It is hard for me to pinpoint the moment I knew I wanted to be an artist. It has been a mentality and a hobby of mine for most of my life. I remember getting my first sketchbook in second grade, but I know my love for art started before then. I spent summers at art camps though I never chose to take art classes in school until junior and senior year of high school. It was slowly instilled in me my entire life, but I never really noticed. My elementary school art teacher was kind, but pushed my peers and me even at a young age. When the school cut funding for art classes, a mom came in and volunteered her time to make sure we still had art in the classroom. As I grew up, I watched my uncle, an amazing painter, with absolute fascination. Every time I went to visit I would look around at all the newly developed creations; hoping someday that I could do the same thing.
The friends I have developed through the arts in elementary school, middle school, high school, and college, are friends I still have today. The friends who developed from art pals and classmates grew into true soulmates. The arts allow you to know someone in a truly special way. You are seeing their soul on paper. Every art teacher or professor I have had over the years continue to mentor me post middle school, high school, and now college. These are lasting relationships that I am still learning from and being inspired by.
It may be surprising, but coming into college I wanted to go into business and entrepreneurship. When I toured Drury University they listened to my interests outside of school. My admissions counselor directed me to the Arts Administration and Fine Arts departments. Through this simple nudge the rest of my life was changed. I met professors who lit a fire in me, and inspired an even more intense passion for the arts that I didn’t know I had. Now, almost a year after graduating, I am still being mentored by my painting professor Todd Lowery, and my ceramics professor David Cogorno. I am so thankful for their guidance and wouldn't be where I am now without it.
Through my Arts Administration major, I learned how to advocate for the arts and spoke to Missouri Legislatures at the state capitol. I had the opportunity to talk about and represent the arts at Drury University on a panel for Ozark Public Television. I was able to have this opportunity because my advisor, Leah Hamilton, was still looking out for the best interest of her students even after she was no longer at Drury. I learned that nonprofit arts and culture organizations bring in $61 billion dollars to our economy, that the arts and culture organizations support 4.13 million jobs, and so much more. I learned what I am doing, and what so many others are doing is important. Often times I share my degree and career goals with hesitation and worry. Sometimes I get polite nods by people and I wonder if they are judging my career path. Sometimes I crack a joke about going into nonprofit arts, not even believing what I say. I just assume the other person is thinking it, so I might as well address the elephant in the room. The reasoning may be presumptuous but those of us going into the arts have been told what we do our whole lives isn’t a priority. It is the first thing to be cut. We have to constantly defend why what we do is important. With my whole heart I know it is important.
"To me, art is a form of healing, a way to build lasting friendships, and a tool to strengthen a community."
During my sophomore year of college, my career path took a very unexpected and amazing turn. I had the idea to start an art camp for 6-9th graders. I hosted this camp at Montereau Retirement Community, where my mom worked, and they had space for us to use. In exchange for using the studio space, we had a knitting class with the residents every day. I watched the development of relationships between twelve-year-old girls and women who were 80 and older. It was a truly special development of genuine friendships. From then on, I fell in love with working with seniors. The next two summers after the camp, I interned at Montereau, teaching art classes, and it changed my life. This experience taught me more than I could ever imagine. I met countless amazing and beautiful people. Some had lost a spouse, some were suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia, others had not found an outlet to express themselves, and some just needed a way to meet new people. To me, art is a form of healing, a way to build lasting friendships, and a tool to strengthen a community.
I want to close with what is probably the most special moment I ever had teaching. There was a woman that I worked with one-on-one every week who is an amazing artist. She suffered from a stroke that left her unable to speak and paralyzed on one side of her body. One thing she still loved to do in her free time though, was work on art projects. She was at a higher skill level than most people I worked with, so I was asked to work with her individually and create more challenging projects for her. Each week we slowly began building a very special relationship. It’s amazing what can be said without much actual talking. She could say yes or no, so I would ask questions and talk with her. I would tell her how amazing she was doing, and some days she wouldn’t believe me and tell me to hush, which made us both laugh. One day I came by with a project, and when I came in she was very upset. She was having a bad day. I asked her if she wanted me to just come back another day, and she grabbed my hand with tears in her eyes. She said no, and motioned me to sit down. I sat down and she just held my hand and said no, no and put her hand on her heart. I sat there and held her hand simply trying to hold back tears of my own. I had no idea that doing an art project once a week with her meant so much. We had built an entire relationship with just a handful of words. This moment I had shared with her, and the time I had with her each week was something I will keep with me for the rest of my life.
The arts have blessed me with so many people who inspire me every single day. It has taught me how to see things from a different perspective, and to find beauty in things that are often overlooked. The arts are a way to document our history in a way a photo could never do. Thank you for reading my journey and I encourage you to share your own.