The following article was featured in the Saturday, May 18, and Sunday, May 19, editions of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Josefa Vaughan Cultivates ArtSeed
by Jonathan Kuperberg
May 18, 2013
Kali Richardson, 8, gets help from his dad, Alex, at a typewriter at ArtSeed’s recent annual art-athon in the Presidio. Photo by James Tensuan, The Chronicle
Mentored at 11, Josefa Vaughan pays it forward with ArtSeed
Josefa Vaughan was adrift. Growing up poor in Houston, she was mostly on her own by age 15 and could have been heading down a dark path. But she had art – and a mentor in Pilar Rubin.
Vaughan, whose sister knew Rubin, got free weekly lessons starting at age 11. When Vaughan first stepped foot in Rubin’s home, Rubin handed the girl paper and charcoal and told her to draw. “You will be here every Saturday,” Rubin said after she saw Vaughan’s drawing. “You will be a great artist.”
With that influence in mind, Vaughan in 2000 founded ArtSeed, a nonprofit San Francisco organization that brings art to children, particularly those who might not otherwise have access to it, through classes, apprenticeships and other programs. ArtSeed preaches that children are taught as adults, just as Rubin treated Vaughan like her older college students and had her use more adult materials.
“When someone outside your family says they expect something of you, it means a little something more,” Vaughan says.
Through ArtSeed, she works in schools, forms apprenticeships between professional
artists and kids and designs curriculum and projects. Most of her work for the past 11 years has centered on Leola M. Havard Early Education School in the Bayview. Vaughan is also helping to pilot a program at San Francisco Public Montessori on Jackson Street and serves hundreds more kids at the Asian Art Museum through an art project about legacy involving China’s terra-cotta warriors (currently on exhibit). ArtSeed holds an annual show that ties the entire year’s artwork all together. Its annual art-athon, a 10-hour art-making marathon that raises funds for its programs, was held April 20 in the Presidio.
‘KEPT HER ALIVE’
“Pursuing her art is sort of what kept her alive and away from a troublesome and worrisome road,” says Tony Grant, a longtime friend. “Now she works with kids who come up to those kinds of forks in the road.”
Adversity still hit Vaughan hard. She worked a series of odd jobs, including a stint at Walmart, and had a child at 18. Yet Vaughan never forgot the lessons she learned from Rubin or the method.
“Josefa maybe was lost, but she knew what she was looking for,” Rubin says. “I thought she was going to be creating a lot of art. Her great creation is to help others.”
Artist Josefa Vaughan, at the Art-athon, founded the nonprofit ArtSeed as a way to connect youngsters with artist mentors as she had been. Photo by James Tensuan, The Chronicle
Vaughan traveled back and forth between Texas and California for different art making and teaching opportunities before settling in San Francisco. After years of questioning the approach of other organizations, she finally decided to start her own with the help of co-founder Marissa Kunz, who has taught art at Sherman Elementary School in Cow Hollow for nearly 10 years.
‘YOU OPEN THE DOOR’
Vaughan is providing San Francisco children the same opportunities to create art that Rubin gave her in Texas years ago. “Sometimes we don’t know what we do for other people, what’s valuable for them,” Rubin says. “But you open the door, teach the basics and leave them the inspiration.”
Vaughan’s approach to art is what separates ArtSeed from other nonprofits that bring art to schools. She doesn’t just hand the kids paper and colors and watch them paint. There is no tracing hands to draw turkeys. Instead, the kids are treated like grown-ups. Children bring feelings and perspectives that are just as important as an adult’s. Vaughan says it’s about kids learning not just how to paint but also how to build a project.
Grant considers the approach “highbrow,” providing kids “a taste of not just making art but being an artist.”
Josefa Vaughan (center) helps sign in art-athon participants. The 10-hour art-making marathon is an annual event that helps raise funds for ArtSeed’s programs. Photo by James Tensuan, The Chronicle