We were lucky to catch up with Elizabeth Washburn recently and have shared our conversation below.
Elizabeth, appreciate you joining us today. Let’s kick things off with talking about how you serve the underserved, because in our view this is one of the most important things the small business community does for society – by serving those who the giant corporations ignore, small business helps create a more inclusive and just world for all of us.
In 2007, I began volunteering for the Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) at Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD). I had read yet another story about Marine casualties in Iraq and felt the need to try and do my part, in some way. As an artist, I knew what I could offer was making and teaching art, so I called ASYMCA asking if they wanted some free art classes for their wounded warriors, which they, in fact, did. A couple weeks later, I was in front of a group of Marines teaching them how to paint a mural, which turned into a weekly art class.
Today, weekly classes for veterans continue, as well as for underserved teens who find themselves inside the juvenile justice system.
Elizabeth, before we move on to more of these sorts of questions, can you take some time to bring our readers up to speed on you and what you do?
It was when I was thirteen years old and standing in front of a Van Gogh painting at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, MO when I realized I was going to be an artist. I can’t remember not drawing or painting growing up. Art was something I have loved for as long as I can remember.
I grew up in the Midwest, Kansas and Colorado, with two very supportive parents who taught me that I could do anything I set my mind to. At no point did they ever discourage my desire to be an artist, so it never occurred to me to do anything different.
Fast forward into my adult years of my 30’s, I was an artist who began to learn how to use art making as a way to help others who were less fortunate or underserved. I founded a therapeutic art nonprofit program that serves incarcerated teens and wounded veterans.
Moving on into my 40’s, my program grew to serve larger audiences and had become favorably recognized in the community. Then, March 2020, all my programming came to a halt as COVID-19 hit. Quickly, I transitioned all of my programming online, which inspired my new entrepreneurial social enterprise, Art Made Eazy.
In the two decades of teaching that I have under my belt, I have become extremely good and breaking down complex concepts into small digestible parts that inspire and encourage people to do something they have never done before. In the art tutorials I create, the projects are easy to follow and there no art background is required in order to be successful. My brand will be one of inclusion, courage and self-expression to level everybody up to share, self-express and explore.
Let’s talk about resilience next – do you have a story you can share with us?
Making a living in the arts depends on an individual’s resilience and commitment to their craft. There are many artists in the world, and in order to be able to continue making art, we all find have to find ways to earn a living. There is no path to follow, no upward mobility we can rely on, nor a safety net. A career in the arts requires one to have many pots on the stove going at the same time, being open to working wherever and whenever to get your career started, and then fostering relationships as a career and reputation are being built.
For me, I just can’t see myself doing anything else, and I am grateful, everyday, to still be making art.
Can you tell us about a time you’ve had to pivot?
When COVID-19 hit and the resulting shutdowns, I, like many others, was forced to think quickly about how I could continue my work without sharing physical space with my students. I realized the only way to keep my programming going was to move online,
Luckily, a few years prior, I had begun playing around with making videos on iMovie, so when it came time for me to figure out how to make art tutorials, I had some knowledge of what to do with the resources I had on hand. Within a week, I was able to create my first pandemic art tutorial and deliver them to my partners via YouTube. This pivot was absolutely crucial in my being able to stay employed.
The response to my videos was overwhelmingly positive, and they were being shared out to many more people beyond the students I was Zooming with in my regular programming. Now, two years later, and many many art videos later, I am launching a social enterprise business that expands my reach and provides high quality and easy to use arts programming to underserved groups who are recovering from the negative impact of distance learning and the isolation that accompanied all of the shutdowns.