Former CMA Teaching Artist Mx. Rich recently moved to Los Angeles and is now piloting their own YouTube series, Mx. Rich Makes! The first workshop in the series, Craft Your Magical Identity Being, leaves participants with a creature that represents who they are on the inside. Below, Mx. Rich expands on the inseparable link between being a maker and educator, their lifelong journey of discovering their own gender identity, and what their Magical Identity Being looks like (hint: it’s purple and wears a top hat!) Follow Mx. Rich on Instagram and YouTube, and check out their website here.
Can you tell us about your art practice and how working with children inspires you?
Hi! My students know me as Mx. (pronounced “mix”) Rich. I use they/them pronouns. I’m a non-binary artist/educator. Currently, I am a shop/computer programming teacher at UCLA’s Geffen Academy. I’ve been a maker my entire life. It started with taking apart household electronics (sorry mom!) and building furniture with my dad, to now mixing custom electronics with traditional fabrication techniques. I love working on the wide range of skills being a jack-of-all-trades maker demands me to have, as well as the endless pursuit to stay educated on the constantly moving target of newly developed technology. I also love being a part of the maker community, which shares my belief that research into new tech needs to be distributed equitably. This belief is one reason I am an educator. Teaching a wide range of fabrication, physical computation, and computer programming concepts allows me to share my knowledge in as direct a way as possible. Beyond teaching for the love of sharing knowledge, being an educator compels me to be an ever more studious maker. It pushes me to constantly expand my knowledge, abilities, and projects so my students have the most up-to-date information with my own real-life examples of these concepts in use. Being a maker and an educator are inseparable parts of my practice. They inform and build on one another. Even though I’ve been building things for as long as I can remember, being an educator has given a unique purpose to my work and life. My students are the reason I push through lulls in creative output, struggle through learning new skills, and continue developing a more interdisciplinary practice.
Your workshop “Craft Your Magical Identity Being” explores the multitudes of features that make us who we are in a creatively liberating way. How did this project came to fruition?
I think of my gender transition as not just being the two years before fully coming out, but as being my entire life prior to that liberation. For a long time, I felt as though I needed to present a certain way, or have certain interests, or have certain friends, etc to be understood in the queer scene and in my non-binary identity. I drove myself crazy to fit into the “queer” box, only to realize that the pursuit was antithetical to my personal interpretation of being gender non-conforming. I see myself as having multitudes of identities within me. That realization lead me to assume these multitudes also existed in everyone else around me, whether it be gender identity, other cultural identity markers, or even just personal identity markers such as introvert/extrovert, sporty/artsy, etc! A lot about what makes conversations surrounding gender identity difficult is that many of these emotions don’t have a direct language translation. There is a reason that each year it feels as though there are new words created to describe different identities. It was the feeling of flux and malleability that lead me to come out. My hope with this workshop is that by putting these feelings into visual imagery, we are able to more eloquently describe this flux phenomenon to the people closest to us as well as reconnect with and discover parts of ourselves that we love through this!
What does your Magical Identity Being look like?
The markers I used for this are:
Maker > Hands
Good Friend > Purple
Goofy > Top Hat
Curious > Monocle
Bubbly > Smile
How does art have the power to connect and support community bonds? Why is it important to make art accessible to all children and families?
Art only has the power to connect and support community bonds if it is made accessible. Making and other types of artistic experimentation are so effective in boosting self-confidence and problem-solving skills in both kids and adults that not making these types of play accessible creates a dangerous inequity within and across communities. With accessible art, students learn that creativity is within them, and not some indecipherable undertaking requiring expensive tools, past experience, or pedantic wording. It is the joy of my life to see a student problem-solve a totally unique way of making art, far from academic training or common processes, that is completely their own. It allows them to share their worldview in a fearless way, to stand up and say “This is me.” That kind of fearlessness allows for the celebration of what we each bring to the table as individuals.
What advice do you have for parents who want to address serious global issues with their children? Is there a way to use art to facilitate these conversations?
The humbling lesson I continue to learn over and over is the depth to which children already understand serious global issues. They have a capacity far greater than what we often give them credit for. Kids want to know, they want to be in these conversations, they want to be able to help, and they want to create change in whatever way they can. I often start by giving metaphors from simple interactions they have that I’ve heard them express to me, or take notes from other educators, social workers, or philosophers that have tackled these issues simply before. I often find works of art from individuals I look up to as a way to visually express these issues. Make sure to leave a lot of room for questions, and when you don’t know the answer you can let them know. If its a question you can find out the answer to, set a time to restart the conversation and answer it, but also let them know if its a question that no one can know the answer to. Allow them to process it in their own time out loud or through whatever means they feel comfortable, whether its writing or drawing, etc.
Do you have a favorite memory of making art as a child?
I used to tinker in my dad’s wood shop, either working on props for school plays, furniture and ceramics for the house, or building toy cars. This early opportunity to experiment with building and making has not only encouraged me to pursue it as a career, but also filled me with the confidence to bring a creative mind to obstacles I might run into along the way.
Can you share a work or artist that inspires you to make art?
I’m very inspired by the work of Cynthia Hua, Yo-Yo Lin, Ashley Jane Lewis, and Stefan Skripak. Each of these artists impresses me with how they tackle very complicated and multi-faceted topics so poetically.
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