Alumni Stories: “Where Are They Now?”
Edition 31— Lauren Talbot
A Family Affair
Before Lauren Talbot officially joined Artists For Humanity in 1993, she was already intimately familiar with the people involved in the organization. She was friends with most of the original teen participants and had even been to Susan Rodgerson’s [AFH’s Founding Executive/Artistic Director] original studio. Her older brother being Jason Talbot [AFH Co-Founder] was the reason why. “Back then, I idolized my brother.” Talbot remarked with a grin. “Anything that he did, I wanted to do, so I was constantly running after him. He’d be running away from me and I’d be like, ‘Wait up, Jason! Here I come!’”
“There were people I knew and people who I was comfortable with. It was like being amongst friends.”
Talbot was part of the second iteration of AFH teen employees and was one of the first girls to ever be involved. Because she was familiar with the space and people at AFH before she was a teen, she saw AFH more as a place to hang out than a place of work. “When I joined as an actual teen employee and had to work, there was an adjustment period for me,” Talbot admitted laughing. “I actually got a ‘talking to’ that I was playing around too much and not doing enough work. I took the month of December off and came back in January to actually work. That was a learning experience.”
“You’re allowed to have fun while you’re working but work must be done.”
Talbot remembers that she was drawing long before she was ever involved with AFH. Both of her brothers were artists and she was inspired by them, even as a kid. She recalls that when she was seven years old she and her brothers tried to make their own newspaper with comic strips in it. Later she got into drawing characters like Ileana the cave woman and a centaur with a thigh muscle that she was so proud of drawing. However, it wasn’t until AFH that she really learned about art — she learned about shading, color mixing, different mediums, and more.
Talbot remembers the first project that she did at AFH: to paint a chair. “It required me to look at a very normal object that you see all the time and envision it in a completely different way… I looked at that chair and I saw an African Mask, but I couldn’t figure out how to make the nose come out!” Talbot remembers that one of the other teens in the program helped her figure out the shading of the nose to reach the desired effect. She then went on to drill holes and glue seagull feathers to the top of it. “I was very proud of that chair,” she said.
“The art was there inside of me, but Artists For Humanity was able to bring it out.”
When Talbot joined AFH, the only studio at that time was the Painting Studio. One specific painting of hers stands out. “I loved doing portraiture,” she prefaced. While she usually stayed loyal to her photo references, this time she had taken some liberties. “Her skin was red tones and her hair was green, and it was a little bit more of an abstract look. I loved how it came out.” After Talbot completed the piece, it was showcased in a gallery on Newbury Street that Rodgerson had set up. At 15 years old, Talbot remembers dressing up for opening night and how excited she was to hang out with the adults and see her painting on the wall. “When I got there, I saw that there was a little red dot next to my painting, which meant that it already sold,” she said smiling. While she was sad to see the painting go, she was also proud that something that she worked so hard on resonated with someone enough that they bought it.
As time went on, Talbot witnessed other studios at AFH starting to take shape. She specifically recalls the beginnings of the Sculpture (now 3D Design) and Photography Studios. Regarding the Photography Studio, she remembered, “Black and white photography became a really big passion for me… I learned how to develop my own film — it was a lot of fun.”
Talbot recalls a specific photograph she took of her brother in the reflection of a window. “I don’t know if you’ve met Jason, but he’s good at posing,” she laughed. Since the photo was taken on a manual camera and had to be developed in the darkroom, Talbot remembers anxiously waiting to see how the photo would develop. “I remember being so proud that this photo came out exactly how I wanted it, and I was like, YES!”
“I don’t know if I would’ve been exposed to something like that without AFH. Who knows?”
Unfortunately, Talbot didn’t have as much opportunity to explore art at her public high school. “[During those times,] art was almost abolished from so many school curriculums, especially public schools,” Talbot said. “Having [AFH] as an outlet was great for me.”
“I saw that some kids whose schools were out in the suburbs — they had these photography projects, multimedia projects, lithographs, and all this art. In my school, there was never anything that deep. It was just pen and paper, markers, paint… Despite that, I was able to do photography because of AFH.”
