Today we’d like to introduce you to Megan Broughton.
So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I’ve been drawing since I was able to hold a pencil (I know this doesn’t sound true, but I fact-checked with my mom), and at age three, announced I was going to be an artist. So, there was never really a choice there. I was that kid in elementary school who always had people borrowing crayons from them, but I didn’t get much art training until high school. Growing up in Los Angeles County, I was really fortunate to be part of arts programs that made it financially possible for me to participate. Whether they were free (CalArts Community Arts Partnership (CAP) and Ryman Arts), had a low price point (Art Center for Kids and Art Center Saturday High), or provided considerable financial aid, these places shared a foundational ethos that inspired me later on: that everyone deserved to be there, that whoever wanted to be there should be supported, and that community at these places was just as, if not more, important as gaining skills.
I ended up going to CalArts for undergrad and had two life-changing gifts of teaching with CAP as a student instructor in LAUSD continuation high schools and being invited by a mentor, Evelyn Serrano, to help form Nomad Lab. While CAP had been in existence for nearly 20 years at that point, and I knew it well as a kid and then a high school student, Nomad gave me the chance to witness an idea come into being, which set me on an irreversible and totally addicting path. Nomad became an award-winning non-profit arts organization that operated out of empty apartment units in Newhall and Canyon Country and offered free inclusive arts, capacity building, and leadership programs. Facilitated by Evelyn, teaching artists, and residents of the apartment complexes, it was a forum for creativity, dialogue, and community engagement. Being able to participate from “the other side” at CAP, and then being invited to the actual process of bringing something to life at Nomad jumpstarted me working at other programs I’d participated in when I was younger. Being able to understand the experience and feel a kinship with youth participants created an even bigger community and got me hooked on sharing and creating space with other people.
These themes have continued in some collaborations I’m working on now; Two if by Sea Press, School of Now, and work born from time at The Arctic Circle Residency. Two if by Sea Press, co-founded with Laura Vena, is a literary and arts journal focusing on water as “location of displacement, environmental injustice, imperialism, colonialism, slavery, and genocide.” We aim for the journal to be a site of critical and creative engagement where people can “create, advocate, agitate, and crack open the conventions that contributed to [the disaster] that is the foundation of our society.” School of Now is a new initiative that reimagines learning, sharing knowledge, and “school.” It was started by Roma Nagle, Tavisha Khanna, Yasmina Torres, and Claire Connolly, students at La Jolla Country Day School in San Diego, alongside their teacher Cindy Santos-Bravo who also went to CalArts. Cindy then involved me and our great friend from college Karina Yanez, who runs Greetings From South Central Los Angeles.
From there, the core group has expanded to include my coworker at The Oxbow School, Larissa Gilbert, and current students and alumni from our three programs including Kailyn Bryant, who designed our logo. We have and will be facilitating Zoom and IG Live conversations where youth leaders determine and develop content and which are open to anyone. Previous and upcoming conversations include “Social Media and Social Justice” co-facilitated by Zwena Gray and Anela Oh, “Self Care and Community Care” co-facilitated by Tavisha Khanna and Roma Nagle, and “Organizing Direct Action/Changing My Institution” co-facilitated by Artemisio Romero y Carver from YUCCA New Mexico and Kailyn Bryant.
Finally, I really value the communities formed at artist residencies. They’re intense and time is limited, and that creates a unique form of immediacy and – if you’re lucky – generosity of spirit. These relationships don’t always last beyond the time span of the residency itself, but some of the people I’ve met at Can Serrat and The Arctic Circle Residency in particular changed how I make and think about art as well as the artist’s role in society. They’ve not only stayed in my own life but have been become part of my students’ lives as well, whether I’m referring them on research projects or via presentations to students.
Has it been a smooth road?
Not always. I think the complications will sound pretty typical: not having the financial means to pay for art opportunities, and then occasional bouts of “is art even important?” Los Angeles is super expensive, art supplies are expensive, art programs are expensive…it’s prohibitive. Thankfully my parents worked hard to find free resources or were really transparent about what we could or couldn’t afford, which just led to them helping me and my sister find ways to make things happen. It’s why all those scholarship opportunities and free programs when I was younger are so important to me now because I want those kinds of opportunities to be around for future generations. I have no regrets about going to CalArts – I loved it so much – but on top of massive scholarships, I still worked between three and six part-time jobs at a time while I was there in order to avoid more loans. It was exhausting and exciting and immersive but obviously not sustainable.
It can also be hard to transition between experiences or to balance a full-time job and the art you want to be making. I didn’t really make that much art right after college, and only started applying to shows this year (turns out it’s an addicting new habit for killing time during quarantine). So, feeling separated from community and struggling to see value can be a real issue – questioning what role art even has in society and what it can do on its own. For me, I had to think about what it can do alongside other things, rather than on its own. That being said, I know the value art carries. I know it provides relief and beauty and storytelling and all that, but sometimes I have to pair it with other fields to feel like I’ve landed on a path I want to explore further.
