Artistic Alter Egos Enrich Life

It’s no secret that Cincinnati Children’s employees are a smart and talented bunch. We see proof of it every day in our interactions with each other, with patients and families.

But once in a while, we get a glimpse of our colleagues’ additional abilities that surprise and delight us. In keeping with our ArtsWave campaign, we pull back the curtain on staff who have a personal connection to the arts.

Kimbaird Avant, musician, photographer

By day, he’s an accreditation and regulatory consultant in the Anderson Center, helping staff maintain compliance with entities like the Joint Commission, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Ohio Department of Health. All in all, pretty serious and standardized stuff.

In his spare time, however, Kimbaird Avant is a musician and photographer, using both media as a way to express himself and connect with others.

“I’m one of six kids, and my mom and dad both come from large families,” he said. “Many of them were musicians and preachers, so I was always surrounded by people who were artistically inclined.”

Avant developed his musical chops at church in between services when he and his cousins would kill time by noodling on the instruments in the sanctuary. “I took drum lessons for about 6 months,” he recalled. “And we had a piano at home. Mom played a little, so I picked up on it. After church, I’d start playing on the drums or piano, and my cousins would join in. Then we’d trade off. As we learned, we’d teach each other, and it started to sound pretty good. One day, one of the regular musicians wasn’t there, so I sat in for him.”

In high school, Avant joined the marching band as a drummer. Then at work, he started playing in a jazz group, which led to club gigs. Eventually, he and his brother formed a band called “Improv” and began playing at weddings, parties and political events.

From age 7 to well into his 40s, music was Avant’s main artistic outlet. But around 2012, he felt pulled in another direction.

“I’d flirted with photography over the years, maybe because my dad was always taking pictures,” he said.

Then Avant’s dad invited him to take a digital photography class together.

“It was a cool opportunity to share that experience with him and see him in a different light," he explained. "He lost interest as it became more complicated, but I was hooked. Now, I photograph weddings and shoot senior, family and corporate portraits.”

In both his photography and his music, communication is key.

“I like to tell the story rather than just take pictures,” he explained. “So, for a wedding, I’ll ask couples about their venue and their courtship and what they want to convey. Everyone has their own unique narrative.

“Likewise, to be a good musician, you have to be able to articulate what you feel through your instrument. The cadence and the harmonies help bring out the colors in the song to evoke a mood. Music is the universal language. It’s accessible to everyone.”

Avant’s avocation has helped him develop discipline. “Every art has its own set of rules and techniques that you have to learn and practice, but it’s up to each artist to put their own twist on it, to explore new ideas and combinations of genres,” he said.

These days, Avant focuses on his photography and plays music mostly for his own enjoyment. It’s a great stress reliever when he has a crazy day.

“I am passionate about music, and I love expressing myself through photography,” he said. “Both have led me to friendships I wouldn’t have had otherwise, and both have taught me to appreciate the unique aspect each person brings to their craft.”

Carol Muir, painter

Every time Carol Muir approaches a blank canvas, it’s an adventure. Muir, who is a program coordinator in the Chief of Staff Office, has no preconceived notion of what she’s going to paint when she begins. “It’s intuitive. Whatever paint is calling to me gets thrown on the canvas. Eventually, something emerges, and I’ll bring out certain aspects of it, but I never know what it’s going to end up like, which is so much fun,” she said.

Muir has always painted, but mostly, she did art journaling as a therapy process in her 20s.

“Some things are emotional. You may not have words for how you feel, but you can draw it or paint it, and that’s how it started for me,” she explained.

Muir was busy working full-time at Cincinnati Children’s and raising two children, so painting faded in and out as a pastime. But she always knew it was there as something she did just for herself.

Then, about 6 years ago, she decided to attend a beginner’s artist retreat in Raleigh, North Carolina.

“Have you ever done something because you just feel like you’ve got to do it?” asked Muir. “As soon as I hit the Paypal button to register, I felt sick, like I was a fake. I thought, ‘What am I doing? I can’t call myself an artist!’ But I went to Raleigh by myself, not knowing anyone, and it was the biggest, life-changing thing that ever happened.”

When the facilitator saw her work, she said, “Girl, you have got to paint. You are the real deal!”

Said Muir, “I was blown away. So I came back and started painting more regularly and went on more art retreats. I did one-on-one mentoring with an artist. I learned more about the business of art, about what I am and what I do and why I do it. I transitioned from thinking ‘I paint for craft’ to ‘I am an artist.’”

Since then, Muir has had three month-long art shows at Northern Kentucky coffee shops. “The shows were a good experience because they were small and no-pressure events,” she said. “I’m looking now for other places to take my art.”

Muir works primarily in acrylics and oil sticks. Her paintings are abstract, with bold splashes of color flecked with black.

“I’m not afraid to show the dark side of life in my paintings,” she said. “Art is emotional. Sometimes, it’s not pretty, just like life. But I’ve gotten very positive responses to my work. People feel the rawness of it.”

Painting has broadened Muir’s circle of friends. She has a close group of artists with whom she’s attended workshops. It’s also taught her to be bolder, more confident and more vulnerable.

“I feel more like ‘me,’” she explained. “My paintings come from somewhere deep inside, so it’s scary to show that to other people. At my first show, I probably had a million heart attacks before I got everything up on the wall. But now, when people ask me what I do, I say I’m an artist. Saying it out loud, walking the walk and talking the talk has helped me. It’s been a journey of baby steps. But sometimes, you’ve just got to take a leap.”

Tips for Emerging Artists

  • Find someone whose art inspires you. Study their technique. If possible, ask them to mentor you.
  • At the same time, don’t compare yourself to other people; know what you like and develop your own voice.
  • Know your craft. Learn as much as you can about it and the tools you’ll need.
  • Practice, practice, practice.

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