Women make their mark: tattooing industry no longer a man’s game

By Leah Asmelash

Tattoos have increased in popularity over the last few years, as stigmas against body art have decreased in both social environments and the workplace. Although the artistic tradition has a long history in many indigenous cultures, the art form is most known in western culture as a symbol of the counter-movement, particularly in the ‘90s. They were sported by a crowd most parents didn’t necessarily want their kids to be around: punk skaters, gang members and convicts, usually all men.

Tattooing, in general, was a boy’s club. A woman with a tattoo was rare; a woman tattooing was unheard of. Now, people with tattoos come from all walks of life and from all genders, as do tattoo artists. So, what has changed in the last few decades, and why are people increasingly drawn to tattoos?

Boy’s Club

Heather Harlow, owner of Divine Moment Tattoo in Burlington, N.C., has been tattooing for 11 years. When she started, she said the industry lived up to its status as a boy’s club and was sexist towards women, but it has changed over the course of her career.

“I was maybe the first or second lady that actually did conventions on the East Coast,” Harlow said, while recalling her earlier days. “So a lot of people were just really rude to me, but I stayed strong and I knew they were going to make fun of me. I just knew that I didn’t care if I was a female or not. I loved art and I loved tattooing and I loved people.”

Now Harlow only hires women artists, in part because she felt mortified by how women tattoo artists were treated in the past. They were called curtain-hangers, a term signifying someone who should only go into the shop to hang curtains to make the space look pretty, rather than tattooing. Still, Harlow said it has gotten easier for women to enter the tattoo industry, and they have helped change and evolve the industry as a result.

“In the long run it probably has more to do with there’s not much competition,” she said. “Everyone has found a niche. There’s so many different types of tattooing now that anybody can do anything now. A lot of females are good for watercolors and stuff like that, more color. Guys hate doing that.”

Evolving Industry

Meghan Thayer owns Ascension Tattoo in Chapel Hill, N.C. Her shop, which is located on West Franklin Street between a smoke shop and a CD/record store, is more spacious than it seems upon first inspection. The front door opens into a tall staircase — the entire shop is on the second floor. The space is organized, with one room for piercing and one room for tattooing. The rooms are blocked off from the front desk area with a black curtain. The sun peering through the window casts shadows over the space, but Thayer doesn’t seem to mind. She leaves the lights off.

Thayer has only been tattooing for six years, but she’s always loved the art form, getting her first tattoo as soon as she turned 18. Although she never set out to be a tattoo artist, she has always been a creative person.

She said the tattoo industry is still dominated by men, but, like Harlow, she believes it’s evolving as more women begin tattooing.

“I think there’s been enough women who have been in the industry for a while now that there’s sort of this big enough group of women tattoo artists who new women tattooers can look up to,” Thayer said. “They’re becoming leaders in the industry, and it is starting to kind of balance out.”

Thayer also said women are going back to the older roots of tattooing, beyond the traditional style of the 20th century that has more masculine characteristics.

“People are getting back to more of like the healing aspect of things and the spiritual aspect of it,” Thayer said. “And while I see both male and female artists doing that, there’s definitely a feminine quality in that.”

A Growing Art Form

Sarah Peacock, owner of Artfuel Tattoo Shop and Art Gallery in Wilmington, N.C., has been tattooing for 22 years. Having working in the industry for so long, she’s  part of an older generation of tattoo artists, and she disagrees with both Harlow and Thayer on the role of women in the tattoo industry.

“I don’t think you can look at a particular style and say women definitely prefer to do that,” Peacock said, referencing differences in style between men and women tattoo artists.

Instead, Peacock said the new styles rising in popularity now are due to the influx of artists taking an interest in tattooing, not more women tattooing.

“Tattooing has gone into the hands of these people that have pushed the envelope, and they’ve brought so many different styles in, from graphic novels to fine art to computer art,” Peacock said.

All of the women, however, agree that the industry has changed drastically in the past few years, with more and more people getting tattoos. They no longer symbolize a rebel status like they used to. Instead, they have become a part of mainstream popular culture.

“Different types of people have been a little bit more okay with getting tattooed lately, in the past four to five years,” Harlow said. “I think what changed it was the media. If it’s on TV, it’s okay.”

Shifting Trends

Peacock first began to notice the change when her clientele shifted. She began to get to know people in the medical field or in law enforcement who were interested in tattooing, the types of people who did not express an interest before.

“What I suddenly realized is that I was being viewed as a successful business owner, aside from being a tattooer,” Peacock said. “So suddenly, I’m validated. I’m okay for someone to talk to me and take me into their group that aren’t necessarily into tattooing. And that was kind of weird.”

Peacock called the shift a turning point in her career. After only associating with fellow tattoo artists, she wasn’t used to attention from individuals outside of the industry.

Thayer agreed that tattoo culture has become more popular recently due to the influence of media, but she said the political climate may have something to do with the recent increase as well.

“Throughout history, there’s been surges of an increase of tattooing, and they tend to follow really politically turbulent times,” Thayer said. “I think we’re definitely in another one of this cycles, like we were in the ‘20s and ‘30s, and again in the ‘60s and ‘70s. We’re here again. It’s a way for people to take control of themselves. So I think that’s what’s really going on at the core of it.”

Express Yourself

Harlow said that people are drawn towards tattoos as a way to express themselves, not necessarily an expression of rebellion anymore.

“We have so many different types of people, and there’s so many humans on this planet that we’re trying to find a way to express ourselves and stand out,” Harlow said. “I think it’s a change of consciousness. People want to be able to be different and express themselves.”

Breast cancer patients have also become a large clientele for tattoo artists. Nipple tattoos help women feel better after mastectomies, when the breast and the nipple are removed, Harlow said.

“I can tattoo them and make them look 3-D, and they feel better with that,” she said. “As long as society is okay with it, it’s okay for people to get it.”

Peacock, who has also tattooed women after mastectomies, said tattooing breast cancer patients changed how people viewed her. She was no longer just a tattoo artist, but someone who was helping women by doing something surgeons couldn’t do.

For women especially, Thayer said tattoos help with self-esteem, even outside of mastectomies.

