Darlene McClinton, 37, artistically ambitious
When Darlene McClinton told her Howard University professor that she wanted to be an internationally renowned artist, he laughed. You have to start by being local, he told her.
Now, ten years later, she’s found her space as a local artist, entrepreneur and professor right here in Greensboro.
Darlene moved to Greensboro from the South Bronx when she was 9. She was raised by a family friend after her mother died. She showed early promise in the arts – as a dancer, violinist, a pen and ink artist.
Her mom and her pastor pushed her to get good grades and work hard. Amy Clapp, whom Darlene met through Big Brothers, Big Sisters, started introducing her to cultural experiences. Amy encouraged her to go to college.
“With my childhood life being so shaky and unstable, I didn’t even think I would go to college,” Darlene says. “She was one of the people who instilled in me that whatever you want in this life, you have to work hard for.”
She graduated from Grimsley High School and attended NC A&T, studying visual arts and design. She found herself drawn to oil painting. She sold her first painting – three women dancing over an open Bible – to her God brother. She set the price as $250. He paid $500.
“It was my first piece, and he really made me really understand my worth as an artist,” she says. “That $500 was all I needed to know that I love art and I can make money from it. This is what I am supposed to be doing.”
After graduation, she went straight to Howard University to get a Masters of Fine Arts with one goal in mind: to be an international artist. She built her body of work in acrylic, exploring themes of identity and African American culture and the impasto technique, which uses thick layers of paint with visible painting-knife strokes. Her thesis project reimagined pop icons in a historical perspective.
“During my master’s program was when I started to understand who I am as a person, as a whole,” Darlene says.
After graduation, she moved to New York City on her mission to become internationally known. She wound up homeless.
“Even though it was hard for me in that moment, reflecting on it, it was a journey I needed to go through,” she says. “During that journey, you could say the spirit spoke to me and said I was born to live a life of service. I was going to be a teacher.”
She spent the next few years working for the mentoring program Our Future in D.C. and as a middle school art teach before an adjunct professor job opened up at A&T in 2010. Another mentor, Pam Ashton became a business influencer over Darlene’s life, who assisted with taking all aspects of her career to new levels and heights.
“I was ready to move back home to give back to the city of Greensboro. I was also ready to give back to A&T,” she says.
She became active in the community. Volunteering at the International Civil Rights Museum, the Weatherspoon Art Museum and the African American Atelier. She raised money for arts scholarships. She visited galleries every First Friday, and introduced her students to the Greensboro Cultural Center. Everywhere there was art, she was there.
She started UNCG’s PhD program in education leadership and cultural foundations, to help her grow as a teacher.
She did a solo show at the civil rights museum. She also grew more interested in public art. She completed mural projects at Bennett College, in the former Aycock Historic District, and the Graham Courthouse. Darlene recently completed a new mural in Country Park to showcase the history and experiences of the Battleground Parks District. Her students helped.
“As an artist, I want to leave an impact. I don’t want to be the kind of artist who dies in this world without making some kind of impact,” she says.
In 2014, she and two partners opened the Artist Bloc, an art supply and coffee shop that provided event space and educational opportunities. Today the business is focused on being an art venue, with a little encouragement from Launch Greensboro, by participating in the Triad Startup Lab. They want to turn it into a chain. This August will be the 3rd annual Bloc Awards present by the Artist Bloc. This event was created to honor, recognize and celebrate the outstanding Triad Artists in the arts entertainment, fashion, cosmetic, culinary industry and to highlight non-traditional artist.
“The Artist Bloc is a home for artists. We see about 300 artists per week,” Darlene says.
She’s also currently serving as Grants Manager for ArtGreensboro and serving on the Downtown Greenway’s Public Art committee. Later this year, one of her paintings – a self portrait called “I am” – will hang at the new Steven Tanger Center for Performing Arts.
“I’m so happy about the direction Greensboro is growing,” she says. “My goal for Greensboro in terms of the arts is for it to continue to be more inclusive. We really need to be sharing the wealth at little bit more than it’s been being shared. It needs to continue to try to create equal opportunities for all cultures, even beyond African American.”