Art as Influence: Affiliate Artists Marcus Kiser + Jason Woodberry

By Kia O. Moore

Most artists in residence at McColl Center for Art + Innovation combine their artistic practice with an act of service in our community. For 2016-2017 Affiliate Artists Marcus Kiser and Jason Woodberry, their practice and service exposed high school students to the valuable gift of artistic focus and creative power.

Kiser and Woodberry have worked with Charlotte-area youth in the past, most notably with Mecklenburg County’s Gang Alternative Principles (GAP) Program. During their residency, McColl Center connected the duo to FOCUS Garinger, a non-traditional expeditionary learning program through Garinger High School, and led a career development workshop for the students.

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“The concept explores whether sticking to the traditional six hours in class, sitting at a desk with a book, actually works,” explains Woodberry. “They take a portion out of the week to go on field trips and meet different professionals. It introduces students to new things and different experiences they might not necessarily be exposed to.”

Woodberry goes into detail about the work he and Kiser did with the students of FOCUS Garinger: “The program is the pilot version of this experiential teaching style Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is exploring. FOCUS Garinger brought us in as mentor teachers. We served as professionals in the art and design industry and taught students insights about how to create a brand and use Photoshop shortcuts, all while sharing first-hand accounts of what the business of graphic design and web development is like day-to-day.”

As a graphic designer by trade, Kiser handled the design portion of the workshop at FOCUS Garinger’s Photoshop work-stations room, while Woodberry, who works as a web developer, taught students about branding and logo creation, and shared business start-up insights. “What we aimed to do was teach them something tangible in the creative field outside of traditional visual art,” explains Kiser. 

“When it came to the logo, I went through the basics of drawing one out,” adds Woodberry. “We tried to challenge them to come up with a concept or idea and create it in the most simple way possible. Encouraging them to only draw what was necessary to portray the image.” 

Jason Woodberry works with FOCUS Garinger students (Courtesy of Jason Woodberry)

Kiser and Woodberry saw the workshop as a way to push and motivate the kids to apply their craft and “practice it religiously” if they really wanted to master it. “What we were telling them was that you are not going to leave here being able to just go and create anything, but the idea is to see if it sparks their interest,” says Woodberry. “If it does, it is really on you to take that initiative to take your craft and practice it, if you want to become elite at it.”

Kiser and Woodberry have seen this art career exposure method work with teenagers before. Kiser recounts his experience with GAP last fall, during the first half of the artists’ nine-month residency here at McColl Center: “A bunch of those GAP kids came to our McColl Center studio a few months after we worked with them, and about a week before we started working with FOCUS Garinger.” He continued with pride in his voice: “A bunch of those kids had turned their lives around. A bunch of them are into graphics and art now.” 

The GAP kids Kiser speaks of come from at-risk backgrounds. “They were pretty much a step away from prison,” says Kiser. “They had prior police records. Many of them were just trying to find themselves and try to stay out of the streets and not be in trouble.” 

Kiser and Woodberry helped those kids stay out of trouble by teaching them how to create comic book art. The two taught the craft of comic book and sequential art as a way to help the GAP students find creative and positive ways to express themselves and steer clear from doing negative things. 

Woodberry has found that many of the GAP kids are still putting their ideas to the page, maybe not in comic book style, but through song lyrics and on canvas. “Although they may not be into comic books, the main thing was to take their ideas, or whatever it is that was in their head, and put it on paper, instead of in a manner that would get them in trouble,” says Woodberry. 

For the FOCUS students, Kiser and Woodberry also pushed the concept that their ideas matter. “We were trying to make them aware of their influence,” says Woodberry. “Working in marketing agencies, we see how they look at what kids are doing culturally, especially Black kids.” 

Woodberry emphasizes that their goal was to make sure the kids understand that they have a lot more power and influence than they are led to believe. And most important, they can use that creative power to bring out the best in themselves and the community.