AAC Board Member, Tonya Banks, makes a difference.
Banks joined the Art Academy of Cincinnati (AAC) board this year and is excited to help nurture and support a diverse student body. She brings insight from years of deep community engagement across Greater Cincinnati and is now completing a Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.
How Passion Was Sparked
Tonya Banks first discovered a love for the arts while serving as a parent volunteer. At the time, her oldest daughter, who is now 30, was studying technical theater in Over-the-Rhine.
“I didn’t know that I loved the arts until my daughter went to the [School for Creative and Performing Arts.] And then I started loving musicals… I used to turn the channel on musicals!” Banks laughs. “Being a parent volunteer there sparked my passion for the arts.”
But what defines Banks’ community engagement more than anything is a love for serving others. Over time, this has translated into a variety of settings, but always with the same desire to see individuals connect with the resources they need to achieve their goals.
While working with Future Leaders of Over-the-Rhine, Banks brought after-school activities to low-income, single-parent families. She has also served on the Greater Cincinnati Food Policy Council, helping families in impoverished neighborhoods access healthy food options. As a case manager for the Talbert House, Banks assisted individuals coming home from prison. This meant providing wrap-around services for those struggling with mental illness, substance abuse, and HIV. As a staff member at the Xavier University Health Center, Banks supported students in health and wellness, striving to create a supportive “home-away-from-home” environment.
“I think we’re born with these gifts of service,” says Banks. “I became more intentional in my service to others when I began to campaign in 2013. Because it was advocating for someone who I felt would serve the people of Cincinnati and give us what we need. [Then in] 2016 I thought of creating vision boards— for myself, for one, but then I would begin hosting those vision boards for women, churches, [and] Bootcamp Cincinnati.”
Banks has since launched an initiative called Suga in the City, which finds creative ways to inspire others along their journey. She interviews local couples about their marriage, creates videos relating to social justice, and brings vision boards to Cincinnati Public Schools. This has students—young girls, in particular—thinking about goals as early as second grade. Whether it’s something practical they can do to help out at home. Or goals for the academic year. Or a bigger dream for the future.
“I believe that if we start our youth in impoverished neighborhoods, if we start them thinking about goals earlier in life then there will be a greater chance of success.”
Banks also draws insight from her own experience as a minority student in a predominantly white school. “I think a lot of times some resources are hidden from us. We don’t have access to the resources that we need to be successful. And I think that on a larger scale, you know, the majority has to be aware that they need to be intentional in opening doors, because of how systems have been put in place. So yea, just assisting individuals who are struggling in finding the resources that they need to be successful.”
As Banks completes her Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, she looks forward to the next phase as an independent professional licensed counselor, equipped to support individuals with neurodevelopmental differences.
“I really look forward to just giving my input about diversity and inclusion. Because my question is, what if we didn’t have to be intentional with diversity and inclusion because it just happens to be already in place? I’m interested in working with the students with autism and working with just everyone for their success. I’m excited!”
Stephen H. Wilder Traveling Scholarship
The Art Academy of Cincinnati is pleased to announce Nytaya Babbitt, Lura Bentley, and Krista Sheneman as the recipients of the 2021 Stephen H. Wilder Traveling Award, one of the most coveted awards given to graduating seniors.
Each of the applicants for the Wilder Traveling Award has demonstrated exceptional creativity and dedication to their education. As a group, these students exemplify the finest qualities of the artists, designers and writers of the class of 2021. This year’s competition was particularly strong and the decision difficult.
About Wilder Traveling Scholarship
The Stephen H. Wilder Traveling Scholarship was first awarded in 1947.
In 1941 Edith Carson Wilder endowed the scholarship in memory of her husband. In turn, it was specified the scholarship be given to deserving students for travel.
Funds serve as a travel stipend for special research in fine art or design in the United States or abroad. Each applicant must submit a proposal that includes a budget, itinerary, senior thesis, and portfolio. In addition, students must submit a description of how the experience will benefit their artistic goals.
Full-time faculty members, the Academic Dean, and the President vote to select the winners of this award.
Artist Short Proposal Description
Nytaya will travel to Chicago to immerse themselves within the museums and talk to local activist organizations to better inform their art-making.
Lura will attend a fifteen-day textile workshop at the Penland School of Craft. I’ll focus on the techniques of creating sustainable materials to become a more environmentally friendly artist.
