Ulman strives to give all Appleton students opportunities in fine arts 

by Tim Froberg

Ask Renee Ulman about the value of fine arts and you will likely get a thought-provoking lesson.

As Ulman points out, practically every civilization throughout history has embraced some form of the arts.

Ulman, the fine arts coordinator for the Appleton Area School District, works diligently to make sure students get every opportunity to experience artistic expression.

The fine arts are defined as models of experience that use skill or imagination to create aesthetic objects, experiences, or environments that can be shared with others. There are several forms of fine art such as architecture, sculpture, painting, music, literature, dance, theater, and cinema.

“What we’ve learned about civilizations throughout history, including those that no longer exist, is that a lot of what we know about them is based on their arts: their architecture, their pottery, their weaving, the dishes they used,” Ulman said. 

“Look at the power of music. Almost every human civilization has had music. I believe a desire for the arts is something innate because if you look at civilizations all over the world, there has always been a need to create. I truly believe access to the arts is a human right.”

In her present position, Ulman works to ensure that students from K-12 in the Appleton school district get quality education and experiences in four prominent areas: art, music, theater, and dance. She oversees those departments and advocates for them, working with teachers and administrators to keep curriculums updated and provide instructors with what’s needed to teach.

“In order for a student to be well educated, they need access to the arts,” Ulman said. “It’s a way of knowing and expressing who they are. It’s a way to make sense of the world. All of us need something that’s going to show our spirit. We need ways outside of work to find fulfillment and the arts are a big part of that.”

The Appleton school district is unique in that it requires graduating students to have at least one full credit in the fine arts.

“That’s huge,” Ulman said. “Not many school districts have that. It shows that fine arts are valued in our district. Appleton has a very robust fine arts program, but there is still room for improvement. There are students out there who play musical instruments that aren’t part of our programs. I remember one student who had a mariachi band, but wasn’t part of our school orchestra. It made me wonder why.”

Ulman has served in her current position for the past seven years. She was previously an art teacher for more than 15 years at schools including Appleton West and Appleton North. She was also a teacher and coordinator at Appleton Career Academy (now the Fox Cities Leadership Academy).

Ulman grew up in Clintonville and was encouraged by her parents, Chuck and Joanne Reimer, to follow the arts. She played the piano, wrote poetry, took countless art classes, and was active in high school theater.

“I came from a musical family that would sing and play musical instruments,” Ulman said. “My parents fostered my passion for the arts. We’d go to Chicago to see museums and musicals like Les Misérables. I remember them taking me to the Art Institute (of Chicago) to see the Monet exhibit. That just blew my mind.”

A Lawrence University graduate, Ulman holds a bachelor’s degree in studio art and a master’s in art curriculum and instruction.

“When I started at Lawrence, I thought I should probably do something that was going to help me make more money,” said Ulman. “So, I went with a philosophy-political science major. I was going to do pre-law. After my freshman year, I took stock of myself and realized I had always loved art and working with kids. I decided to be an art teacher. Everything fell into place from there.”

Outside the office, Ulman enjoys reading and outdoor activities with her husband, Chad. She’s also a very active volunteer, serving on boards such as the Mielke Family Foundation, the Arthur Krempin School of Music and Art, and the Makaroff Youth Ballet.

“I was never a dancer, but I have a huge passion for ballet,” she said. “There’s just something about ballet that I love and adore.”