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Representation: Imagining the Possible

Updated: Feb 22

Did you know that only 9.8% of Art Teachers in the USA are BLACK?!?

This Black History Month (and every day of my career) I honor the Black Art Teachers that have taught me & inspired me to imagine:

  • Ms. Freeman - Watkins Elementary School

  • Ms. Joyce - Carver Ranches Boys & Girls Club

  • Mr. Joseph - Dillard Center for the Arts

I began creating at the age of 4, is what my mother tells me. She observed and paid close attention to how often I doodled, colored, and enjoyed creating. My mother’s attentiveness led her to recognize that I had a gift and love for art. As I got older, I began refining my artistic skills at Parkway Middle School of the Arts and Dillard Center for the Arts in Ft Lauderdale, FL.

Yet I still often wondered, could I ACTUALLY be a practicing artist? Was there a way to use my creativity to earn a living? If so, where would I even begin? Beyond my teachers, I didn’t personally know any artists, let alone any that looked like me.

“Studies show that when students see themselves, they are more likely to imagine themselves as belonging in the field.”

As a senior at Dillard Center for the Arts I was faced with deciding what was next for my life. My teachers Ms. Mazur (may she rest in peace) and Mr. Joseph (a Black man of Bahamian and Haitian descent just like me!) ensured that we had recruiters from some of the best art schools from across the country come visit our classroom. I still vividly remember the day Sabrina Nelson walked in from College for Creative Studies (CCS) in Detroit. She was a lovely Black woman, draped in gorgeous, colorful, and fun attire. At the time she had long honey brown locs, and a warm inviting smile. This was the first time I saw a Black female artist/ art educator who maintained an active art practice AND educated others at a higher ed institution. I was inspired by how she carried herself, how she spoke about art, and by the passion she had for pouring into the next generation.

I saw Sabrina Nelson again for the first time since high school, at the National Art Education Association Conference in March 2022. This was just days after officially going full time with Stapledon Arts. I teared up, as she remembered me by name. She was the representation I needed in high school, and little did she know, she was the representation I needed that very day.

*Charlecia Joy and Sabrina Nelson

“The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is-it’s to imagine what is possible.” ― bell hooks

Teaching To Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

Unfortunately, as someone who has navigated higher education, fine art spaces, teaching in the classroom, and now the world of manufacturing art supplies I see a lack of diversity especially as it pertains to Black Women. In response, no matter where I am along my journey, I will always be dedicated to using my capacity (time, energy, and/or resources) as a vehicle to provide representation in the arts.

*Charlecia Joy and current Stapledon Arts Intern.

[Thank you Children's Arts & Science Workshops, Inc for your partnership in providing high school students of color an opportunity to engage in career exploration and gain experience through interning with local businesses.]

The work we do at Stapledon Arts is intentionally grounded by our three pillars: Representation, Art Education, and Professional Development. Understanding the disproportion of diversity in the arts AND having the privilege of experiencing the impact of seeing Black Art Educators during my formative years is why Representation is our first priority. Championing representation guides the development of all of our inclusive art supply products.

After reflecting on the role representation has played in my life and the positive changes I have witnessed while teaching and mentoring the next generation I can confidently say the following:

  1. Black Art Teachers are few in numbers yet pack a POWERFUL impact

  2. Representation matters at EVERY AGE & STAGE

  3. Small encounters with people that look like you can leave a BIG impression

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