Uji Venkat reflects on her experience as an intern at Southern Exposure during the weeks she spent working with ‘Mission Voices Summer 2015'.
I would call Southern Exposure a non-profit, frequently educationally motivated, community of artists. However, this doesn't even come close to conveying the impact that the Mission Voices Summer program has on participating artists, students, staff, and interns, such as myself. The teaching artists and staff met for weeks prior to the students’ arrival, deciding themes and sub-projects. When they settled on (T)HERE, I was perplexed, to be honest. I began talking to the artists about the sub-projects they planned for their students. Slowly, I started to see the pieces come together. Think about how many times a day you use the word there and here. You will become increasingly conscious of the use of this word throughout your day; I did. Something so seemingly insignificant has an incredible impact on our day to day. Imagine if those two words did not exist. Try replacing them at every occurrence in your conversations. While their absence would be a huge impediment to language, here and there also describe the passage of time, distance, and space. Artists and students at ‘Mission Voices Summer' program explored together their meanings, from the most literal to their broad connotations. Starting on day one, with a physical line getting from point A, here, to point B, there, the young artists were inspired to create. The final exhibition showcases films recounting time and motion, directing plaster hands and fingers, zines (collaboratively constructed over the duration of the program), and much more. I was delighted to find out that being an intern in the art world means much more than administrative duties. I was often out with the students and the teachers. I participated in bringing the vision of (T)HERE to life on a daily basis. This was as simple as partaking in the ice breaker or making a piece of the here to there segment, but all the time I felt like being part of much larger idea. Even promotional social media posts enlisted creative initiative. The most invaluable experience I had was the interaction with each gifted mind. Whether they were staff, professional, or aspiring artist, they were all truly artists. A simple conversation, however unrelated to the current project, always struck creativity and provoked thought. The six teaching artists were navigational wizards throughout the project. They prompted and probed but never told. Workshops, activities, and even technical instruction were all centered around opening more doors as opposed to answering questions to close them. A socially and personally relevant project was formed from a compilation of the youth voices, its originality unobstructed and limitless. As opposed to daunting and overwhelming, the young artists approached the project as magnificent and challenging unchartered territory. On the outside they are kids, some only a few years younger than myself, but their minds are so unafraid and inventive. Their passion inspired me more than I can put into words. The mark of any active participant is that they come away from an experience with new knowledge, but my entire approach to art and creative thinking has been altered. To fully understand my awe at the art world one would have to know my academic past. Not only was I a biology major, but I am going into my second year of teaching middle and high school math. While I do still love these fields, my creative mind is often neglected. Entering this entirely new world this Summer revealed possibilities and passion within me. I went from skeptical to inspired in a matter of months, and I am only starting to uncover the mystery of how I got from there to here.
Uji Venkat is a young artist who graduated in Biology from Reed College, Portland in 2014. She is now teaching Math in middle and high school in Dumas, Arkansas in the' Teach for America' program. She worked as an intern at Southern Exposure, San Francisco in Summer 2015.
See Uji's profile here.