UH MAAL Student & emerging artist spends summer in Greece

Tyler Kay (MAAL ’18), an up-and-coming muralist in the Master of Arts in Art Leadership (MAAL) program at the University of Houston, has traveled far and wide to practice her craft. She has adorned walls throughout Texas with everything from her signature roses to sports mascots. This summer, Kay took her talents abroad with an artist residency in Greece at the Skopelos Foundation for the Arts. She led community art projects at local schools and the fire department over two trips to the island of Skopelos, forging powerful connections with the town’s children and fire fighters.

Learn more about her experience in Greece in our Q&A!

What motivated you to apply for this artist residency program?

I’m always searching residencies. I could have done a residency in Houston or somewhere else in the US, but I think it’s important to be immersed in other cultures and go outside of your comfort zone.

What projects did you work on in Greece?

On my first trip in May, I was working with elementary and middle school students. The first project was a mural of multi-colored roses on the front of the elementary school. The paint was chipping away and it was in bad shape, so I wanted to do something to make their environment more enjoyable. I painted a black outline and the kids filled it in with different colors. We also painted a mural with poppies, which are native to the island. In the middle school, we painted a geometric design of triangles on interior walls. Then we went outside and painted the bathroom.

On my second trip, we painted an amphitheater that the whole community uses for dance and music festivals. I want to focus on the Greek culture, so the composition has bougainvillea hanging along the top, which is a flower found all around the island, a man and woman dressed in traditional wedding attire and then people playing traditional instruments. I also did a mural for the Skopelos Fire Department, which was really different than working with the kids. I was so fortunate for the experience because I got to know adults who serve the community and give something back to them in the form of my mural.

Artist residencies often involve developing your body of work in a studio. How did your residency expand into a community art project?

My original proposal was to document the native flora on the island, but I asked the director of the Skopelos Foundation if there were any opportunities to work with the local community. I didn’t picture myself sitting up in the studio, painting on an easel – I’m more of an interactive person. I don’t want to just be the artist with the signature on the wall. I want to meet the people in the community.

How do these projects connect to your educational and artistic goals?

I’m really focused on community engagement through the arts. I’m interesting in how art projects affect communities, whether its by giving kids the confidence to create something of their own or just giving them time to be creative. A lot of the kids I met on the island have so many responsibilities, most of them work at their parents’ businesses, so I enjoyed giving them an outlet to have fun and be inspired about starting their own careers one day.

As we were finishing up the projects at the middle school, some of the students asked to repaint the walls of the school’s courtyard. They took it upon themselves to get local companies to give us discounts on white paint so some of the boys could repaint the walls. It was really great to see them out there taking initiative. That’s the kind of thing I want to see with these projects – I don’t expect all of these children to become artists – I just want them to have a vision and go after it.

What’s next for you this semester?

I’ll be working on my independent study, which is really exciting. I’m partnering with Jim Bliesner, the director of Urban Art Studies at San Diego University, to create a proposal for a tile mosaic stairway on the island of Skopelos. He will help me form the proposal, considering all of the details, like the budget, volunteers, funding, design, finding the staircase and getting approval. I hope that by December, I’ll have something solid and know when I can start.

The idea for this project came from thinking about how this community gave so much to me – not only as a learning experience, but also for my portfolio – and how I can give back. The island is heavily focused around tourism, so I was thinking about how to make it ‘pop’ and if there is a really pretty tile mosaic going viral on social media, people would make the trip out to Skopelos just to take a picture with it.