Q&A: Christal Yost, local organizer for Telamon's Growing Tennessee youth initiative

Working through the Telamon Corporation, the only provider of migrant and seasonal Head Start programs in Tennessee, Yost received a grant for 17 youth participating in Telamon's Growing Tennessee youth initiative to create a large-scale painting. A free viewing is Sept. 11, 2 p.m.-4 p.m., at the Knoxville Museum of Art; refreshments will be served.

How did this mural come together?

First of all, it's not really a mural, because that's a permanent structure, and we didn't have a space and we wanted it to be transportable. We used individual 3-foot by 3-foot canvases, six on each side of a frame that's free-standing. It snaps together using cabinet hinges. We did some of the work at Telamon's Bybee center, which offers child care for children of migrant farm workers in Cocke Country, and some at another center in Greene County. At Bybee, the parents come here to pick crops—like Grainger County tomatoes—and effectively have nowhere to put the children while they are in the fields, working long days, not making much money. The families are transient; the children, who are born in this country, may come here and start school in August in Cocke County, then move to another school in Florida in the middle or the end of September.

How old were the kids?

The program is for 11-17-year-olds, so we had a lot of kids in that age range. Some days we had younger kids, as young as 6, as well. The older ones helped the younger and that was wonderful to watch.

Any of the children really make an impression on you?

One of the little boys. After one of the first painting sessions, we sent home 2-foot by 3-foot foam core boards and a package of Sharpie markers, and said, "Think about what we talked about today, and draw some ideas." This boy drew this house, and cars, and plants, and family—everybody smiling in the driveway. Then I flipped the board over, and on the back are these two parallel lines that zigged and zagged all over the page. I said, "What is this?" and he said, "It's the road to my house."

How did you get involved?

I am listed as an artist in residence with the TAC, and there is National Endowment for the Arts money that we applied for through the TAC; a grant. Other artists can apply to be on the roster and try for grants and we really need them to do that, to work with these kids.

Were the paints washable?

Yes, the work is acrylic on canvas.

Did you teach the kids to paint?

We helped them with technique and different ways to use the sponges and brushes. We mixed color and worked with a color wheel and talked about a couple of people who painted murals, like Diego Rivera.

What's the story on this reception?

I talked to the KMA, and they said, "We may have some openings for a show later in the fall." I basically spilled everything, how it was so important to have a traditional art opening. And it needed to be in September, because a lot of the artists may not still be here by October. And I told them Sunday afternoon is best for the kids, because their parents work literally every other day. The director, David Butler, said they really wanted to help, and the staff is volunteering. The kids will get to show their real art in a real art museum, and know their work has real value.

Artists and potential volunteers who would like to learn more should e-mail Yost at artisan42@gmail.com or check out telamon.org.

We removed a quote here that indicated the KMA is usually closed on Sundays--that is incorrect; it is open each Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., and is free.