Engaging With and Learning From My Community - 10 Questions with Multimedia Designer, Animator, Illustrator, and Professor of Digital Media Marq Mervin
Marq Mervin is a multimedia designer, animator, illustrator, and Professor of Digital Media at Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ). Mervin's work and advocacy centers around providing marginalized and underrepresented groups with multiple points of access to education and professional development opportunities in the field of art and design. He is a member of Jacksonville's chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), a professional association for design. Mervin also serves on AIGA's national Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, which is composed of 21 members from 16 different cities. Within this task force, Mervin chairs the Education and Community Committee. He and his fellow committee members explore partnerships with educational institutions and community and minority-based organizations interested in design education, diversity, and inclusion.
In 2016, Mervin led a TEDxFSCJ talk titled "Represent! Diversity and Equity in Arts Education." During this talk, Mervin recalled his own experiences as a young black men pursuing a degree in the arts and recounts how limited diversity amongst teaching faculty impacted his self confidence. It took Donivan Howard, a black animator with esteemed professional credits, to interview for a position at Jacksonville University for Mervin to see himself represented in his desired field of work. It was this representation that reinforced Mervin's belief that he could pursue a career as an artist and succeed.
In 2017, Mervin curated the exhibition "Mind, Body, and Soul: An Exploration of Black Masculinity," at FSCJ's downtown campus gallery. On display in the exhibition were works by Keith Doles, Overstreet Ducasse, Dustin Harewood, Roosevelt Watson III, and J. Fagin. The show served as an exploration of black masculinity through three aspects: intimacy (mind), sexuality (body), and affection (soul). This show was a result of Mervin's belief that manhood is a broad and complicated construct to navigate, but it becomes even more complex when you add the additional layer of blackness on top of it. It was intended to create a safe space for black boys and black men to ask questions, find answers, and develop more inquiries on their journeys of life.
Mervin also serves as a Public Education Ambassador for the Jacksonville Public Education Fund (JPEF), an independent nonprofit organization that works to connect research with civic voice to bring about unified action in support of universally high-quality public schools for all children in Duval County. The four core strategies that form the basis of their work include: research, community mobilization, advocacy, and strategic investment.
On Thursday, March 29, the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville and FSCJ's South Campus present the next installment of the VyStar International Artist Lecture Series. We invite you to join us at the Wilson Center for the Performing Arts when we welcome Floyd Norman, a writer, comic book artist, and Disney's first African-American animator. This is Mr. Norman's only speaking engagement scheduled for the Southeast United States. Mr. Norman played an important role in Mervin's life and career. Because of that, we have asked Mervin to serve as moderator during the Q&A portion of the evening.
10 Questions with Marq Mervin
Do you have any patterns, routines, or habits when starting a new project?
My habits normally include writing things down. It’s rare that I can up-and-start a project with “inspiration” as my sole driving force. Instead, I’ll take time to plan general aspects of the project while leaving room for it to develop organically.
What have you learned about yourself through your artistic and cultural endeavors?
I’ve learned a few things, actually. My biggest takeaways are:
How do you define success in what you do?
Hmm…that’s a tough one. Success can reveal itself in many ways, such as financial security or basking in the spotlight. For me, I think success changes based on where I am in life. Currently, I define success as being able to help students, parents, and non-artists/non-designers gain a better understanding of what the Art & Design world is all about.
What are some examples of work being done in Jacksonville related to diversity and inclusion that you feel is dismantling barriers that previously existed?
Wonderful question! Three of the major players I’ve seen breaking down barriers and opening the door for reflection are the Yellow House, the Jax Makerspace, and the Cultural Council. Each organization tackles various topics centered around race, gender, class, socioeconomic status, and equity in their own creative ways. Yellow House facilitates conversations, Jax Makerspace facilities hands-on activities, and the Cultural Council invites creatives from different walks of life to give insight based on their experiences.
It’s a very engaging dynamic that, from my perspective, works hand-in-hand. It falls right in line with my work on AIGA’s D&I Task Force. I’m the Education & Community Lead, so I’m adamant on engaging with and learning from my community. The many different people and their experiences help shape how I can address their concerns from a designer’s standpoint. What I learn can offer the Task Force ideas to implement in our local and national endeavors.
As a black educator and artist yourself, how does your responsibility as a mentor and role model expand beyond the classroom and in what ways do you seek to inspire a continuous wave of artists of color?
Phew! That’s a heavy, but excellent question! I always tell my students that learning also happens outside of the classroom. I remind myself of the same thing because I, oftentimes, forget the impact I could have on students. Though I teach them fundamentals of art, design, and animation, my students taught me a critically important lesson on empathy, which is now my driving force. I do my best to answer their questions, acknowledge their individuality, listen to their thoughts, and be a support system when they may not have one in their personal circles.
