Georgia Taylor is an artist and founder of Salon 477 LLC, an art studio specializing in graphic design, photography, portrait drawings, and paintings. Taylor teaches graphic design at the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology (WMCAT) and is a Volunteer Coordinator at Baxter Community Center.
Becoming an artist begins by planting a seed, most often within the minds of the most unconventional.
Post graduation from Kendall College of Art and Design and in my late twenties, I found myself in the studio of world renowned fine artist Paul Collins working as his apprentice.
Hours were spent sitting on a footstool with a worn red leather cushion, mixing paints in his garage and creating murals that would eventually end up in permanent collections. My eyes were opened to a world of possibilities beyond anything I had ever known. Prior to this experience, I had never even so much as painted a simple landscape or sunset. I didn't know the difference between oils and acrylics or how to properly keep my brushes clean.
Why would such an established and successful artist take a chance on a naive, young artist-in-training trying to find her way? What I discovered in this experience is that growth and success happen when someone takes a chance to create an opportunity that will nurture and cultivate creativity and confidence within another.
Such extraordinary things happen daily in places like Baxter Community Center
and West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology
(WMCAT), where I've had the privilege to mentor and teach Grand Rapids Public Schools
(GRPS) students. Not only have I taught, but in return, I've learned and received inspiration from a host of junior high and high school students, an exchange worthy of navigating the bureaucracy of an ever-evolving public school system.
Walking through the glass doors, into the Gathering Space of WMCAT, where chatty and eager GRPS high school students convene before class, is like catching a glimpse of Alice's first view of Wonderland. Excitement bounces from the colorful walls and high ceilings, wonder and possibility exude from an exquisite space designed specifically for harvesting hope and illuminating the possibility of achievement beyond one's norm.
After a few moments of mingling among peers and updating instructors on the latest happenings, students break out to their respective classes which include Photography, Fiber Arts, Graphic Design, Painting and now, after much anticipation, 3-D and Video Game Art. As an instructor, my job is to teach skills and techniques that will help young minds explore a new terrain with the hope that I and my fellow instructors will spark the fire that helps students see far beyond their current circumstances to a brighter future. As an artist, I am a vessel of creativity with a charge to inspire, innovate, and act as a change agent in my community. However, the more I interact with students from various GRPS locations, the more I realize that it is not only the youth who are under my influence with an expectancy to learn, but I am also under theirs.
In my experience, a significant trait of our endeared GRPS students that blares like a trumpet in a marching band is this: resilience. At both Baxter and WMCAT, I have witnessed a plethora of difficulties in the lives of our young ones. Not only do they battle typical societal woes of teenage pregnancy, drugs, and alcohol, they are now faced with the role of being breadwinners, having their schools close, and raising younger siblings while parents work well into the night. In the midst of it all, whether dealing with a teenager at risk of not graduating or one who just needs to talk about growing pains, the students that grace the halls of our community schools are amazingly resilient.
Beacons of light, such as Baxter Community Centers' Mizizi Maji Mentoring Program and WMCAT, offer respites of individual mentoring, freedom of expression, and acceptance. As one who has been given the call to teach and inspire the following generation, I tend to not absorb negative conversation about the current state of our local educational system. Instead, I turn my attention to what matters most, the impressionable minds that are under my care for a couple of hours each day, becoming a part of the solution and not perpetuating the problems.
One afternoon, while painting in Paul's studio, he took a moment's pause, looked me square in my eyes, and said, “You're a good artist, but you think too small. Think bigger!” Indeed, I have taken that advice and applied it to my life consistently. From one artist to another, he changed my life by simply sharing his.
Our students -- my "kids" -- are brilliantly navigating their daily lives as best as they know how. As an artist and teacher, I hope to help by sharing my life and creating opportunities for them to learn and grow -- the same kind of opportunities that were extended to me.
It will take much resilience, but thanks to the creative young minds that enter my classroom, I've had many good teachers.
Photos courtesy of WMCAT.
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