Joan Olmsted Oates – Lioness of the Arts in Education

2 – The Lioness Empowers Her Own Education Lair

Outstanding Woman Award

In the spring of 2007, the YWCA of Richmond, Virginia honored Joan Olmsted Oates with one of its 10 annual Outstanding Women Awards. The award was an honor for which Joan was eminently qualified.

First row from left: Rebecca “Becky” Massey, Sherrie Brach, Rev. Paula Owens Parker, Dr. Michelle Whitehurst-Cook, and Tara Louise Casey. Second row from left: Dr. Belinda Childress Anderson, Ellen Robertson, Jann Malone, Joan O. Oates, and Maureen Denlea Massey. Photo courtesy of YWCA of Richmond, 2007

Joan’s Partners in the Arts

While the ancestors of the Lioness achieved accomplishments in education throughout the heartland of America, Joan planted her contribution in the location where her James ancestors first originated in the Colonial era.

“I have known Joan for several years…”

I have known Joan for several years now, but I still learn new things about her. For example, that she knows how to fly a plane. That she studied dance with Martha Graham at Bennington College. That she is related to Jesse James. That her grandmother founded a school for girls and then one for boys back in Kansas City. Joan’s more public credentials are stellar: she did her master’s degree at the Harvard School of Education, taught at schools in New York and Richmond as well as at VCU, helped develop Virginia’s Standards of Learning for Dance, was named one of the YWCA’s Outstanding Women of the Year in 2007, and continues to serve on the boards of many arts and education organizations. She does not like the expression ‘patron of the arts’ because it suggests someone who simply provides financial support from a safe distance. I would say Joan is a life-long arts activist who has advocated for every child’s right to express herself through the arts and who realized, long before the researchers and curriculum planners figured it out, that all learning experiences are enriched by creative expression and activity.

Dr. Elizabeth A. Sheehan, Ph.D.

Director, Partners in the Arts

Partner’s in the Arts (PIA), is a program of the Arts Council of Richmond, Virginia. The program serves the counties of Hanover, Goochland, Henrico, Powhatan, and neighboring counties where Joan’s ancestors in the James family planted roots in the New World.

Through the consortium of PIA, teaching artists and educators are provided programs for schools in professional learning and instructional coaching conducted in workshops, courses, and certificate programs at the University of Richmond.

School leaders can consult for arts integration on an individual basis, or by groups, entire schools, and through a division of schools.

The Joan Oates Institute

Founded in 1994, the program now bears the name, the Joan Oates Institute, or, appropriately enough, JOI.

MORE about the Joan Oates Institute at the University of Richmond.

The Oates Endowment for the Arts

At Collegiate School. Joan and her husband, Dr. James F Oates III, created the Oates Endowment for the Arts and assisted in the planning of the Hershey Center for the Arts, the centerpiece of which, Oates Theater, is named in their honor.

The Oates Theater

Oates Theater Reopens at Collegiate, 2018

“We are very excited to celebrate the reopening of Oates Theater,” said Steve Hickman, Collegiate’s Head of School. “For 25 years, Oates has been an essential part of school life, impacting young people of all ages. With this renovation and expansion, it will be ready to serve our community for many more years to come.”

The renovated Oates Theater

With the seat count growing from 566 to more than 700, and with the addition of new lighting and sound systems, the theater is projected to do just what Mr. Hickman envisions.

Oates has become a vital part of Collegiate’s curriculum and will be used numerous times throughout the school day for assemblies, performances, special events, and classroom instruction when school begins next week.

While faculty or students sometimes stood in overflow sections during assemblies and programs, the newly renovated space can seat the entire Middle Middle School student body and faculty at once or the entire Upper School faculty and student body…

The renovated theater also boasts improved sightlines to the stage and enhanced fly systems. A contemporary scalloped bowl design and enlarged balcony not only allow for additional seating, but also some contemporary style elements, such as a few high-top tables and chairs…

Dr. James Franklin Oates III and Joan Olmsted-Oates

In addition to being a space that inspires Collegiate students and faculty, Oates will continue to be made available to area organizations in need of a theater for special programming…

Oates Theater, which is now among the top five venues in Central Virginia based on its seating capacity, was named in honor Joan Oates and the late Dr. Jim Oates. Joan Oates taught music in the Lower School for many years. She and her husband had four children graduate from Collegiate.


PAGE 3 – Family Cubs Support the Lioness

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