A student shared an eye-opener with me that pushes me to keep going–“When you care, we learn.” I hope to inspire black and brown artists/artists of color by: showing them that there are teachers and professionals who look like them; creating more characters of color with expansive storylines and character development; and giving them opportunities to collaborate on projects that, hopefully, lead them to bigger endeavors.
There is a new focus on the relationship between masculinity and vulnerability related to how reinforcing "gender normative" actions and behaviors can impact a child's development and how they interact with others. Why do you think it is important that we re-examine masculinity and what it means in the 21st century?
It’s vitally important to re-examine masculinity because there are aspects that are toxic, detrimental, and harmful to men, women, boys, and girls. I think there’s a rigid perspective on what masculinity “should” be. Oftentimes, that rigidity ends up hurting a lot of people, myself included. This can lead to lifelong effects on self-esteem, overall health, and how we interact with other people.
More often than not, I question my masculinity and if it’s enough. Sometimes, it’s performative so I can navigate spaces safely. But, I’m gradually learning to expand my and others’ views of masculinity by sharing my thoughts, emotions, fears, body image insecurities, and mental health.
At the end of the day, I believe we all want our humanity to be acknowledged and embraced instead of tolerated.
The State of Florida's proposed budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year drastically reduces funding for arts and humanities from $40 million down to $2.6 million. This drastically impacts non-profit arts and humanities organizations and the number of programs, events, and educational initiatives they can offer. Why do you think it is important that city, state, and federal dollars are used to support the arts and humanities and what role do you see the arts playing in Jacksonville to help create a just, inclusive, equitable city.
It’s truly disheartening to hear about the many budget cuts to arts and humanities. If we think about it: as kids, our creativity is celebrated and promoted all through grade school, while the humanities are, literally, the studies of humanity and the human experience.
I’m a firm believer that art dictates the culture and the culture dictates the art. They go hand-in-hand. Both art and the humanities speak to the core of innovation, creativity, expression, and how to develop a better world by learning from past and current societies. Quite frankly, art and the humanities are our legacy as people.
You are a video game aficionado. What is a game that you feel does a great job of supporting diversity, equity, and representation without playing into stereotypes? Additionally, as a designer yourself, what is a game that you feel is so visually beautiful that you can lose yourself in the world it creates?
Yes, I’m definitely a gamer! One of my favorites is the Assassin’s Creed series. The games immerse the player into amazing recreations of different civilizations, ranging from Jerusalem and Damascus during the Third Crusade to 18th century America. I love watching “behind-the-scenes” footage and what captivated me about the Assassin’s Creed series is the amount of research that went into creating the cities accurately. For example, the detail that went into the architecture and city designs was staggering. I also appreciate that many of the protagonists have various cultural backgrounds, which include Haitian, Creole, and First Nation/Indigenous. As a whole, there’s some exciting representation in the series!
Oh man, I have three games that blew me away visually and continue to inspire my work: Jet Set Radio Future, Okami, and Folklore. The worlds, characters, and stories are absolutely jaw-dropping!
What is the greatest challenge(s) you face as an artist working in Northeast Florida?
I’d say my greatest challenge is the lack of a “face” for our art community. As a native, I wasn’t aware of Jacksonville’s art community nor history until the past few years. I lived in New York for my graduate years and there’s a much different energy there. What I realized is that there is an aura or marketable “face” for cities with well-known art centers and districts. I used to find myself asking “(insert artist or celebrity), is actually coming to Jacksonville? Really?” That’s a major problem, especially coming from a native. Instead, I’m working to change my response to “it’s about time (insert artist or celebrity) came to Jacksonville! They’re going to love it!”
What would you like to see as an effort to support and grow Jacksonville's arts and cultural sector?
I’d like to see a few changes to support and grow our art sector. These changes would require local art & design organizations and art & design educators to consider a change in perspective.
I believe that non-artists, non-designers, nor appreciators of art, culture, & design are either unaware of our presence or don’t see the significance because they may not understand what we do as creatives. If you don’t know what something is or its significance, how can you appreciate and support it?
I think educational initiatives, such as community meetings, workshops, and hands-on activities could really “de-mystify” our presence. However, I believe the art, design, and culture advocates need, and deserve, a seat at the table. This requires other industries to listen, learn from, and support us.
As creatives and educators, our work is a labor of love. Support in many forms can help tremendously. From there, I think the wheels will turn in an even better direction.