Krista will walk from her home in Cincinnati to her childhood home in Memphis, TN. This walk will allow them to investigate the concept of home through identity and collection.
Q & A with Julio Labra, AAC class of 2009
Julio Labra, born in Idaho Falls, Idaho in 1989, is an artist working in Asia. He is a painter whose works are representational of his nomadic life. Having never lived in one place for more than a year, Julio’s work depicts the journey and search for his identity.
He received his MFA in painting from Laguna College of Art and Design in 2014, and his BFA in illustration from Art Academy of Cincinnati in 2012.
Julio currently lives in Tokyo, Japan with his wife. Julio has been discovering what his studio practice looks like amidst the pandemic while traveling throughout Japan. His series “Drifting Studio”, “Drifting Studio 2” explores where he has lived while in Japan and what his studio spaces look like, how he creates, and how he adapts.
Q: Julio, tell us about your artwork and what you have been working on!
I generally work in series and the two series that I’m currently focusing my attention on are my Wonderland Series and Eto Series. Both share themes of fantasy and playfulness as well as focus on color and paint application.
Wonderland consists of images honoring the relationship I have with my wife. During 2020 we were pulled apart because of the pandemic and the international lockdowns, causing us to abandon our previous lifestyles. Wonderland is an attempt at lifting our spirits during our time apart, and the artwork creates a space where I can reflect on the past 2 years.
I’ve always been fascinated with tales of mythology especially stories of mythic creatures, and the Eto series is heavily inspired by the Japanese and Chinese Zodiac. For me, it’s invaluable to find parallels and intersections between different cultures, and I try to infuse aspects of the cultures I’ve been a part of into my work. Taking elements from Mexican Alibrije art, I push the color of the larger-than-life animals to add to the whimsical nature they already possess. My goal with this series is to synthesize my experience as a person of color living in China; providing a place for more than two worlds to harmonize despite their differences.
Q: What is your relationship with color? I notice your works are very vibrant and radiate intense colors!
I’m absolutely in love with color and have only recently given myself permission to experiment with it in my work. I have pushed against the muted tones that I was using in my twenties to create work that is more vibrant and energetic. Placing colors beside each other in a style similar to collage I’m able to see the effects of each color against the next. I want each plane of color to pop and have it’s own identity within the context of the painting so it can be viewed from afar as a singular entity and appreciated for its fragmented detail up-close.
Q: What has your life been like since graduating from the AAC?
I’m so grateful for the AAC because I was able to learn so much about myself during my time there. The most valuable experience came after graduation when I used the funds awarded to me by the AAC through the Wilder Traveling Scholarship. I chose to take the money and travel to Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico. This expedition is what sparked my interest in international travel and led me to travel across the world. Coming from a small town I was not inclined to go beyond my borders, but I’m so thankful that I was able to explore new horizons after graduation.
From Cincinnati, I moved out to California to attend Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD) for my MFA in Painting. During my two years at LCAD I was introduced to the Southern Californian art scene and began participating in the art scene. With two other artists, I opened up a not-for-profit art gallery and hosted monthly exhibitions featuring local artists.During my time in California, I worked as an adjunct professor and preparator for galleries. It was during this time that I applied for a teaching position in Qingdao, China. After accepting the job, I moved to China and worked there for four years. That experience was invaluable and opened my eyes to a whole new paradigm of ideas. Using the opportunity to travel I was able to see parts of the world that I would have never believed I’d see. I’ve been spoiled by travel and can’t wait to return to my explorations and working in different parts of the world.
Q: Do you have any big accomplishments or achievements you would like to share with us?
My biggest accomplishment within my artistic practice would be attaining the Star Arts Space artist residency in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. This experience opened my eyes to color and expanded my palette. My artwork blossomed in this beautiful country and I learned so much about Kyrgyz culture. The work I made there was an attempt at comprehending the pitfalls of tradition and the trappings of identity. I learned that naming myself American was far too broad and that it is beyond difficult to gain a grasp on the multitude of distinctions between each group within a culture. To simply say one country is the same is ludicrous and my time traveling around the mountains and cities of Kyrgyzstan made me confront this conundrum. Being a person of multiple backgrounds, I have always had a tough time identifying with one group, but until this point, I had been able to sidestep any deep investigation into my cultural background.
Click HERE to learn more about Julio’s experience in Krygzstan.
