STLCC Students Selected for the Gyo Obata Fellowship Program
St. Louis Community College’s Orquidea Campbell-Espinoza and Kay Fields were selected to participate in the Gyo Obata Fellowship Program this summer.
Campbell-Espinoza is learning about arts administration at the local arts nonprofit COCA, while Fields is having a similar experience as an intern at Perennial, an art nonprofit that offers educational programming in creative reuse to diverse populations.
Campbell-Espinoza studied graphic communications at STLCC’s Meramec campus, while Fields graduated cum laude in May with an associate degree in graphic communications from the Florissant Valley campus.
Only 10 students in the metropolitan area were selected for the fellowship named in honor Gyo Obata, the renowned architect and co-founder of HOK, a global design, architecture and engineering firm, who passed away in 2022.
The fellowship, administered by the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis program and funded by the Gateway Foundation, provides a 10-week paid internship to undergraduate students pursuing careers in arts management.
Campbell-Espinoza's Journey to Becoming an Artist
Campbell-Espinoza, who also earned the Elizabeth Gray Danforth Scholarship from the Women’s Society of Washington University, is in the midst of transferring from STLCC to the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts at Washington University to pursue a degree in communication design with an emphasis in illustration.
“The fellowship will go into early August, so the majority of my summer will be taken up by it,” she said. “I have one night class at STLCC for portfolio development, and then an asynchronous class as well. So far, I’ve been balancing everything pretty well, although honestly, as my transition to Wash U gets near, it might get pretty hectic.”
She said the fellowship with COCA has been a “great fit” thus far, as she is currently supporting and helping teach summer camps, which meshes well with her previous experience working with teens and children.
A Latina and first-generation Mexican-American, Campbell-Espinoza said that her family has been supportive of her journey to becoming a professional artist.
“I think many children of immigrants feel pressured to have a career in STEM as that’s seen as more lucrative and socially successful, and I’m glad that was never the case for me,” she said. “Despite coming from a family of non-artists, everyone has always been supportive through every part of my art career. I’m so incredibly grateful for how my parents have consistently promoted my growth and made me feel like this was really something I could pursue.”
She also gives credit to her professors at STLCC for teaching and supporting her, in particular Chuck Groth and Mike Swoboda.
Campbell-Espinoza mentioned the unique aspect of attending the same university that the fellowship’s namesake attended. Obata was born and raised in San Francisco. During his first year as a student in California in 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked and soon thereafter people of Japanese descent were forced into internment camps for the duration of World War II. Obata transferred to Washington University—one of the few colleges in the country accepting of Japanese-American students at the time. He headed to St. Louis just before his family was forced into a camp.
“The fact that he was able to prevail and find great success during a time of extreme anti-Japanese sentiment is amazing,” she said. “And I think he is a wonderful figure for this fellowship to honor in his name.”
Fields Turns Disposable Items into Art
Fields, who identifies as nonbinary, has been inspired by art since they were eight years old.
Fields has seen creators in different media turn art into sustainable careers, so they decided they could do it too. Fields earned a graphic design certificate from the Herndon Career Center in May 2019 before deciding to pursue art at STLCC-Florissant Valley.
Fields was ecstatic after hearing they were selected for the Gyo Obata Fellowship.
“This is a new experience for me, so I'm excited to see what opportunities this leads me to,” Fields said. “Being able to get in touch with other artists like me is something that I'm very grateful for, and I can't wait to see where the fellowship takes me.”
Fields believes their work providing resources and information on housing, food and/or grocery services, and counseling at STLCC-Florissant Valley’s Student Advocacy and Resource Center last semester was good practice for the internship.
Fields will essentially shift from providing people with information about how to make good use of programs and resources to teaching them to give disposable or undesirable items a new purpose as art.
Fortunately, the work at Perennial aligns with their environmental and mentoring philosophy.
“I hope to learn ways to cut down on wasting items as well as learn more ways to help and protect the planet we live on,” Fields said about the internship.
Fields’ success has Neko Pilarcik-Tellez, assistant professor of graphic communications, popping buttons.
“I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and working with Kay for over a year now. They are a very talented artist and a hard worker who doesn’t let life’s obstacles get in the way of achieving their dreams,” she said.
As president of the Graphic Arts Association, Fields was integral in keeping the club active through the pandemic and into the return to campus.
“Kay helped develop the Virtual Speaker Series, which has brought professional animators and illustrators from around the world to lead workshops for our students and the entire campus community,” Pilarcik-Tellez said. “I’m extremely proud of Kay. They absolutely earned and deserve this honor.”
Fields began working June 1 and says so far, so good.
“It’s been pretty fun upcycling and learning how to navigate what it is like to work for a business,” said Fields, who is using the summer months to network and research colleges, so they can decide what is next.
Fields hopes to become a freelance concept/character designer and serve as a mentor to other young and wandering artists.
“Supplying resources to people who wouldn't otherwise have them is a gift that I'd like to give to the world,” Fields said. “I want to be able to share knowledge with artists who aren't as fortunate to attend college like I have.”