This year, the Bartol Foundation announced a new partnership with Small But Mighty Arts to award micro-grants to teaching artists working on community-based projects. Yinka Orafidiya, a socially engaged ceramic artist, is one of the grantees from our first round of awards last spring. Meet Yinka in our Q&A!
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself as a teaching artist?
Honestly, I didn’t start out as a teaching artist. When I started out, I was just strictly making pots. It was something that I gravitated towards because it was calming and therapeutic and a way for me to meditate in a dynamic way, with my hands being in motion but my mind being still. Over time, I started to transition into projects that had a social engagement component to connect with the community through my artwork. And I realized that the best way to do that was through teaching, demonstrating, and encouraging others to work with the material and engage with these objects that I was making. So, that’s how I started to cultivate a teaching practice in conjunction with my artistic practice.
What will you be doing with the micro–grant you received from SBMA/Bartol?
Earlier this year, I received a fellowship that took me to Ghana to work with female potters. The micro-grant will be used to support the second half of that project, which is to utilize the experiences and lessons from Ghana to transition that into workshops here in Philly. A series of free workshops are going to take place over the course of two weeks, and I’m inviting black women in the area to join me in making handmade pottery vessels. We’re going to do this communally, building these pots together coil by coil. And the participating women don’t have to pay for anything—the micro-grant will enable me to provide them with all the tools, materials, and supplies they need to participate in these workshops.
What would you tell other teaching artists and artists working in the community about applying for a micro–grant?
It may sound corny, I would say to just do it. The process is pretty straightforward. I know other artists in my peer group who specifically have this grant on their to-do list every year, but they never apply because they don’t think they’re ready. Honestly, when I decided to apply I wasn’t sure what the outcome would be, but I knew that you have to go through the process to prepare yourself for potentially re-applying for the next cycle. Don’t postpone it—do it now.
Anything else you‘d like to add?
I just want to express gratitude and appreciation for this award. It’s called a micro-grant, but the effects are felt at a macro level. It goes beyond just the award amount—it’s also validation for me as an artist, and confirmation that what I’m doing is relevant. Having a reputable organization support my work in this way is really encouraging for me to press forward and be more bold with my ideas and effort.
Interview responses have been edited for length and clarity.