With not much of a specific future plan but a renewed motivation to create, I was rounding the corner towards the end of my junior year at Eureka High when my instructor, Theresa Long, approached me. She gave me an application for a class held at the Contemporary Art Museum known as "New Art in the Neighborhood." I didn't know much about either, but the title of the program was perfect and I decided to apply.
Being a strong believer in breaking the traditional, and since I recently moved back into my native Tower Grove East neighborhood after a year without a home, applying seemed like the best way to get back into the swing of things. I was thrilled when I found out I was accepted into the program and was eager to get to work and to meet other young artists like me.
When class kicked off, all of the students shared their artistic styles and then the friendly but busy atmosphere began to build. Every Saturday last year, I made the journey down to the Contemporary for New Art in the Neighborhood. It was the best experience of my life. The art training gave me the chance to really build my technical skills. We were given fairly familiar projects with a twist of some sort that would take us outside of our artistic comfort zone to expand our way of thinking about art. When else would I have had the chance to create video art? Having a specific allotted time to work on my art was a relief, because at times that's what was needed to spark the next great idea. Having guidance outside of the normal school setting also made a big difference.
But the most amazing part of the program was working directly with artists who were exhibiting at the Contemporary. That helped to break my naive and nervous stance on the whole art thing. Sure, I knew how to draw, but learning the steps to becoming a known professional or exhibited artist is what I lacked. How to grow as an artist isn't always taught. Simply being exposed to the scene can be what pushes you to the next level. The Contemporary must have been aware of that when they designed the program. Students were encouraged to attend special events at the museum outside of the regular Saturday afternoon time slot.
That extra motivation I got from the Contemporary is what drove me to go to National Portfolio Day and present the work that got me accepted to The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I'm eagerly looking forward to starting there this fall. I'm a little worried about finding a place to live in Chicago and finding a job to help me pay rent plus all my bills. But I've come this far; I'm ready to do what it takes to succeed.
Now a year after I started in the New Art program, the Contemporary is like a second home to me. Because of this experience, I'm making significant progress towards a career in art along with several side opportunities that arose from the midst of the program. Not that I ever doubted the program for a second, but I never expected to achieve as much as I did through the support of the Contemporary.
Stanford Chisholm is, in fact, in his first semester at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where we interrupted his studio time for a moment to ask his permission to reprint this essay from "Mesh," the magazine of CAMSTL, where it first appeared in September.