Empowerment Through Art: An Interview with Kiona Millirons from OKC Girls Art School

With a little less...

than a month left before #ConConOKC, we wanted to spotlight our event benefactor, OKC Girls Art School. We are so excited to show some love to this organization as they empower underserved girls to have success in life through the visual arts. The founder and executive director, Kiona Millirons, sat with me and gave some insight into the organization and her dream for the young girls that her organization serves.


What It’s All About

Kiona was inspired to begin the OKC Girls Art School (OKCGAS) after meeting Matt Moffat, director of the Tulsa Girls Arts School (TGAS), while attending Oklahoma Arts Council’s Leadership Arts program. She explained to me how after being a teaching artist for 12 years, the stories of TGAS inspired her so much that it lead her to tears. She then began to dream about this idea. “Every single morning, that’s the first thing I would think of: That Oklahoma City needed something like this,” says Kiona. “Leadership Arts gave me the confidence and he gave me the OK to start talking to everybody here and that’s how it started: It was just a dream and I was so inspired by him and the stories of the girls and all the progress they had made.”
 
When OKGAS first began, they worked with Mark Twain Elementary to find students to join the program. The hard part? Convincing parents to send their children to an organization that wasn’t even developed yet. “They all signed up for it and they all supported us and I could not have done that without that initial support,” says Kiona.
 

A Day at OKCGAS

Each morning begins with Kiona planning curriculum and handling any general administration duties that need to be done. Once school is out, she becomes the bus driver. “It’s a role I never thought I’d have but I really enjoy it,” Kiona gushes. “The bus rides are hilarious, they’re fun. I get to hear all of these neat conversations that are going on in the background.” From these conversations, Kiona is usually able to glean how the girls are doing and she enjoys hearing their excitement for going to OKCGAS. “You can tell that they love it and look forward to it,” she tells me.

According to Kiona, snack time is very important for the girls. “We need nutritious snacks, that’s one of our biggest needs,” she laments. “We’re talking about underserved girls so I always try to have something nutritious for them.”

After snack time, the girls begin working on their art. “Some of the girls get at education in their school, some don’t,” she says. “So we’re adding on to the things that they already know and we’re diving deeper into all of that. For instance, the last two months have been spent on clay with our youngest group. They’re learning new techniques, new terminology. They’re getting their hands dirty.”

It’s not all about art for the girls, though. There’s a component of social interaction involved in everything they do. They’re spending time with their friends, laughing and giggling. Kiona says, “It’s totally part of being a girl and I want them to feel that way when they come to GAS: That they can let loose of those inhibitions and just be with their girlfriends, talk about things that we can’t talk about anywhere else and have this little family.” 

It’s pretty clear to me that OKGAS has become a family to both the girls and Kiona. My hat definitely goes off to Kiona and all those involved with OKGAS. While talking with Kiona, it was clear by the joy in her eyes that she loves what she does and is fully dedicated to this organization and the girls involved.

 
The Transformation

As you now know, this organization organically cultivates stories in the lives of these young girls. So, I asked Kiona to share her favorite story of transformation. If this story doesn’t give you warm fuzzies, I don’t know what will:

“We had one mom there that day asking questions. She says, I really want my daughter to come but she doesn’t want to. So the principal said, Let’s call the girls in. The girls came into the meeting and [the student] was saying she doesn’t want to come. I pulled up pictures on my phone about cool projects we were going to do. I’m sure she was rolling her eyes at me. She was super shy and kept saying I’m not going to come. I’m not going to come. Well, she wound up coming and to this day she will tell me: Miss Kiona you brought me out of my shyness. And now she’s one of our best students. Now she will stand up in class and talk. She has grown so much and she’s got so much natural talent. I’m just so glad she’s there.”
 

To All the Young Girls Out There...

Being that Kiona has a heart for impacting the lives of young girls in her community, I asked her to share something she wished to say to any young girl that may come across this blog post. Here are her words:

“Don’t try to be like someone else, just be yourself. That’s the best thing to be and that’s totally acceptable. Get over those fears of trying and failing because we’re always going to fail: That’s the only way we learn. We talk about failure everyday at GAS because so many things they’re doing they’ve never done before. It’s so frustrating for them to have something not turn out the way they want. I tell them daily that we’re all going to mess this up, we’re all going to fail but the next one we do is going to be even better. That’s why we keep doing what we’re doing. There’s times when I’m teaching something that I don’t really know that much about and I have to tell them, I’m learning just as much as you are today. Don’t be afraid. It’s okay to mess up.”
 

Speaking of Confidence

Lastly, since this is Confidence Con, I asked Kiona what confidence means to her. Her words hit me square in the chest because it directly reflects the vision of Confidence Con and what those of us involved want to see happen in the lives of women in our community. Kiona says,
 
“I’ve been thinking a lot about confidence ever since I started GAS. Once I found that passion, my confidence soared because I knew in my heart this was the right thing to do. I think it goes back to that failure component and to not be afraid. To laugh: laugh when you mess up and laugh at yourself when things don’t go right. The community that I’m in, in the Paseo and at 612 and the people involved in Confidence Con, it’s those people who have allowed me to be who I need to be and that has boosted my confidence.”

Community Involvement

If you’re like me and after learning more want to know how you can get involved in OKCGAS, here are a few ways the community can support this organization:

Volunteer: OKCGAS needs volunteers to helps in classes and at various events that the organization has.
Snacks: Nutritious snacks are very important in the lives of these girls. Donations can help guarantee that the girls eat something nutritious each day.
Supplies: As the girls get older, their projects become more advanced. Donations of art supplies help the organization tremendously.
Give: As a new nonprofit, it is tough to get off the ground. Financial donations can help this organization grow and continue to impact lives.

I truly hope that after reading this, you fall as deeply in love with this organization as I have. We thank everyone attending Confidence Con OKC for allowing us to give to this organization and we strongly encourage you to reach out and get involved.

For more information on OKC Girls Art School, visit their website at http://www.okcgirlsartschool.org.

Shine on, Queens and we will see you in OKC!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chelsi Dennis is a photographer and public relations/communications profession based in Oklahoma City. She loves capturing the various emotions of life in photographs and words. In her free time, you can find her connecting with others at local events and supporting other small business owners. Her work can be viewed at chelsidennisphotography.com and on Instagram (@cdennis_photography).