Colorful creator: Lawrence woman honored as art educator of the year


Ita Garcia pauses next to her paintings on display at the Theater at the Fort. (Photo by Sadie Hunter)

Although only living in the area for approximately two years after moving from Puerto Rico, a local art teacher has recently gained recognition among her peers and in the Indianapolis area.

Ita Garcia, the art teacher at Lawrence Township Schools’ Spanish immersion school, Forest Glen Elementary, was given an ARTI award in September for Art Educator of the Year by the Indianapolis Arts Council.

Nominated by her principal, Jerome Omar Lahlou, Garcia said she was shocked to receive the honor, especially because she was only entering her third year of teaching at the school.

Married for nearly 23 years, Garcia and her husband, Luis Oliva, were both artists in Puerto Rico before moving to Indiana two years ago.

“I was contacted by Forest Glen (Elementary) because the art teacher was retiring,” Garcia said. “They knew about me and contacted me several times. I had my work (in Puerto Rico), and I was interested, but never really considered it, leaving my kids and everything. But that summer, Luis came home and said, ‘You know what? Let’s go. I quit my job.’ We talked to the kids, and they were OK with it. So, we left everything, our house, our families.”

Oliva now teaches at Forest Glen as well as the school’s drama teacher.

In Puerto Rico, Garcia was contracted as a mosaic artist to complete mural projects in historic, notable buildings. One set of pieces in particular is mounted in the floor of Schoenstatt Sanctuary, a replica of the original church of the Apostolic Movement of Schoenstatt in Germany.

“They asked me to do the mosaic for the floor,” Garcia said. “So there, I have five big mosaics. I love mosaics, and that’s my primary thing, but in Indiana, I’m trying to introduce myself as a painter because it’s easier for me right now because I don’t have the tiles and materials (for mosaics).”

Garcia said while her primary mediums are mosaics and painting, she also studied as a sculptor.

“I was going to actually study languages (in college) … but then I decided I would try to study art,” Garcia said. “So, that’s how I entered the School of Fine Arts in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I studied sculpture there, and when I finished that, I started teaching both high school and elementary. When I was there, I taught 30 years. On the weekends, I would go around the country selling my mosaics and things.”

In recent weeks, Garcia has taken the initiative to begin a mosaic club at the school, an after-school program for her students.

“I just started that (last month),” said Garcia, who teaches nearly 800 students from Kindergarten through sixth grade. “I think what the students really like about me and my style of teaching is that they do so many colorful things. I brought from Puerto Rico a lot of things that they are not used to. We’re always making exhibits at school. The impact has been through the color, and the things they are doing are really different.”

Ita Garcia accepts her ARTI award from Arts Council of Indianapolis President and CEO Dave Lawrence. (Submitted photo


“(Ita Garcia’s) positive outlook on life along with her ability to find ways to work harmoniously with administrators and teachers make her an asset to Forest Glen. I can’t really find words to describe her abilities, creativity, and dedication to teaching art to children. She is an exemplar of integrity, service, and leadership and an inspiration to all students.”

-Jerome Omar Lahlou, principal at Forest Glen Elementary


Working with her husband, Luis Oliva, artist Ita Garcia has five large pieces on display at the Theater at the Fort, 8920 Otis Ave., Lawrence.

“Those pieces were for the play my husband was doing, ‘The Old Man and the Sea,’” Garcia said. “So, I made a series of five paintings for different parts of the story. They’re acrylics on canvas.

“I love color. My style, I like a lot of texture. I’m kind of realistic, but I always try to be a little but abstract in my lines,” she added. “I like to paint a lot of things that I see, that I can make kind of an abstract – simple things, normal things.”

All pieces on display are for sale at the theater. For more, call 317-875-1900, or visit