Atlanta has a strong and growing creative economy. Every day, we meet women who are on the ground working to break down barriers, build community, inspire, inform, and entertain the people of Atlanta through the arts.
For National Women’s History Month in March, C4 Atlanta will be curating a Leading Lady blog series celebrating the women in the creative economy of Greater Atlanta. Over the last several weeks, we have asked the public to nominate women in the creative sector who inspire and have positively impacted the Atlanta community through their contributions.
We are proud to introduce the first Leading Lady for March 2020: TeMika Grooms
Where do you work and what do you do?
I am a fine artist and illustrator working in the Atlanta metro area. I use traditional and digital mediums for visual storytelling as I create illustrations for children’s literature. I really enjoy this genre of art because it allows me to tell stories and animate characters and environments in the confines of a book. It gives me the freedom to explore styles because each story has its own unique voice. This leaves me a lot of room for creative play.
When and how did you first become interested in the arts? How long have you been in your line of work?
I come from a family of artists. Many of us are musicians, seamstresses, crafters, chefs and visual artists. It is normal for us to have creative tools at our disposal to make something from nothing.
My mother worked as a teacher and a librarian and she encouraged me to be creative. She said I had hands that were too big for my body; She claimed I started drawing at age three. I still have a few handmade books from my childhood. Being regularly exposed to libraries allowed me to see that I could create books too.
As a teenager, I knew I had a natural talent for portraiture. I was blessed to have a phenomenal high school art teacher who advocated for me at every level. Ms. Williams taught me the basics of art and design. She encouraged me to explore many traditional mediums as I developed my own style. I excelled under her teaching and her work laid the foundation of the way I approach art today.
Several years passed while I developed a career as an engineer, became a mother, married and received all sorts of titles. But I still held on to the one title I had before all others – Artist. Reading stories to my daughter as an infant reminded me that I had stories within me, and I could illustrate my own children’s books. My ability to draw people, including children, was an asset I received from my art practice as a child.
But I didn’t know the process and business of visual storytelling for children’s books. I started doing the research. Then came the workshops and conferences. Now I am giving back to other people in the ways that I needed to be nurtured. I teach people the process of creating children’s books, I encourage them to do the work and I reassure them that their stories have value in the world.
What did you want to be or think you were going to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a dancer! I started formal classes as a child. I was a decent dancer. Even if I was not the best, what I loved most about it was the immense joy and freedom I felt when I danced. Professional dancing was not my life path, but as an artist I gravitated towards expressive drawings of dancers, faces and the human body. I really enjoyed drawing the human form. As I got a little older, I recognized I had a natural talent for gestural drawing and portraiture.
If you could have lunch with any woman from history who would it be and what would you want to talk about?
I recently read a book about Madam C.J. Walker titled “On Her Own Ground” by A’Lelia Bundles. Reading and researching her life showed me the important facts that were omitted by simplifying her life story down to hair styling products. I would love to talk with her about the path she walked to transform her life as a young mother. I would want to know how she built her brand and maneuvered in a competitive and growing market. Most importantly, I’d like to know how she became a wealthy philanthropist that would impact industry and society by owning her own beauty and power as a black woman.
Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
Hands down the biggest influence on my life would be my own mother. She transitioned a few years ago, but she left lessons to live by in her wake. She taught me how to carry myself professionally and with respect. She showed me that the knowledge I earn is the knowledge I own and I have a responsibility to share it. She showed me how to prepare for the future, to plan and to dare to dream. She taught me how to lift the spirits of others with words and small gestures, because those are the ones that often mean the most. She taught me not to give up on my own creative dreams. With LaVerne Grooms’ lessons in my back pocket, I will continue to strive to be better and teach my own daughters to do the same.
How is art a passion for you?
I am passionate about art because it is the place where my sense of freedom resides. Art is the one place where I can create and have whatever I see in my mind. I don’t have to bend to the whims of others. It is about my own self-expression. If I never sell another piece of art, it won’t matter, because I pay myself my showing up for myself and honoring my own existence.
What are your thoughts on equality and the representation of women in the creative workforce?
There is terrible under-representation of women in most genres of art. Too few women have been catapulted to the level of wide-range name recognition. Talent, skills, and commitment are rarely the reasons for lagging behind men in the creative workforce. I believe the networks that support artistic advancement are keyed into business connections that increase their value in the marketplace. Gatekeepers and door-openers are a real thing.
As an example, gender inequity is clear and evident when you look at the number of women who have won the Caldecott Award, an award for the most distinguished American picture book for children. Even more jarring is the lack of women of color on the list. Why is that? It is not because the talent and skill have not been cultivated. Women producing skillful art should also be chosen to work on projects providing higher level exposure that may positively impact their career. I used children’s literature as an example, but I believe this applies to most art industries as well.
What most excites you about the arts in Atlanta?
I believe Atlanta is in an art renaissance. I have been living and working in the metro Atlanta area for 25 years. I’ve seen many changes. But this moment in time feels like municipalities, organizations, corporations and the community are really starting to understand the value of art on society and in the marketplace. Our artists are stepping up to create quality work with meaning to meet the demand. There are so many genres being activated at one time. Not only are we seeing creative work in the traditional visual and performing arts, street art, and multi-media, but the influx of technology research, development and creative thinking are shifting how we perceive art practices. It is really an exciting time to be in this city.
What do you hope to contribute to the Atlanta arts community with the work you do?
Atlanta has a rich history and I want to find more ways to engage people in community storytelling. I have hosted many events for community to encourage storytelling through the written word, visual and performance art. In 2018, I partnered with the DeKalb County Library System to create the Lit Story Fest in support of 1000 Books Before Kindergarten which encourages early childhood reading initiatives. I also created the KidsLitATL meetup group to connect and support a diverse group of writers and illustrators of children’s books in Atlanta. On a regional and international level, I work with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the premier organization that provides a network connected to the children’s book market.
I have done this purposeful work with the intent of encouraging unheard voices to step to the forefront and let their stories be heard. I have slowly been building a network around me to amplify our creative existence. In the short-term, my goal is to develop my own publishing company for underrepresented voices in children’s books. My bigger dream includes unearthing stories, many reflecting a southern framework, that can be in books, film and multi-media platforms.
Where can I learn more about your organization/business and work (websites, social media, etc.)?