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Interdisciplinary artist seeks inspiration through education after years in industry

Jason Hawkins

Shana Jackson is a fourth-year textile design major in the Lamar Dodd School of Art from Philadelphia by way of Brooklyn. She’s seeking to supplement her history of first-hand work experience in the design world with the artistic refinement and development of a college education. She specifically wants to grow herself as an artist through her degree.

“I’m doing this for my nineteen-year-old self,” the forty-seven-year old said. “Being in school is allowing me to build the skillset necessary for me to enter the industry fully prepared to contribute creatively and not just from a business standpoint.”

The first time Jackson shared her art with the world wasn’t entirely voluntary, though it has proven to be something she’s grateful for. Jackson went to a school at a time and place where it was difficult for young students to enter the world of art, so intervention on the part of teachers was instrumental in her being able to practice and share her work.

“I was going to elementary school in Philadelphia prior to when they’d not gotten rid of most extracurricular art programming in school,” Jackson said. “I guess one of my teachers saw that I had ability. Then, my work started being entered into contests—school, local, and regional. Somebody saw something in me, and they just kept opening new doors.”

From the beginning, Jackson practiced art across multiple forms. In addition to visual art, her elementary school mentors encouraged her to participate in the performing arts.

“I learned to play the violin. I was also singing solos and dancing,” Jackson said. “It was a cross between different things. They saw potential in me and cultivated all that at once.”

Jackson became interested in fashion design and fabrics after a visit from a cousin who was receiving a fashion design education in New York.

“My cousin went to the High School of Fashion Industries,” she said. “When I was in sixth grade, she came down for the summer, and it was the first time I saw that you could draw clothes instead of people. I didn't know that was a thing.”

Jackson wanted to pursue an education in fashion design herself, but family members cast doubt on the viability of such a degree. However, Jackson wasn’t going to let not having a degree stop her. After high school, Jackson went straight into the New York fashion scene, where she worked for years without a college education.

“I moved to New York and hit the ground running,” she said, “I had to work, and so I worked in the fashion industry. I started out doing clerical work, but I was still around clothes. That turned into internships. Then, it turned into working at luxury retailers, which turned into working in a buying office at a showroom for a European company.” 

While working in the fashion industry, Jackson discovered that she was particularly interested in fabrics themselves.

“I realized that, as much as I like clothing, I actually love fabric,” she said. “Fabric inspires me. I'll go to the fabric store, buy fabric, and just make things. It’s not necessarily design; it's the fabric itself. That's how I got into textile design.”

Jackson’s dream is to have her own studio and collections and to be able to create fabrics that are used in everything from upholstery to apparel. However, during her time in the fashion industry, she noticed a disparity that motivated her to pursue a college degree to fully establish herself as a creative.

“When I worked in the fashion industry, I noticed that there weren't many people of color in creative positions,” she said. “They were in support positions. They were secretaries or administrative assistants but not actual designers.”

All of this has brought her to the University of Georgia. Through her studies, she’s been inspired by all art forms across the African diaspora. 

In addition to establishing herself as a textile designer, Jackson intends to create educational programs for children to receive development and support in the arts. She wants to ensure that children, especially children of color, know that the arts are an option for them and that they, like her, can make their goals a reality.

Image: Shana Jackson

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