From murals to parenting to dance projects, this local artist and paraeducator is one to watch.

Latoya Lovely and her son, James; photo by Denyce Wiler of Something Blue Photography.

While Latoya Lovely constantly drew as a child — a blank piece of paper was like candy to her — she didn’t start officially calling herself an artist until just two years ago. She’s also completely self-taught. “I went to the University of YouTube I tell everybody,” says Lovely, “I learned everything I could just by watching tutorials and learning different techniques, and following people on Instagram. Asking questions. … I try and ask everything.”

As a child Lovely did not see herself represented in the media or in the art world.

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“I remember putting towels on my head because all I saw on TV was beautiful, long flowing hair. I never saw natural hair. I never saw afros. I never saw Black characters in cartoons,” says Lovely. “We have always been in existence, Black artists, but we haven’t been as celebrated as white artists.”

Her very first piece of public art was for pandemic-prompted boarded up windows at the Shanghai Tunnel Bar. Now her murals and portable art can be seen all over our city: St. Mary’s Academy, The Vanport Building, The Montgomery Building and The Gladys McCoy Health Department headquarters. She’s also collaborated with other artists, and sometimes students, on murals at Imago Theatre, the new Central Courthouse and at the MESO Building in Northeast Portland. And as a Black Lives Matter Grant Recipient (20 artists including Lovely received $2,500 grants from the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation to create works reflecting social justice efforts), three of her pieces are on display at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at Portland State University until April 30. On Tuesday, April 26, 4 pm-7pm, Lovely’s performance of a pre-recorded dance piece will play on a loop as part of the closing celebration for the exhibit. (She danced with with a professional company for 13 years and traveled extensively performing as far away as Japan.)

Her arts background also plays a huge part in her job as a paraeducator in Portland Public Schools. Lovely often works with kids on the autism spectrum, some who are nonverbal. She recounts how she connected with one student who loved to dance, but sometimes had trouble with transitions, i.e. going down the hallway from one class to another. Lovely found if they danced down the hallway together her student had an easier time. “Anything education wise is all about relationship building,” says Lovely. “I’ve been blessed to come across the [students] who love music and dance.” Along for her journey is her 7-year-old son, James. During the pandemic when the struggles of all families were laid bare, Lovely had an epiphany. “Taking care of our families is the number one priority. And it sucks that for so long I have struggled to (work) without my son being ‘in the way.’ He’s never in the way. … I’m working for him, I’m working for our life.” So instead of paying for babysitters, she brought him to everything from meetings to her mural jobs. He might help her paint a little, but Lovely says he’s usually more interested in talking with people because he’s so social. He’s also a huge supporter of his mom, giving his approval and encouragement as he sees a mural’s progress. “We always celebrate after I finish a big mural project because he worked, too. That is time that he was there and he had to be flexible and have endurance. …. So we do a staycation as a celebration after a mural project because we both did it.”

Denise Castañon
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