“(Women) have been told we’re not enough of something,” she said. “You’re too tall, you’re too short, you’re too thin, you’re too fat, you’re too whatever. You’re something.

“I see as people get tattoos, they start to accept themselves for who they are,” Thayer said. “And to stand up in front of the mirror and just love yourself, love the way you look, is such a powerful thing.”

Looking Forward

Women have gone through a long journey in the tattoo industry. Some are like Peacock, they’ve been in the industry forever with few problems, but others are Harlow and have been discriminated against based on their gender. In the end, there are more women now than ever before, women like Thayer who began tattooing just in the last few years, making their mark on the tattooing world.

The industry — whether it is because of the media, the political climate, the desire for self-expression or breast cancer — continues to grow in popularity among both men and women. And despite whether they are giving a tattoo or receiving it, women are, and have always been, a huge part of the tattoo industry.

Edited by Sarah Muzzillo

NC state mandate threatens high school arts and specialty classes

By Colleen Brown

The bell shrieked, releasing a rush of students from classrooms. I pressed myself against one wall, trying not to get in the way of the stampede.

The students at William G. Enloe High School seemed smaller than I remembered them being, or maybe I just grew in the two years since I walked the halls. They darted around one another, chatting or staring down at phones as they passed teachers.

The teachers stuck on hall patrol looked out over the crowd of bobbing heads with faraway expressions. They didn’t bother asking students to put their phones away and students paid them no attention whatsoever.

A two-minute warning sounded and like water leaking down a drain, the teenagers found places to be that weren’t the hallway. A few stragglers slipped into classrooms just as the final bell rang.

The hallway echoed emptily as I walked down the worn tan and green tile, grown dull and scratched in months since its last buffing. It smelled vaguely old, a given in a building that was built in the 60s.

A mural painting of a galaxy wrapped around the door and lockers outside my old astronomy classroom. Reds and pinks, navy and touches of black covered the institutional white cinder blocks. A large greyish-white moon and small white stars twinkled on top of the riot of color.

A student walked by holding a tripod and a staff topped with the golden head of Ra, the Egyptian sun god.

Another mural graced the walkway outside the cafeteria. Photo-realistic fruits, each as tall as a person, overlapped each other. A sign by the mural said “Enloe Beautification in Progress,” a warning for students not to vandalize the new piece. Someone had crossed out the word “Enloe” and written “Enloe sucks 3/20/2017”.

I laughed. That’s about what I expected.

Arts in trouble

This past November, Republican Senate leaders in the North Carolina General Assembly created a mandate, hidden in the state budget, that will lower class sizes in Kindergarten through third grade to a maximum of 18 students per teacher. Although lower class sizes are better for learning, this mandate came with a problem: extra money was not provided to pay for the hiring of new teachers.

I spoke over the phone with Mary Casey, the K-12 Director of Arts Education at Durham Public Schools, to help me better understand how this mandate will affect students and teachers.

According to Casey, the response from school districts statewide was virtually unanimous: the only way to pay for smaller class sizes without increased funding is to cut arts, physical education and specialist classes.

The mandate might not affect just elementary schools. Each district has discretion in figuring out how to pay for teachers. According to Casey, some might just cut elementary specialists. Other districts might spread the cuts across elementary, middle and high schools in order to keep a few teachers at each level.

This means no art, band, dance or music for students. No gym, orchestra or other specialties like newspaper and audiovisual classes. But more than that, the state is taking away teachers’ livelihoods, their incomes and careers.

“A lot of people are saying they’ll make the students a pawn in this,” Casey said. “We believe in a well-rounded student, which includes specialists, in support of classroom teachers. Engagement and self-expression in the arts and PE are part of a child’s growth. It’s a huge part of how they develop, through movement and song and artwork.”

Casey has 175 art teachers under her, one of whom is my mother. It’s unlikely any of them will have a job this upcoming school year.

Enloe

Enloe GT/IB Center for the Humanities, Sciences and the Arts is one of the most challenging high schools in the state, ranked seventh in NC by The Washington Post in 2016. A school like Enloe is built off enticing talented students into a poorer, underachieving region of Wake County like southeast Raleigh through advanced classes in the humanities, sciences and arts. Take away those classes, and you take away the success. I spent four years here, growing and learning as a person. I likely wouldn’t have gotten in to UNC-Chapel Hill if not for Enloe.

Physical Education: Womble

I met with Andrew Womble, one of the best soccer coaches I ever played for, during his weightlifting class.

Womble looked the same, rocking athletic gear and a crew cut, with the body of a former athlete who’s still, mostly, keeping up with it after seven years teaching at Enloe. He lives in Sanford. The pay to work in Wake County makes up for the hour-long commute, but it’s nothing compared to what he made working in Texas.

Womble commanded the room of teenage boys with absolute respect and a booming Southern accent, putting them through their warm-up paces on the heavy, old-fashioned weight racks. The bars creaked and groaned as we spoke. The boys were doing squat clean and jerks, throwing the weight bar above their heads before letting it slam to the rubber mats. It smelled awful, a caustic mix of sweat and metal, exacerbated by poor air conditioning.

“It’s… tough, and to be honest, I’m looking for a way out,” Womble said as he went over the students’ numbers from their max-out day. “There’s not been any money invested in athletics. I think the drive’s starting to get to me more and more a little every year. I only get $2,400 for coaching. Pennies on the hour. It’s just not worth it.”

The workout broke down toward the end of class. Boys started doing their favorite exercises. Some lifted dumbbells. Others did chin-ups. Nirvana played over the speakers, which had some of the guys rocking air guitars in front of the wall-to-wall mirrors.

When I asked to take photos, one boy ripped off his shirt and started flexing. Womble barked at him to put his shirt back on because, “No one wants to see that.” The class laughed, giving the boy a hard time for trying to show off in front of a college girl.

I explained the predicament the NC legislature had placed schools, almost shouting to be heard over the music and weights. Womble just shook his head slowly.

“If I wasn’t an athlete, I wouldn’t have gone to college,” Womble said. “I hated school, only liked sports. They teach leadership, work ethics, motivational stuff, this is stuff kids carry their lives. I couldn’t picture myself as a five-year-old not being able to play. There’s a bunch of kids that are going to be left behind.”

