Grand Rapids — Minni Peters loves to draw portraits of people. The young artist’s ultimate goal is to create a self-portrait that showcases artistic growth.
Since enrolling in West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology’s (WMCAT) Teen Arts + Tech Program, this sophomore from Grand Rapids Innovation Central High School has found a place to create art and improve their illustration skills.
“I enjoy coming to WMCAT as a place to do art because I’ve found I work better around other people and around the influence of art and artists,” said Minni, who uses gender-neutral pronouns.
WMCAT has also become a place for Minni to address social issues they’re passionate about and connect with the community through art.
‘Black history is American history. Schools should offer more Black history in classes and it shouldn’t be limited or silenced.’– Minni Peters, Innovation Central High School sophomore
WMCAT Communications Associate Grace Swanson described Teen Arts + Tech as a program that “gives young people space to creatively amplify their voices – especially on issues that matter to them – with a focus on connecting teens within the West Michigan community.”
As an opportunity to involve young artists with a project in their own backyard, superstore chain Meijer teams up with WMCAT on a project in honor of Black History Month, an initiative first launched last year.
Professional artist and WMCAT instructor Jalexia Stoutmyre approached Minni and a fellow Teen Arts + Tech Program student, Grand Rapids City High School freshman Anala Millbrooks, to collaborate with Meijer.
“When Jalexia asked me to work on the project for Meijer, I was kind of nervous to do it but decided to do it anyway for the creative exposure,” Minni said. “We worked on our own original ideas for designs, then sent them to Meijer.”
After three design sessions, Minni, Anala and Stoutmyre finalized two designs with Meijer and printed 6,000 shirts through Ambrose at WMCAT, the organization’s custom design and screen printing social enterprise business, to be distributed to 257 Meijer stores across six states.
It “felt kind of surreal” when Minni first saw the shirts in a Meijer store.
“I worked so hard and now it’s in a store,” Minni said. “I’m not very good at talking about myself, so my art speaks for itself.”
Showing Deeper Appreciation
The T-shirt features a candy hearts design with affirmations like, “luv ur curls,” “black is powerful” and “black is beautiful.”
Stoutmyre described the candy hearts design as an appreciation for Black traits that sometimes go unnoticed.
“Far too often being Black is synonymous with fearless, or strong, which it very well is, but it’s deeper than that. So this was a design to show appreciation during Black History Month,” Stoutmyre said.
The second design is on a sweatshirt, featuring a timeline of Black history achievements down the sleeve.
“The hoodie has people from Black history who you might not know about and I think it’s important to talk about Black history,” Minni said.
Black history should be learned and celebrated 365 days a year, the artist added.
“Black history is American history,” Minni said. “Schools should offer more Black history in classes and it shouldn’t be limited or silenced.”
Swanson said this collaboration between WMCAT and Meijer has inspired “creative confidence” for young, developing artists.
“Meijer has been a great partner in amplifying student voices and creating opportunities for student artists to gain valuable experience by being immersed in community-based projects with mentorship from professionals,” she said.
Shawn Colley, divisional merchandise manager of men’s apparel at Meijer, expressed pride in offering student-designed clothing to customers during Black History Month.
“Continuing this partnership for the second year gives us the opportunity to amplify the voices of more young, Black artists using our stores as a platform,” Colley said. “These designs convey the experiences and outlooks of the artists and we’re proud to offer them to our customers so they may see themselves reflected in their messages.”
Minni’s hopes for the future of young artists includes community collaboration to “uplift” their voices.
“I hope the community continues to be interested in artistic youth and gives young people the environment and encouragement to make art,” Minni said. “Self-confidence when it comes to art is hard, and uplifting young artists uplifts their confidence.”