by Isabel Lamont
For multidisciplinary artist and program developer Stephanie Brown, creativity seems to have been ingrained in her DNA. She grew up a first-generation American in Delray Beach, Florida, as her parents are Jamaican immigrants, and is the youngest of five siblings. “I didn’t realize until my senior year in high school that I am surrounded by creative siblings and parents,” she tells Dr. Rhodes in our exclusive interview. Her oldest sister is an interior designer, one of her brothers is a media specialist, her other brother is a woodworker in Florida, while her other sister is a professional DJ in Tampa. But while all of her siblings ended up in creative fields, “it took them a long time to get there,” she reveals, “because they all went to school for something they didn’t necessarily love or want.”
This is what ultimately led Stephanie to applying to art school. Knowing that she wanted to train her eye, she landed at The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Georgia, where she earned a BFA in photography in 3 years– completing her degree an entire year earlier than her peers.
Stephanie also knew that she wanted to go to graduate school for art, but was receiving some pushback from her professors and faculty. However, it was the advice from her mentor at SCAD that made the most long-lasting impact: “go when you know what you want to say to the world as an artist.” Knowing what she wanted to do had not been an issue for Stephanie– it was her heart and her passion that brought her to art school. But knowing what she wanted her artistic message to be? “I couldn’t fully answer that question. So that’s why I decided I wouldn’t go straight to grad school.”
She took this time to travel and work, finishing her last two courses at SCAD at their campus in France, and then taking a job to work as a travel photographer for Norwegian Cruise lines, where she was able to build up her portfolio. “I then went back to Florida, where I stumbled my way into art education,” she recalls. Growing up in Delray Beach, Stephanie took advantage of the art courses offered by her community, and received numerous scholarships from them to take photography classes with a professional in their community center, and then drawing classes when she revealed she was applying to art school. Though teaching had never been something Stephanie set out to do, she knew that if she were to end up in education, it would be at a community center such as the one she grew up with.
And that’s exactly what she did– she went to central Florida, where she worked at the Discovery Center in Ocala, Florida. Though she was initially hired for their summer camp, her boss decided to keep her on as she recognized her strong potential to work in their preschool program. “I loved it. I love that age. They’re young enough where they’re not sassy,” Stephanie says, laughing. And Stephanie delivered above and beyond– she designed the lessons, and while the Discovery Center was typically science-oriented, she incorporated art into the lessons and redecorated the whole classroom and course design. After her first year, her preschool program gained so much popularity that a waitlist developed– the first one to ever exist. It was in this role where she discovered her passion and talent for program development.
Grad School and Current Projects
After travelling, working, and discovering more about herself through her program development, Stephanie attended grad school for two years at the University of Michigan, and just graduated this spring. Through her travels and experiences working, especially with younger children, Stephanie realized the message she wants to bring to the world as an artist.
“For the past two years, I have been working on colorism,” Stephanie tells Dr. Rhodes, “And a lot of the work I’ve made is situated around that and moving towards interactive and public art-making. I have been targeting more organic spaces, social justice environments that will really feed off of that. For me, there are a lot of things goings on in the world and in social media that ties into colorism– there’s a lot of waves I can ride with that.”
Recently, Stephanie exhibited her work at the College Arts Association annual conference. There, she exhibited three of her works: one of which being one of her topsy turvy dolls, titled Revolution. Another work she showed was her “Do Not Bleach” shirts, which is a public art campaign that allows people to advocate for their melanin. “[This campaign] allows people to represent their melanin by literally wearing a shirt that has been actually bleached in the screen printing process,” she explains. The third piece she exhibited was a satire piece titled “Mulatto.” “This piece is a fast-tanning product that I created that is meant to mimic the language of sunless tanning products out there on the market, but then with a closer read of the ingredients, the company branding– all of those little details on the back,” she reveals, “I’m shaming those products as a contemporary form of blackface.”
At the conference, her work was placed in the middle of the busiest concourse, with a large number of people fluidly moving through her exhibit and viewing her work. The reception of her work was positive– people responding about how timely and important her work is. “And that’s great feedback to hear,” she explains, “but what can be frustrating is that, especially when you’re about to graduate or be done with school, is that’s the most common thing people can say about your work. ‘This is so great.’ ‘I’m so excited about this.’ ‘We need this.’ But that’s it. So, if you need this, and if you feel like this is so timely, what’s next?” And this brings up the issue that art consumption does not equate to concrete support. Especially with art activism, consuming the artwork is not a form of action– instead, connecting the artist with your network, purchasing their work, or furthering their career in some tangible way will better illustrate your support.
As far as the message she wants people to gather from her work, Stephanie explains that “my attention is always on people of color– my bottom line interest is to raise self-esteem and provide people experiential opportunities to not only educate them but to advocate for themselves.” She further gravitated towards interactive art as her medium because she believes that “if I can provide an experience for you, and relate to you by way of my own story, then that’s another window for someone to consider what’s being put in front of them.”
Stephanie is currently coming off of a two-year art making period, and is spending her time marketing her work and looking for full time work to support her art-making. Since she discovered her love for programming, she is looking for something that will incorporate both art and program development. “I am someone who will commit 110% to whatever it is I do,” she tells Dr. Rhodes, “so I am very picky about what it is I choose to work on.”
Her advice for aspiring artists? “If you’re serious act like you’re serious. So many people have talent, but not enough of them are willing to put themselves out there. When you show that you mean business, and that this is not just a hobby for you, this is not just for fun– people will realize that.”
We can learn a lot from Stephanie’s own artistic journey– she knew herself and what she wanted from an early age, and courageously took every step to get her to where she is. But she also kept a part of herself open to new experiences, where she was able to discover her talents and interests in program development. Between working for a cruise line and travelling the world to enrolling in local community art classes to hone her art skills, Stephanie has made the most of every opportunity she sought out. She remains confident in her ability, and rightfully so– she knows that the world needs to hear what she has to say and that her work deserves to be seen. But all the while she balances achieving her creative dreams with being smart about the business side of her talents, making sure to spend time and energy on marketing and looking for full-time work to support her artistic career. Knowing her strengths and abilities and where she wants to end up has gotten Stephanie so far already, and will only take her further. And we are so excited for the great things this amazing person and artist will do.