Studio Art: Klenow

The classroom was light, airy and absolutely packed with art. Art on the walls, the tables, the windows. Drawings of pineapple and buildings in correct aspect ratio hung on the wall next to a mobile of small, grasping hands bunched together. There were watercolors, pastel sketches and mixed media lining the hallway outside the classroom, shepherding you into an explosion of color and chaos.

The countertop lining the back wall was splashed with dried paint, supporting wooden easels, newspaper clippings and stray bits of paper. On the back wall, the words “Line, Space, Shape, Value, Color and Texture” were printed. “ABC: Always Be Creating” adorned another wall.

Ten students, mostly girls, stay in the class during Mrs. Klenow’s planning period for lunch. They were dressed in artsy clothing, with Chuck Taylors and shirts advertising bands I’ve never heard of. They’ve created their own little hideout here in the art room.

Trish Klenow is a middle-aged woman of medium height, with light hair highlighted an artsy reddish color. She spoke and moved quickly, with motions that made her seem younger somehow, quirky in her capris and comfortable shoes. She wore dangly silver earrings and a silvery watch, paired with a key-shaped necklace.

“I knew from a young age that art was my passion, that this is what I wanted to do,” Klenow said in-between bites of low-fat Greek yogurt.

She told me about working near the Texas-Mexico border. “There was razor wire, fires, fights breaking out all the time,” she said. “But my budget there was twice what it is here. My salary was better. I won an award, Most Outstanding Art Educator, High School Division, for all of Texas.” Klenow gestured to the plaque on the wall above her desk with a plastic spoon.

Klenow has been voraciously keeping up with news about the mandate.

“I am such an advocate for art education,” she said. “It teaches critical thinking and creativity. To take it away, you are handicapping one of our strengths. I’m afraid, for students, for myself, for my colleagues.”

Klenow looked around her classroom, surveying the students working on projects. One girl painted a watercolor with rapid, small motions, spreading blues and purples. Others gathered in the center of the room, talking politics away from the insanity of the overcrowded cafeteria.

“I love my nerds here, they’re so dedicated,” Klenow said. “I’ve had children tell me that the only reason they come to school is for art. It’s not just fun art therapy. I have students who’ve gotten prize money, great scholarships they need for college. It’s just not fair.”

One of the students, senior Ken Wear, was packing his sculpture into a shipping box headed for the Parsons School of Design and a two-year tour of the United States.

Wear is small and unassuming, with glasses and short, stubbly hair mostly covered by a black beanie. He wore a dark hoodie with what I thought was a Tardis on the back.

His piece that’s going on tour, Sucellus, is a hand-sculpted clay mask with leaves coming out of the back of the head. Small black beetles crawl over the face into empty eye sockets.

Wear is still deciding on which college to attend. He received a $54,000 scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago, but is waiting to hear back from the Maryland Institute College of Art to see if he wins their full scholarship.

“I can’t pay $150,000, so I’ll go to the one that gives me more money,” Wear said, half-joking. “I’m trying not to be in debt for the rest of my life.”

Wear isn’t sure what he’ll do in the future, whether it be gallery work or teaching, but is sure either school will offer great opportunities.

Before leaving for his next class, Wear turned to me with no prompting and said: “Art is the only thing I can really lose myself in. I don’t know what I’d do if they took it away.”

Edited by Luke Bollinger

Raging Grannies bring decades of activism to HKonJ march

By Molly Weybright

Fayetteville Street brimmed with people on Feb. 11, 2017 as the crowd for the Moral March on Raleigh seeped into the adjoining streets like water into cracked concrete. It was nearly impossible to move without bumping into another person.

But the agitation that often develops in overcrowded spaces was missing. In its place was an incredibly powerful feeling of togetherness. As people of all ages, races, sexualities and ethnicities gathered in the streets of Raleigh, cries of “forward together, not one step back” echoed off the towering buildings.

Over the sea of people floated homemade signs promoting everything from transgender rights to an end to racial gerrymandering. One sign read: “I’m not LGBTQ, black, Muslim, poor, disabled or a woman. I’m a privileged white male who believes in liberty and justice for all.” That idea of standing up for one another pervaded the morning.

Hope, empowerment, positivity, power, opportunity, progress, unity, justice, inspiration, equality and moral resistance. Those are the words that crowd members said best described the idea of the 11th annual Historic Thousands on Jones Street – known as HKonJ – People’s Assembly Coalition.

The first HKonJ was held in 2007 under the leadership of North Carolina NAACP President, the Rev. William J. Barber II. At the beginning, the coalition consisted of just 16 organizations. During the next 11 years, the coalition grew to include over 125 NAACP branches and over 200 organizations.

There were around 3,500 attendees at the first march in 2007. That number grew considerably to about 80,000 attendees in 2014, and according to the organizers, February 2017 saw HKonJ’s largest crowd yet.

Within that massive crowd was a group of grannies – Raging Grannies to be exact.

Picture3
Protesters show off homemade signs at the march in Raleigh.

The Grannies

Young and old alike gathered in Raleigh to make a difference; at one end of that spectrum was Vicki Ryder.

Vicki is part of a group known as the Raging Grannies. The Grannies began in Canada, and today there are around 100 “gaggles” of Grannies around the world that attend marches and protests to stand up for everything from environmental protection to voting rights.

At 74 it’s safe to say that Vicki has seen her fair share of strife and struggle in the United States. She marched for the first time at 12 years old in the Youth March for Integrated Schools and again in 1963 at the March on Washington where she heard Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

She has marched in HKonJ every year since she moved to Durham in 2012 and finds that every year there are more and more reasons to march.

“All of these struggles are connected,” she said. “They’re all part of a systemic ‘dis-ease’ in our country, and we can either run around putting out every little brushfire, or we can look at the bigger picture.”

Jade Dell, a 71-year-old Raging Granny from Raleigh, said that since losing her husband – her “social activist partner” – the Grannies have helped filled his role.

She said that she loved how the march was “a real fusion movement.” Barber, she said, always makes sure to include every group fighting for justice, which makes the march more powerful.