“I think that [AFH] probably opened peoples eyes to the possibility of these kinds of programs for young teens in inner city Boston where a lot of black and brown kids weren’t important in a lot of people’s eyes.” Talbot said. “We were considered troubled or problematic.” To Talbot, AFH was a great way to celebrate the creativity of black and brown kids from the inner city who society is often too quick to neglect.
“There’s a lot of art in Boston, but I think a lot of it comes from outside of Boston instead of taking stock of what we have locally… hopefully [AFH] can [continue their efforts to] help more people see that young people in the inner city have something beautiful to offer.”
“It helps to have a place to cultivate some sort of identity,” she said, regarding AFH. “You already know who you are in some cases, but you’re not necessarily allowed to be yourself. When you’re somewhere that allows you to be yourself — that always makes a difference in the long run.”
Even now, almost three decades later, Talbot is grateful for the community that she had at AFH. “My favorite memory is the collective memory of having my friends around me,” she said. “Having these people that I enjoyed being with, that I felt safe with, that I could count on, and who were in my corner.”
Not only did AFH foster a welcoming environment, but it also helped build Talbot’s confidence and speaking skills. Talbot believes that like most artists, she tended to be more introspective and introverted. She was used to expressing herself with her art rather than with her words. However, AFH and their numerous events taught her how to speak and engage with people.
“When you’re a teenager, people don’t really listen to you,” she stated. “So being put in a position where you have to explain yourself, you have to celebrate what you’re doing, speak positively about it, and be informative to a room full of grown ups — it’s a daunting task, but it’s also an empowering one.” Talbot believes that her ability to connect with people has been a critical skill that has followed her throughout her entire life.
Talbot was very grateful for the mentors at AFH. “I remember Tim, who was a very nice guy and really dedicated to us — he illustrated books,” Talbot said. “He mentored me strongly on a project that I was given total freedom to manage at 16 years old.” Talbot was commissioned to design a T-shirt for a company’s running team. “I had to go to their office to meet with them to understand what they wanted, and then I had to draft ideas… it was a huge project,” Talbot remembers. In the end, the company was happy with Talbot’s design and she even got to keep one of the T-shirts with her logo printed on it.
“I would wear it with pride because it was a design that I came up with and sold to this company. Who could say that at 16 back in the 90's?”
After four years at AFH, Talbot briefly attended Mass College of Art, but ultimately decided to drop art as a career. Still, she is grateful for all that AFH has done for her. “ AFH definitely is a good memory for me,” she said. “It’s where I met my significant other and we have two beautiful girls who are now in the program. It’s a total family affair!” Now, Talbot works as an Investment Administrator to help support her family. “I have made myself the stabilizer,” she said. “So that the art exploration can happen all around me.”
Talbot’s two daughters have also become part of the AFH family, and she commends AFH for allowing her daughters the space to explore different art styles and vocations. “It’s integral for young people to be exposed to different things because there’s so much to be done! There’s so many things that they can do, and I’m glad those opportunities are given to them.”
Because AFH offers paying jobs, Talbot was able to pick up skills in managing money and saving as a teen. “When I was making money back then, I felt really independent because I knew that if I wanted to buy some food, I could,” Talbot expressed. “I didn’t have to ask my mom for money, I didn’t have to ask my dad, and I could rely on myself.” When her daughters went through AFH, it spearheaded Talbot into opening bank accounts for them and teaching them about money. Now, compared to other kids their age, Talbot’s daughters are well informed on the topic.
“It’s eye opening to think about how… I’m old enough to be celebrating the 30 year anniversary of something,” Talbot remarked about AFH’s 30 year anniversary this year. She expressed how amazed she is at AFH’s staying power when many other nonprofits with similar goals have been forced to shut down. She attributes this success to the numerous people who run and believe in the mission and work.
“You’re fabulous! Don’t second guess yourself,” Talbot would say to her younger self. “Explore everything.” For Talbot AFH was a place for fun, inspiration, independence, and friendship. It was a place where she was allowed to be weird and cultivate her identity, and a place that she happily sent her kids to grow and experience. “[AFH] has been a bright spot in my history,” she said. “And the fact that my significant other and I have essentially sent another generation into the hands of Artists For Humanity is a pretty amazing thing.”
Written by Casey Chiang