Our intern, Melodi Lewis, recently spoke with Amanda Blake, InSpero Advisory Council member, artist, entrepreneur, advocate, and teacher, to hear about her journey as an artist and her passion to bring hope, healing, and beauty to Birmingham.
A Soft Place to Land
Amanda’s story centers around her desire to see and love her community. She began her career as an art teacher and artist in Birmingham but then owned and sold a wellness restaurant, Sprout and Pour. Her heart called her back to teaching in Birmingham City Schools.
Overwhelmed by the weight of her students’ needs and experiences, Amanda realized the depth of her students’ stories and the ways those stories were not being told.
Amanda thought she was prepared for the trauma, poverty, and lack of resources she would face but months in, she still felt disconnected from her students. They didn’t seem to be growing in the ways Amanda knew were possible.
It was then a friend gave her advice that changed the course of her life. Amanda said, “She told me to be ‘a soft place to land.’” When Amanda heard these words, something clicked in her mind. She was going to be a space for her students to be themselves with no expectations of anything else.
But what did “being a soft place to land” mean?
Amanda says, “It meant I needed to put aside my own agenda and begin to look at my students for who they really were inside and out.”
“I began to paint their faces in front of them. It fueled my students’ passion for art. I began to fall in love with each student as I began to see them for the unique created image they were.”
You see this in her portraits as well. They highlight the beauty and uniqueness of every person.
During the isolation of Covid-19, Amanda saw the struggles of her fellow artists who felt like they had no space to create and dialogue about what the world was going through. Seeing this need, Amanda formed the Birmingham Artists Collective as a place where artists could create together for the good of the city. Artists joined and the dream of a multi-artist mural for Birmingham was born. Amanda reached out to InSpero to help provide supplies and support for these artists.
Amanda’s contribution to the mural was inspired by “being a soft place.” She said, “I needed the community to see the colors I saw when I look at our community. So, I made a person of many colors.”
The Birmingham Artists Collective became the same safe landing place that Amanda’s students experienced in her classroom. “I wanted artists to be seen and fully known for who they are and not what others expect them to be.”
Like Amanda, InSpero sees a hurting world and the ways art and beauty can draw us into each other’s stories. We too desire for people to have a safe place to dream of a healed city. We want a community which encourages artists to create together and reminds them they matter.
We were stirred by Jonathan's discussion of territories vs. hierarchies as it relates to artists and writers. As a writer himself, he encourages creators to push past the tendency to compare and tend to their own journeys as creators.