“Many groups I have been with in the past leave somebody out,” she said. “[HKonJ] is crucial, as together we are stronger and more vocal.”

Gann Herman, 67, from Durham echoed Jade’s thoughts on the importance of unity. Gann joined the Triangle’s Granny gaggle in 2013 and has attended HKonJ since. She said she is always impressed with the resonating sense of community.

However, she said that it felt like this year’s march had a more diverse and populous turnout.

“This one was especially electric because of the election of Trump,” she said. “There were many people who turned up who hadn’t come to earlier ones.”

Part of the Grannies’ staple is that they sing songs to express their ideas and promote activism. Vicki writes most of those songs, including the song they sang at HKonJ.

To the tune of “Oh, Susannah” the song’s chorus says:

“People power! Together we will stand!

And reclaim our rights with all our might

Across this troubled land!”

Vicki said that the songs help her focus on what is important. She noted that the HKonJ song didn’t include any mention of President Trump because she feels that even though he is part of the issues, attacking him will get people nowhere.

Picture1
Marchers stand on Fayetteville Street facing the Capitol while listening to the speakers of the day, including the Rev. William J. Barber II.

A national climate

In previous years, the march has largely focused on state issues, such as the anti-LGBT House Bill 2 – commonly known as the bathroom bill – in 2016. But this year, in response to the Trump administration and its many controversial policies and promises, the march’s focus took a national turn.

Enactments by the Trump administration such as the refugee ban, which restricts access to the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries including Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia, and his promises to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood, are what sparked many to march on Saturday.

Barber was the backbone of the march. With his speeches, he heartened and encouraged the crowd, telling them not to give up.

Every individual in the crowd, he said, will play a role in bringing the country back to the moral high ground it once rested on; though the issues may seem divisive and singular, they are more encompassing and overarching than one may think.

“The decisions are bigger than left vs. right, conservative vs. liberal, democrat vs. republican,” he said. “Some things are about right vs. wrong.”

Barber said that HKonJ is more than just a once-a-year gathering of people; it is a place where people can stand up for the ideas of freedom and equality that they fight for every day under an oppressive administration.

Gloria Chamblee, a marcher from from Virginia, said that she was encouraged to march for the first time at HKonJ because of both the national climate, and the international climate as well.

“[People] have been protesting all over the world,” she said. “If they can, and they don’t even live in the country, I can.”

That unity – statewide, national and international – created an atmosphere of togetherness in Raleigh.

The Raging Grannies’ song reflected that idea of unity when they sang, “We have come together, black and white, and tan, and red and brown, to say that we’re not gonna let the fascists beat us down.”

Vicki Ryder said that she saw more signs of resistance from a greater number of people at this year’s march.

“The results of the last election have mobilized people who ordinarily would be perhaps more complacent,” she said. “There was a lot more attention being paid to the big picture.”

That bigger picture is not a new one. The crowd was reminded that over the last century, the nation has seen countless violations to human rights and people have fought and overcome them, just as the marchers seek to do now.

Moving forward

HKonJ showed the degree to which people are in unrest about the current state of the nation. People are not pleased with an administration that Gann Herman described as “stingy” and “wrongheaded.”

But, what can be done to move forward in the face of these national issues?

According to Vicki Ryder, people have to keep fighting.

“We fight them in the streets, we fight them in the courts, we fight them in Congress,” she said. “On all fronts, we have to be vigilant and we have to be vocal and we have to be strong.”

Vicki was echoing Barber’s sentiment that now more than ever is the time to stand up and fight; now is not the time to stand down.

If Martin Luther King Jr. had ceded when he was faced with adversity, how much longer would the country have been segregated?

If Gloria Steinem had decided not to fight for women’s rights, how many fewer female faces would young girls today see in positions of power?

In the moment, many activists’ views are seen as extreme and unnecessary, Barber said, but more often than not, those views are what help move the nation forward into a new class of equal rights.

“The radical ideas of one generation often become common sense of the next,” Barber said.

Historically, that has held true; and for all intents and purposes it will hold true in the future.

But, it’s not just the young people who are making a difference – it’s the Vicki Ryders and the Gann Hermans and the Jade Dells.

It’s the people who have seen true strife and struggle in person rather than just having read about it in books. It’s the people who can reassure upcoming activists that while their efforts may feel futile, perseverance makes all the difference. It’s the people with a lifetime of experience that can take themselves out of the issues and see that unity and persistence will prevail.

Jade Dell has witnessed 71 years of people overcoming perceivably impossible odds.

“Over the years, I have noticed that while a cause is ‘sexy’ people participate, then they go back to their normal lives,” she said. “But now, there is no ‘normal life.’ Everything has changed.”

She said that for the sake of her grandchildren, her grandchildren’s children and their children after that, the country and the world will have to change.

Edited by Bridget Dye

Amid a culture of artistic flight, Triangle offers N.C. artists a haven close to home

By Janna Childers

Kellyn Thornburg was 20 years old, hair freshly died platinum blond and chopped off at the nape of her neck, with one very large suitcase stuffed full of thrift store T-shirts and leotards. It was August of 2015, and she was waiting at the Charlotte-Douglass International Airport for a  flight to New York City.

Back in May, Thornburg graduated from the UNC School of the Arts with a degree in contemporary dance. After a summer spent bouncing between her college city of Winston-Salem and her rural hometown of Dallas, North Carolina, Thornburg was hungry for change. So, she found an apartment in Harlem and booked her flight.

“I straight up moved to Harlem, and Harlem is a whole different world in and of itself,” Thornburg said. “It was a huge shock at first. But coming from Dallas, North Carolina, there just wasn’t anything out here.”

Thornburg’s story follows a familiar story of young, burgeoning artists, tired of the lack of inspiration in their hometown, flocking to the open arms of a gritty city. And despite musician Patti Smith’s warning to young artists from a 2010 blog post on Vanishing New York — “You have to find the new place because New York City has been taken away from you” — New York has remained the most popular choice, especially for those interested in contemporary art and media. According to the U.S. Census, from 2010 to 2012, the city saw a 40,000-person spike in individuals identifying as artists.

