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Conversations with the Inspiring Kacie Baker Perez

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kacie Baker Perez.

So, before we jump into specific questions about what you do, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I’ve always been passionate about creating and making, and I have always enjoyed science. In undergrad, I was a Biology major with a minor in visual arts. I wanted to be a doctor for the longest time. I realized I wasn’t super passionate about it, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to apply to medical school. I knew I enjoyed teaching and tutoring, so I applied and got accepted into Teach for America’s 2013 Corps. I taught high school chemistry, biology, and IPC (integrated physics and chemistry), and I was also the head men’s and women’s swim coach. I LOVED my experience there. The high school I was placed in (Juarez-Lincoln High School in Mission, TX) had a high teacher turnover rate (33 teachers left the previous year). It was the most difficult experience of my life. Most students lived without running water or electricity, over 99% of student families fell below the poverty line. A lot of students were undocumented and most were ESL. That being said, I really connected with my students through the more creative chemistry lessons. I even had an unofficial art club going on in my classroom. After my two years of teaching in South Texas, I realized I loved teaching and loved how I could connect with my students through the practice of visual arts. I also kept up a healthy practice on my own, dedicating Saturdays as “studio days,” working in a little makeshift studio at home. I then moved to Portland, Oregon, and attended a one-year post-baccalaureate residency in visual arts at Pacific Northwest College of Art. There, I discovered an interest in social practice, working with people experiencing homelessness in drawing workshops, murals, an internship with BCC-TV (a program that creates animations/videos with people experiencing homelessness), and pop-up outdoor drawing happenings. I realized I wanted to explore my community-based practice further in a professional setting, so I applied to MFA programs. I was accepted to PNCA’s low-residency program, MICA’s low-residency program, UNT’s program, and TCU’s program. I loved TCU’s 3-year format and that they provided guaranteed teaching experience on a college level. During my graduate school stent, I experimented with a lot of different media and really felt drawn to the cyanotype process. I orchestrated a lot of community-based events around creating collaborative, large-scale prints on canvas, thinking a lot about how community can be the basis of the art form itself. That connection between people through the vessel of art material is so valuable and special. Now, I am currently a high school art teacher at Uplift Luna Preparatory. Located in Deep Ellum, this school provides an IB education to students from underserved regions of Dallas. This work is impactful and meaningful. I believe my ability to teach with and work with communities is my way of contributing to society. It’s where I find my value and worth.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I grew up in a very privileged household. I had all I needed and could have ever wanted, and I was and am provided with so many opportunities. I recognize the advantages I have been given based on my skin color and socioeconomic status and am aware of how they affect my societal role.

That being said, as a woman, I have encountered moments of struggle because of my gender. But, I have hope and see things getting better. My husband and I are currently expecting a daughter in November. We recently had a conversation about how we would present the world to our daughter and what it means for her to be a woman. Our inclination is to tell her and show her the good, positive, and progressive things happening. I believe focusing on that positive energy and placing our energy into the growth we see in our neighborhood, community, city, nation, and the world is how we heal the problems we have today. Don’t get me wrong, I am aware of the current sociopolitical and economic issues present for women today, but I am hopeful in the future based on our past growth. My advice to younger women is the same advice we will give our daughter. Find the good, focus on it, revel in it.

Please tell us more about your artwork, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
My work investigates the movement of the human body through nature, and how the body interacts with and manipulates the spaces it inhabits. I am interested in empowering the viewer, allowing the viewer to interact with and manipulate the work.

In my most recent large-scale installation, I used large-scale canvas cyanotype prints made in outdoor communal events (these events allowed participants to work together to create the print) and then created formal sculptures along the gallery walls from these documents. These sculptures were malleable, as they were hung using climbing anchors and carabineers to allude to the outdoors and to human body weight. The viewer was able to move around the work and interact with the work in the gallery space. They were able to manipulate the work and ultimately become a part of the work. I am interested in that transfer of power in the artist-viewer relationship. I believe there is a lot of significance in these community connections; I also believe that is what sets me apart from others. I really want the viewer to have a say in the work and to create a less sterile and more exploratory experience in the white-walled gallery and beyond.

What do you feel are the biggest barriers today to female leadership, in your industry or generally?
Hands down, being taken less seriously than male peers. We are also more likely to be judged based on how we appear rather than what we can accomplish. As I mentioned before, I really do think there are some positive changes happening, and I am fortunate to currently work in a really progressive environment. I luckily currently don’t feel this on a day to day basis, as other women do. I have had jobs where I have been treated as lesser than my male peers and disrespected because of my gender. I have been physically evaluated by a male peer in the workplace before (I have had a boss tell me I have pretty eyes during a business conversation, and I have had a student suggest I should have fixed my hair better). Right now, I am fortunate to be able to choose a work environment where I don’t feel this way. The fact that these work environments exist gives me hope.

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