Your eyes are drawn in a number of directions before you reach the desk on the north end of Visual Arts Professor Mike Sleadd’s office in Brown Hall.
His artwork and that of others adorn the walls, with a backstory to match the creativity of each piece.
“I have tried to instill in my students to really think and to play with art and to let it be a conveyance for your imagination,” Sleadd says. “Let it take you on a ride and lead you in some ways. And then use it as a way of expressing yourself, your ideals and ideas.”
At the end of the 2022-23 academic year, Sleadd finished a ride of his own, closing his illustrious career at Columbia College after imparting his expertise to generations of emerging artists. Nearly 35 years after he began teaching at the college alongside a Mount Rushmore-esque team of Art faculty members, the engaging educator is retiring from the classroom.
“I have tried to instill in my students to really think and to play with art and to let it be a conveyance for your imagination.”Retiring Art Professor Mike Sleadd
Sleadd remembers the colleagues he worked with upon his arrival to the college, including Sidney Larson, Tom Watson, Ed Collings, Ben Cameron and Richard Baumann. He describes himself as “one of the last holdouts” from that esteemed era of faculty members.
After those colleagues concluded their careers, Sleadd says he was proud to have a role in hiring the people leading the department now and into the future.
“There is just an amazing group of people,” Sleadd says of the current faculty. “It’s a very diverse group. People with different approaches to art, but a very tight group. They are just wonderful artists.”
Sleadd came to Columbia College in the late 1980s as a visiting instructor teaching Graphic Design classes. Soon he began working toward his Master of Fine Arts at the University of Missouri so he could improve his career trajectory within academia, completing that degree after the encouragement of Mary Miller, the dean he worked under at the time.
At one point during his tenure, Sleadd recalls teaching the most courses of any professor at the college, with that number influenced by stacked classes such as Graphic Design 1, 2 and 3. He eventually took over instructing the Advanced Drawing and Printmaking classes.
His range of classes has also included Typography, a graphic design course that he developed.
A familiar face on main campus, he served for a decade as chair of the Department of Visual Arts and Music and carried the ceremonial mace at recent Commencement ceremonies as a nod to his seniority.
“What a great gig it’s been,” Sleadd says. “To be able to spend your life doing what you love and teach it is really wonderful.”
Computers were a minor element in the classroom when Sleadd first started teaching. He recalls convincing Miller that he needed a Macintosh computer and remembers his sense of excitement when he got one. Now, there are labs with nothing but computers.
Times have changed in more ways than one, as the Art Department moved from what is now a maintenance building to its current location constructed in 1995 at the center of campus.
While his teaching career is coming to an end, relationships with countless students will endure.
Sleadd proudly follows the achievements of graduates as they advance their lives, with former pupils becoming professors like him or even creating at places such as Cartoon Network.
“You’re proud of students that you’ve had contact with in their lives and touched them in some way,” Sleadd says. “Whenever you teach, you continue to learn. Of course, you have to stay steps ahead, but your students challenge you and make you look at what you’re doing. They make you think about how to communicate what you want to teach them.
“I have learned more about the field and more about the intricacies of the career I have.”
For Sleadd, that continual craving of the arts began in earnest when he started drawing with pen and ink while working as a designer at the University of Kentucky.
“I got in a groove then and I’ve been doing it ever since,” he says.
He doesn’t intend to stop making art, and he won’t be going far this next year as his creative juices continue to flow.
Sleadd will be the department’s first artist-in-residence, moving from his upstairs office to a studio downstairs in the same building. He will create in that space at a more leisurely schedule and make himself available for open studio sessions with students.
Sleadd describes this as a gracious arrangement that he eagerly looks forward to.
“I’m retiring, but I’m going to have a spot to hang out and make art,” Sleadd says.
Over the years, Sleadd has been active in the community well beyond his role at the college, serving on the City of Columbia’s Office of Cultural Affairs Board, the Orr Street Board and the Art League Board. His wife, Barbara Hoppe, was a Columbia City Council member for nine years and recently was president of the local League of Women Voters chapter. Together, they were instrumental in saving the popular Stephens Lake Park in 2020.
Thanks to his strong connections both at the school and across the city, never once did Sleadd look for a different job once he started working at Columbia College, he says.
Even in his retirement, he will not make himself a stranger around campus.
“No stranger than I already am,” Sleadd says with a smile.