Young Change Makers: Why and How DeAnna Boyer of Ringling College of Art Design Is Helping To Change Our World
Art is valuable. Everything around us today was created by some sort of artist. Artists are creative thinkers, we solve problems in unique ways and we reinvent the way people understand the world around them. We need more artists who are willing to share their authenticity for the greater good.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing DeAnna Boyer.
DeAnna is currently a senior at Ringling College of Art and Design studying illustration, with a minor in art history. She has recently received a Fulbright Award as well as a National Geographic Enhancement Award to study abroad in Ballyvaughan, Ireland at the Burren College of Art in their one year master’s program, Art and Ecology. Her Fulbright project will include the creation of an illustrated book that seeks to connect the current culture and environment of Ireland to the historical stories and legends preserved through Celtic history.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up in a small town right outside of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. I have one incredible brother and the most amazing and supportive parents. Art has always been at the forefront of my life and so has nature. Whatever time I wasn’t spending inside scribbling in a sketchbook was spent outside running around and exploring the rural landscapes around my home. I enrolled in private art lessons when I was in 5th grade for fun, but it turned out to be something I really loved to do, and my passion continued to grow from there.
Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you growing up? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
As a kid, I used to love the Magic Treehouse books. They were easy to read and I loved seeing where their magically little treehouse would take them. My brother and I had a collection of them. We even had a few of the special hard cover books that had the special gold lettering on them. They were a little bit longer, so you got more adventure out of one story. Since I was little I’ve always wanted to travel and see the world, so these books really fueled my imagination and let me take a trip to a new place. My dad even built my brother and I our own treehouse of sorts, and I remember making up fantasy stories and games with my friends and pretending like we were going on all these crazy adventures. Just like we had read about in the books.
How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Making a difference is becoming a part of the future you want to see, and in doing so you become an example that helps people understand what making a difference can look like. Each day I try to make someone smile — genuinely smile, if even for a moment, because I feel that kindness and compassion is a universal motivator. If we encourage other people to feel connected to one another and to their environment it creates agency to reciprocate these emotions. An act of kindness from myself to another, might encourage another person to share kindness and the pattern continues. So making a difference, is doing the small things, because from my experience the small things always lead to better things.
Ok super. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
Through my Fulbright grant and the National Geographic Storytelling Fellowship, I hope to create an illustrated book that reimagines Ireland’s mythology, culture, and biodiversity to reconnect the Irish Diaspora in the United States to their roots in Ireland. As a storyteller, it is my mission to make people feel as though they’ve been transported to a new part of the world. Through paintings and illustrations, I want to bring to light the changing environment of Ireland, such as the peatlands, the oceans, and the plant and animal life that are exclusive to the unique and fragile climate of Ireland. I want to encourage people to take a stance against climate change on a local level, and help find a sustainable solution that everyone wants to be a part of. Environmental change can be difficult to understand, but art is a language that has no restrictions. I really want to push the boundaries of what research can look like and advocate art as a means to support scientific exploration and storytelling.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
I’ve always wanted to travel. In 2020 I was actively applying to study abroad at SACI in Florence, Italy where I would have been able to work on my painting skills and illustration skills. When the pandemic began this opportunity was shut down. I was really disappointed and I thought my chances for international study were gone. But around this time last year I saw an email from my school about the Fulbright program, so I did some research and thought I would apply. My time off during the pandemic actually brought me closer to my interests in the environment. I spent a lot of time outdoors, I went on a few hikes, and took some spontaneous road trips with my friends. Looking back on it, the pandemic didn’t take away my chance of studying aboard, it helped prepare me for it. It gave me a purpose that I wanted and needed to pursue my application for the Fulbright Program. The pandemic for me was a great moment of personal reflection.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. We don’t always get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
I always tell myself “if not me, then who”. A lot of times I think we get stuck in a mindset of, “Someone else will do it” or “I’m not good enough for that”, but at the end of the day, if you didn’t make the change you wanted to see that day, then no one else did it for you. It’s important when we set goals such as my goal of earning a Fulbright award, to commit to them knowing that the results won’t be instantaneous. Dreams are dreams for a reason. There’s a lot of steps along the way to make them into a reality. Whatever the goal might be, it wouldn’t feel nearly as rewarding if it only took a few effortless seconds to get there. When you step up to do something, you have to understand it won’t be easy, and that challenge is what makes the goal worth striving for.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
I began the application to Fulbright a year ago, and at the time I didn’t know anything about the program. So I went out and I researched. I found testimonies from previous Fulbrighters, I reached out to individuals on Instagram and social media, and I dove into the history of the program. Then over the summer of 2021, I thought about what I wanted my project to be. I wrote down a list of ideas on my notes app on my phone to keep a log of my thoughts on the project. Towards the end of the summer, it came to a point where I didn’t really have a project I was confident with and I even considered not applying at all. But when I returned to school in the fall, I thought, “why not”. So I spent a few long nights writing my proposal and my personal statement and I sent it off to Kristina Keogh and Genevieve Hill-Thomas, two of the faculty members who guided me through the application process. This is when my commitment to the project was finalized. Having other people involved who were eager to see me achieve the goal was my sole motivator to complete my application. Reaching out to other people is also why I believe my application was successful. There are few accomplishments that I have achieved solely on my own. It’s thanks to my incredibly supportive family, peers, and faculty at Ringling College that push me to achieve these goals. It’s really a group effort.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
