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Meet Bailey Small

Today we’d like to introduce you to Bailey Small.

Bailey, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I was born and raised in Long Beach, CA. Early on, in elementary and middle school, I began taking art lessons at Art Farm Studios, in Signal Hill. The woman who founded and independently runs that business, Shannon Buchannan, imbued in me a love for the magic and theatricality of art-making. She was (and still is) my mentor figure and a real-life representation for what a future as an artist could look like. She helped me to put together a portfolio to audition for the Visual Art conservatory at Orange County School for the Arts (Santa Ana). I was accepted and began there in 7th grade.

The Visual Arts conservatory offered me so much support for art school college applications, and I couldn’t have gone through the process without that. Also, Ryman Arts, a weekend, free, intensive studio art instruction, and college and career guidance program, acted as equal support. I got accepted to California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), which was my dream school, but I couldn’t attend– it was too expensive.

The summer in between high school and college I was given near-full financial aid to attend California State Summer School for the Arts (CSSSA). Another incredible art education program that changed my life in many ways. At the conclusion of the program, I was awarded the Herb Alpert Emerging Young Artist Scholarship, and that begat further scholarship money from CalArts, thus enabling me to actually be able to afford to attend. If I hadn’t been able to attend CSSSA, I wouldn’t be at CalArts now.

Here I am today, my world wider and more exciting than I could have ever imagined. My dream school is everything I wanted it to be and more, and I feel so much gratitude for the access to education and the teachers and people in my life who got me here. I am so lucky.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Before the end of that first school year at OCSA in 7th grade, my family was required to relocate to Johns Creek, GA in order to keep my dad’s job. Since the crash in 2008, it had been an arduous series of layoffs for him. My mom closed up her in-home daycare business, and we moved.

Leaving Long Beach, and the art school I had been going to, I realized at such a young age how good I had had it without knowing at the time. I had grown up in the best city and had access to a huge educational privledge. After two years, my family decided we wanted to come back to California. I auditioned again for OCSA from across the country and was accepted back to start in the 10th grade.

We piled six people, two dogs and two cats into two cars and drove ourselves back home. I finished the 9th grade at my home school (Millikan High School) before starting back at OCSA. Certainly, the moving around and going to five different schools in less than five years took a lot out of me and my three siblings. After returning, though, I’ve held the place I live and my education I have access to in the highest regard.

There is always the struggle of mental health. At some points, it was dubious that I would be able to stay in school during high school and potentially would have to take some time off before going to college. Fortunately, after my family’s medical insurance got better I could get the proper attention I needed. It is another good fortune of mine that I now have access to good healthcare such as therapy.

The ability to afford access to higher education in the arts has been a huge struggle. Every day at CalArts I feel a mix between gratitude and heavy selfishness. With all the financial aid and scholarship money I have, which covers a lot of the astronomical tuition, it’s still expensive. I have three siblings who also hope to go to college after me. One of my brothers is graduating high school this year, and the other two, in their last year of middle school, are twins; they’ll be in college at the same time. I worry that my good fortune comes at the cost of a deficit in theirs.

We’d love to hear more about your art.
I am an independent artist, currently seeking a Bachelor of Fine Art in the Art program at CalArts. I work extremely interdisciplinarily and my work features illustration, animation, film/video, photography, ceramics, fiber and textile art, music, dance, roller skating… I don’t say no to very much. However, most often I am fabricating sculptural objects for use in installations that serve as sites for live performance, and making video work with.

I see photography and video as a final iteration of my work that allows its world to exist because of the closed frame aspect of my visual aesthetic. What I mean is, I create highly fabricated narratives and scenes, but I can only do so much with my own hands and body. There are limits to how much I can actually do on my own to create the stories I imagine. And so, there is a real-life limiting border of the “fantasy” as it exists physically, whereas in a picture or video, it is contained by a frame, and therefore appears as a whole, not as a fragment. I have a penchant for dramatic spectacle and entertainment, and that is most often what I am seeking to facilitate.

I am proud of my work ethic, my breadth of interests and experience, and my perseverance. I am proud to be a part of the community which I have found at Calarts. It has emboldened me to take risks and to feel confident in who I am. I am a nonbinary person, and in the safe, encouraging environment I am in now, I finally feel ready to investigate topics of queerness and gender identity with myself and so in my work. I am excited and thrilled at this new future I see in collectivized artmaking that is rooted in a strong community with an openness for new experiences, magic and love.

What were you like growing up?
I am the oldest of four siblings and grew up with my mom running an in-home daycare from the time I was born until now. Which meant on a daily basis, there were four to twelve kids in my small house. I always had to share my mom; she is perpetually raising herds of young children. But I learned a lot about child development and the process of parenting by watching her, and sociology has become one of my primary interests. I’ve always been an emotionally hypersensitive, and empathic person. These things have made me mature quickly, and socially-wise, or at least, insightful.

I loved reading and watching movies that gave me good material for pretend-play (i.e. Little House on the Prairie, Annie, Harry Potter, Pippi Longstocking–specifically the Swedish movie series from the 1960-70s with Inger Nilsson–Pirates of the Carribean, etc.). I saw myself tasked with the job of playing out stories, constructing image-worlds on my own. Building custom props, costumes, selecting toys that had to be exactly right for the play. A perfectionist to say it nicely; anal-retentive to say it less nicely. I distinctly remember wishing a stuffed animal was sewn differently so that its body wasn’t in a fixed sitting position, and that it was filled with beans or beads instead of stuffing to allow a greater and more fluid range of motion when I was playing with it.

I was a competitive gymnast for ten years, and that informed so much of my early development. It bred a love for being a part of an intensely tight-knit community, for athleticism, physical struggle, and a tough nature that I was very proud of. It took up a lot of my time, and I still miss it, but if I hadn’t stopped, I wouldn’t have been able to be an artist like I am now.

All of this to say, I see myself every day as directly tied to my experience as a child, the games I played, and the sensory memory I accumulated. I now have a consciousness that is deeply rooted in my body, and I’m looking to explore my psychophysical sense and identity. I am striving to make work that uses child’s play as inspiration for ways of thinking and doing.

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Image Credit:
Image Credits- Bailey Small

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