BABE #69: ALEXYS GONZALEZ,
Art Program Director @ Circle of Friends for Mental Health
I met Alexys in a photography class in high school. We didn't get to know each other very well, as she was pretty quiet and mostly focused on her work (as the best artists usually are/do.) Meanwhile, my friends and I could be found hiding in the darkroom, ditching class. #BWHConfessions. Anyway, she's a really freaking beautiful lady inside and out, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't cry a little while putting this interview together out of sheer pride for what she's doing. Thanks for chatting with us, Alexys. Keep being a Babe.
Hometown: New Milford, CT
Current city: Seattle, WA
Alma mater: Central Connecticut State University
Degree: BA in Art with a Concentration in Painting
Hustle: Art Program Director at Circle of Friends for Mental Health
Babe you admire and why?
I've gotta be basic and say my momma. She is the strongest, most hard working woman I know, and I get 100% of my work ethic and positivity from her. She raised my sister and I practically on her own while working three (sometimes four) jobs at a time - she's really the OG babe who hustles. She is an amazing, beautiful soul and one of my best friends.
How do you spend your free time?
I always dedicate at least 3-4 hours to being creative, whether it be working on the closet full of paintings I have yet to finish or woodburning some designs! I also have a beautiful little kitty that I take on walks, and I love to explore my new home by biking or going on a hike. Seattle has about a thousand parks and bike trails as well as three national parks within a three-hour drive, so there is definitely a lot keeping me busy.
Biggest pet peeve?
Ugh - mixing up you're and your and they’re, their, and there. I'm not a grammar queen in any way, but when I see those messed up, it hits me deep.
Favorite social media account to follow?
@the_kaplan_twins on IG. They're identical twins from NYC who are both artists living in LA; they explore the complex nature of the alter ego and its role in the various ways audiences perceive its personas through media manipulation, cultural taboos, celebrity culture, twin identities, fantasies, and fascinations, etc. As a twin myself, they are 100% #TwinGoals to me, and seem like really awesome chicks I would love to hang out with.
The classic is always and forever Titanic - gotta love young Leo. Other than that, I recently watched a movie called Coherence about 8 friends at a dinner party when a comet passes. It's all about quantum physics and parallel universes and is just super thought-provoking and interesting. 10/10 would recommend.
Toaster strudels because i’m stuck in the late 90’s and can't let go of my childhood.
What’s something that most people don’t know about you?
I have a twin sister and I am dating a guy who happens to also be an identical twin! People think it's weird, but he (Mike) gets me like no one else will and he completely understands that special twin bond, which is a really huge part of my life.
Tell us about your hustle:
In addition to being a full-time Master's student, I mainly hustle as the Art Program Director at Circle of Friends for Mental Health here in Seattle, where I'm in charge of all things art-related. Circle of Friends for Mental Health is a nonprofit organization that cultivates a community founded on acceptance. We empower those with physical, cognitive and emotional challenges through creative self-expression in arts. As the program director, I coordinate all of our classes and volunteer-based teachers as well as find new volunteers and locations that are interested in the work that we do! My side hustle is more low-key; I also serve at a lovely cafe called Meet the Moon right on Lake Washington. It's super nice to get to talk to the amazing people who live in this area (and enjoy the killer view of Mount Rainier and the Cascade Mountain Range!)
What does your typical workday look like?
A lot of emails and phone calls. It's hard working with a staff that's completely volunteer-based, and most of them are students. Coordinating meetings and class times can be difficult, but the work that we do makes the job worthwhile. I also do a lot of site visits to local community health clinics, churches, residential facilities, or “clubhouses” where those who are suffering from homelessness, addiction, and mental health issues go. During these visits, I'm able to get a better feel for the severity of the issues we are working with and the types of classes we can provide.
When/how did you get into art? At what point did you decide to focus your career around it?
I have always been into creating and making art. My stepmother was actually the one who introduced me to it, and really encouraged me to take it seriously. In trying to find ways to connect and bond with my twin sister and I at a young age, she would do crafty things like make magnets or trinkets to hang around the house, which developed into us having full-blown art sessions and hanging out together. I continued to make art throughout middle and high school, and as I entered college, I was told like most people that art was not something I could ever make a career out of. I chose Public Relations as my major, and then began the worst year of my life. In choosing to take the "safe" route, I became so uninterested in my classes that I didn't even try nor care to go to them. During the semester before I would have failed out, I took my first college-level drawing class, and it was all I needed to be reminded that I could be successful in whatever made me happy. A week later, I said f**k it, and changed my major. 4 years later, I have my B.A. in Art with a concentration in Painting, and I am on my way to receiving my MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with a specialization in Art Therapy. I have never been happier.
