“You can’t have the Earth without mirth”

Inside the mirthful world of Ms. Astrid Dalins


Lila Diamond '23

Ms. Dalins in her habitat.

As the infamous annual mirth assembly ensures, everyone knows Ms. Astrid Dalins. To Ms. Dalins, who has taught Studio Art and Architecture and Design for 28 years, mirth isn’t just about laughter and happiness; it’s also a way of life embodied by pumpkins. While some might question the sanity of this idea, the mirth assembly and Mirthfest celebration, a pumpkin creating contest, are highlights of the year for many students. This is all thanks to Ms. Dalin’s randomness, excitement and lack of filter. Besides being an art teacher and pumpkin enthusiast, Ms. Dalins is a lover of leopard print, dreams, sharks and the Bahamas. Why these things? The eclectic icon of RE’s Arts Department is here to tell you.  

When I sat down to interview Ms. Dalins, her mind was busy with a hundred other things. Her desk is cluttered with tchotchkes, pumpkins, papers, random parts of toys; on this particular day, she had spread out fifty photographs of sunsets taken from her apartment in the Bahamas. She was insistent on showing me the variations in the orange and yellow. When talking, I found it hard to differentiate between when she was joking or being serious. Many questions were simply answered with one word: mirth. As nonsensical as some of the conversation was, it was hard not to smile when engaging with her. While the conversation has been edited for length and clarity, it should make evident that Ms. Dalins’s enthusiasm and whimsicality are contagious. She is essential to the joy at Ransom Everglades.  

You are an energetic and undeniable force around campus. How did you join the RE community? How long have you been a part of it?  

I have been working at Ransom since 1995, when I was asked to apply for a position that was being vacated. Before Ransom, I had worked as an art teacher in what seems like everywhere in Dade County: the University of Miami, the University of Florida, Miami-Dade College, Miami Edison Senior High School, Design and Architecture Senior High, Carver School. I always teach art, but sometimes different classes and mediums. I have taught everything from Art History to Painting and Printmaking. 

Most people around campus know you from the epic Mirthfest assemblies. How and why did you bring mirth to Ransom?  

Mirth is everywhere in the universe. It is happiness and laughter in one word. We just tie the little string to it and pull it to ourselves. For me, mirth culminates in pumpkins. When you see a pumpkin, how do you not smile? Mirth makes everyone happy, and the world needs more happiness.  

How does mirth better the RE community?  

You can’t have the Earth without Mirth.  

The mirth assemblies always start with a story about your first-grade teacher. How accurate is this story, really? 

100%. That is why I retell it every year. The story takes place at my Elementary school, Blossomwood Elementary in Huntsville, Alabama. It is pretty much the origin story of how the Mirthfest began, and how I brought it to Ransom. I love that it has taken on a new legacy outside Ransom. Alumni have started mirth clubs at their other schools. I know that Washington University, Brown and Cornell all have some sort of mirth celebration. It’s all happening in other places.  

If you could sum up Mirthfest in three words, what would they be?  

Mirth, mirth, mirth, or, actually, hilar arte per arte—happiness through art in Latin. 

What other festivities are you involved in within RE? 

My students wanted an art publication, so they started PEEL in 1997. The first publication was printed in one of my student’s garages. I am also the sponsor of Ransom Everglades Art League or REAL. REAL oversees anything artistic needed in the RE community: Food drives, cannon painting, Valentine’s Day cards, the REEF tournament cake, face painting for events, everything. You know how everything at Ransom has the RE in the name? The REAL was first to do it. PEEL doesn’t even have a real meaning; it doesn’t stand for anything. We wanted a unique name that transcended all time, so we ended up with PEEL.  

As a ninth grader in your virtual Studio Art 1 class during the Covid lockdown, I participated in your class virtually. You logged into class from the Bahamas as your “second home.” How do you manage living in the Bahamas as well as Miami? 

It takes a little doing. Since 1969, I have lived in the Bahamas. I go every month. I love how beautiful it is.  

How has living in the Bahamas impacted you and inspired you artistically? 

I went to graduate school at the University of Miami to be near the Bahamas. I would have gone to Pratt School of Design if I hadn’t loved the Bahamas as much as I do. I went for the first time in 1986. My dad worked for NASA, and he set up seismographic missiles around the world. We went from Hawaii to the Bahamas, and he asked me to pick where I’d rather live, and I picked the Bahamas.  

The rumor is that you have a pet shark. How did this come to be?  

I am Hoover’s pet, not the other way around. He has me trained to feed him. I was watching fish off my dock one night and tossing in little pieces of food into the water and this Lemon Shark just showed up. We have been friends ever since. Back then he was seven feet long. Now he’s about ten. I think he honestly might be a she. Female lemon sharks are often ten feet, but I am keeping the name Hoover regardless. You can always tell when he is there because he likes to clean the bottom. The water off my dock turns all milky. I get called “shark lady” a lot around my neighborhood. I always asked people if they wanted to see my shark. At exactly eleven o’clock, he’s there. It’s when he is trained to come to my dock.  

As an art teacher, how do you get inspiration for your class projects and lessons?  

They come to me in dreams. It’s true. For my still life pear project, we paint pears because they are the closest thing to human flesh. They look like butts. Don’t worry, I told the parents the same thing at Back to School Night. In classes, we paint the sky because I love the sky—no two skies are ever the same.  

How do you get inspired for your own art?  

My own ideas come to me in my dreams as well. “I dream about my painting, and then I paint my dreams.” Vincent van Gogh said that.  

Around campus, your fashion stands out. What is it about leopard print? 

I love leopard accessories. Leopard is my favorite color. I was the Leopard Princess for Halloween. I don’t know why but it comforts me. 

What has teaching at Ransom taught you? 

I’d rather be around children than adults. Most of my colleagues feel the same way. I don’t like being around adults who take themselves too seriously. Where is the fun in that? I take the things I love seriously. I take art seriously. Other than the ocean, art is my biggest passion.  

What is it about the ocean that you love and feel connected to? 

I am a self-taught sailor. I taught myself back in 1989. I can rig a boat from scratch. My first boat was named Pink Champagne. My favorite part of the ocean is its beauty.  It is crazy to think that the ocean is just a reflection of the sky. It inspires me.  

You are a teacher on campus with many legends. Recently, a former student told me a story that involves you driving over a drawbridge. I am so curious about this story. 

Before cell phones, my boyfriend at the time had his friends drop him off at the city side of the Venetian Causeway. He called me and asked me to pick him up. At the time, I lived on Bell Aisle, which was close to where my boyfriend was. When I drove down the causeway, the operator told me I had to wait because there was a boat parade happening. I told him that my boyfriend was on the other side and that I needed to pick him up. Right then, a police officer who was there with his squad car said, “Well hop in, I’ll take you.” When we got in the car, the bridge was already starting to go up. We jumped over the gap and landed on the other side. We were in the air.  

That sounds crazy. Would you say that this is one of your wildest stories?  

Nope. They are all the same level of crazy.