But what happens to the towns these artists leave behind? Is there an art vacuum? Despite the notion that suggests art is dead across America’s small towns and suburbs, the Triangle area of North Carolina offers an alternative. It might not be considered the most exciting and inspiring place for young creatives, but there are certainly a number of locals who take the art world seriously.

Going elsewhere

Wayne Marcelli is a painter from Myrtle Beach. He has an armful of tattoos, thin-rimmed glasses and gauges in his ears. And despite having roots in North Carolina, he plans to move away after graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill’s graduate studio art.

“The department is kind of an incubator, but once you graduate, you go elsewhere unless you’re going to work at the school,” Marcelli said. “Teaching jobs around here are kind of dried up. And at least in the art department here, when they’re hiring new people they generally don’t hire from within the department.”

Aaron Mandel, founder of the Durham-based media company Clarion Content, said he thinks the Triangle, with its economic success, has become a place for yuppies. He describes the “glory days” of the Durham art scene, back in the ’80s and ’90s when it was a city known for high crime rates and low incomes. He draws parallels between gentrification and what he deems to be the success of the art scene in a city.

“Durham was the sort of place where it was possible for artists to find ground-level opportunities and cheap studios. It’s the same story of the Village in New York, or SoHo,” Mandel said. “Now it’s priced artists out. I think if you study the places where art is made, it tends to be more of those edgy places, more of those places where conflict is really present. Because if you’re in safe, comfortable, suburbia, what do you really need art for?”

But Marcelli wanted to clarify that he didn’t fully agree with the idea that art always came from a place a struggle.

“That could be a misconception, because like a good chuck of the celebrity artists, people who show all over New York City and have pages in art forum, they have generally privileged upbringings,” he said. “They’ve been immersed in that world for a long time. I personally agree that turmoil is a really good generator, but I don’t think that’s the case across the board.”

People move for all sorts of reasons, and artists are no different. They may be priced out of their neighborhood downtown or feel that box stores and model homes are no longer inspiring. Or maybe it’s a trend because the marketplace makes it necessary to have a concentration of network and resources for a particular industry. Whatever the reason, in the United States, many artists tend to be pretty mobile people.

Creative thinkers  

Patrick Hitesman puts his students first. He is a busy man — carting his daughter off to middle school, commuting to work every morning from Apex to Durham, teaching high school students how to paint and maintaining a gallery space in Pittsboro. Hitesman has spent 23 years teaching painting, and he’s spent the past four at Durham School of the Arts. But he said it’s common for students to forget that he’s also a working artist in the Triangle art community.

Art education is messy terrain, with wary parents and a persistent drought of federal funding. But art teachers and schools across the state are still finding ways to make it work.

Art educators find a surprising amount of community support, especially in the Triangle. Since 1995, Durham School of the Arts has offered students a choice in one of 10 concentrations, including visual arts, dance and theater. Graduates from the school often pursue degrees across the country. UNC School of the Arts also has programs that train high school and college students for visual and performing arts careers.

Darrell Thompson, who also works at Durham School of the Arts, has been teaching photography at the school for 20 years.

“The thing about education in sort of a broad brushstroke is you want kids to be creative thinkers. And there’s no better way to do that than giving them a simple set of skills, a project they need to accomplish and then turning them loose to go do it,” he said. When you’re talking to parents though, it gets tough, because not all parents who are my age did what I did to get thorough college. They were doctors, they were lawyers, they were mechanics, they are physician’s assistants. To them, without science and math, there is no future.”

Navigating the market

Art teachers aren’t alone in being engines of the art community. There are also a number of people in consulting that work specifically with artists to help them navigate the art market. Heather Allen is one such person. Allen studied art and design as an undergraduate student, but she quickly realized she longed to teach and see people thrive. After earning a graduate degree in business, she started consulting in 2012, focusing on creative small business out of Raleigh — mostly writers and artists who want to sell their work. She’s now mostly consults older business owners who have been in the industry for years and need help managing new media platforms.

“A lot of those [marketing] models that were popular and predictable in the ’90s and the early 2000s now come with sometimes higher costs,” Allen said. “I encourage people to see the opportunities on the internet in a way that allows them to reduce cost and increase visibility.”

Allen is among several consultants for artists in the Raleigh-Durham area, but she works with people in several states. There are also several organizations that serve as resources for artists in the area, including Triangle ArtWorks, The ArtsCenter in Carrboro and the public art offices in Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh.

‘Something really beautiful about the struggle’

Whether you yearn to up and move to the big city or hunker down and try to make it in your hometown, there are inevitable challenges an artist must face. One could simply be choosing a path — do you freelance, teach? Own your own business, go to school?

Thornburg is a little nervous about the next few years. She freelanced in New York City for more than a year — interning for Twyla Tharp, performing at Lincoln Center, picking up gigs in music videos and flash mobs. She recently accepted a position as the regional creative director for Salvation Army. While she’s glad to have a steady income, she said she’s found it difficult to find as much time for dance.

“For this job, I’m sort of hoping it’s a stepping stone for my dance career instead of this just being it, you know,” she said. “Eventually, my goal is to save up enough money to go back to grad school and get my masters in arts management and/or dance and create my own company and be able to create my own work from there.”

In the meantime, she’s enjoying her job and spending time getting to know the greater New York area, often driving hours to visit a site in her designated region. Thornburg says she’s not afraid of the harder times she has faced and might face in the future.

“There’s something really beautiful about the struggle that you face as an artist because it feeds into whatever you’re trying to portray through your movement, or the film that you’re making or the story that you’re writing,” she said.

“I think you just have to go for it and you realize that it’s not as scary as you make it out to be.”

Edited by Danny Nett

Vietnamese immigrants find the American dream at Nail Trix Salon

By Colleen Brown

We’ve all seen it before. Manicure stations on the left, pedicure on the right, with light decor, posters and fake potted plants placed at seemingly random intervals. Sinks are located in the back and mirrors tacked on opposite walls reflect images back and forth smaller and smaller to a greenish-tinted infinity. There’s stereotypical easy listening music in the background and a rack of brightly colored nail polishes on one wall. A small room in the back of the salon has a stiff white table and bright lighting where customers lay down to have hair waxed off their eyebrows and upper lips.

