BAC Community Spotlight: Zoe Schein

September 2018


Zoe Schein

Photo by Dandi Li


How did you arrive at the Brookline Arts Center?

After I finished grad school, I was new to Boston and really excited about the idea of working in community arts organizations. I was drawn to the BAC in part because it seemed to be really a part of its community—engaging families, putting on hip nighttime programs for grownups, and creating space for local artists to show work. I also appreciated that the staff was really warm and welcoming, and gave me a lot of support as I got started. It was a place where my enthusiasm and wackiness seemed very welcome, and I felt very quickly at home.


Tell us about your background. How did you become interested in art?  

As a child, I had a very oppositional personality, so when my third grade teacher told me I couldn’t choose comics as my independent study project and to choose something “real” instead, I decided to become a cartoonist. My dad had a complete collection of Calvin and Hobbes books, and, being a mischievous kid with a wild imagination and intense love of cats, that pretty much sealed the deal.


I did take a break from art in college—I think because the identity aspect of being an “art kid” felt too constraining. But right after college, I lost a close friend, and I picked art back up as a way to process my grief. I felt so grateful to have that tool, even if it was very rusty. I fell back in love with art, finally did go to art school, and here we are.


What passions do you bring to the BAC community?

My absolute favorite thing about teaching is the way that art winds its way through so many other topics. I love showing students just how many of their other interests they can explore through art, how their existing knowledge can inform their artwork, and how their artwork can in turn deepen their knowledge. I also just love the weird ways that kids think! They haven’t been fully indoctrinated into all of our adult social norms and rules and protocols—and as a result they make me really notice how strange many of those rules are. Which is a really essential tool for an artist to have, in my opinion. So I bring a passion for chasing weird curiosities as far as they’ll go, and my students reflect it back to me.


What do you enjoy most about the BAC?

I love the BAC community! I’m from central Illinois, so it means so much to me to have the chance to meet so many local families, teachers, and artists. Working as a teaching artist doesn’t necessarily come with a built-in community—there’s a lot of solitary time. So being able to build relationships with other teachers has been invaluable. And, as it happens, when you hang out with teachers, you tend to learn a lot!  


What was your favorite childhood art project?

As previously mentioned, I was an oppositional child—and I kind of hated art class! I wanted to be the one telling people what to do! I was obsessed with making movies outside of school—I’d throw movie-making birthday parties just so I could spend the whole day bossing my friends around. My first fully produced movie, Attack of the Furbies, was featured in a local film festival. Fun fact: It includes a cameo from a high-school-aged Sasha Velour (of RuPaul’s Drag Race), who dies dramatically of a poison Furby bite in the second act.


Who are some of your art heroes? 

I have a background in writing, and much of my work incorporates both writing and drawing. Many of the artists I admire the most and take the most inspiration from are writers—recently I’ve been reading lots of Toni Morrison, Susan Sontag, Annie Dillard, and Virginia Woolf, who’s inspired a lot of my work.


I love the cartoonist and memoirist Alison Bechdel (and she also happens to be my celebrity doppelganger—probably a coincidence). I’ve also recently been introduced to Lauren Redniss’ work, which sets intensely researched and beautifully told nonfiction stories against mixed media illustrations that feel so wild and alive.


In the classroom I love to introduce students to the works of artists I love and who they’re also likely to encounter in the future: Frida Kahlo, Kehinde Wiley, Cindy Sherman, Louise Bourgeois, and Faith Ringgold all come to mind.  It feels really good to meet a piece, say, in a museum, with recognition and familiarity, especially since art spaces can so often be intimidating to young people.