My Time as an Artist
One of the most fascinating things I’ve come to realize after working as a Groundswell youth muralist for the first time is the extensive amount of care that goes into making the piece great. As a matter of fact, making the piece great wasn’t even the most important part of the project. The main thing was about using the art as a tool for social change. It didn’t just impact the community partners we were painting it for; it impacted us as well.
My team was tasked with creating a mural that would represent our partners’ best interest but would also hold fast to our vision for “Voices Her’d,” Groundswell’s intensive leadership program for young women. We were a group of twenty ladies who wanted more than to just paint something pretty—we wanted to let them know what we stood for as well. Art was the medium in which we expressed ourselves, laughed until our stomachs hurt, and made our eyes shed tears when we all had to say goodbye.
We could talk about art in a way that reflected the times. Nina Simone once said that “you couldn’t be an artist without reflecting the times.” It was with this message that we took to our creative minds and began to build and draw and discuss and challenge each other, both as an artist and individually. We weren’t just painting something that was going to end up on a wall somewhere; we were painting a mural for a school that would be passed down generation after generation.
Because we could understand the why behind the what, we were able to explore it further and add new layers of depth to our work. None of us would forget what we did and we wanted that very same essence to carry over into the mural as it told its own story with every passing student.
We wanted to make sure we weren’t keeping it one sided by only adhering to what our partners were saying, but that we were giving voice to the very nature of Voices Her’d. Our voices matter and throughout history we see countless examples of women being underrepresented or voiceless. Our Voices Her’d theme for this summer was women’s resistance and we specifically explored that through art and music. Our flagship declaration was “They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.” This spoke to so many levels because not only were we all able to relate but we could also swap out seeds for other things that spoke to us such as resilience and strength.
After my summer job with Voices Her’d ended at Groundswell, I was able to walk away with a refreshed mind and I was extremely happy for the work we all got a chance to do. The community of artists I found myself surrounded by helped me to see myself considering the process instead of the destination. Every morning we would check in and just share out how our day was going or week had been, to just be there for each other. It was an amazing space to be in.
One of my favorite memories while working on this project was while visiting the school where we would paint our mural. I remember standing outside the school and talking to a Groundswell staff worker and I remember mentioning that I wasn’t an artist. Her response was a question that helped me to think critically about who an artist was and how I fit on the spectrum.
Art is fluid and very multidimensional, and coming in with very little technical skill I didn’t think that I was a legitimate artist because of my lack. The problem with that is that it was hindering me because I was viewing myself in this negative light. In the same way silence is just as much music as sound is not, being able to make a straight line doesn’t disqualify you as an artist.
The important thing is that you remember to make it meaningful and about something you care about. Making a difference is no easy task but doing it alongside other amazing people made work feel like fun. From barely believing in myself to backlogging growth, my time and experience as a youth muralist helped me to see myself as a work in progress.