Noël Bella Merriam
By creating a classroom environment of supportive, shared learning each student feels more comfortable talking through their concerns, disappointments and successes. Noël Bella Merriam , Instructor , The Art Institute of San Antonio, a branch of The Art Institute of Houston
I’ve always known I wanted to be an artist, and at sixteen I began working as an artist and photographer. There was never any doubt that I would work in a creative field. I completed my first paid commission at age 18 and have worked in a variety of creative capacities ever since. I believe that I didn’t choose to be creative, creativity chose me. That’s a really nice way to have your life unfold, and infinitely rewarding.
How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience to provide an industry veteran's sense of the realities / challenges / opportunities of the profession?
The extensive professional experience I’ve had encompasses a wide variety of niches a photographer could pursue—I’ve had my photography exhibited in museums and galleries, managed a photography portrait studio, worked as a freelancer for a wide variety of clients, and even perched in the bucket of heavy equipment to get the perfect aerial photo for a client. At 18, I researched how to protect myself with contracts after my first freelance job, so one of my priorities is to give my students a tool-kit of basic business skills to assist them in the early stages of their career. I’ve seen several of my former students out in the local community several years after they graduate who tell me they still use the contracts and business forms they developed in my classes, which is wonderful to hear. I feel that as creative professionals, we all benefit from sharing our knowledge and experience with each other. The focus on real-life experience is shared with students through dialogue—often a comment one of them will make about a class assignment sparks shared stories about challenges we’ve all faced as working photographers. By creating a classroom environment of supportive, shared learning each student feels more comfortable talking through their concerns, disappointments and successes.
Is there a class assignment that exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring? Similarly, how does your approach inspire each student to push themselves beyond their own perceived limits?
Art does not exist in a vacuum, so one of my favorite assignments is the market research analysis project. By exploring what other professionals are doing in the same photography niche first-hand, and learning to develop a critical eye when viewing how professional photographers present themselves on their websites and through social media, my students are empowered to expand their own professional voices in a manner that is authentic, professional, and current with the industry.
In your opinion, what is the single most important thing you impart to your students to help them succeed in your class and in the real world? Alternatively, what is the most critical advice you would offer any student as he / she embarks on a creative career?
The most important thing I would impart to my students is to believe in themselves and their own creativity. They are here at The Art Institute of San Antonio for a reason, and we are invested in giving them the foundation they need to build a successful career. The most critical advice I would offer a student would be directly related—to value themselves and not undersell themselves as they establish their professional resume.