Don Decker: 50 percent art, 50 percent education

Despite past struggles to get people to art shows, hundreds have now viewed UAA art professor Don Decker’s “50/50” art exhibit. The show opened Sept. 6 at the International Gallery of Contemporary Art and is a look into Decker’s 50 years of teaching and artistry.

The Saturday following the opening, Decker held a reception and theater performance at the Anchorage Museum. The performance was a witty and engaging look at Decker’s past that portrayed his personality. It opened with Decker’s daughter, Julie Decker, talking about her “oh shit” reactions to all her father’s ideas. The performance then ended with Decker’s beer toast to all the people he has taught over the years.

“As a person and as an artist he has put himself out there, open to risk in search of the experience. I grew up with an artist who taught me to think, to laugh and to keep going. The lessons are a gift,” Julie Decker said of her father.

In an interview, Don Decker told more about his experience as both an artist and teacher.

Once graduated from high school, Decker began working at an auto factory. He told himself in 10 years he could save so much money and go do something. But after a couple weeks he said 10 years seemed like forever.

While looking in the newspaper he had found an ad for an inexpensive teacher’s school near his home. He described it as “the perfect storm.” Thus began Decker’s career in education.

Decker has now taught at elementary, middle school, high school and university levels. He was hired as a professor to UAA in the ‘90s and has since then taught over 90 courses in art.

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“I’m lucky to be able to do it,” he said.

Decker’s art interest began in sixth grade when he drew a picture for a book review assignment that the teacher liked and hung up — despite it being drawn on lined paper.

“I think that it seemed insignificant at the time, but I think it’s things like that, where people say they like it or it’s good, it makes you pursue something,” Decker said. “Sometimes it’s not anything earth shaking. It just kind of sets the tone for what you want to do.”

His next experiences came in his high school art classes. Decker said he now can’t even look at his art from this time.

“I thought they were all good at the time,” he said, “but looking back — how did anybody think I had anything going for me in art?”

Decker’s art interest set off in college. In his freshmen year, Decker’s professors assigned students to visit the Art Institute of Chicago. This visit had lasting impact on Decker.

“It was really cutting-edge stuff. I just couldn’t believe it.” Decker said. “It knocked my socks off. Like, ‘Oh, God, people do this?’ It had a huge influence on me. It was an immediate gut reaction at that moment that it was something I wanted to do. I credit those instructors for making me look at it. Otherwise I don’t know if I ever would have gone there.”

Decker accumulated many degrees going to multiple colleges over the years. He said getting those degrees was very memorable.

“The degrees I got, I was proud of that because I had to pay for them and work hard. … I had to do a lot of stuff nights and summers and tough it out, so when I got them they were a big deal,” Decker said.

In addition to his degrees, Decker has owned an art gallery, been exhibited in many art shows and hosted his own shows. Although Decker has been successful, there have been hard times for him in the art industry.

“It’s hard to get people to go to art if they aren’t really interested in art. It’s like saying we’re having a plumber’s convention, and they just can’t relate to it. … It’s way out of their element, but that’s all changed in the years after,” Decker said.

He describes “50/50” as one of his best experiences as an artist.

“This weekend, being at the gallery and having hundreds of people come through, they’re all so positive and nice,” Decker said. “That thing last night (“50/50” reception and theater performance) I thought was pretty special for me. Those are some highlights for me.”


Don Decker’s “50/50” art exhibit is open at the International Gallery of Contemporary Art until Sept. 28.