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Meet Dakota McMahand, Founder of Budding Artists

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dakota McMahand.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Dakota. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I am a Lynwood native who considers Compton and Watts my second home. I first began to seriously explore my creativity when I was thirteen. One Saturday morning my mother piled my brother and I into her turtle green Jeep Grand Cherokee and drove us to the Watts Towers Arts Center Campus where my brother was introduced to animation, and I signed up for my first piano lesson. Walking into that space was the first time that I visited an art gallery. Learning to play an instrument gave me a voice that I felt I didn’t have.

As an introvert, I was able to develop self-expression through the language of music. My parents and the Watts Towers Arts Center community were incredibly supportive of my creative pursuit in developing the skill. In fact, after only playing for six months, my parents surprised me with a beautiful new upright piano, which I still use today.

After graduating from Compton College and finishing up my undergraduate degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from California Baptist University, I landed my first full-time job at Inner-City Arts. This is where I met Sarah Tanberg, one of my closest friends and co-conceptualizer of Budding Artists.

Having an interest in both the arts and education, I have held numerous positions within the education realm (from piano instructor to education administrator), finding myself deeply concerned with issues of education equity especially within under-resourced black and brown communities where access to anything “high-quality” is always a novelty rather than standard.

As a first-generation college graduate who struggled to navigate many aspects of the college experience, I wanted to make the experience easier for others so I returned to college to obtain a graduate degree in Education Administration with a concentration on Adult Learners from the University of South Dakota. During this time, I transitioned into working in a higher education setting with a focus on student affairs. Simultaneously, I noticed many of the already limited free arts programs in my neighborhood which I had access to as a young person, are no longer around for the next generation.

Today, my work is focused around social change and grassroots art activism, otherwise known as artivism in the field of Arts Education and Higher Education.

Has it been a smooth road?
My journey has been full of struggle, as most social entrepreneurs would say. Two of the biggest challenges I’ve faced personally was my father unexpectedly passed away when I was twenty-three from heart failure. He is my daily inspiration and taught me what it truly means to live a life of service to others. Second, is establishing Budding Artists while working full-time, being in graduate school, and navigating all of the twists and turns that come along with starting something new. This role has genuinely been a crash course in perseverance! Budding Artists wouldn’t be in existence without all of the wonderful supporters and partner organizations who have joined us on this journey.

We’d love to hear more about your organization.
In 2018, my friend Sarah Tanberg and I were having one of our usual philosophical discussions which somehow landed on the social entrepreneurship and art activism. It was evident that within Los Angeles County, based on our research, there were no nonprofit organizations which focus solely on providing high quality, tuition-free process-based art classes for preschool-aged children in under-resourced communities.

As a result, Budding Artists was born. We are a nonprofit organization that received fiscal sponsorship from United Charitable in October 2018. Our team is a collective of incredibly passionate visionaries who seek to help bridge this equity gap because we have all been transformed by the power of creativity and believe every child should have access to it. What makes our program unique is that we only work with preschool-aged children providing a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) focus and substantial literacy component, which is all centered around process-based art.

Process-based art is ultimately about making and doing, rather than the final product. It’s inspired by the Reggio Emilia philosophy which values children as central to their learning, able to pursue their own interests, and allows them to revisit and build upon ideas at their own pace. This perspective makes art a tool for creating meaning to help children develop their ideas, thoughts, theories, and perspectives and to construct a new understanding of the subject.

In June 2019, we launched our Summer Exploration Program at the Lucy Avalos Community Center in my hometown, Lynwood, with the full support of the Department of Parks and Community Services. We provided over 25 children from Lynwood, Compton, and South LA areas, between the ages of 3-5 with six weeks of tuition-free process-based art classes.

Our young program participants investigated the magic of science by developing their knowledge of color theory and expressed themselves through brushstrokes, hues, tints, and shades. They explored various materials including watercolor, clay, line and mark drawings, tempera painting, and so much more. Our Summer Exploration Program concluded with our Culminating Exhibition on Saturday, August 31st at Mychal’s Learning Place. The Culmination Event held tremendous meaning to our team and participants as it allowed our young artists to showcase their work in the community. Additionally, it documented their creative exploration over the summer. For many of the children, this was their first time exhibiting their work.

Budding Artists is grassroots which means we are created for the people by the community and funded primarily through individual donors, family, and friends, and through our social enterprise – Artists Mug Series. These unique, limited edition mugs and matching totes are designed by local Los Angeles and Long Beach-based artists who donate original designs to support your organization. We partnered with Mychal’s Learning Place in Hawthorne, CA, which provides job training programs to young adults who have developmental disabilities, who print and produce all of our mugs and tote bags. Donations from the Artist Mug Series will support both organizations.

I consider it an honor to be a lead servant in this organization. As a team, we all look forward to continuing to establish our work in the community and creating new partnerships to help us provide this experience to more young children in Los Angeles County.

Contact Info:


Image Credit:

Phoenix Owens, Patrick Taylor, Nia Ujamaa, Stephanie Moreno, Billie Rae Vinson

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