How do you balance your work while also working toward your Master’s degree?
Multitasking school work and actual work while trying to enjoy my new city and make time for myself is tough, but life isn't always going to be easy! My planner is my best friend - I wouldn't know left from right without it. I always schedule some free time every day to make art, and do some yoga or something active outside (biking, hiking, etc.) I am constantly reminding myself that being successful at school and at work doesn't really matter unless I'm truly happy with what I'm doing and how I'm doing it, so it's all about the balance.
What inspires your art?
I am all over the place with my inspirations; life is so goddamn inspiring and beautiful. I suffer from extreme anxiety, which has also influenced my work a lot. Most of my work deals with themes of symmetry and balance and is very detail-oriented and meditative for me. I really enjoy the female form and often include female figures to express the divine feminine beauty and power that women hold. I like to use symbols and play around with color theory as well, and in feeling very connected to nature, I am deeply inspired by my own adventures. I try to capture the patterns in nature and the feelings I encounter when out in the wild.
How do you introduce art to your students? Do you teach on an individual or group/classroom level?
It honestly depends on the severity of the mental illnesses at hand, and is different for each class and location. We usually have our teachers start off by asking what the students would like to do and then we go from there! Our classes are all about building a community and friendships, and creating a comfortable space for those suffering to open up, express themselves, and heal. I like to call them "creative classes" - they're not all necessarily visual arts classes; we also teach drumming, creative writing, poetry, photography, dance, movement therapy, and drama! Depending on the location, the class can be a more structured learning environment where we have a lesson plan, and some classes are more casual. In casual cases, the teacher is more of a facilitator, so if the students wanted to make art they can, but if they also just want to talk and hang out, that's cool too!
What is it like viewing the progress and healing of your students?
It's really beautiful to see how art can heal and how it can open a person up. We work mostly with adults who have been dealing with these illnesses and struggles for their whole life, and have never before expressed themselves through art or creativity. Seeing them find themselves through creative self-expression is something that cannot be expressed properly on paper. They blossom into another person and it is one of the most rewarding things for me. It gives them a sense of empowerment and importance, and their happiness becomes contagious.
What are some common misconceptions about your job(s)?
There are a lot of misconceptions about those who are suffering from mental illnesses, homelessness, and addiction. They are depicted as incompetent, dangerous, undeserving, unkempt, etc… Which is so not the case. These people are people... just like us. If anything, because of their struggles, they are even kinder and more compassionate than the average citizen. It's definitely not easy dealing with this demographic and it is challenging to connect with students at times, but that's why these art classes are so important and amazing. They give us a common interest, which helps break down the barriers so we can really get to know the students and their lives, and see that they're not as different from us as most would think.
What is your medium of choice?
I consider myself a mixed media artist now, mainly because sticking to one thing honestly gets boring and really stunts your creative growth as an artist. I would have to say my go-to medium is watercolor, though, because of the convenience of it and the control you have when using it. It's not always easy to use my oil paints or wood burn when I have a crazy cat baby running around… and it's really hard to get oil paint out of cat fur... or cat fur out of oil paint, so woodburning is also one of my favorite things to do. I really love to work with a natural canvas and be hands-on with my art.
How do you make time for your own Art outside of your work?
I wake up when the birds start chirping. I work best in the early hours of the morning when it's quiet outside and the sun is just rising, and my body naturally wakes up at 7am every day, so that helps. I try to draw or create something every single day; I will always make time for my art.
What’s your ultimate dream job?
Well, just like any struggling artist, my dream job would be to get paid to make art… preferably while living somewhere beautiful and exotic, where I have no real responsibilities other than to create.
What motivates and inspires you?
The state of our world, I guess. There's so much wrong that I want to play a part in making right. I couldn't live with myself knowing that I was just one of those people who were all talk; who just posted online about how things suck and how terrible things are- but then did nothing about it. I want to be active in change, and the hope for a more accepting and loving world is what inspires and truly motivates me.
What are your goals for the future?
I plan to finish up my Masters degree and open up my own holistic healing center. I want to create an artistic safe zone and a working studio/gallery as a place where you can heal whether it be through art/movement/music therapy or actual counseling with licensed professionals. The art and gallery space will create an environment and energy that promotes healing, and the counselors will be treating people holistically rather than with prescription pills.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Find what makes you happy and live your 'yes.' Create new pathways of being, living and expressing your authenticity. It's hard to differentiate what you want and what others have made you think you want, so it's important to discover that. Let that energy flow from you, and create a path you're happy with.
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