Transforming the scene: Lauren Holloway on current art and youth activism

June 4, 2021 | Carter Hemion - SGN
Transforming the scene: Lauren Holloway on current art and youth activism

Lauren Holloway leads by example, both in creating art and in making space for youth to share their own voices.

A seamstress, jeweler, teaching artist, and photographer in her own right, Holloway is shaping the culture of art in Seattle, especially for young people. As a teacher at Franklin High School, where she is (or they are) known as Mx. Holloway, she serves as an advisor to the Art of Resistance and Resilience club, where students work together as artists and activists in the community.

In a conversation, she shared her most recent work, proud moments from her career so far, and some of her goals as an artist, both individually and with her students.

Originally from Michigan, Holloway is self-taught aside from taking several metalworking classes. Her family always valued art and encouraged her to pursue hers.

She has professional experience today in a range of media, including apparel, jewelry, paintings, murals, and mixed media. She currently strikes a balance between her own art and advising youth artists at Franklin High.

Holloway also recalls a quote from Banksy that resonates with her, and that she brings into her art: "Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable."

Identities in work
As a school staff member, Holloway changed her/their title to the gender-neutral honorific "Mx." Holloway's visibility in coming out and using that title with the pronouns "she/her" or "they/them" has made her someone whom students can both learn from and feel comfortable expressing themselves around.

Holloway has seen a shift in more students openly expressing their gender outside the binary. She notes that more students are sharing their pronouns as "she/her/they/them," "he/him/they/them," or even "whatever [pronouns]."

Currently, Holloway is further expressing herself through sewing. She comes from "a long line of seamstresses" and has been honing her skills in this area.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Holloway began making custom masks. So far, she has created over 700 fabric masks and continues to sell more. Holloway donates portions of the sales to aforementioned high school club and community members in need.

She recently made her first quilt using scrap fabric from these masks. Holloway considers quilting an activity that helps her connect to her family history as a seamstress and is passionate about this project. She also calls using scrap fabric "a way to make do with what you have."

Work with students
Holloway's career as an artist is also intertwined with her career in teaching.

Franklin High School has a much higher minority enrollment than other Washington state schools, with 92% of students being BIPOC. Many of Holloway's students are also immigrants, LGBTQIA, or otherwise experiencing marginalization.

After President Trump's inauguration and in light of policies dangerous to more marginalized students, she saw "a call to action" and founded the Art of Resistance and Resilience group at the high school.

One of the group's main goals is to create art together so students can express "who they want to be." For some, this is a respite from challenging experiences outside of school. For all of them, the club is a safe space to learn and express their identities. She feels a responsibility to support students in sharing their stories and those of their communities.

Last year, the club received a grant to hire two teaching artists. Holloway created space for more marginalized artists and for her students to have the agency to decide on those "they feel really comfortable with." The artists, both BIPOC, have helped foster students as young artists and activists.

Holloway also reflects that as an educator, she works to "create intimacy and community" in her classroom, even and especially when working with students over Zoom.

Proud moments and activism
Holloway shared some moments from her career so far that she is particularly proud of, some of which involve murals she organized for students.

In 2018, the Art of Resistance and Resilience group created a mural to honor the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party. For this project, she connected students with the chapter's founding members so that they could "learn from the history makers" and tell their story with integrity.

In summer 2020, some of her students painted a mural near the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ, later and more commonly called CHOP) to support the Black Lives Matter protests. It depicted activist Marsha P. Johnson, a key figure in the Stonewall riots, and local performance artist and activist Adé A. Cônnére, whom Holloway invited to meet with students.

Unfortunately, dissenting Seattleites vandalized the mural while the students were working on it, and some would "stop by and yell homophobic slurs" at the club members. Despite these challenges, Holloway helped arrange security measures to keep the students safe as they finished the mural.

Current projects
Holloway is excited to see "a lot of opportunities for young artists" that will allow them to "say what they want to say."

Her students are currently working on a mural in Rainier Beach as part of a campaign to address and eradicate racism. In the near future, Creative Advantage, the Seattle Public Schools arts plan, will highlight the club's work.

Holloway is stepping away from the club to let BIPOC artists work with the students and develop their skills as youth activists and growing artists. In addition, she is taking the summer to spend time working on her quilts as a seamstress in her own studio. She is also exploring art about the Anthropocene to highlight "what is happening to life on Earth."

Holloway hopes to see educators prioritizing students' mental and social-emotional health. She expresses a love and care for her students that she aims to normalize, most importantly during the challenging times that students are facing today.

Keep up with Lauren Holloway's work by following on Instagram and @loveandragemasks.

Photos courtesy of Lauren Holloway