The workers spend most of their time attending to customers who stubbornly keep trying to use their phones while their nails are drying.

Nail technicians peel old polish off fingers, clip cuticles and file down nails. Customers get to pick a new color from the wall, or if they want a gel manicure, from a little basket filled with rings of brightly painted plastic nails. For pedicures, customers get their feet and calves washed and smothered in lotion. Their callouses and bunions are scrubbed away using a loofah and elbow grease. Two to three coats of polish, then a quick dry under a UV or LED lamp and customers are out within an hour.

A worker at Nail Trix helps customers pick out colors for gel nails.
Toan Pham helps customers pick out colors for gel nails at Nail Trix nail salon.

There are more than 17,000 nail salons in the U.S. according to census data. Manicures aren’t just for special occasions anymore.

I myself am a frequent visitor to Chapel Hill’s salon, Nail Trix, just off Franklin Street. I’m ashamed to admit I’ve been going for almost two years and never even bothered to learn any of the workers’ names. Customers come in, get their nails done and leave. Never once have I seen any customer seriously engage with a technician. Even if customers wanted to, most of the workers are Vietnamese and the language barrier  stymies conversations and prevents understanding.

In spite of these roadblocks, I found the workers at Nail Trix to be friendly and open. They were willing to speak with a young journalism student about their lives, despite the fact that they didn’t really understand why they deserve to be written about in the first place.

Making the adjustment

I spoke with two technicians, Toan Pham and Anhthu Ngo, as I was getting my nails painted.

Toan Pham is perhaps the smallest fully grown woman I have ever met. The 32-year-old comes to about my shoulder, if that. Pham has short, straight black hair and rocked Coach designer glasses with a chic yellow blazer. I let her talk me into painting my nails a bright poison green as I spoke with her and Ngo.

Pham moved from Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, to North Carolina two years ago with her husband Hieu Nguyen and four-year-old daughter Han. Pham used to be a preschool teacher. She stopped sanding my nails with a square nail buffer in order to articulate, more through gestures than words, how she would teach the children drawing, music and writing.

“I want to be teacher again,” Pham said. But her daughter Han, Americanized as Hannah, knows more English than she does. And until Pham’s English improves exponentially, it’s unlikely she’ll be hired as a preschool teacher.

This demotion in careers, I soon came to realize, was a common theme among the workers. It seemed to be the price for a life in America.

When asked what she liked most about America, Pham said, “Americans nice people, very kind. And is so clean here.”

Ngo seemed more like a mother to me than any of the other workers. Ngo goes by the first name of Sophie, a name she picked after quitting her job as a realtor in Vietnam and moving to America. She’s 46 and is short with mid-length black hair, dark eyes and warm skin.

Her English is good, a result of living in the U.S. for 10 years. She married her husband, Jack Bui, 25 years ago in Vietnam.

“And you ask me if he handsome — yes,” Ngo said of her husband. We giggled like teenage girls. “I hope so, I keep him.”

I was struck by how comfortable and organic the conversation felt. The women were funny and open.

“You good person, with good heart,” Ngo said when I explained why I wanted to write about these women, and how their lives and stories were so interesting. “Good people with good heart do good things.”

Ngo said that while she still misses Vietnam, each year, she misses it less and less.

“The first year I come here, I learn little English,” Ngo said. “I was sad a lot. But now, 10 years, I better. And I understand a lot of English and now I love Chapel Hill. I love North Carolina. And the last year I be back in my country three weeks, but I missed here a lot.”

‘Vietnam is my family’s country’

Tina Ngo, who shares a last name with Anhthu but is not related, is small as well, with a well-lined face and heavily penciled in eyebrows. She wore chunky flip-flops with black socks. It was a slow afternoon, with just one customer in for a pedicure, as we sat and talked between the nail polishes and the register at the front of the salon.

Ngo moved to the U.S. in 2006 from Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, with her son.

“When I came here I had no choice,” Ngo said. “I try to help my son in school by work.” Ngo gave up a managerial position at a company that sold kitchen equipment so her son could receive a better education.

Ngo is proud of her son, Kaiser, who is in his first year of medical school at UNC-Chapel Hill on a full scholarship. Kaiser was 13 when he picked his American name. Kaiser means “emperor” in German, which he picked because of his love for the German national soccer team.

Ngo was born in 1959. As she sat in the plastic waiting chair, bouncing a flip-flop off one foot, it hit me. She lived through the Vietnam War.

“My daddy was police officer,” she said. “My mom work for Marine.”

Ngo’s father was jailed for almost a decade following the war because of his allegiance to the South Vietnamese Army.

“Some people die in jail, or still in jail,” Ngo said. Her parents, in their eighties now, still live in Vietnam.

Ngo gained her American citizenship a few years ago. “I took a promise,” Ngo said as she looked directly into my eyes. “One country is my country. This is my country. Vietnam is my family’s country.”

Vy Nguyen wandered over to me in-between drying breaks for her customer’s nails. She breaks the streak of small women in the salon, clocking in at a towering five feet four inches. Nguyen wears her hair in a ponytail and has a habit of shuffling nervously from foot to foot and fiddling with her small wire-framed glasses.

Nguyen grew up in Danang, a major port city famous for its seafood and beaches. She told me about Vietnamese food, consisting mainly rice and noodles, as well as pork, chicken and goat.

Vincent Tran, the only male worker at Nail Trix, jokingly added “dogs and cats” to the list of foods from the opposite side of the room where he was painting a woman’s nails. We all laughed.

Nguyen’s mother and brother convinced her to live in the U.S. with them. She studied business and learned some English back in Vietnam, and I asked why she works at Nail Trix instead of going to school.

“You start again at zero when you come here, everything you start over,” Nguyen said. “I come to learn a lot. All the English and all the customs. I make good money. I want to go to school so it’s better for me. But I need to learn English first.”

Nguyen had to cut our conversation short when her customer’s UV light timer went off.

Finding the American dream

Working at Nail Trix pays a decent salary, especially on busier days when up to 60 people visit the salon.

The older women seemed content with their job. But the younger women see Nail Trix more as a stepping stone. It helps their English improve and pays enough for them to save up for school.

