Through the Artist’s Lens: A Conversation with a Young Actor, Writer and Illustrator
Arts education means so much to so many people, it seems counterintuitive that its continuation in school communities and beyond is constantly under threat. I know that I would not be the person I am today, a successful and happy museum professional employed by the Smithsonian Institution, had I not had the opportunities in my youth to explore the vast world of visual art provided by my schools and local youth orgs. I feel very privileged to have had arts at the ready consistently through my childhood, which makes me even more concerned about the threat of the absence of arts in my own children’s lives. So I was thrilled when Americans for the Arts reached out to me to participate in the #BecauseofArtsEd blog salon. For the future of all our children, we must defend arts education every opportunity we get. With that in mind, I was extra delighted for the opportunity to get to know my colleague’s spirited and quite profound daughter better through this interview.
On the most beautiful Saturday afternoon of the summer, at the first big Community Day at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (where I work), while listening to the empowering and uplifting outdoor performance of March on Washington songs from the 1960s by Rochelle Rice & band, I had the immense pleasure of interviewing my colleague’s daughter Ms. Lucia Hill, age 11, about her experiences #BecauseofArtsEd.
Thanks for chatting with me, Lucia. First, where do you go to school? What grade are you in?
I go to Capital City Public Charter in Washington, DC. I’m going into the 6th grade this year.
Do you like school?
Yes, I do!
Does your school offer any art programs or classes?
Yes, it does!
That’s great. What kind of art classes are available to you?
Well, they offer classes and electives in music, visual art, and drama. And there are required courses too. Plus, there’s the afterschool clubs: Art Club and Drama Club.
That’s great, so you’re required to take art classes?
Yeah, we have to take an art class, but we can choose.
And what do the clubs offer?
Art Club provides access to all the same materials from class like the good paper, pastels, paints. And the teacher for Art Club provides some direction but you can also do your own project independently. There’s also Band, plus other electives. We have a new club too, Writing Club.
What do you do in Writing Club?
We workshop our stories. We write and then present our stories, get feedback and guidance on developing our plots and characters.
Wow! That’s like real work. Does the instructor provide any guidance for your writing or is it all peer-reviewed?
She does. She gives us a few writing prompts. Last year we had to choose objects and write stories about them. I did an adaptation of the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland and a story about a teenage girl who had a baby for a story about a blanket. I was thinking of how to make a story about a blanket relevant to teens, because I like to write characters my own age who I can relate to. But I also like to write stories about issues that are meaningful. So I had to imagine what it would be like to have a baby at my age, and there was a lot of hardship in that story.
So in your writing you’re concerned with social justice?
Yes, I am. I think that art is a way to explore social justice. Our school encourages us to think about social justice. We talk about right and wrong. If someone does something hurtful based on someone’s gender or race, the whole grade has a meeting about it to discuss why it was wrong and hurtful.
We also had Stand with Immigrants Day. We could choose to be silent, like in solidarity for immigrant voices that are silenced by policy and legislation. I chose to be silent.
So it sounds like you’re very busy with school activities and art programs. Do you participate in any art programs outside of school?
Yeah, I go to Round House Theater in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland for drama. I started just going to their Free Fridays acting classes for kids. But then I really liked acting, and then I got invited to their Intensive Training classes, where they have professional production quality.
What plays or musicals have you done?
I did Milo and the Phantom Phonebooth, and Peter and the Snowy Days and Other Stories. Peter was my favorite because I played the lead.
Why do you like acting?
Acting gives me self confidence. I’m actually really shy elsewhere, but onstage I feel confident. I started doing acting classes in preschool, so I’ve done it so long it’s a part of me now. Acting has brought me friends I wouldn’t have met before, because they’re in upper grades.
Do you feel acting and your other art programs challenge you to do things you wouldn’t otherwise try?
I think that art in general has challenged me to expand my horizons. I’ve tried Shakespeare, mask-making, a one-man skit, instruments, drawing in perspective, drawing places. In Art Club we had to draw a picture of our neighborhood in two-point perspective. It was interesting to see my friends’ neighborhoods through their drawings. We live in different parts of the city. It feels like we live in very different places, but really all of our neighborhoods are very similar. It was interesting to see how my friends saw their neighborhoods. It changed the way I think about some of those places.
So art has changed the way you think about some things?
Yeah, art has definitely changed me. Like the music I listen to is influenced by my acting friends, who I wouldn’t have met without drama class. I look at the world as a writer and an artist, like I see everyone as a character and I think about what motivates them. I think about myself in terms of making art. That’s how I understand myself. Understanding the range of a character is the same as understanding the people you meet, their perspectives. Art inspires me to keep exploring drama and drawing, and looking at the world through the eyes of an artist.
So what’s one thing that you’ve experienced about yourself or the world #BecauseofArtsEd?
#BecuaseofArtsEd I’ve figured out where I fit in.
That’s great. Many adults don’t even have a sense of fitting in. So tell me, what makes your art programs so enjoyable?
I love what I do, drawing, acting, even stage lighting and production. Some of my earliest memories are acting. I have this ongoing saga I’ve been writing, about a princess named Ellie. When I started writing her, I wanted to be her. Both my parents love art. My Dad tells stories that are inspiring and empowering for me, always about a strong, smart teenage girl who overcomes obstacles. It makes me want to be stronger and smarter.
This might be a tough question, but can you imagine your life without art?
Without art? I think I’d spend more time on the internet, but not looking for art inspiration to draw. I like to look up paintings and stuff, but I guess I wouldn’t do that. So I guess I would just stay on the internet for longer periods of time, since I wouldn’t then go off to draw. I wouldn’t be balanced though, I’d be unhappy. I wouldn’t have my acting friends.
Me too, unbalanced, unhappy. Is there anything else you’d like to share about your relationship with the arts?
Art is very important. All kids and adults should have access to art. It’s life changing. Sharing what you’ve made with others is a way to make new friends. It’s also a way to think about social justice and to work through how you think and feel about what’s happening in the world. When you take away art, you take away a person’s expressive outlet. How can they share who they are if you take away their art? Art gives people the tools they need to find their happiness.