Founder's Biography

John Hallagan M.Ed
Founder of Art of Writing Young Authors & Artists Conferences

In 1988, a passionate young teacher named John Hallagan sat down at the kitchen table with his wife, Pat, to discuss an idea, a dream. A talented writer himself, John pictured a uniquely collaborative educational event where aspiring writers from diverse backgrounds could experience a day outside of their normal school environment celebrating a shared passion for the art of writing. With the publication of Art of Writing, the book, the young writers would become young authors.

John began his teaching career at Ben Franklin School in Milwaukee. He spent 10 years making a difference in the lives of the 5th and 6th graders who had many of the odds associated with poverty stacked against them.  Optimism, innovation, a sense of humor and a genuine respect for the dignity of the young people in his care became the cornerstones of his development as a teacher. 

In 1985, John was invited to run the Gifted and Talented Program for the suburban Shorewood. Wisconsin School District.  John ran the Challenge Program, as it was known, as an inclusive curriculum; providing a variety of challenging educational opportunities that would engage many students. One of the activities was a district Young Authors Conference.

Drawing on both experiences, the idea began to crystallize - why not draw students from schools around the Milwaukee metropolitan area in celebration of diversity and commonality around a love of writing? Invite the best teachers. Hold the event outside the normal school environment. Find a place of inspiration and beauty that will enhance the experience. Add music and food. The Milwaukee Art Museum understood John’s dream and graciously opened its doors on a cold day in early December 1988 to the 225 students and teachers who arrived to collaborate on the first Art of Writing book.

For many then, as today, it was their first time in the Art Museum. They arrived as strangers and left as friends, enriched by spending the day collaborating on their stories. In time, artists were invited to join and capture the spirit of the day in sketches. Over the years, many participants have described the conference as “the best day of my life”. Over 15,000 students have attended the Young Authors & Artists Conferences and have been published in Art of Writing books.

In 1995 John was invited to join the staff at Magee Elementary in the Kettle Moraine School District. He has been awarded the Kohl’s Fellowship Award and was named Wisconsin History teacher of the Year in 2005. John continues to write, often adding photographs and video for publication. He was a contributing author and videographer for the Wisconsin 4th grade Social Studies book “Thinking Like An Historian”.  In 2014, the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation honored John with the "Conservation Educator of the Year"  award.  Starting off the school year, Kettle Moraine recognized John as their 2016-17 Educator of the Year with a standing ovation. After 43 years teaching, John retired in August, 2018.

Art of Writing continues to flourish. The 30th edition of the book was unveiled at the Publishing Party hosted by the Milwaukee Art Museum in May, 2018. On the occasion of the 20th Anniversary conference in 2007, Brigid Globensky, Senior Director, Education and Programs for the Milwaukee Art Museum wrote “Turning the Museum into a writing lab for a day was a stroke of genius. Thank you for allowing us to host Young Authors Conference.”

The 31st conference was held on December 2, 2019, with over 500 students and 100 teachers in attendance. The popularity of the event continues to grow. Students still often say, "It was the best day of my life!" Teachers exclaim that it is their favorite day of the school year! And it all takes place in the most beautiful building in Wisconsin!