I’ll be the first to tell you that I don’t have an arts background. However, I’ve always considered myself a lifelong student.
My early experiences in the middle-class public school district I was raised in were both good and bad. I truly was exposed to the gamut of what education could provide. As a college English major, I loved to read, struggled with math, and, at one point, had no idea what my “career” would entail.
I occasionally felt out of place in my high school honors classes. After all, my dad never got past community college, and my mom dropped out of high school after 10th grade. This meant that my folks weren’t really equipped to help me with homework once I reached my teens.
As an adult, I tried my hand at teaching public school. This pursuit was both rewarding and overwhelming. When I saw that ArtCenter was hiring for an Outreach Management position, I knew that my passion for youth programs and organizing could work to my advantage.
ArtCenter can seem like a solitary place, and socializing is a huge part of what I do. While I may seem shy on the outside, the truth is that I’m an extrovert. You can imagine how I’m handling our current national moment.
On some level, I believe that the work I do now is good for the soul. It’s not hard for me to remember being a middle or high school student, so it’s easy for me to put myself in the headspaces of the young people I work with.
The rigor of the education at ArtCenter also enabled me to think about the concept of problem solving in a deeper way than I ever had before. It’s not so much about productivity for me. I learned quite a bit from ACX instructor David Sotelo, who would suggest that photography should not be solely taught as a practical skill, but as a means for students to process their own lived experiences.
This philosophy is one I’ve returned to time and time again in the conversations I’ve had with the people I work amongst. It’s also part of this ongoing discourse we’re having in the world of education in regards to social and emotional wellness. Problem solving doesn’t just have to mean smoothing out things for a client. It means processing your thoughts and experiences into an understandable whole, and taking joy in what you do.
I’ll give you an example. I once helped coordinate a visit from ArtCenter alum Edgar Arceneaux (BFA 96) to a campus visit by LAMP Mentoring, an offshoot of Gamma Zeta Boule Foundation’s focus on youth empowerment. The high school students were African American, and from Pasadena high schools. Edgar asked the boys in the classroom how many of them wanted to fall in love. As high school boys are wont to do, they giggled. Edgar then asked these boys how many of them had thought about raising a family. After a while, you could sense that these boys were starting to take Edgar’s inquiries seriously. He was asking these boys pertinent and probing questions about the quality of life they desired.
It is imperative that we ask our young people these questions. They must know that their personal worth is not exclusively determined by their output.
One thing that I love about ArtCenter is their commitment to teaching kids when they’re young, through extension programs like ACX Kids. These children need to start playing around with these concepts early: not just drawing and painting and existing in an academic environment, but also the idea of embracing a creative life.
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our global way of life in too many ways to count. When ArtCenter first went virtual and we all began working remotely, I felt as though I had forgotten to do my job. My calendar was suddenly wiped clean. So, what do we do when faced with cataclysmic change? We adapt. We pivot. We make it work. We take our on-the-ground education online. And it’s working: this summer, we gave out 68 teen scholarships, including five $1,800 scholarships to attend our four-week Summer Intensives, more than we have during any other term in the last few years.
Whatever I do, whether it’s online outreach or Zoom classes, I try to make it feel personal. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this business, it’s that a personal touch goes a long way.
Outreach Program Manager for ArtCenter College of Design