By Angel Cathey | Arts Bureau Edge Reporter
duPont Manual High School, Class of 2022
Kevin Olusola, the Pentatonix beatboxer and renowned cello player who recently released his first solo album, recalled how he first found his artistic voice at Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts. He was playing solo saxophone on Dave Brubeck's song “Take 5” in a masterclass with jazz musician Arturo O'Farrill.
Kevin Olusola, Pentatonix beatboxer, cello player and Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts alumnus, spoke to GSA students this summer. Courtesy Kentucky Performing Arts.
“I thought I’d just play what sounds nice to me,” Olusola said. “I started to play, and he said stop, just stop. Then he said, listen, man, express you. Express yourself. What are you trying to say?”
Olusola remembered no one had ever asked him that.
“Then I started to play and started doing things I never thought I could do,” he said.
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Olusola spoke via Zoom to participants in this year’s GSA about authenticity and never giving up when going through the journey of finding your artistic voice.
Creators of any kind must find their voice.
Since 1987, GSA has been a prime event for young artists to bond with others like themselves. It also has been an important station along their life paths in finding their artistic voices or styles. Overall, finding that personal seed of artistry allows you to be, express and shine as you.
This year, GSA students had an unprecedented hitch. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, GSA moved to a virtual platform.
An Academy at Shawnee High School teacher congratulated rising senior A’Taijah Burrus via Twitter on her acceptance into Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts where she studied creative writing. Image from Twitter.
Some students talked about how they felt about attending a virtual GSA.
A'Taijah Burrus, a rising senior at The Academy at Shawnee High School, studied creative writing at GSA.
“I was really disappointed because I wanted to meet all of the artists in person, but I was excited to know it wasn't canceled and that we would be able to meet in a way,” Burrus said.
Still, the 2020 GSA students have worked hard and striven to find their artistic voices.
Students studied and created work related to their art form — architecture and design, dance, drama, creative writing, visual art, instrumental and vocal music. They also explored what art means to them. This year they met multiple times a day online and were taught by teachers who had experience in their art form. Although many say it was busy, it was worth it in the end.
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Many students in different art forms agreed they already had a sense of their own voice. But GSA played a part in helping develop it by teaching them new tools that they didn’t know.
Sarah DeGeorge, a Ballard High School rising senior, studied architecture and design and talked about her new-found voice during GSA.
“I did use my voice before GSA, but not quite as much,” DeGeorge said. “It’s made me more outspoken, more passionate and more educated about the artistic world.”
DeGeorge described her voice in three words — “exciting, expansive and vibrant.” It stems from her personal and design style choices. The perfectionist in her shows up in her linework and precision, she said.
A Ballard High School teacher congratulated rising senior Sarah DeGeorge via Twitter on her acceptance into Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts where she studied architecture and design. Image from Twitter.
Just after GSA, she said she couldn’t put into words how much she had learned.
“Design has opened up a whole new world of ideas and cultures that I didn’t see before,” DeGeorge said. “I’ve learned different tools I can incorporate when building up communities that involve all types of people.”
Even though GSA students study a variety of art forms and work in different ways, they all relate in their search for individual voices and how to express them. Burrus found hers through creative writing.
“I found my voice in ninth grade and immediately became an advocate for social justice,” Burrus said. “GSA has taught me things that are keeping me on a steady path to becoming an amazing writer. I can tell I’ll come out of this better than ever.”
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Another writer, Louisville Male High School rising senior On’Dria Gibson, discovered her voice as a sophomore after writing a short story. She explained how GSA boosted her confidence.
“I’m way more positive about my work, as I have started seeing my work more clearly,” Gibson said. “I've used my voice by writing a bunch of poems and short stories.”
“Mammy,” oven-baked clay, acrylic, fake hair. Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts visual art student Angelida Stewart, who is Black, was inspired to create this sculpture from experience with an estranged white family member, who collected racist figurines. Courtesy Kentucky Performing Arts.
Gibson often writes about growth, healing and isolation. Her voice, she said, reflects how she identifies in the world versus how the world sees her. Being a queer Black girl has shaped a lot of her work in the past two years. (Read one of Gibson's poems below.)
Other students praised the program and commended GSA instructors for helping them develop their art form and find a clearer path, new-found voice or new tools that will change their lives as creators.
Angelida Stewart, a Bath County High School rising senior, discovered her voice and purpose after becoming comfortable in her own skin. Stewart described a bit of that tough journey prior to GSA.
“I didn’t find my voice as an artist until I became comfortable speaking my truth,” she said. “Living in a conservative area, my ideologies were often written off as too controversial.”
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Stewart described letting her fear of offending someone work her into a box that she longed to get out of.
“I stuck to paintings that were safe,” she said.
During the 2016 election, Stewart saw classmates proudly expressing themselves, and she realized advocating for equal rights and acceptance wasn’t something she should shy away from.
“I began to feel validated, and since then I’ve stopped sugarcoating my art,” she said.
Stewart credited finding her voice to research. Through research she discovered African American history, culture and backgrounds.
“Pressure,” collapsed magazine pages. Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts visual art student Angelida Stewart created this 3-D collage to reflect the pressures the media exert on women regarding appearance. Courtesy Kentucky Performing Arts.
“I’m forever thankful for the boundaries technology has broken, and the opportunities it has given me to find my voice,” she said.
Stewart’s work and journey reflect Olusola’s ideas about the duty artists have to express their voices.
“For people who have biases and prejudices and judge people because they don’t understand,” Olusola said. “well, then it’s our job to help them understand through our art. Art translates in ways that mere words can’t.”
Like Olusola and GSA students said, an artistic voice can rise through a journey and is fostered by constant curiosity, research and breaking boundaries.
“It’s a lifelong journey,” Olusola told the students, “but you can start that journey now.”
Angel Cathey, a rising junior in the communications/journalism program at duPont Manual High School, has written for the Manual RedEye newspaper and has participated in two other Arts Bureau Edge workshops.
The Way I Am
by On'Dria Gibson
2020 Kentucky Governor's School for the Arts, creative writing
Louisville Male High School, Class of 2021 | Arts Bureau Edge alumnus
The way my coils nap, no need to silk like sap.
The way my lips poke as if their being stoked.
How my voice cracks when words are spoke, passion
How the hair on the back of my neck stands when
curiosity lifts my hand.
The way my sideburns grow long, shaving cream
The way I look at my palms as I try to sing the song.
How each bump shoots through my skin, it’s lived in
And turns my day as black as the heads on my chin.
Out of spite, I raise a grin.
Self discovery lies within the gazes in the mirror and
sounds in the room’s echo