Interview with Kiersten Alexis
Our Administrative Assistant, Victoria, had a Zoom chat with a teen from our Public Art Crew, Kiersten Alexis! Kiersten volunteered her time and mural-making skills to help out the Cambridge Community Center's community fridge! Here's a portion of their chat, edited for length and clarity.
Victoria: If you could start out introducing yourself. Your name, your age, the school you go to.
Kiersten: My name is Kiersten Alexis. I’m a ninth-grader, I’m 14 years old, and I go to Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in the Cambridge Public District.
V: How did you get involved with the Community Art Center?
K: Well, there’s something called the Mayor’s Program, which is when people 14 and up have the opportunity to sign up with the program where they can get a workers permit, then [the City] arranges you with a part-time job, and you’re able to work at some centers or programs for money.
The Community Fridge located at the Cambridge community center. Thanks to Zach from CCC for the photos.
I got a job with the Community Art Center through the mayor’s program. At first I was doing a mural for river street, along a fence. I worked with other kids for that. Then the coordinator, (the person who organized the fence painting), said there’s another opportunity to paint a fridge. So I offered to paint this community fridge.
V: What made you want to paint the fridge? Was it more of an art project or was it, you really loved the idea of the com fridge?
K: I think it was both. I really love art and painting so I really liked the idea of making a design and putting it on the fridge. But I also love the idea of a community fridge. I remember back in grade school there was this restaurant owner who always had leftovers, so she would put them in a fridge for people who are homeless or people who don’t have enough food could open it up and take it. And I thought that idea was really generous. Instead of people not being able to have food, or having to take drastic measures for food, they can get it from this fridge. I really like the idea of painting something that helps with the community, so as soon as I heard about it I took the opportunity.
V: What was the process of creating the design for the center? What were ideas that were bouncing around in your head?
K: Well it was not a strict schedule. Over the winter break, a few months ago, I had to come up with an idea for the fridge painting. I came up with multiple designs. At first, I wanted to go with a triptych, with something different on each side, because the fridge has three panels. Another of my ideas -- was a social distancing picnic. My final idea was silhouettes gathered together at a table and eating together and seeing “someday we’ll be together” on top. I went with that idea because the fridge wasn’t too giant, and it’s harder to do tiny details. I wanted people, in the silhouettes, to represent certain movements or the community as a whole. There’s this person sitting in a blue chair, and that represents the people who are disabled. Then there’s this orange person with a hijab to represent the Muslim community. Then there’s this kid with a pink fist to represent the Black Lives Matter movement, a girl with a lightning bolt on her shirt to represent girl power and female empowerment, a person in green with a globe on it to represent being environmentally aware, and finally, there’s a person in red with a peace sign on their t-shirt to represent ending gun violence and violence in general. That was the design I chose. The freedom of making the mural was sometimes overwhelming, but I was also grateful for it because I was able to come up with so many ideas for it.
Two early mural designs that Kiersten drafted prior to painting the fridge.
V: What was the best piece of advice that you got?
K: The best piece of advice?
V: Or the most helpful, maybe.
K: I guess when we first started out, they said to try doing something that reflects the community. That made me think of “what’s something that’s uplifting and might give people hope during this hard time.” Something that would lift people’s spirits and lift people’s moods. That’s why for the final draft I tried to make it all colorful so it’ll be bright and uplifting instead of dark and monotone. So that was helpful for me to think “what is something that would make people happy to look at it? What would give it that nice euphoric feeling?”
V: What got you started with art and drawing and painting?
K: I think it started ever since I was a kid. As a kid, I used to go through this phase where I would draw weird shapes. I used to like that there weren’t too many rules. Yeah, there’s techniques, but...the thing about art is it can be interpretive. I think it’s sort of the phrase “eye of the beholder.” You can represent your art however you want to, it can mean whatever you want to, and it doesn’t have any limits or boundaries. It can be whatever you want to be, however you see it. I mean, after all, you’re the one making and creating the art, so you have total control over how you want it to look, what feelings you want to stir in people when they look at it, what it’s supposed to mean or represent. That’s what I meant when comparing it to the phrase “eye of the beholder” because you’re controlling the art, how you want it to be portrayed is up to you, not based solely on what other people want to see.
V: What’s been difficult for you as a teen during COVID?
K: I think there’s a lot of things that are different for me. When the pandemic started, in March, I was in eighth grade at the time and I was thrown into remote learning. Which really stressed me out, because, in 8th grade, I had a lot of things to look forward to. Like we had a science expo. Also graduation. I was looking forward to looking back on my middle school years and knowing that I had such a big accomplishment. I had a counselor at school during the time who encouraged me to stay hopeful and gave me advice to take time to do things I loved and take more breaks. Which was advice I wish I’d taken back in March when I first started remote learning. I was really stressed out with school work. I wasn’t keeping on top of it and also I didn’t know how to balance school work with my mental health. I sat back and realized maybe, in order for me to do well but also not to be too stressed out by school, I need to take more time to do things I love. Like art, for example. But also take time to read, listen to music, live in the moment instead of stressing out about the moment. So that would be my advice to anyone else who is struggling with schoolwork or adjusting to a big change in your lives.
V: If you could let your teachers know one thing about what covid has been like for you, and your friends, what would you tell them?
K: Teachers have done a good job at this, but in general I would suggest that teachers should put themselves in their students' shoes. Think about how stressful things have been. I’d encourage your students to take time to relax, do things for mental health, and also give them chances to take a break. This time is hard for everyone so you should encourage your students to take a break from the screen, and focus their time on doing things that make them feel more relaxed, happy, or something that will help with their emotional well-being. It’s good to put yourself in their shoes for a little bit, to try to sympathize or empathize with them. Try and encourage them to do things for mental health and focus a bit more on how they’re doing in general instead of how they’re doing in school, to not only better your relationship with said student but also it can make them feel a lot more hopeful and encourage them to keep hope, stay happy, and enjoy the good things in life, instead of focusing on the negative things that are happening during the pandemic.
V: What are you excited about in the upcoming semester?
K: So far things have been quite good. With CAC, I’m working with them again this spring. This time we’re working with a festival with Starlight. They’re doing some sort of festival to raise awareness for food justice. [Covid] Cases have gotten better, so hopefully, by the end of the year, I’ll enjoy more in-person things. And hopefully, when the temperature gets warmer, I can continue to go on walks with my Grandma, who’s quarantining with me. Although it’s been a very hard start to the decade, I feel quite hopeful that things will get better. I feel quite confident and quite hopeful that this will all be over soon and that by the time we all go back to school next year we’ll be in person, we’ll all be safe, and eventually, we won’t need masks anymore. ◼