College Beyond’s AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, Quinn McLeese, sat down with Donte Burks, a student in the College Beyond group of freshmen at the University of New Orleans. Donte is an aspiring artist and photographer, and he shared some of the struggles and triumphs that he has experienced over the course of his first semester in college.
What made you choose UNO, and what are you studying there?
“The number one reason was the diversity that the school offers. It’s important to expose myself to a place with a lot of different people. It gives me a chance to learn new things, and also be around people who can relate to me and who I am. The second reason was the art department. I’ve seen the work of artists with ties to the school in galleries and museums around the city. I toured it all, saw all the studios and really did my research on the place.”
What has been your biggest hurdle to overcome so far this semester?
“My English professor is a harsh grader, so it’s been tough to make that adjustment. It’s going to make me a better writer in the long term, but getting some bad grades on papers early on shakes your confidence a little. I’ve learned that ‘consistency is key’. We’ve worked on setting up a success plan moving forward, so I’m going to work to stick to that.”
“I’ve learned that ‘consistency is key’. We’ve worked on setting up a success plan moving forward, so I’m going to work to stick to that.”
How about your best memory or accomplishment?
“I’m learning how to manage my time and myself. Right now that includes juggling an internship at the New Orleans Juvenile Justice Center along with all my classes and my art projects. I’ve realized that I can take my job skills on the professional side and apply them to my craft. I’m gaining independence and professionalism by learning organization, budgeting, and communication skills. That’s going to put me far ahead of my peers and allow me to successfully manage my career going forward.”
Tell me more about your photography projects.
“I’ve exhibited some of my paintings at different spots in the past. I love taking pictures that are momentous and memorable to me personally, like self-portraits, pictures of my friends, and shots of the cityscapes around town.”
When did you know that art was going to be your calling?
“It started when I was 8 years old, just playing around listening to and making some music. Then in 2011 I really started to draw, sketch and paint, all sorts of different things. 2014 is when I really started getting into photography. I have a Canon EOS Rebel T-6 that I use now, so it’s a real quality, professional level camera. Artists like Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, and Dapper Bruce Lafitte have really inspired me to keep working on my craft.”
“It’s called Holiday RAWk 2017, and it’s going to be at Republic NOLA over in the Warehouse District. The showing is put on through RAWartists, which is an international collaboration of artists. I’ll be sampling a little bit of everything from my work. There will be other artists as well getting their work out there.”
Do you have any advice for the seniors who are starting to look at schools and make decisions for the fall?
“Apply for scholarships, any and all of them. You don’t even have to apply to the high end ones. Even the small ones get you some kind of money at least. Also, take tours, see the school in person and try to get a familiar view of the place. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You’ve got to overcome your anxiety and negativity. It’ll be lonely at first, but one person being nice or opening up can change all that.”
Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Will your passion and career intersect?
“I’m going to have a house and a lifetime job (hopefully as an art director or photojournalist). What’s the point of getting into something that isn’t right for you? I want to have something that makes me happy and lets me be me.”
You can see Donte’s work on December 13th at Republic NOLA, 828 S. Peters Street. Doors are at 7 p.m. and tickets are $22 ahead of time or $30 day of show. There will be a host of other artists, photographers and musicians on display that evening. More details at the website: New Orleans Holiday RAWk 2017.
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