Thank you to our Art Academy of Cincinnati (AAC) 2021 graduates, friends, and family for enduring through these critical times with radiant creativity. The pandemic impacted many people’s ability to view the capstone work of our Seniors. We captured the galleries virtually, so if you missed one of the shows you can experience them below by clicking the images below.
Group 1: Untitled
Saint (Natalie St. George)
Jennifer Grote Named Distinguished Alumni 2021
The Art Academy of Cincinnati Alumni Association established this award as our highest honor. The Alum who receive this honor have distinguished themselves by the contributions they have made in their particular field or profession, in service to the Art Academy and to the betterment of humanity.
– Christine Carli, AAC Alumni Association President
About Jennifer Grote
After graduating from The Art Academy of Cincinnati in 2003 with a BFA, emphasis in painting, I remained active in the arts community through exhibiting locally in galleries such as the Phyllis J. Weston / Annie Bolling Gallery, Cincinnati Art Galleries, AEC Gallery, Semantics and the Harvest Gallery among a few. I was Gallery Director and Curator of the 537 Gallery (2001-2009) which included exhibition planning, installation, and public relations. I continue to work as an independent curator.
As a member of the Alumni Council (2003-2019) and President of the Alumni Association of The Art Academy of Cincinnati (2007-2010), I was active in fund raising for student scholarships. Organizing biannual Beaux Balls, alumni exhibitions, and activities which enhance the student experience and scholarship fundraising are a driving force in my volunteer work.
Being a wife, mother, grandmother, and registered nurse, all inform my work in the various ways. The environments of all these roles merge to create my style of investigation in painting and sculpture.
The familiar can be something nonobjective extracted from the very objective and real. Our learning process begins in infancy through recognition of color, then shapes, which progresses to three-dimensional form and then we begin to compare what we have learned to what is new. This comparative process becomes innate, automatic and unconscious. The nonobjective nature of my work seeks to tap into this innocent learning process. The brain, a powerhouse of storage, transforms all life’s experiences into cellular memories of color, form, line and texture. These are the basic elements of artwork. I deconstruct experiences and reconfigure a memory using these pure elements to create work that speaks to the brain in abstract form.
My chosen materials vary. The materials have a language of themselves, each dictating the progression of my creativity. I combine them to create a comparison of abstract geometric forms and materials that are a juxtaposition of a personal language of color, form, line, and texture. Porcelain, wood, metal, found objects, and painted canvases all link in my language of common form to create a formal challenge to engage the mind, pose possibilities, seek conclusions and lead the viewer to return again to explore, rethink, speculate and create new meaning.
My work seeks to create a dialogue of personal histories through compositions that seem like perception tests compelling the viewer to give the work a second study which, in turn yields more discovery and richness. The meaning I intend may be in contrast to the viewer’s response also tempered by their memories and subconscious.
Igor Stravinsky, a 20th century Russian composer, wrote in 1940 about his creative process. His writings speak of the search for personal truth and inspiration through a manifesto of editing: “My Freedom consists in my moving about within the narrow frame that I have assigned myself for each one of my undertakings. I shall go even further: my freedom will be much greater and more meaningful, the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees oneself from the chains that shackle the spirit.”
Thoughts About Jennifer
“As a student Jenny was authentic, engaged and always went above and beyond expectations. She challenged the idea of what a painting could be.
Post-graduation she continues to thrive in the contemporary arts community by not only exhibiting her own work but supporting other artists by curating and providing opportunities in the arts,”
-Paige Williams, AAC Academic Dean.
“Jennifer Grote was an exceptional student—curious, diligent, hard-working and attentive in both her studio and academic work. She had high standards for herself, which she continues to carry in her studio practice.
Jenny has a strong personal vision that is evident in all the varied media that explores. The maturity and professionalism in her work reflect well on the Academy.
More than these accomplishments, the Distinguished Alumni Award is a recognition of the many years in which Jenny’s service on the Alumni Council benefitted current and past students of the Academy. She worked tirelessly, taking on ambitious and demanding projects. This award is thanks to an exemplary person.”
“When I came to the Art Academy Alumni Council in 2015, Jennifer was one of the first to accept my quirks and shortcomings. I had and still have very strong opinions about things Art Academy related but the true sign of leadership is exactly what Jennifer possesses in spades. She listens and lets you express your feelings with care and sensitivity. The ability to think outside the box and create environments such as “Raw Walls” is a rare quality and to invite others to share her unbridled enthusiasm and drive only serves to further our communities creative endeavors. Congratulations Jennifer on the Distinguished Alumni Award. It is well deserved.”
