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Ellen Gilbert

The Educator



When asked to describe what the Global Education Center does, Ellen Gilbert answers matter-of-factly.


“We do too much.”

Gilbert laughs when she says it, but it’s easy to see she’s only half-kidding. As director of the center, headquartered on Charlotte Avenue with a satellite studio at the new Casa Azafrán cultural center on Nolensville Pike, she accounts for half of the nonprofit’s staff. And it’s true: They do a lot.

Growing up in the ’60s, Gilbert was the only white kid in an African dance program for eight years, which helped her developed a taste for multicultural experiences. Coming, as she did, from an integrated town and school district in Ohio, the divisions she found upon moving to the South were a bit jarring. She started working to introduce multicultural elements at her now-34-year-old son’s school when he was just 3, because she felt the place needed more diversity. And soon she was working in at least 100 schools on her own, and training teachers about the arts from different cultures to address social issues like racial or ethnic bias and prejudice.

In 1996, at the urging of her beneficiaries, she did some research on how to write up 501(c)(3) paperwork, and started the Global Education Center. And now, 17 years later, she is very busy.

The center has 26 hands-on museums on different cultures, which they take to 150 schools a year — “to teach about the commonalities of the cultures through their art,” Gilbert says. They have 110 artists, from 40 different cultures, on a roster for school assembly performances, and the center helps to facilitate 50 international festivals a year. Gilbert still does teacher training, mostly in outlying rural counties, and the Global Education Center is considered a national model in multicultural arts integration.

The center was one of four organizations in the country selected this year to host Caravanserai, an international artistic and cultural exchange program meant to introduce Americans to artists from the Muslim world.

Asked if that will be her primary focus this year, Gilbert chuckles again, and starts off on another list of ongoing projects. She wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Here I am, 62 years old, no retirement, not much of a salary because I don’t get to cash all my checks, but I would do it all again,” she says. “Because I’ve seen the impact.”

The People:

The Model Citizen: Karen Elson
The Advocate: Paul Kuhn
The Cook: Tallu Schuyler Quinn
The Busker: Mike Slusser
The Cleaner: Sharon Reynolds
The Mobilizer: Remziya Suleyman
The Believer: Theron Denson
The Maker: Zoe Schlacter
The Animators: Magnetic Dreams
The Buyer: Kelly Anne Ross
The Arthouse Ambassador: Sarah Finklea
The Picker: Rory Hoffman
The Singer: Ruby Amanfu
The Air Drummer: Steve Gorman
The Artist: Martin Cadieux
The Chef: Yayo Jiménez
The Futurist: Ken Gay
The Commissioner: Many-Bears Grinder

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