I was so shocked by the amount of positivity I received after I was selected as a finalist. Over the last few weeks I have had so many of my peers and friends reach out to me with interest in applying to the program. I am thankful that my experiences have encouraged other people to take the leap of faith and challenge themselves to pursue such a goal. Seeing this feedback has inspired me more than anything and I am really looking forward to sharing my experiences with everyone as I explore and study in Ireland.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
I really thought this would be easier. I fully intended over the summer to just work on the application when I got back to college. I thought it would take me a day or two at most. It took me almost my entire senior year to pull together the application. When I was first interested in applying, all of the advisors and articles I read said to work on it early and really get used to the application system. I was so naive to how much research I would do, how many people I would meet, and how much better my writing, interviewing, and presenting skills would get along the way. When I received my initial status as semi-finalist, I truly couldn’t believe it. I had my friends read the letter to make sure I was reading it correctly. When I was accepted as a semi-finalist for both the Fulbright Program and the National Geographic Storytelling fellowship, I seriously thought I was dreaming. It still doesn’t feel real, and I don’t know when it will. My biggest take away from this is to set smaller deadlines for myself when it comes to bigger goals, and to have confidence in my skillsets.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
I am forever thankful of my support systems. I have the most honest and caring friends, talented peers, experienced faculty and professors, and supportive family. My parents are always my biggest cheerleaders. They support all of my crazy ideas and push me to be the best version of myself that I can be. I wouldn’t be where I am right now without them. At the end of each milestone in life, my family and I often say, “Now onto the next”. They have taught me to reach for the stars and they never let me give up. My parents always told me I have to finish what I’ve started and that simple motto has presented me with so many different opportunities I otherwise would have given up on.
Without saying specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
The efforts I have put into earning the Fulbright has inspired some of my closest friends to use their unique talents as an artist to go and make a bigger change in the world. I have some friends that are using their skillsets as illustrators or photographers to bring to light the organizations and movements that mean the most to them.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
The root of my project is to inspire people to create a deeper connection between themselves and the Earth and to reimagine how we have impacted the global climate over time. As a society, I think we have become so attached to our 9–5 schedules that we forget to appreciate the beautiful moments that life presents to us. Most people might find it hard to remember a time when they intentionally went to see a sunset, or took a walk through the woods. Most of our life exists on a social platform, we go on hikes not to enjoy the wildlife, but to make a trending post on social media. My project encourages people to be more intentional and more observant of our surroundings. As an artist I sometimes spend hours painting the same scene and in those times I am completely surrounded by the sounds of nature. I experience the passing of time, and life actually seems to slow down. So if there were three things I could encourage people to do they would be: 1) Leave the world a better place than how you found it. Whether that be picking up a piece of trash in nature or saying hello to a passerby; 2) Find something you genuinely care about and support it. There are so many great organizations out there who already have the platform to make a change, find a way to become a part of it; 3) Spend at least 5 mins each day outside. People underestimate the impact that nature can have on mental clarity and creativity. Don’t be afraid to disconnect from the internet for a while.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of the interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each).
- Art is valuable. Everything around us today was created by some sort of artist. Artists are creative thinkers, we solve problems in unique ways and we reinvent the way people understand the world around them. We need more artists who are willing to share their authenticity for the greater good.
- Comparison is the thief of joy. It’s hard not to compare yourself to other people who are doing similar things to yourself, and many times it’s necessary. However, obsessing over whether or not your work is good enough, or unique enough takes away your voice. The one thing that makes you stand out is you. You should see differences between yourself and those that inspire you. Use these differences to your advantage, don’t let them become a hinderance.
- Age is relative. Anyone can do anything at any age. Age shouldn’t be an excuse for a missed opportunity. If you are young, chase your dreams. If you are older, still chase those dreams. There isn’t an age limit to making a positive change in the world.
- Make connections with other people. Throughout my entire application, I was always looking for people to connect with. Other artists, other scholars, and other groups with similar aspirations. One group that was really helpful in my application to the Fulbright program was the US Fulbright Slack group. There are hundreds of other people from all over the world and from different backgrounds who applied for a Fulbright award communicating on this platform. Hearing other people’s perspectives can help you feel more grounded in your own projects and goals.
- Challenge yourself. You grow as a person by setting new limits — new boundaries for yourself. Don’t settle because you are comfortable with something. You never know what you might capabilities you have until you take the leap of faith.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
We are the next generation of way-makers. When it comes to something like the climate, we cannot wait any longer to make a change, because the Earth is changing quickly as a result of our actions throughout history. Every second we spend thinking about making a change could be a second that we actually go out and do it. So just make the change, especially if you know it’s the right thing to do.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
There’s so many people I would love to meet. There’s some really incredible photographers who are photographing parts of the world that people rarely get to see, and seeing those pictures is like reading a whole story in a second. Some of my favorite photographers are Kiliii Yuyan, Anastasia Taylor-Lind, and Rachel Sussman. But there are so many other artists and creative people I would love to have breakfast with. We would need a big table.
How can our readers follow you online?
I currently share all of my artwork on my instagram account dboyer_art, and my website, www.deannaboyer.com and I plan to share my journey to Ireland and my work as a Fulbright Student and National Geographic Fellow on there as well.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Young Change Makers: Why and How DeAnna Boyer of Ringling College of Art Design Is Helping To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.