-Patrick Kunnen, AAC Alumni Council
“So happy to hear that Jenny will receive a long over-do thank you for all she has done over the years to promote the AAC (did not see attachments of her work) and help with the Alumni Council. What I remember most about Jenny, was her eagerness to explore new possibilities, test her assumptions, and strive for excellence. I can’t remember a conversation I didn’t thoroughly enjoy or a critique where she didn’t present something new. She always seemed fully invested.”
Zuleyma Banderas, Hyper Guava
Zuleyma is a Graphic Designer who decided to combine her art practice with motherhood. In this body of work, she focuses on the unique bond between a child and their mother by transforming photographic moments into whimsical illustrative works of art. Her work incorporates vibrant colors, typography, patterns, shapes, and lines that resemble childlike characteristics. She works with digital software such as Photoshop, Illustrator, and Procreate to bring my ideas to life.
“I am an interdisciplinary artist who primarily works in illustration, and photo manipulation/collage. My work focuses on my personal experiences expressed through costume and characters. Themes in my work include body /self-image, stereotypes, and feminism.”
“I am Sarah Perez and I’m a visual artist. I focus mainly on photography and illustration but I have also done a variety of other mediums such as screen printing and painting. My goal with my work is to make people happy as I find there is too much sadness in the world. I do this by exploring themes of fun and silliness while also adding a strange twist.”
Trenton is a sculptor and painter working with abandoned objects and materials. He uses these found objects because he enjoys making something new out of the old and forgotten.
Currently, he is working on abstract sculptures that are portrayals of faces. For Trenton, faces are a focus point because they are easily recognizable from person to person. This familiarization with faces has led him to be interested in their form and how it can be manipulated while still being recognizable.
“This year, I shifted to concentrate on building my digital drawing skills, developing my style further in the dark, colorful and feminine direction I mentioned admiring in my visual inspirations section last year, while also exploring a recurring problem within classic literature, and especially in tragedy, horror and gothic romance subgenres: the treatment of female characters.”
Nytaya is a Cincinnati-based artist working to help further the discussion on the mistreatment of the black feminine body.
“My work thrives on my current ideologies, my principles, and how outside forces such as social media might affect my system of beliefs. My goal for making art based on external influences on my beliefs is to make a connection with someone who might be disconnected from my way of thinking. I want the viewer to recognize, identify, and easily reference the narrative my paintings are communicating, relating it back to something that may have affected them. My end game is to have accessible art that a general audience can understand effectively.”
“I’m an illustrator and printmaker inspired by love, experience, and representation.
My thesis explores self love and pride in the body, my body. I am inspired by experiences of the self and the facets of what makes the self. I let this body of work become an exploration of seeking out the inner workings of me. I plan on continuing to look inward for inspiration, while also taking time to break outwards.”
“My thesis work revolves around the exploration of character design, concept art, and world-building. When I first design a character, I start with an idea that was influenced by media I consumed or objects nature. I play word association but visually.”
“History and different cultures inspire me, as well as the stories that have been passed down through many generations such as fairies and spirits. I am focusing on mythical/cryptid creatures in my work, as well as placing some horror aspects within. I am working toward being able to use my work as possible concept art for larger projects.
Michael is a Sculpture, Video, and Performance artist looking to make an impact.
“Everything I make is meant to be displayed publicly and is intended to start tough conversations. Whether it is social justice driven or a commentary on the art world itself, I work with any medium that lends itself to delivering the message. My primary media are larger sculptural pieces, videos, and installations.”
Amyia is an Ohio-based creative who is passionate about community impact in the arts. She thrives the most when she collaborates and uses the art of storytelling, personal experiences, and creativity as a resource for others.
“My community work and design practice got its start, much like me, on the Northside of Columbus, Ohio. I have created a website to show a collection of my design pieces and community projects. My mission for this work is to support communities by creating brands to amplify their stories, build unique friendships, and give to others what I have gained for myself.”
“I am a graphic designer who has been in love with the way that line and form, work in the design world. I have recently been interested in abstract painting. I believe that art should be bound by no names or ideals but should be appreciated for the way that it appears to the average viewer and not to the higher class for money/power.”
Darby is an Illustration major who is developing a card-based, role-playing game called Uncle Fungeon’s Magic Dungeon with some colleagues. His thesis show revolves around the game itself, promotional materials, and the tie-in works that they plan to sell and develop.