Remembering Art Ellison

April 12th, 2024 | Stories


Remembering Art Ellison (1943 – 2024), a beloved colleague, adult education advocate, and co-founder of the New England Literacy Resource Center (NELRC)

Art Ellison was deeply committed to adult literacy and education and always saw it as a social justice issue. He devoted nearly four decades to adult education as the Adult Education State Director while staying active in local, state, and national politics. He partnered with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to support candidates dedicated to protecting labor rights in New Hampshire and also spent seven years on the board of the Highlander Research and Education Center, advocating for grassroots movements for justice and equality.

Art Ellison holding a sign that reads "Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living".

Art was an anti-bureaucracy bureaucrat. As the head of a large state agency, he used the skills of a community organizer – building relationships, listening to the field, and keeping your values front and center – to help him protect educators and students from as much red tape as possible. On the NELRC board, he modeled a joyful irreverence and willingness to make good trouble that I hope we carry with us always.”  – Andy Nash, former World Education employee and past Director of NELRC.

Following retirement, Art embarked on a new journey in 2019, serving three terms in the NH House of Representatives. He often shared inspirational quotes from Joe Hill and Mother Jones, emphasizing the importance of organization and fighting for the living.

Portrait of Art EllisonI was fortunate to work with Art over many years and witness his deep commitment to adult education and literacy. The reach of his successful advocacy and organizing for adult literacy went well beyond his own state of New Hampshire to the region and the nation. Art was a key member of the New England Literacy Resource Center since its founding in 1994 as part of World Education. His support was seminal in our ability to keep a sustained focus on adult education through the lens of social justice. May his legacy live on through educators, advocates, and learners who, like Art, know the growth and practice of adult education takes perseverance with a touch of irreverence.”  Silja Kallenbach, former Vice President of World Education – U.S.

Art was also involved in the creation and development of the Northern New England Literacy Theater, part of a movement that for decades brought the personal trials and profound struggles of adult education students to life on stage. It served as a dynamic training technique for adult education teachers, administrators, and volunteers.

The Northern New England Theater performed publicly for the first time at the 1985 Commission on Adult Basic Education Conference in Montreal. These performances, staged by adult education professionals, became one of the most successful staff development and training efforts in the history of adult education in the United States. Art documented and reflected on the history of the theater in “The Story of the Northern New England Literacy Theater.”

Screenshot of a Change Agent article titled "Fight Like Hell for the Living".

“As a founder of NELRC and a long-time advocate of adult education as a form of social justice, Art was a big supporter of The Change Agent. He did a lot to make sure this magazine, which promotes student voice and stories of students taking charge of their own lives and making change in their communities and workplaces, was a success. Back when we published hard copies of the magazine, he made sure students all across the state had copies in their hands. He knew the value of student voice and the importance of hearing their perspectives on issues that matter to all of us. He also wrote for the magazine — including this wonderful piece, Fight Like Hell for the Living. Note the photo of him. Even in print, his smile still lights up a room, just as his legacy will continue to energize us.” Cynthia Peters, Editor of the Change Agent, World Education.

Rest in power, Art. Your tireless commitment to adult education and social justice serves as a guiding light for present and future advocates, illuminating pathways toward a more equitable and just society.

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