Family is everything
My story begins with encouraging and creative parents. As the fifth child of a family of eight, our home was full of activity; sibling disputes, family events, trips, and passion to learn. I grew up in Northern Indiana, surrounded by Lake Michigan, Chicago museums, parks, and a large active family. Each of us was encouraged to be an individual and we followed our passion. Mine was easy as I was inspired by both of my parents. My mother was not formally trained in Art. She filled our home with murals, paintings, and repurposed furniture. We were one of the only families in our neighborhood to have flocked wallpaper or unique furniture and decorated rooms. We were not wealthy but comfortable with a loving home, well-fed, and encouraged to perform to the best of our ability in school. My father hoped to become an architect, he attended some higher education classes but due to cost and family obligations had to drop out of classes. This did not deter him from building additions to our home, adding custom masonry, and a speaker system for our family room. I found out in the last few years that he was sent to a school for Colored boys, four hours from his home and family. This was at a time that schools were not allowed to educate Negro boys after elementary school. He graduated as the Valedictorian at age 16. He never spoke about this experience.
My role models
I considered myself an artist when I selected groceries to paint on the living room wall at the age of 5 or 6. My parents were not pleased, that's a story for another day. My first happy memories of creating art of helping my mother, and to create decorations for church events, school craft projects, painting walls (with real paint) in our home, and going on trips to find wallpaper and furniture to refinish. I also helped my father with preparing cement for bricks and I even sat on rooftops as he "installed television antennas" (google if needed) as an entrepreneur along with his fulltime job. He was a true Renaissance man that in my eyes could do anything. Providing for a family of eight required true creative thinking, we had all the important things that matter; love, comfort, support, sustenance, and emotional support
Needless to say, I was Born to Design, with such creative parents. As I think back, they were preparing me for the future. To be able to self-sufficient and always challenging me to learn and do more. Design is challenging in many ways. It was not until I entered college that I truly related to the term minority. I was one of two Black students in my Freshman Art classes at Indiana University. It did not change much in my four years. It has not changed much since those many years ago. The current percentage of POC in the Arts is 2-3 percent. I was even told by my college advisor that my chances of succeeding in the Art world were minimal. I never went back to his office. This motivated me to go to classes, do the work, and keep moving forward. I graduated determined to make my way as necessary.
The early years
My early career after graduation with a B.A Fine Arts from Indiana University, was in a small Midwest Indiana town, limited jobs were available. So, I created my own. I used my skills learned for design and screen printing to start a business to solve a problem creating custom heat transfers for t-shirts. This led me to want more as a married mother of two young daughters. We relocated to a larger city, Indianapolis, IN designing graphics for a licensed apparel company, and managing 12 other artists. I created a design production system to ensure quality, efficiencies, and reduce costly mistakes. This became my focus on future positions in my career. It might explain why I would always start as a Designer and was moved into management, the kiss of death to a true artist. We like to create art, design, and take pride in our hands-on work. Spreadsheets are great but not something we want to do. The need to always keep my hands in design was satisfied by maintaining a freelance business along with my full-time job throughout my career. During this time, I was awarded the contract to create the initial t-shirts and caps for the new 60,000 seat Hoosier Dome in downtown Indianapolis as well as other major events and business organizations. I was recruited by Sara Lee, we relocated once again, to Winston-Salem, NC. I later decided I needed to learn more about other design principles and graduated B.S. Interior Architecture, magna cum laude University of North Carolina Greensboro, 5 year course in 3.5 years. Challenging and rewarding simultaneously.
In my career, I have developed design processes for screen printing, hired multiple freelance artists, designers, architects, construction and building maintenance companies as well as design for residential, commercial, and a Fortune 50 manufacturing company. Learning the business of design enabled me to manage multi-million dollar project budgets, complete assigned projects on time, and within budget parameters.
That brings us to 4 years ago. Working for others had long lost its appeal. My time spent in Corporate taught me lessons of learning business skills, fiscal responsibility, project management, and accepting challenges while multitasking. Mona + Associates Design, LLC was created to encompass the skills learned while working for others and the skills required from being an entrepreneur. Today it is referred to as Virtual design using the Lean Business model. Due to the pandemic, it is now a standard business practice.
My multidisciplinary Interior Architecture/Design and creative consulting practice includes virtual designers and other professionals as needed. The scope of work is assigned to key business providers to meet the project requirements. It also provides the flexibility and low overhead required for a small business. We focus on using computer-aided design, technology, shared cloud workspace, and critical communication. One of my pet peeves while working in Corporate environments was the constant over the shoulder micro-management practices. Other irritants, environments that were not inspiring. I have worked in windowless basements, areas with wastewater below my feet, dirty, boring walls, hot or cold workspaces, etc. with the expectation to be creative.
While the pandemic has certainly been challenging for businesses of all types, it is most challenging for the Arts. We are considered by some as a non-essential business. Recent events combined with unemployment, Anti-racism protests, and other world events have proven the value of art through messaging, murals, entertainment online, and creative thinking. I have used the time to rethink how to bring value to the world, how to provide services that address the human situation, and help us to live our best life. Art and design can solve problems, look at how grassroots groups solved face masks and Personal Protection Equipment access problems. We as creatives are able, willing, and ready to work with others if provided the opportunity. If not create your own.
The problems of minority representation in the Arts still exist. My role as an Arts advocate is to work with others to bring the Arts to under served communities, minorities, economically challenged, and simply unaware of the opportunities. Keep an eye out for Inspired by Nature: Community Public Art. Through the Kenan Institute’s Creative Catalyst Certification program, I am developing a project to provide awareness, employment, and collaboration within our community