Franc Monke, a nature-based artist, is teaching a new EcoArts class at Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association’s (DNDA) Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, based in West Seattle. Franc has dedicated their artistic journey to intertwining art and community, and we wanted to tell a sliver of their story for this month’s “Artist Spotlight.”
Franc was exposed to all forms of art by their grandmother, who seemed to keep art supplies infinite in her home. Their grandmother would explain each tool, material, and technique to Franc in detail, inspiring them to teach art themselves. Their grandmother often utilized natural materials in their art-making, which piqued Franc’s curiosity about how to integrate art and nature in their own work.
“I have carried on my grandma’s tradition with kids and adults everywhere I’ve roamed,” they said.
After sharing their artistic wisdom with friends and family for years, Franc’s first official experience teaching art came at 18 years old as a volunteer at an elementary school. Young Franc created and prepared art projects for students with developmental disabilities. Franc greatly enjoyed working hands-on with the students on the art projects, and continued to do so in different roles and with different mediums for decades.
“All of us are artistic in at least one medium, most of us several,” Franc said about the people in their life. “We are photographers, painters, poets, novelists, musicians. I knew from an early age that what I wanted in life — how I wanted to spend my time most — was to create beauty for others to enjoy.”
Franc is now teaching art at DNDA’s Youngstown Cultural Arts Center. Every Thursday, community members come by Youngstown anytime between 4-7pm for EcoArts classes, taught by Franc and hosted by DNDA’s Art team. The classes — which started in November — are free, with donations encouraged to help fund the provided art supplies and future free art programs.
Franc is a DNDA teaching artist, as well as a resident of Youngstown’s affordable housing for community-based artists. The historic Youngstown building is also home to a handful of community organizations, and it provides rental spaces to outside organizations for them to bring dance classes, workshops, educational programming, theater performances, and more to the neighborhood.
In the workshops, Franc teaches participants how to preserve and utilize natural materials to create art. They have taught attendees how to use sawdust clay, twine, cotton, string, sticks, branches, and more to create sculptures they can take home and share with loved ones. The classes are intergenerational and open to all ages.
“I want to give them tools to create and show them how to create their own tools for their own journey,” Franc said.
Franc, who uses a wheelchair, says that learning to live with a disability has taught them a lot about community. As they struggled to find new ways to express themselves and share experiences with others due to reduced physical abilities, they found that humans are bonded by their shared desire to create and build together. Franc is passionate about structuring their art classes to be suitable for all levels of abilities.
“My lived experience has taught me that it’s not human nature to be lazy, and, at the end of the day, we all want to have something to offer, something to build, create, ideate, visualize,” Franc said. “These things have been the cornerstone of hope for me this past decade. I don’t believe I’m unique in that. I see it everywhere.”
Thank you for bringing art to our communities and life to Youngstown, Franc. You can register for the next EcoArts class at dnda.org/art, and apply to become a DNDA teaching artist to bring art to community at dnda.org/teaching-artists/.