We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
So currently, I’m making two series of prints (both named “Svalbard: 79.75° North”) after going on The Arctic Circle Residency in June 2019. A portion of all sale proceeds will be regularly donated to rotating organizations directly assisting impacted communities at all levels of the climate crisis. From sales this year, I was just able to direct funds toward Youth United for Climate Crisis Action’s Solidarity Fund with All African People’s Revolutionary Party and Building Power for Black New Mexico. I’m looking into other organizations for the next few donations, and am planning with Karina to put funds toward Greetings From South Central Los Angeles’ current GoFund Me campaign for her program expansion.
I went to the residency with my coworker, Alex, in order to aid our development of an integrated arts, science, and stewardship curriculum at the intersection of racial and environmental justice. One day, the ship was locked in pack ice for twelve hours off the northwest coast of Svalbard, which is where the title “79.75° North” comes from. Being pushed around by ice was obviously a totally new experience that brought into unquestionable clarity the enormity of the natural world. It was humbling, wondrous, and shameful: that humans could destroy something so immense was, in that moment, inconceivable.
However, the ship was locked in unseasonably low-latitude pack ice because of disruptions to ocean currents caused by the catastrophic melting of the Greenland ice sheet in June 2019. It was surreal, magical, and really melancholy. In the next couple of days, my peers collected several bags of trash (and an old television) off a remote beach, which drove the point home even further. Copperplate etchings were a natural choice as the copper, in acid, erodes like melting ice; a natural resource incrementally lost. The plates for the smaller print, “Svalbard, 79.75° North: Pack Ice II,” are being regularly reshaped in acid until fully destroyed, and printed in between. This has turned into a great project to be doing simultaneously as Laura and I get the Two if by Sea journal up and running. In fact, we just released the first online issue last month and are working on the first print issue.
School of Now, which I’ve been involved with since May, is also turning into a fitting companion piece as the school I regularly work at isn’t operating this semester because of the pandemic. For the past several years, I’ve worked at The Oxbow School in Napa, which is a boarding semester program for visual arts and humanities. At some point, I wanted Oxbow to have a program that would be like CAP, Ryman Arts, and Nomad Lab, and that resulted in partnering with the Napa County Office of Education’s After Class Enrichment Program (ACE). With the support of my fellow faculty and former Head of School, we were able to comb through the studios for extra supplies, find time and space on campus, and get started. For the past three Spring semesters (except this year, because of the pandemic), we’ve hosted local middle schoolers on campus for a program that Oxbow students interested in community arts, teaching, and pedagogy volunteer for. It’s a free program that I facilitate and help shape each year but don’t quite run – that’s up to the Oxbow students.
It’s not always easy (the in-real-time growing pains are part of it), but it is always a fun time – often hilarious. I love seeing these high schoolers from all over the country meet and get to know people just a bit younger than them – seeing them form mutual mentorships is really rewarding, and I have meetings with my students in between the program sessions to reflect and plan what’s next. It’s pretty freeform, and when we’re all stressed from the semester, it can sometimes feel or seem like an overwhelming addition but as soon as you get back into it, it just turns the day around and enhances what they get out of being at Oxbow. I don’t think this program will be able to run next Spring, and so School of Now is turning into an exciting project in so many ways.
Is our city a good place to do what you do?
LA is a complicated place. I have a lot of love for this city, and I believe in it, but it can be such an overwhelming force with many faults. I think it’s all about finding your people here, and there are so many good people. Even though I live most of the year in the Bay Area now, I still consider my home base and my team of peers to be in LA. That’s not to say the Bay isn’t the same thing for others, it’s just what I grew up with and what sustained me for so long. You need to find connections here and not be afraid to reach out to people who are doing work you’re interested in or want to be involved with. A lot of people might not want to collaborate, and that’s unfortunate because it makes so many projects impossible to develop, or just slows down exciting progress for everybody, that could otherwise provide so much more. But, there’s a sector of people here who are just excited to connect and to share ideas and resources, and it’s about finding those people who want to support and be supported. And if you can’t find that (in LA or anywhere), then that’s your job: act like what you want to be surrounded by, and look beyond your immediate circle.
- I’m selling the ice prints for $300 and $500, unframed (price adjusted accordingly for framed prints). More info is available on my Instagram or website, and I handle sales through Instagram or email. If you purchase a print, you’ll be updated later on regarding where a portion of the sales was donated.
- School of Now is free and open to anyone to participate! We want to meet new people and get your input!
- Website: https://cargocollective.com/meganbroughton https://www.twoifbyseapress.org/ https://www.oxbowschool.org/
- Instagram: @meganbroughtonartist @twoifbyseapress @theschoolofnow @theoxbowschool
Ryan Sloan, Linda Stupart, Jess Castillo, Kailyn Bryant