Friday, April 16, 2010

From the Perspective of an Artist Mentor

Hi, I’m Sarah Greenfield. I’m a new mentor this year for sculpture, though anybody who’s worked with me can tell you that pretty much anything goes at my table. Over the past year my students and I have sewn stuffed animals, experimented with paper mache and clay, drawn, painted and even organized a giant collaborative ocean installation in the front window. The only time I really feel like the “sculpture” mentor is when somebody comes to me with questions or looking for advice on working in 3D, and even then, it’s likely I’ll have no clue either and we’ll end up learning together---that’s my favorite.

I’m going to do my best to tell you how much this place means to me, personally, what it’s changed for me. To use this year’s own particularly meaningful language, I’m going to try to tell you how I’m taller, and why.

When I applied to be a mentor last summer, after a lot of gentle but firm encouragement from my best friend, former mentor Lane Taplin, it was partly because I knew I needed some help. That may sound strange or seem like it goes against the idea of a mentor as someone who is a primarily a giver rather than a receiver of support, but it’s something I’m actually proud that I recognized back then---I think because I’d seen firsthand the incredibly positive effects this studio had on Lane.

Last summer, I was in the middle of an intense burn out---I had just graduated from RISD with no job, no plans, no idea where I wanted to go or how on earth I was going to get there. I was terrified, confused and angry that even though art school had taught me more than I ever thought possible, it had also made me realize that a career in commercial art was the last thing I wanted. When I walked into New Urban Arts for the first time, I hadn’t made art in months.

I had heard that this was a place where art was self-driven, expressive, community-based and most importantly, fun. I needed to see that, to be a part of that, to remind myself why I chose to create in the first place. I needed to be with people for whom art was essential, playful, a way to transcend and transform.

I remembered what art had been to me when I was in high school. I wanted to share the knowledge and skills I’d learned, all the enthusiasm and support I could give, in exchange for just being able to see that passion and drive that I was lacking, to be in the same room as someone who couldn’t stop making art, and not because there was a deadline looming.

So okay, I knew (or at least had a really strong feeling) that being a mentor at New Urban Arts was going to help me heal my art block. I had no idea it would change everything else. I didn’t know how much I’d fall in love with the students here, how much they would impress me with their compassion, their talent, their commitment, how much it would mean to me to be invited into such an important part of their lives.

I didn’t know that the other mentors, the staff and the fellows would be so supportive of me, so willing to lend a hand or an ear or a shoulder whenever I needed it---which was kind of a lot, especially in the beginning when we all barely knew each other and I couldn’t stop worrying about whether or not I was doing this “right.” I didn’t know that at some point during this year I would really stop worrying, that my students would become my friends and this studio would start feeling like home to me, like family.

I didn’t know I’d discover that nothing makes me happier than seeing the excitement and pride on the face of a student who’s showing me something she made herself, something she learned with my help or encouragement, hearing her say “I can do this.” I think that’s been inside me my whole life, that joy that comes from teaching, from sharing---I could always see it in my mother and my grandmother, both lifelong teachers, but now I can see it in myself too and I owe that to this studio.

New Urban Arts has given me both the experience I needed to realize that I want to teach art, and the support and resources I now need to pursue that goal. I want to say thank you by continuing what was started here, by carrying this experience with me and trying my hardest to give it to others.

And oh, by the way, I’m making art again. And I love it. Most of all I love making it here, with my students, my friends.

So what is New Urban Arts to me?

It’s a small table covered in paper, scattered with markers, surrounded by laughter, where we learn during a giant game of drawing war that hot sauce defeats a kraken.

It’s an expedition to the darkest recesses of the basement---never finding exactly what we’re looking for but always returning with something else, a new idea, and the seeds of new friendships born out of a shared adventure.

It’s an ocean overflowing the front window with spontaneous mixed-media collaborations, proudly displaying our diversity, our talent, our ridiculous sense of humor.

It’s knowing that every time I walk in the door, I will be smiled at, I will be hugged, someone will want to sit down and talk to me, someone will want to show me something they made, and someone will want to make something---with me.

It’s that excitement, that trust, that sharing of what’s most important in our lives---our art, ourselves---that defines this studio for me, that’s made me so much taller this year, tall enough to see over the top of my fears and my doubts to what’s right there in front of me. My future.


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