October 4, 2017

This artist turned her career into a calling through a service year

ArtistYear helped Lauren Kelly combine her passion with a mission: to inspire the next generation to exercise their own artistic expression

Lauren Kelly graduated with a degree in Entertainment and Arts Management. She used her skills to become an artist-teacher through the service program ArtistYear. Photo courtesy of Lauren Kelly

I was born in Philadelphia. Famous for cheesesteaks, the Liberty Bell, and the Rocky Statue, to name a few local gems. I was blessed with a family that exposed me to the arts, installing the value and impact that it gives your life. In high school it became very clear that I would pursue a creative field in college. I took numerous art classes every day, enrolled at Moore College of Art on the weekends, and volunteered at an art center. I would take every opportunity to involve art in my schedule.

In the fall of 2009 I started at Drexel University as a Design and Merchandising student. I loved all of my studio classes, but I started to realize this was not my passion. I began to apply to other schools and speak to professors about other options and ultimately, I graduated from Drexel with a degree in Entertainment and Arts Management.

Upon graduation I had numerous jobs but I hadn’t been completely fulfilled. One day I received an email from an old professor about a service opportunity called ArtistYear. ArtistYear fellows teach art for one year in a school with a high high percentage of children from low-income families. I knew in that moment I had to be a part of this—I had to start at the beginning, exposing Philadelphia students to visual arts like I had been exposed. Visual arts is inspired by fear, love, hate, and loss, ultimately resulting in a form of expression. It can change your perspective on the world, people, and situations; it has the power to change your life.

Words can’t explain the impact that each day has on you during this type of service year experience. I went into the process with a mission to teach my students about art and its value, but I hadn’t considered how much I would learn and gain from my students. My students were superheroes—hardworking, loving, resilient, and funny kids with very difficult home lives. On one of my first days teaching, a student who was not very engaged quietly pulled me aside and asked me if I could draw a motorcycle. The next day I returned to class with a motorcycle I had drawn for him. He quietly looked it over, looked up at me and asked if he could keep it to hang in his room. That simple drawing changed his demeanor in my class almost immediately. He was engaged in my classroom and even chose to take my drawing elective. He now carries his sketchbook with him daily and although he has enormous support from our school’s entire staff, I do believe my art influence created a new outlet for him and facilitated his acceleration in other subjects.

My students were superheroes—hardworking, loving, resilient, and funny kids with very difficult home lives.

Today, visual arts exposure and education in our schools, our homes, our society, is lacking—or just out of site. Art’s unique values will ultimately affect how our generation is viewed through history. Generations of artists and citizens before us have paved the way, and we have an obligation to continue their legacy. We have a responsibility to cultivate our culture. We need to continue to strive to educate people, especially our next generation, on the value of art in our society and encourage individuals to contribute through artistic expression because it is the lens through which future generations will view us.

My service year with ArtistYear was an eye-opening experience in many ways, but more than anything, it was a beautiful reminder that students want to learn and communicate through the visual arts. If they are given access to the training and mediums, the opportunities are endless.

ArtistYear has given me many gifts that will impact my thinking throughout my life. My service year experience has allowed me to see the way art impacts each student. ArtistYear has confirmed my belief in the vitality of arts education for every student, no matter their background.

I was honored to serve as Orientation and Onboarding Coordinator for the 2018 class of ArtistYear AmeriCorps members. It was exciting and empowering to see so many new members prepare to take flight on their own journeys of service and artistry. Having seen them on their way, I am eager to put to use the amazing skills I have acquired as well. I believe arts advocacy will always play a role in my future career because during my service year I saw first-hand the impact that art can have on individuals and on a community.

Lauren Kelly


Lauren Kelly is a service year alum who just completed her service year with ArtistYear. She is a visual artist who is passionate about making the arts accessible in Philadelphia. A native of the city, Lauren holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Entertainment and Arts Management, with a focus in Visual Studies, from Drexel University.
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