These women share similar stories, backgrounds and hopes for the future. They love and respect America and do not this country for granted. They gave up more respectable careers in Vietnam to move to the U.S. They had to start over with virtually nothing.

For all their hardships, these women are putting their children through school. They make their own money. They are improving their English and have earned or are in the process of earning American citizenship.

“I am American dream,” Tina Ngo said. I had to agree.

Edited by Hannah Smoot

Carrboro Farmers’ Market provides community, sustainability

By Leah Asmelash

An old man sells handmade mugs in a corner, in the same spot every week. He smiles and converses with the vendors and customers around him, pointing at different mugs and grinning with almost every sentence. Across from him, a farmer with three tables filled with different types of mushrooms leans against his truck, while his daughter collects money from customers. There are signs for ethically-raised meat and local dairy up ahead.

A few feet away from the vendors, kids run around on the open grass, playing soccer with a muddy yellow ball. Vans are parked on the grass, some with names of farms on the side. Everyone seems to be talking to someone else – farmers talking to customers and other farmers. They speak with the friendliness of people who have known each other for years, but they could have just met that morning.

This is the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, where every Saturday and Wednesday, dozens of farmers set up tables filled with fresh, local produce and meat. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of customers come to the market every week to shop, chatting with the farmers about new products and what’s good that week.

Although farmers’ markets can be fun for community members, the life of a farmer is not glamorous. It involves early mornings, mud, sweat, animals, animal feces and animal carcasses. It involves early mornings at farmers’ markets and pulling bugs off crops, high costs and hard labor with minimal profits. So what drives people to choose this life – a life without health benefits, a small paycheck and self-employment?

Cane Creek Farm

For Eliza MacLean, owner of Cane Creek Farm in Graham, it was love.

“I was fascinated,” she said, recalling her earlier days managing a pig herd at North Carolina A&T State University. “I fell head over heels in love.”

Although MacLean had worked with and studied animals for many years prior, she said she didn’t know anything about pigs when she started managing the herd. Working with the pigs made her realize she had a tender spot in her heart for livestock, and she became involved in evaluating farms and meat quality for hog production in North Carolina.

Three years later, Peter Kaminsky, author and writer for The New York Times, was searching for someone to care for a herd of rare Ossabaw Island hogs. MacLean was the first suggestion he received, and thus Cane Creek Farm was born, devoted to ethical raising of livestock.

Now, Cane Creek Farm is over 15-years-old. MacLean has pigs available every day of the year, harvesting three to five pigs for her butcher shop and a few more to sell at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market.

Customer Driven

When talking about the slaughtering process, MacLean said she tries to cater to the customers’ desires and do what works best for her community.

“For me, that’s why I’m so small,” she said. “I want to be able to see my community. I want people to know my little story and be able to see my animals and see what they eat, know why they’re paying a little bit more.”

But no one knows the animals, loves the animals, more than MacLean. She’s the one that feeds them every day and prepares them for sale. She takes them to slaughter herself, in a trailer that she says smells like them, and she’s around the animals when they are killed.

“My kids say I treat them as well as I treat the pigs,” she said with a laugh, before further explaining her rationale.

“I want everyone to have room to be what they want to be,” she said. “A pig gets to be a pig, a chicken gets to be a chicken.”

Ethical Breeding

Despite how well she treats them, the animals are always brought to slaughter and sold.

“It doesn’t make real intuitive sense to raise something to certain death,” she said. “But again it wouldn’t be there in the first place if I hadn’t raised it, and it’s doing a good thing for my land, it’s having a nice life while it’s alive, it’s good for consumer – it all makes sense to me.”

Still, MacLean admits it is not always easy.

“It’s sad a lot of the time,” she said.

The sadness doesn’t stop her from having fun though, which she always makes sure to include in her busy schedule.

“I plan my breeding this time of year so that I’m not having babies in August, and we can be flying off rope swings and doing things that are much more appropriate for August than everybody completely stressed because it’s so friggin’ hot,” she said.

MacLean doesn’t sleep much. Instead, she floats down the Haw River while drinking a beer and kayaks in the moonlight. Her kids, both 16-years-old, chase her up mountains. These playful times are important to her, and she makes sure she doesn’t take on too much work so that there’s always, even in the middle of a workday, time for play.

Turtle Run Farm

Two miles away, on the other side of the Haw River, husband-and-wife duo Kevin and Kim Meehan grow organic vegetables on Turtle Run Farm. Before owning the farm, they were in the construction business and originally bought the land to build a house. But Kim had always loved gardening. Gradually, a few rows of vegetables turned into a few plots. In 1996, Turtle Run Farm was born.

Two years later, Kim applied for a spot at the competitive Carrboro Farmers’ Market. She said they weren’t expecting to be accepted, but they ultimately were. They began selling their produce at the Wednesday market, but eventually moved up to the Saturday one.

“Once we got into the Saturday market, we kicked it into high gear,” Kevin said.

Afterwards, their crop production continued to grow to keep up with demand, so much that they began selling honeysuckle bouquets and strawberries which grew naturally on their property, just so they would have something to sell.

They both admit that farming is exhausting, but they enjoy their job because it’s never boring.

“Farming is very satisfying work and at the end of the day you are physically exhausted but mentally enriched,” Kevin said. “Farming is always changing as the seasons come and go, and the weather and tons of other variables create challenges.”

Environmental Advocacy

For the Meehans, their farm is also a type of environmental advocacy, and they refuse to use chemicals and pesticides on their crops. Although Turtle Run is not a certified organic farm, the two are dedicated environmentalists and did not see any other way to farm besides organically.

“(Using pesticides) just never occurred to us,” Kim said.

Since they don’t use sprays and chemicals, Kim said they learned through trial and error which crops will bring a lot of bugs to their land and which ones won’t. That’s the reason why they never sell carrots, she said. They’re too difficult to manage with the bugs and critters they attract. Instead, they try to keep the bugs in check by planting flowers and plants that bloom in order to attract beneficial insects, like ladybugs, to help with pest control.

