I consider myself to be a reciprocal artist who draws inspiration from people, my surroundings, and nature. I have a strong passion to give back to the young people who are the future leaders of their communities, teaching them the importance of art in society as well as the responsibility of environmental conservation.
I grew up in Chicago for most of my life and here is where my heart is. I was born in Tinguindin, Michoacan, Mexico, and raised in Little Village with my large family. As the eldest female of my family, I had to set an example and also fulfill the role of caretaker for my younger siblings. Inevitably, from an early age I had to be independent and learn how to pursue opportunities on my own without the financial support of my parents.
Since I could remember, I dreamed of traveling, creating art, eating all types of cultural food, and meeting other students who would share their stories. I did everything I could think of to be involved in the arts. I joined almost every after school art program while growing up. I attended
Marwen, After School Matters, UIC Spiral Workshop, and Yollocalli. I looked up to my instructors and mentors who were working artists but also amazing teachers. I felt lucky that they would share their knowledge with my peers and me. I grew to believe that art is a powerful tool for young people to convey social issues as it creates a platform for which to bring diverse communities together to learn from one another. As my passion for the arts grew, I decided to pursue it as a career. I will forever be thankful to the programs I participated in while in high school as they encouraged me to follow my dreams of going to college, becoming an artist, and working with other talented students. As an adult, I see how participating in these programs truly shaped what it means to me to be a community artist.
I studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a focus in Fiber and Material Studies and Education. I learned a great deal about myself and the type of artist I wanted to become while in college. As art programs were severely being cut in our schools, I immediately knew I had to take my knowledge of art back into communities. During my freshman year at SAIC, I volunteered to do an art residency at a CPS elementary school that had no art teacher. I enjoyed teaching and seeing the positive outcomes that stemmed from the creation of art. Student self-esteem flourished and student team-building grew. I felt successful as an instructor and began to pursue other programs.
During my first summer in college I worked at the Garfield Park Conservatory as a mural teacher for high school students where I incorporated the ecological practices of the conservatory. I was amazed by the botanical diversity at the conservatory and started having an interest in ecology. I was then asked to join the Jane Goodall Institute’s youth program Roots & Shoots (R & S) shortly after. I participated in the Great Lakes Youth Leadership Council and the R & S program for two years. I learned so much about environmental ecology and community projects that other students were doing. I was inspired by other young leaders who were creating positive change locally and abroad with other R & S groups. I got the opportunity to facilitate different workshops to promote conservation and philanthropy to young people. I had the privilege to work with Dr. Jane Goodall and hear her talk of how she wanted to inspire young people to make the change they wanted to see in the world and help preserve the planet and everything else around it including the human community. She believed that without involvement from youth, the world wouldn’t be protected.
I became involved in multiple ecological conservation projects locally and abroad. I was awarded the full tuition scholarship from the Jane Goodall Institute to travel to Tanzania and work with the communities there and help plant trees for the tree nursery in Mt. Kilimanjaro. I still wanted to integrate art into my environmental work and started talking to my teachers who helped to guide me to any other places and people doing the same thing.
After I finished school at SAIC I worked at the Field Museum of Natural History as an illustrator intern. I collaborated with anthropologists in the EECo (Environment, Culture, and Conservation) department. I did preliminary sketches for comic books that would be used for conservation awareness. I also had the opportunity to travel to Peru and work with indigenous communities and illustrate conservation practices which would be used later as education tools for sustainability. This was a great experience for me to blend my two interests together and work with anthropologists who used art as a tool to educate communities.
Since then I have worked at many arts institutions and other CPS schools such as Art Reach at Lill Street Art Center, Universidad Popular, Chicago Arts Partnerships for Education, Belding Elementary, Fulton Elementary, Little Black Pearl, and Jacqueline Vaughn High School. I have always incorporated elements of ecology into my teaching art practice. It has strengthened my skills in building curricula for diverse populations.
As one of the members in the planning committee for the Chicago Arts + Environmental Exchange forum, I am delighted that I have the opportunity to share my ideas with others on how different businesses can partner with artists and promote conservation. This will have a great outcome for artists who want to expand their practice into various fields as it will allow them to work in collaboration with others.
I currently work at Marwen as a Studio Programs Coordinator where I was an alumna, teaching assistant, and teaching artist. Recently, I co-taught a course with Sara Gothard titled "Untamed Art," a partnership with Marwen and Lincoln Park Zoo. This collaboration was a huge success for young people as they had the opportunity to be creative while simultaneously working toward a message of conservation. Their paintings are currently exhibited throughout the entire zoo for the viewing of the general public. I am happy to be back at a Marwen, a place where I gained so much and now have the pleasure of being surrounded by students who are excited to learn about my practice as an artist and environmentalist.
Written in Summer 2011.
Mayra C. Palafox is a Chicago-based artist. She is an alumna from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where she studied Fiber and Material Studies and Conservation Education. She was awarded one of the top tuition scholarships and was able to travel to different countries for study trips. She has been a part of the Jane Goodall Roots & Shoots program where she was given the opportunity to travel to Tanzania to do conservation projects. She has worked in numerous arts and education institutions, such as the Field Museum where she developed drawings for a conservation book and traveled to Peru to conduct conservation workshops with indigenous communities. She is now the Studio Programs Coordinator at Marwen where she integrates conservation and arts in her teaching.