Student Voices: Q+A with Cam Harris


The other week we told you all about Art Options, our summer arts apprenticeship program for high school students. Last week, we featured an inspirational Q+A with the program’s teaching artist, Angela. This week, we present to you the perspective of a former Art Options student: Cam Harris. Cam, age 21, participated in Art Options two years ago (summer 2011) after graduating from Simeon Career Academy.

Cam has taken his interest in the arts to a new level: He is now a junior at the University of Missouri at Columbia, studying Architecture (with an artist’s eye, as you’ll learn below). He also maintains an active interest in photography; all photos below are his.


Anna (Marketing Associate @ Urban Gateways): So, first of all, wow. I watched the Art Options video you made back in 2011, and I’ve also seen your photo blog. All really, really beautiful. Can you tell me a little about how and when you got your start in the arts?

Cam: I started with architecture, but I didn’t see it as an art form right away. We had to pick “majors” in high school and I thought, that sounds cool. After the second year, I fell in love with it. I’ll walk into a restaurant and say, oh, they shouldn’t have done that design-wise, or, that’s really great. You understand a lot about the mundane things in life, the things people take for granted, through architecture. I also wrote poetry in high school, but my time for writing started to dwindle because architecture is such a brutal major. So as opposed to having down time to write, I would make poetry through architecture and photography.

This semester we had a project in my interiors studio – Create a two-level building, the top level has lighting but the bottom level has no light other than what leaks down from the top. We were also supposed to try to evoke a sense of calm and tranquility, and that was supposed to occur on each level, using the distinction between light and dark. Calm and tranquility could be anything depending on who you are. My idea of calm is sitting in the rain, but what about you? It’s expression. It’s all expression. When I write poetry, I paint a picture with words. Through photography and architecture, without any words, I’m giving you the picture and letting you fill in the words yourself.


Anna: Can you tell me how you got involved with Art Options? What was your experience like in this program?

Cam: I got involved through a weekly program at my school, an Urban Gateways poetry program with teaching artist Avery Young. Avery introduced the class to Art Options. Not everyone jumped on it, because you’d have to give up your summer. But me and a couple friends jumped at the opportunity. I didn’t know what else I would’ve been doing with my summer! Sitting at home, probably. [The program] was intimidating initially, but it was refreshing how everyone was so open and welcoming. The social issues we discussed, cultural issues, it helped shape the ideologies I hold to this day. It helped me develop as a person. I really enjoyed Art Options.


Anna: How did Art Options contribute to your pursuing the arts as a career/life-long interest?

Cam: Before Art Options, I didn’t [get many chances] to do photography. Photography club never took off in high school because I was the only one who ever went consistently! So I didn’t have an outlet before Art Options. Also, before Art Options I wasn’t critical of what art is. In the program, I had the chance to talk about it.


Anna: How do you think you’ve evolved as an artist through different disciplines – architecture, photography, spoken word, creative writing?

Cam: I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older that everything is so interconnected. Even architecture, you can design the most elaborate building but it’s incomplete without the right interior and the photographs you put on the wall. Everything plays a role. They need one another. This has helped me evolve, connecting the dots, making sense of it all. For my viewer and for myself too. I’m that kind of person; I need to see how things connect.


Anna: How does PLACE contribute to you work? Your photography feels very place-based to me. Where do you feel inspired?

Cam: That depends. It’s all in my head. When I’m doing art, I’m giving you something you don’t hear or see every day. When I use photography, I’m giving people an idea of a place they didn’t know existed. It could be anywhere.

I don’t want to just take a picture of a leaf, not that other people shouldn’t. I want to get dirty. I have this painting that says…”the world belongs to those of us who get our hands dirty.” People take the easy route, they don’t want to do anything on their own. They’re like robots. Brush teeth, get in the car, go to work. Even with architecture, there are all these codes and rules, and they stifle creativity. “You can’t do that because you can’t build it.” Well why not? I make it my business to break rules, just one little rule at least. I want to push the envelope.


Anna: What are your future aspirations?

Cam: Honestly, it’s more about the day to day lifestyle. I don’t really want to sit at a desk, although I can’t say it’ll never happen. Me sitting at home doing pictures and art, that might not provide for a family. That would be great but I have to be realistic.

Ultimately I just want to create art. I want to create. We come to this world as creators, and I think that as we grow we forget how to create. Think of children, haphazardly floating around, full of creativity. Why not? Let’s have fun. Do what you feel at the time: That’s creativity. Go with your gut.



Thanks to Cam for taking the time to speak with Urban Gateways!

Learn more about Art Options here.