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Staff Spotlight: Charlena Wynn, Associate Director of Education

BAYCAT’s Staff Spotlight series shines a light on the incredible individuals who help make our work happen. Join us as we delve into the unique stories, passions, and journeys of our talented team members!

Meet Charlena Wynn (they/them), BAYCAT’s Associate Director of Education! Charlena brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to their role, with a diverse skill set in visual arts and over a decade of arts education experience that goes beyond the confines of a classroom, extending to museums and nonprofit spaces. Born and raised in North Carolina, they are deeply connected to their southern identity as a Black queer artist and use these experiences in their artwork. Their work is informed by Afrofuturist philosophy and how it can be used to dismantle white supremacy and envision futures for all bodies.

How did you get into art?

Art was something that was always around me as a child. When I was young my grandma would buy me watercolor paints, I’d always take art classes in school, and it was something I excelled in. Art just kind of became a natural thing for me to gravitate toward. I became more serious about it in high school, and that continued through college. It has always been my happy place.

What’s your favorite medium to work with, and what type of work do you like to create?

I am a painter who mostly works with acrylic paint, but I really enjoy collaging as well. Lately I've been doing some monoprinting and using a lot of found objects. I have also done some performance art, particularly looking at themes of grief and memory, using my body as a medium to convey my message to audiences.

My most recent performance was a few years ago, when my father passed away. It was a piece that was both a remembrance of him and also the people who were laid in an African burial ground under the Gibney Performing Arts Center, where I had been doing an artist residency in New York City. Gibney is one of many spaces that have been built over African burial grounds, and I wanted to call attention to that. In western culture, death is a very taboo thing, and I wanted to create a space that allowed people to address that, and to remember and grieve. I believe that death is not the end, but it can be the beginning–especially for oppressed people. It’s just another plane we can exist on. That performance was an offering of sorts, and everyone was able to leave something in the space that they wanted to say to people who had passed on.

What inspires you as an artist?

People inspire me–from my family and friends, to everything that is happening in the world. I definitely believe art is political. We're all connected to it. Children also inspire me! I love seeing what young people can do, especially the little ones with their imaginations and how they view the world. They inspire me to reimagine what the world could be, and that inspiration has selfishly led me to stay in arts education.

What’s an artistic or educational success that you’re proud of?

Becoming BAYCAT’s Associate Director of Education is something that I don’t take lightly. I have spent most of my career thinking about how we can make arts education more accessible and equitable for all people, and I’m really proud to be in a position where I can help direct that action and make it happen. I’m also proud of having worked in a lot of different spaces in arts education. I’ve worked as a teacher, and I’ve worked in museums and nonprofits. I’m proud of those different experiences, because they have helped me think deeply about how different people have access to art and who decides who has a right to art.

Charlena working with introductory film students on post-production for a film project

What inspired you to join BAYCAT?

BAYCAT’s commitment to addressing inequities in media and empowering youth as storytellers called to me because I think that we as a society do not value children and their voices as we should, and our work in ensuring that our young people have a platform is critical. It’s important to hold a safe space for young people to cultivate their artistic practice with mentors who encourage them, because not every child has that at home. I’m especially glad to be building that community for them with emerging teaching artists. I hold a sincere space in my heart for teaching artists because they’re very different from art teachers and can share more from their lived experiences.

What has been a highlight of working at BAYCAT so far?

I really enjoyed the youth showcase, and what was more of a highlight was everyone’s faces when they saw the students’ films. Even though I wasn't an instructor I was proud of our young people and the work that they did because it was so good. I’ve shared their films with friends and family, and they ask, “Are you sure the kids created this work?” And so that's been really selfishly gratifying.

Birds by the Bay, a short documentary created by our Fall 2023 advanced youth filmmakers with support from Charlena

Are you working on any personal passion projects?

I've been doing some monoprinting that explores the land we live on and its native species. Northern California is my new adoptive home, so I’ve been comparing vegetation here to that of North Carolina, where I’m from, and linking that to my family. I’ve been documenting the native plants that existed but are no longer in California and North Carolina, and it’s been like medicine to collage them together.

Do you have any tips for fellow aspiring artists?

Try everything. Try everything at least once–even if it's not your medium. I went to school for studio art and I'm so glad I did that instead of specializing solely in ceramics or sculpture because I got to try so many different things. Even if you’re not in school, use materials that are readily available to you. That can be as simple as using trash or recyclables to create non-traditional forms of art. You can also take bits and pieces of things you find. Use what is around you and be inspired by that. Also, reach out to your community. You'd be surprised what you can borrow from the library! Finally, work at your craft. There is no such thing as a person who is innately artistic. Just like athletes who have to practice, practice, and practice, you have to work at it as an artist.

Full Descriptions of Charlena's work (pictured in gallery above):

[1] “Untitled (Saturn Return)” 9 x 6” ea., acrylic paint and gold leaf, 2019. Four 9 x 6 paintings of a yellow figure.

[2] "All in due time..." 9 x 6" ea., mixed media on paper, 2019. Three 9 x 6 mixed media paintings of a yellow figure.

[3] Five images of colorful continuous line drawings from “The Liminal Space: Influx Bodies” zines (2020). The first image appeared on the cover of  “A Journey Through The Liminal Space: Aro, Agender, and Ace”, The 2020 AAA Literary Journal and the other four throughout the electronic journal. Link to journal.

[4] Two images of Charlena’s sketchbook notes of “Altar’d” (2018 -) performance complete with sketches and handwritten notes. Video of performance.

[5] “Untitled (Call Me Home)”, fabric, salt, candle, and railroad spikes, 2019. Photography of the Installation of “Untitled (Call Me Home)” at “See(d) the Future" held at  VAE Raleigh (2019) against a black wall and brown floor.

[6] “Untitled (blackxgold), acrylic paint and gold leaf on raw canvas, 62 x 72”, 2018. Installation of “Untitled (blackxgold)” hand painted textiles behind a glass at “Exploring Justice Through Beauty: Afrofuturism” show held at Green Acre Baha’i School (Feb. 2019)

[7]  “Too Heavy A Yo(l)ke: Self Portrait” 19 x 24”, acrylic paint, glue, egg and ink on wood, 2015. Three pieces of wood, stacked vertically, painted with acrylic paint, glue, egg, and ink.

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