Farming Community

They also enjoy the community farming has given them, saying the Carrboro Farmers’ Market is a social network just as much as a business network. Local farmers throw parties or host farm-to-fork dinners and other events to bring the farmering community together.

“It’s a tremendous social farmer’s club,” Kim said.

It was the Carrboro Farmers’ Market that pushed the Meehans to move to the area in the first place, figuring that if they had a nice farmers’ market, the town must be pretty nice too.

“It’s a very friendly market,” Kim said.

Kim said the market was one of the best she’s been to in the country.

Alex Rike, assistant manager of the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, agrees, but he says friendliness isn’t the only reason consumers come back week after week.

Buying Local

“It’s a form of consumer activism,” Rike said. “When (customers) spend their dollars at the market, they know they’re supporting their neighbor and, with the case at CFM, someone within 50 miles of where they live. And they get to know their farmer. They get to know that their food is fresh – it’s been picked within the week. They can ask questions about the growing practices.”

MacLean prides herself on the social and economic effects Cane Creek Farm, and local farms in general, have on the community.

“My land is open,” she said. “The cross-country kids run their cross-country meets through the farm. There’s a 5K that combines land in Saxapahaw and goes through the farm. Teaching people about what these animals are really like, how funny, how curious, how smart, how dignified. And keeping the money in that community. What I’m growing is being sold to my neighbors and it makes me feel really good.”

It makes Kevin and Kim feel good too. For both MacLean and the Meehans, their farms serve as ethically raised and organic offerings to their community. So what’s a little hard work for something you love, for something that brings you and your community so much joy?

Edited by Sarah Muzzillo

Women’s March bridges gap between cultures, nationalities

By Courtney Triplett

“WHERE ARE YOU??” The all-caps text message glared urgently at me from my trusty iPhone 6. I lightly traced the small crack on the left side of the device with my thumb, looking back and forth from the message to the front of my Uber. Leaning forward, I squinted my hardest to see the ETA in the corner of the navigation program on my driver’s phone. I knew it was almost 10 a.m. and that I was running late.

“Excuse me sir, what time does it say we will get to Union Station? My friends are waiting for me there.” I tried to keep the exasperation out of my voice, but it was no use. He picked up on my rush right away.

Stopping the vehicle at a red light as a mass of enthusiastic demonstrators entered the crosswalk, my Uber driver, an older African-American man with kind eyes, turned around to face me. “Should be soon. This traffic is crazy, isn’t it? It’s all for the march, you know.”

Looking up at him from my phone where I had typed “On the way, so sorry,” I broke into a smile.

“Yeah, I know! I’m actually going to the march!” I moved my light blond hair off of my cheek to point excitedly at where I had drawn a female symbol earlier that morning, rather crudely, with the cheap black eyeliner I’d fished out of my suitcase.

The light turned green, and he turned around to continue the drive, but not before giving me a warm smile. He looked at me, eyes glimmering, like he would a child waving a report card in his face with all As and Bs. He looked at me with pride. And I felt it.

We continued to make small talk for the last few minutes of the drive, and before I knew it, we were pulling in front of Union Station. “You have arrived at your destination”, the navigation announced, and after thanking my driver, I leapt out of the vehicle and raced up the concrete to find my friends before the march began.

The march

The air was crisp and hit me in the face the instant I hit the pavement. I paused to scan the massive crowd dotted with colorful, snarky signs and exhaled. I was never going to find them in this.

Finally, after several minutes of searching and one brief phone call full of “where are yous” and “I can’t hear anythings,” I spotted my friends and, with a sigh of relief, ran to join them.

We hugged each other and began to discuss our excitement about the march. The Capitol Building served as an appropriate backdrop, standing unflinchingly tall and proud as we were about to do.

Tamar, the leader of the pack, wore her dark, curly hair loosely. Giggling, she held her sign proudly above her head. “I’m just so happy to be here,” she said. “As a new American, this really means so much to me.”

Tamar is a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. Born in Israel and raised in Maryland, she grew up with a conflicting identity. Where was home for her? What did home mean? The Women’s March for her, like so many others in the United States, was a great way to connect the dots.

Tamar and I, along with her mother and two other girlfriends our age, spent the day marching and laughing and enjoying being a part of something so special. The day was chilly, but we didn’t mind, and in fact, we hardly noticed the weather at all.

After the march subsided around 3:30 p.m., we headed to Tamar’s family home in Maryland. Her mother, after leaving the march early, had prepared an enormous traditional Israeli feast for us to enjoy. It was a magnificent meal, and we all stuffed our faces with olives, hummus and ciabatta, eggplant dip, butternut squash and ginger soup, and a delicious roast in a red wine sauce.

At the end of the meal, Tamar’s mother served hot tea and biscuits. Tamar’s father, Benny, sat at the head of the table and led political discussions.

“I think that what you kids did today was really inspiring,” he said. “That’s what gives me hope for this world, that young people like you show up and really care.”

After chatting for an hour with Tamar’s family, about everything from capitalism to activism to the ingredients in the delicious soup, Tamar and I retired from dinner to get ready to meet our friends downtown.

Finding home

As we were dressing, I noticed a small tattoo between Tamar’s shoulder blades. It depicted a beautiful scene: a little house with trees, drenched in sunlight.

“Tamar, what does your tattoo mean,” I asked hesitantly, not looking to offend or annoy.

Tamar laughed and took a deep breath, preparing herself for the long explanation. “Oh, it’s a picture of home. Because for a time in my life, I didn’t know where that was for me. But more recently, once I became naturalized, I realized that home is where you make it. It’s different for me, being from two completely different places. But home is where you make it, and so I carry my home with me… I carry my home on my back.”

I carry my home on my back. Home is where you make it. What I saw the day of the women’s march in Tamar is something that is often forgotten. People from all different backgrounds came together that day, in the name of activism, in the name of doing something good.

I continued to ask more about the tattoo and about the march.

“After the election, I think my initial response was to run away- to go live somewhere else,” Tamar said. “Many people in this country joke about that, but as a dual citizen, it’s a pretty real option. But then I realized that I became a part of this country because I care about the values it represents- and it has become my home. So I resolved that I needed to stay, because I fully intend to carry my home on my back.”

Edited by Elise Clouser