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Artist Residencies Plant Seeds for the Future in Indiana

by Mandy Shunnarah

A group of young students hold lanterns up towards the ceiling.
Photo Credit: Daveed Holmes
A photo by For the Love of the Arts teaching artist Daveed Holmes of a youth instructor teaching younger students during summer camp at Anthem Church in Hammond, Indiana.

Painter Yemina Concepcion and photographer Daveed Holmes have been hard at work this last year at For the Love of the Arts, building positivity for young people by encouraging their creativity.

There’s nothing quite like witnessing someone’s world open up through creativity and the arts, especially when that person is a child. 

For painter Yemina Concepcion and photographer Daveed Holmes, that’s one of the most rewarding parts of their artist residencies at Northwest Indiana-based nonprofit For the Love of the Arts.

Leading artist residencies funded by a We the Many grant from Arts Midwest, the pair spent a year teaching classes in their chosen mediums, often working with children with special needs. 

A man with medium light skin holds up his hands around a young person with Downs Syndrome.
Photo Credit: Sade Carrasquillo
For the Love of the Arts teaching artist Daveed Holmes puts the highlight on one of his students.

“I love working with kids with autism and Down Syndrome and showing them that they can do so much. They get to be creative and really come out of the box,” Concepcion says. “This last class, I had a nonverbal girl with Down Syndrome. She would do signs and only say yes or no. On the last day, I was teaching her a technique for how to do a flower and she grabbed my hand, gave me a kiss, and tried to say ‘I love you.’ I was crying! Even the lady who takes care of her couldn’t believe it.”

Just as Concepcion has seen her students connecting through color on canvas, Holmes has seen his students come out of their shells and express themselves through the camera.

“I had a nonverbal young lady who loved photography. The beautiful thing about art is you can express what you’re trying to do and communicate your intentions and goals without speaking,” Holmes says.

For both artists, getting residencies at For the Love of the Arts was a full-circle moment. Like many of their students, they themselves were kids who drew during classes at school and had a drive to create from a young age. Through various opportunities, their creativity was fostered and encouraged. Concepcion was inspired by visiting her mother in New York City who took art classes and spending years working at a salon where she learned to blend colors to dye hair, its own kind of canvas.

Holmes was inspired by an older cousin who cheered him on as he cultivated his drawing and illustration skills, then later spent years working as a fitness trainer and massage therapist. The varied aspects of Holmes’ journey may not seem related on the surface, once he took a photography class in college he saw how both informed his love of his new medium.

“Photography literally means you’re drawing with light. If you look up the definition, photo means light and graph means to draw or to write, so it’s drawing just with a different medium,” Holmes says. “I’ve always seen the body in motion from an artist perspective and the beautiful thing about photography is you get to take a portion of time from that and preserve it.”

While their creativity was encouraged, not every child has someone to be that presence in their lives. That’s why being that person in their students’ lives is so meaningful to them. Both Concepcion and Holmes have been teaching for years—in elementary schools, in juvenile justice centers, in community workshops, and more—so being able to use their skills to support For the Love of the Arts, where art is vital to the wellbeing of everyone who comes through the door, has been rewarding. 

“I’ve worked with people in the prison population, people who are in a halfway house, people who are going through addiction… It’s an opportunity to see people differently. These are the people society tends to look over, but they’re just like us,” Holmes says. “They want to learn and create but because of their differences and disabilities society at large tends to overlook them.”

A woman with light skin shows how to paint a landscape.
Photo Credit: Sade Carrasquillo
Teaching artist Yemina Concepcion showcases acrylic painting techniques at For the Love of the Arts.

It’s these students, many of whom may have fallen through the cracks in traditional school settings, that For the Love of the Arts Founder Sadé Carrasquillo has a passion for. Carrasquillo wanted to address the challenges local youth are facing in the Chicagoland area. From improving mental health and wellness to reducing crime and violence, Carrasquillo saw that kids’ lives could be remarkably improved through arts mentorship and having a safe space to express themselves. 

True to its name, love runs through everything For the Love of the Arts does. Holmes and Concepcion embody that in their interactions with their students—being mindful of their needs and meeting them where they’re at. 

“This residency taught me that it’s less about what you’re trying to teach and more about who you’re trying to relate to. Ultimately, teaching is relating,” said Holmes.

“It’s not just about creating art, it’s about creating relationships.”

A women with light skin and glasses poses in front of a wall of colorful acrylic paintings.
Photo Credit: Daveed Holmes
Teaching artist Yemina Concepcion poses with a display of her work hung on the walls at For the Love of the Arts.

Both artists recently completed their residencies after a year, but their work with For the Love of the Arts goes on. Concepcion will continue to run art therapy sessions with Carrasquillo at the Lake County Juvenile Justice facility. Holmes will continue to work with adults in recovery, connecting them to art therapy and a free meal. The growth they’ve helped foster for the kids, for the organization, and in themselves has planted seeds that will continue growing far into the future. 

“Every time I finish my class I give the kids a kit with paint, canvases, palettes, brushes; everything they need to continue painting at home,” Concepcion says. “One of the fathers told me, ‘My son took classes before but he couldn’t really paint. But he is painting now like he’s never painted before.” 

“We’re planting seeds,” Holmes adds. “We don’t know how those seeds are going to turn out. You don’t know what kind of tree or what kind of fruit you’ll get, but you know it’ll grow.”

A man with dark skin stands in front of a podium with his hand on his heart. A poster in the background reads Be and Bring the Good News.
Photo Credit: Daveed Holmes
A photo from teaching artist Daveed Holmes of Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson speaking at St Philip Meri on the South Side.

For the Love the the Arts is part of We the Many, a program that supports communities in the creation of their own unique artist residency experiences, encouraging the exchange of voices, cultures, and ideas relevant to each community context. We the Many is a project of Arts Midwest with generous support from the Mellon Foundation and in partnership with the Indiana Arts Commission.