This conversation, as part thirteen in our weekly Nashville Quilt Project round-up, features 16-year-old Oasis Center student Mariam. The Nashville Quilt Project is a 50-foot mural located on Charlotte Pike as part of Off the Wall Nashville platform. Founders Jake and Hana Elliott, of WHAT. Creative Group, photographer Elizabeth Ratliff, and I partnered with four nonprofits to highlight their exceptional arts programming post-national budget cuts. A collaborative effort every step of the way, the mural was funded by local business owners and community members, and created by a diverse collection of local artists—many of whom are in their teens. Collectively, the artists have said that their favorite part of the process was having the opportunity to build bonds with strangers over a shared interest: the fulfillment and emotional satisfaction they receive from creating. It is what allows them to channel their emotions in a world that oftentimes encourages us to suppress them. Through the Oasis Center’s International Teen Outreach Program, whose service projects help students develop leadership and life skills, Mariam discovered the Underground Art Studio—a safe space for participants to work on their Nashville Quilt Project pieces. A creative person with the ability to do great things, Mariam views Nashville as a city with endless opportunities.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Mariam: I was born in Kenya and grew up in Somalia. I moved to Nashville two years ago with my dad, sister, and two brothers.
Do you consider yourself an artist?
Mariam: Everyone is an artist. While I love all forms, drawing is my favorite medium. I’ve always dreamed of becoming a designer— although most of the people I know are doctors, lawyers, and engineers. Maybe I’ll be different.
How would you define community in your own words?
Mariam: Community is about being part of a group where everyone at least tries to understand where the other person is coming from. Everyone has a different opinion, which allows us to see the way each other thinks. I’m always amazed by how my classmates and I can do the exact same activity in such dissimilar ways.
Those are some pretty wise words. Any other advice for us?
Mariam: You have to let people be who they are and do things their own way.
How do you feel about your art being on one of the most visible streets in Nashville?
Mariam: It’s weird but amazing all the same. I love being able to tell other people that my painting is on Charlotte Avenue. It made me feel really good about myself!
That’s wonderful! How do you feel about the changes in Nashville as of late?
Mariam: I love that new people are moving here daily and think it’s amazing for the city and its economy. I think the recent transformation is great. Plus, there’s more jobs!
Very true. Okay, dream big. If you could imagine a life beyond your current circumstance what would it look like?
Mariam: I want to go to college, graduate, have a career, be a mom, and succeed in life. That sounds good to me.
Any last words?
Mariam: My name is Mariam and I am beauty behind the art.
Conversation by Jake Elliott of WHAT.Creative Group // edited by author Lily Clayton Hansen
Learn more about the Oasis Center’s Underground Art Studio here
Read more about Off the Wall Nashville here