Carien Quiroga, mixed-media teaching artist
A father’s advice isn’t always wrong. Young Carien Quiroga knew that art was her vocation, but her practical Dad encouraged her to try for a “real career.” A South African native, Quiroga obtained a bachelor’s degree in criminology and psychology from the University of Pretoria. She then worked for five years in a psychiatric facility, developing recreation and education programs for disabled adults. Her deepest calling wouldn’t be denied, though, and she reentered college to do another degree in fine arts.
Yet the first degree was not made obsolete by the second—just the opposite. Over the years Quiroga has developed unique expertise as a public and community multi-media artist who engages fruitfully with imprisoned populations,gang-involved youths, hospitalized and terminally ill children, and other populations who struggle with serious psychological challenges and are starved for creative outlets.
“I would never have thought I’d end up working in a criminal justice system, but then again I have always had a passion for social justice,” Quiroga says. “I’m glad I can combine these two unusual degrees...and of course my Dad was pleased.”
From 2003-2013 she worked as lead artist for Arts on the Block, a job-training initiative for young people that teaches art techniques and basic workplace skills. She has gone on to becoming an in-demand Teaching Artist in schools and other institutional settings. Under her direction, youths have created over 100 commissions and public art projects using drawing, painting, sculptural, mosaic, and fused glass techniques, among others.
The group projects are always transformative, but one instance stands out. She was leading a mural project in Baltimore City with police officers and teens just as the Freddie Gray incident occurred. Tension and apprehension filled the scene. “But then, just having everyone cutting tiles and sitting next to each other, being engaged by the art-making process—it opened the channel of communications."