Get to know Grace Washington: an artist, educator, and staff member with Arts Impact. She serves as Program Manager, overseeing Voices from the Field and Creative Impact, as well as starting a new pilot project for high school students in Tennessee.
What brought you to this role at Arts Impact?
I loved my career as an artist, I was successful but at a certain point, I needed a job with more stability and health benefits. I went back to school for a degree in child and family development. While attending college, I learned about the Teaching Artist Training Lab (TATLab). I applied, was accepted, and I loved it. I love the idea of coming at problems from different angles and using as many creative ideas as possible to solve them.
Through the TATLab I got an offer to apply for an “observership” with Arts Impact. That summer they were hosting one Academy in Tacoma and two in Seattle. After being accepted, I showed up at the Tacoma Art Museum, and I didn’t pay attention to the word “observership.” I couldn’t just sit and watch, and I really wanted to learn what they were teaching, so I basically turned it into an internship and worked as if I was a paid staff member. The next week I went to the Academy in Seattle, they were pleasantly surprised and happy to see me — I had assumed once I’d been accepted, I could go to all three. I felt an instant connection with the staff, the artist mentors and the whole program. I came back the following week for the third Academy, and Beverly (Executive Director) offered me a job as a Visual Artist Mentor.
I graduated in Child and Family Development with honors, and worked as an emergency substitute teacher for Tacoma Public Schools, while being a visual artist mentor for Arts Impact. I applied for a Masters program, but I needed health benefits. I was fortunate to find full time work as an Atlelierista (teaching studio artist) for a Reggio Emilia inspired preschool in Seattle, Our Beginning. I worked there for a few years, in different positions, including Interim School Co-Assistant Director and Interim School Director. I left the school to move to Georgia to be near my children, then the pandemic hit, and the world was openly upside down. My move fell through at the last minute, I cried for a week, picked myself up the following Monday and realized even though I was disappointed, I had good friends here and options. I prayed to see those options and within the hour Meg, (Arts Impact Executive Assistant/Program Manager) called about my mailing address for a retirement party for friend and visual artist mentor Meredith Essex. When she learned I was still in the area and not moving, she called Beverly and within two hours I was Arts Impact’s new Program Manager. I felt like I won the lottery; I still feel that way.
The thing about Arts Impact is, everyone I’ve met who is associated with Arts Impact, I adore and respect. I enjoy being in their presence. We’re doing something I completely believe in. I had a lot of great art opportunities as a child in Philadelphia and through many moves growing up. I think every child should have the opportunity to create art and experience a creative education.
Tell me about your work as an artist:
I don’t think there was ever a time in my life where I didn’t think creativity was just normal. It’s just how I saw the world. My mom, grandma, and aunt were all seamstresses—not professional but they could have been. One year they all made dresses the Supremes could have worn. They’d give us scraps from the material to use, they gardened, cooked… I saw art in everything. I could always look at a picture and draw what I saw—I didn’t have to think about it. My parents had five children, and four of us played instruments.
I had my first art show when I was in second grade. My family moved a lot—not military—just moving to better neighborhoods. We moved to CA when I was 12, and my mom wasn’t sure what opportunities would be available for me in the arts, so she found a teaching artist, Angie Whitson, to teach me. After the first class, Angie worked with me privately, she wanted me to be aware of what I did naturally. Angie taught me oil painting and sculpture. I studied with Angie until I went to high school, which had a great art department, but I learned the art teacher was not very accepting of the black students. I think every public high school art teacher dreams of having a gifted student, ironically his came in the package of a black teenager. By the time I got to high school, I had experienced and seen a lot of injustices, so my mindset was I was there to learn, and nothing was going to stop me from learning. To my surprise, he took my work and submitted it to Pasadena Art Center to get me into their program for teenagers. I’m grateful to to him for that, and for my mom, who drove me every week because I wasn’t old enough for a driver’s license.
I’m most proud of the opportunities my art has given me to positively affect other people. I taught at Cancer Lifeline in Seattle and I was humbled to work with people who were going through the hardest times in their lives. I was honored they shared their stories with me. I’ve worked with students referred to as “at risk.” I’d use art to build up their self-esteem and show them their value. I truly believe that the respect you show to someone else has to do with how you respect yourself.
What do you love about your job right now?
My job looks really different day to day, which I like. I get to meet and talk with other artists. I spend time scheduling for our programs and making sure everyone has what they need to be successful. I miss teaching, but I love that Arts Impact encourages artists to continue with their art. I feel like I’m making a difference for a whole group of students, artists, teachers, families and communities. I love and respect the people I work with. I also like that I can come at problems creatively and that everyone’s voice is heard and taken into consideration. I started this job during COVID, which has been especially challenging, so I figure once we get back into the classroom it will be a breeze!
What do you see for the future of Arts Impact and for your own work?
I’d like Arts Impact to be a model throughout the country, especially in areas that need it the most. I want to see Arts Impact in every Title 1 school and preschool. I’d like more people to recognize the significance and academic success of infusing the arts in the core curriculum. I’d like us to continue to develop our mentorship model, encouraging teachers who have participated to become mentors in their own schools and encourage the community to partner and invest in our schools. Technology, project-based learning and arts infusion should be in every school to promote critical and creative thinking skills – Arts Impact promotes and practices each of these. I want children of color and poverty to have the same opportunities as children of financial wealth.
For my own work, I’d also like to get back into my art studio—I’d love to do three or four significant art shows/year. Personally, I want to spend more time with my granddaughters, one is fifteen and one is nine, travel again and be in the presence of my friends and family.
Want more stories like this? Join our list for artistic inspiration, professional development opportunities, resources, and success stories of arts integrated teaching and learning—right in your inbox!