Benares Angeley M’21 will be inspiring children and adults alike, for generations to come. Benares earned her master’s in fiber arts in 2005 at UMass Dartmouth, before founding an educational artspace known as the Children’s Art Lab. While the Covid-19 pandemic forced her to redirect her efforts, it led her to a new venture: a directorial position with the Marion Art Center’s ArtStart program! As she works with the MAC and earns her master’s in elementary education at Merrimack on the side, Benares joins us today to discuss her unique career journey, the peaks and pitfalls of self-employment, and the importance of connections within a community.
Hi, Benares! We’re so glad to have a chance to speak with you. First off—congratulations on your appointment as the director of ArtStart for 2021! How long have you been working with the Marion Art Center, and what will you be doing with ArtStart?
Hi! I started working with the Marion Art Center in January 2020, teaching after-school art classes and morning classes for very young children and their parents. The morning classes were part of a series I’ve run since 2011, called Art and Motion, which involves art making, music and movement. And ArtStart is a well-loved summer program in the Tri-Town (Mattapoisett, Marion, and Rochester) area. A lot of children around here have grown up going to ArtStart! The program involves art, music and theater, and usually culminates in a fun performance at the end of each week. The performance will look a little different this year, but I’m really excited to take over as director of the program! I know it’s going to be a lot of fun for all the kids involved!
It’s nice to hear more about ArtStart, and I’m excited to see what direction you take the center in! Outside of this venture, you’re also running several other projects and initiatives, such as the Children’s Art Lab in Mattapoisett, MA. You had to make adjustments last year, though, when Covid-19 forced the closure of most schools. What was that experience like?
It was really tough! I had been doing art classes with this amazing organization that provides services for differently abled adults and children. The classes were going so well, and I was feeling so positive about the Art Lab branching out to all these various venues. And then they called and said the program was going to shut down for a few weeks. Shortly after that, I found out that the school where I taught art was shutting down, “just for a week or two,” and slowly, over the week, all the places where I had implemented Art Lab programs closed.
All this work I had done was gone—that’s how it is when you are primarily a self-employed person. I very quickly started offering some classes via Zoom online, and creating art kits that I delivered to families around the South coast. I learned so much about being flexible. And it led to some new partnerships with local libraries, and ultimately led me to rethink my career path and apply to the grad program at Merrimack.
Good to hear that you thought quickly and transitioned to Zoom work—that must’ve been stressful, when something so unprecedented made you change direction. But you’ve changed direction before! You originally received your master’s in fiber arts in 2005—when did you decide to pivot towards education, and why?
I spent two years at Penland School of Crafts prior to coming to UMass Dartmouth for my MFA. At Penland, I got to work in so many studios—glass, clay, printmaking, papermaking and textiles. I eventually settled into the textile studio, and really wanted to see how far I could push my own art making, which is why I decided to get an MFA in fiber art. Even while I was getting my MFA and focusing on my own artwork, I was still involved in education. I taught undergrad classes as a TA, and I worked as a teaching artist with several local youth programs. I’m so glad I had time to focus on and develop my own work as an artist, because I think it makes me a better educator today. I’ve had the time in the studio, trying a lot of techniques to make a piece come together; I’ve studied art history, I’ve made giant sculptures, and learned how to blow glass and forge metal. All of these learning opportunities give me the ability to talk to my students about a lot of different kinds of art making, and a lot of ways they could take their interest in art into the future.
So education has always been interwoven in your work! That’s really interesting. It’s certainly hopeful for other creatives too, who are trying to fit their passions into careers. What would you say is unique about your career journey? What would you like people to know about you?
I worked on the Art Lab so feverishly at one time—it was really my passion. But it was easy to be consumed by it; when you are self-employed, you are never done working! This past year, I’ve really started to set some boundaries, be more conscious of spending time in nature, walking, reading my favorite poetry, hanging out with my kids at the beach. I think it’s the silver lining of the pandemic—what is really important to you? Now go and do that.
If the pandemic brought us anything, I’m glad it made you consider new boundaries and mindfulness. As we look forward to a future in the “new normal,” what do you want to do? What goals do you have for yourself, the Art Lab, and beyond?
Well, right now my goal beyond finishing my master’s in education is to get a job as a classroom teacher. I’m really excited about bringing art and music to the classroom and to a curriculum guided by the Massachusetts State Standards. I think that, as I’ve always done, I will be able to bring all my knowledge and expertise to the table; this time the table is a classroom, full of children, ready to learn and be engaged. I feel like as the years go by, my toolbox just keeps expanding, and I’m excited to learn alongside new groups of children in a school setting. I don’t feel like that means the Art Lab is no longer in existence—I just think it’s taking a different form.
You’re going to be a great teacher! Your future students are so lucky to have someone so passionate, and dedicated to lifelong learning. As we wrap up, what would you say to people struggling to pick the “right” career path?
This is a tough one! I would say: try a lot of stuff, and then step back and find the common thread. For me, the common thread has always been working with children and making art. No matter what, I always work those things into my life, so it makes sense that I would choose that as a career path. Also, be open to surprises along the way! I never saw myself as a business owner, but becoming an entrepreneur has challenged me in so many ways, and I am really grateful for all I have learned!
Well said! Let’s not forget—it wouldn’t be a great feature without shoutouts! What resources, organizations, or projects would you like to promote here?
When I lived in San Francisco in the late ’90s, I worked at the SF Children’s Art Center. This is where I first got the idea for what would become the Children’s Art Lab, even though I didn’t start the Art Lab until 2015! Working at SFCAC was the first time I saw how the process of a studio for children making art could really work. It was and still is a beautiful place, and I’m so glad they hired me way back then! There are so many people and organizations that helped me on my journey, it’s really hard to choose! E For All in New Bedford was really supportive of the Art Lab, and I won one of their pitch contests, which gave me some necessary funding. Interise was another opportunity to learn more about the business side of the Art Lab. The program really pushed me to focus on making my business viable.
And I have to say thank you to all the families and children who have attended my classes—they are really my true teachers! My own children have inspired me so much! They are ten and eight now, and they help me come up with projects and test ideas all the time. I’ve been making art with them since they were little, and they taught me to enjoy the process or art making, not to worry about the final product so much.
It’s so nice to hear how the arts and entrepreneurial communities have uplifted you over the years! They gave so much to you, and you’re giving so much back to future generations. Thank you so much, Benares, for talking with us today! And best of luck as you finish out your master’s program!
Are you ready to secure an internship or employment for the fall and beyond? The O’Brien Center for Career Development is here to help you! Visit Handshake today to search for open opportunities, meet with your career advisor, and more.