Joni Watkins - Arts Integration, Education, Collaboration and Dedication
I met Joni at a live drawing event at a mutual friend’s in downtown St. Louis. She had her paints out that night, and I remember watching her create as the performance, music, and atmosphere flowed through her and onto her canvas in a coterie of color. It was great to share in her art, and I’m so grateful we got to introducing ourselves, because she has been such an inspiration to me ever since. Joni is the type of person that makes everybody feel like a somebody, and makes beautiful art to boot. Here are a few favorites:
Joni Watkins, artist of JoJo Paint, is a full-time teacher at Dunklin R-5 School District, where she has been for the last 12 years, teaching fourth grade, grades 1-8 art, and drama. Joni jokes that she doesn't really have a job, because it doesn’t feel like it. She says her days go by fast because she is in the creative zone and gets to bring the joy of art to others all day.
“Being an educator is something that comes second nature to me,” Joni tells me, and that much is obvious from knowing her fiery young spirit and wise old soul. This energy she carries brings all sorts of people under her wings -- young, old, and everywhere in between. I know that her strength and positivity helps her students grow, and she always encourages them to think in a new way by merging the arts into other subjects. “My students would be found acting out their vocabulary words, creating artifacts of Native Americans, creating visuals of their favorite scenes from a book, and making up jingles for spelling words. Creativity brought my class together.”
Arts integration is something that personally resonates with me - when I found theatre at age 13, my life was changed, and storytelling quickly became how I process the world around me. But what's great about Joni is not only the way she makes art -- it's also her soothing presence. I wish I’d had a schoolteacher back then like her; confident and brave while embracing her talents and identity. Joni is both empathetic and encouraging, both powerful and peaceful, both creative and clear. I know she shines a beacon of light in the dark for her students.
You never know what the kids you see in public are going through in private, and they need a person like Joni to look up to. “Many of my students come from poverty and do not have very high self-esteems. Art is an escape for them and is something easy that they can also do at home. It builds their confidence and it means the world to me to see them grow as artists and humans. Moments as simple as a student rushing up to me with their artwork with joy in their eyes or giving their art to a friend is all I need.”
It seems like Joni has been spreading the Free Art Philosophy since long before we began, not only in her classroom, but by giving her art away to the people who inspired it. We could all take a leaf out of her book. If we can just consciously give each other the space to explore our creativity and be ourselves -- and better yet, to share the products of our own creativity with one another -- we can quite literally alter the future of humanity.
Aside from changing the world through teaching, Joni spreads the good word in the St. Louis arts community and beyond, from acting as Board President for City of Night St. Louis, to working with the Cryptic Mafia in Jefferson County, to being a player with the local theatre company PRIME. She has donated her art to nonprofits and to support the efforts at Standing Rock. Aside from this, whether she knows it or not, her energy, philosophy, and art are their own form of activism.
She is a multi-faceted craftswoman in her work, from watercolor and ink, to colored pencils, to acting, to pet portraits. She has even painted several murals for children’s rooms. In fact, while painting a “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” mural for a friend's next baby, the oldest son, who was 2 years old at the time, would exclaim to anyone who came over, “JoJo Paint!” The name has stuck, and I like it!
“My art is ever-evolving and I enjoy challenging myself to try out different mediums. I am open to the universe and do things that feel right. I let my art take me where I need to go. I love having a sketchbook with me at all times -- You never know when you will be inspired.” Being able to see beauty in your simplest experiences can change your perspective on everything in life. Thank you, Joni, for sharing your heART and helping myself, your students, and every life you touch to refine our focus and keep moving.
I could go on forever about all the ways Joni is an inspirational human and a true Free Art Friend, but why not find out for yourself? You can visit her website, like her page on facebook, follow her on instagram, or request a commission yourself by sending her an email.
You can also see her in the upcoming project titled “Negotiation of Self” by Elizabeth Crabtree as one of several women interviewed about self-perception and interacting with the world. She is part of an installation of abstract audio, live performance, and 2D and 3D artwork. This event will be on Friday, September 23rd and Saturday, September 24 from 8-11pm at The Nest of Cryptic Winged Photography.
pass it on, pay it forward.