pub but I can’t remember which one!

When and why did you come to France ?
I came to France for three reasons – to learn French, to be an artist, and to live in Paris. So old school, I know! I discovered my love for oil painting and the French language in high school and then came for the first time in 2003 on a scholarship to study art history.

What was your first job in France?
My first job was nannying for a family with three amazing children, David, Sarah, and Judith. The position allowed me free time during the day to paint at an art studio I shared at the time at “La Fabrique”.

Where do you come from ?
I was born in Papua New Guinea to American expats and I spent my childhood travelling between the islands there and the California coast.

What languages do you speak ?
I speak English, French and Melanesian Pidgin.

Can you tell us more about The Garden? How did it all start ?
Yes! The Garden Academy of Language and Culture was invented by three Parisian fathers. They wanted to provide their children with a place where discovery meets language education through experimentation, play, and children’s natural initiative. They asked me to be a part of the team to develop what is now an innovative bilingual academy for children aged 3 to 10.

We opened in 2016, and The Garden specialises in after school transdisciplinary workshops that encourage children to discover the arts, robot programming, gardening, yoga, theater, practical life activities, STEM activities, and 3D printing, with the goal of acquiring English at a young age for French nationals, and encouraging integration for expat families.

Our educators are native English speakers that believe in the development of a physiological lifestyle in balance with children’s personal development and their environment. Through our workshops, we provide a space where children gain resilience, taste the pleasure of language learning, and have fun.

What is the most satisfying thing about this project ?
The absolute best thing about it is seeing children so happy and to witness them develop confidence in not only their language skills but in themselves as citizens of the world. And the most rewarding thing about this project is being able to develop an educational program that I truly believe in!

What is the most challenging thing ?
Well, Henry Ford said “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” It isn’t easy to create a place and a program with goals of innovation that contrast with our current educational system all the while valiantly resisting the template of a “centre de loisirs”. But we think we can so we are right! To sum it up, I would say the challenge is making every single day, a day of excellence for each child in the way they individually need it to be. That is what positive education is all about.  

What makes The Garden different ?
The wiggle room we have to put our ideas into play! Also, we limit our workshops to groups of only 8 children which helps us to give each child adequate challenges, attention, and follow up.

What is your chief characteristic ?
A stubborn positivity and a low tolerance for anything less than my dreams.

What proves you are American?
How much I smile and my love for s’mores (S’mores are toasted marshmallows sandwiched between 2 graham crackers with a slab of chocolate – Editor’s note).

The French expression that makes you smile :
Avoir les dents du fond qui baignent!

What was your happiest moment when you were a child?
I am lucky to say there are too many to choose from! One of my favorites was when my dad read to us. He started with “Ferdinand the Bull” and “The Monster at the end of the Book” and as we grew up, he ended up reading Tom Saywer and used a fake southern accent through the entire book!

Who would you invite to the ideal dinner party?
For an English speaking dinner : My husband, Amy Poehler, James Corden, Elizabeth Warren, and Meryl Streep. For a French speaking dinner : my husband, Christiane Taubira, Fabrice de Luchini, Omar Sy, and Emma Thompson. Wow those would be two interesting evenings!

What do you do to evacuate your stress?
Share a chilled Saint Emilion with my girl friends on my terrasse.

What was the first museum you ever visited?
I was already 16 years old when I finally got to go to a real museum. My grandparents and I took the Coastliner from San Diego to see the Van Gogh exhibition at the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art. I was astonished at the beauty of the colors, the discovery of such a big museum, and the appreciation people demonstrated for culture and art. It was a singular moment for me and certainly influenced how I decided to lead my life.

What do you bring back from vacation?
I enjoy bringing back culinary specialties from the region I visited and having a dinner party with friends to make the vacation last!

Who is your hero? My 50 year old self I hope! And Caroline Sost.

Who incarnates the United States for you? Many people do, but Michelle Obama really stands out to me.

Who incarnates France? Fanny Ardant

How do you use social networks such as Twitter, Facebook?
I use social networks mostly professionally and yet it is delightful to me how the work I do both in art and education harmonizes with who I am. Because of this, I use social networks as a platform for both personal and professional communication.

What is the first thing you do in the morning?
I water my lemon trees on the terrasse and drink two cups of double espresso.

What is your next project?
Top secret classified information! But I will tell you that it began with a conversation, a Grenache, and a mozzarella di bufala fumé. Just like most amazing projects do!


Biography • Beth Anna Ottelart

An American born in Papua New Guinea in 1983, I spent much of my childhood as a part of an indigenous people group in the highlands province. I travelled between my natal tropical highlands and California, following my parents who were educators and missionaries from Los Angeles. I decided to pursue higher education in San Diego, California and then obtained a Masters degree at La Sorbonne in Paris, France, where I live and work since 2005.

My insatiably adventurous spirit led me to develop two parallel careers in Paris- as a professional artist and as a Professor of Arts and English. Today, I work at The Garden Academy of Language and Culture where I lead the educational team and at Curry Vavart Artist Collective where I have an art studio.

Through my art, I deal with universal humanitarian subjects, particularly those of language and social spheres. My painting combines the materiality of the medium and a kitsch idealism particular to my style. Growing more and more multidisciplinary, I also use video and performance. Today, the main themes of my work are borders, the horizon, and cultural identity.

Parallel to my artistic career, my intention as an educator is to develop long lasting relationships with individuals internationally and give direction to their interests, articulation to their imaginations, and joy to the discovery of art, language and culture. Throughout my educational experiences around the world, I have developed a sincere interest in using my abilities and experience to meet international needs and bridge the undeniable communication gap found in our ever-increasingly global society. The confidence that expression brings, both in language and the arts, is fundamental in child development. The joy of imparting the knowledge of my mother tongue as well as my passion for art has become familiar to me through teaching, a gift I actively cultivate at The Garden Academy of Language and Culture.

I am conscious of the privilege to have grown up as a child in a culture radically different than my « home country » and to currently live in a country I have chosen. The unusual sensitivity that I developed through living with a primitive people in Papua New Guinea, then in the California of the 90’s, and now in a European culture of political conflict, have clearly irradiated my personality and developed my sense of diversity. I enjoy sharing the knowledge I have acquired through my art and with my students every day!

Laureate for the ADEFC 2016 artist residency in China, two of Beth Anna’s works are now a part of the permanent collection of the Tucheng International Art Center. She has worked at La Fabrique, Les Ateliers du 73, and Le Shakirail run by Curry Vavart Artist Collective and collaborates with the Mayors in Paris for her Street Art projects. She is also the educational manager at The Garden Academy of Art and Language.