Guest Post: How a 4Culture Grant Turned Me into a Teacher

Josh Tuininga is an author, artist, and designer based in North Bend, Washington and is a recipient of our 2020 Heritage Grant and Art Projects grants. His latest project is a historical graphic novel set in the multicultural Seattle Central District of the 1940s which explores the unique situation of Japanese and Jewish Americans living side by side during World War II. The project has been picked up by Abrams Comic Arts and will be released in Spring of 2023.

As a visual artist who works from a secluded converted school bus in the woods, teaching art in the community was the last place I thought I would end up this year. But everything changed when I was awarded a 4Culture grant.

I received my first 4Culture grant in 2020 which was extremely exciting for the project I was working on (a historical fiction graphic novel). From that point on, there was no doubt in my mind that I would complete my research and finish the work I had set out to do. The only part of the grant that I was apprehensive about was fulfilling my ‘Public Benefit’. One of the main requirements for a 4Culture grant is to provide the citizens of my community with some sort of cultural service. This was going to be a stretch for me, an artist who is much more comfortable heads down in my work rather than facing a public audience. But I was determined to meet the requirements, so I jumped in.

My plan was to present my research and the project to my community at a single small event. Since my focus is on sequential art and comics, I thought it made sense to share my work with an audience who might get the most out of it. I wanted to reach out to kids who had their own stories to tell.

I started by contacting Echo Glen Children’s Center. A maximum security facility for both male and female juvenile offenders in Snoqualmie, WA. I started with a very short volunteer session in one of the resident cottages on campus. Soon I found a few kids that already had sketchbooks of their own and who expressed interest in an art class. The Activities Coordinator and I organized an ‘art club’ and it slowly grew from there. Today, what started as a small public benefit event has grown into an ongoing weekly art class. I work with students to develop basic drawing skills like perspective and figure drawing, and we’ve moved on to other activities including animated flip books and character design. Eventually my work at Echo Glen expanded to the Two Rivers school in Snoqualmie, WA, an alternative ‘Big Picture’ school. I presented my graphic novel, led a drawing workshop and discussed how artists tell their stories using the sequential art form of comics.

After teaching and interviewing people while researching my graphic novel project, one thing I’ve learned is that there isn’t anyone I’ve met that doesn’t have a story to tell. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to encourage and enable young artists to tell their own stories through art.

Over the course of the last year, the grant requirement I was most concerned about has evolved into something that I plan on continuing and growing as a curriculum. As much as I love to hunker down in my bus and work on my own, fulfilling my grant has been a great reminder of the benefits of bringing art into the community and I have 4Culture to thank for that.

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