Dari Calamari

Education: Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art Education, UNC Charlotte (2010)
Hometown: Charlotte, NC
Can you tell us a little about yourself? When did you first get interested in art?
I was raised in Charlotte, NC, and I became interested in art as a kid. I had coloring books and crayons with me. I was gifted art sets with paint and colored pencils and pastels in them. I was into scented markers and other art supplies! I first started taking art classes in high school, all four years, until I went on to UNC Charlotte in 2005. I initially applied as an elementary education major until I realized I really just wanted to take art classes. I then switched my major to Art Education to have more of a focus on the art and to continue to take a variety of art classes.
How did your education at UNC Charlotte prepare you for where you are today? 
I learned a lot from being in a variety of art classes at UNC Charlotte. Although my concentration was ceramics hand-building, I gained so much from my additional art classes, including printmaking and sculpture, fibers, and drawing.
What projects are you currently working on? 
I just finished a mural at a Middle School. Since I went to school to teach art in similar settings, it was a pleasant full-circle moment to be able to paint the inside of those hallways. I'm working on a few personal projects as well, and I'm always drawing. Right now, I'm drawing every day for the month of September as a warm-up to my fourth year of #Inktober, where I'll draw every day for the month of October as well.
What are some of your favorite projects you've worked on?
One of my favorite projects has been the Black Lives Matter mural because of the impact it had - and continues to have. All the people that came together for it, the artists involved, and the members of the city that came out to witness it made it truly special. Another one of my favorite projects was one that I did during the last week of the META mural residency. I had the chance to paint my first solo wall - a monumental moment for me.
Do you have any special memories from UNC Charlotte?
I went to school for Art Education because I didn't think the title of an "artist" could suit me. I just didn't view my work in that way - as good enough to be just an artist. During my last semester, I was in a class, called senior seminar, where previous alumni came back to speak to students about their trajectory in life and their art after graduation. One speaker stood out to me: John Hairston. To see a Black person, not that much older than I was, listen to him talk, and go to his art show on campus, was transformative. It made it real to me. I'd spent years in art and art history classes, learning mostly of artists that didn't look like me or feel relatable, really. I went through many classes in high school, and in college, where I was the only Black person, and many times, the only person of color. It was my norm. To have a Black artist come speak to my class was just, like, "WOW. He's doing it." Now, I know, and see, that this is a viable option for people out there. It shifted something in me, although, I wasn't aware of it at that time. 
Dari Calamari standing inside of her R, aerial viewIn your interview with Charlotte Agenda, they mention, "She showed up with no plan in mind. She says her work is intuitive. But when she looked over at the man who was painting the E next to her R, she laughed. It was John Hairston, the man who came to her class at UNC Charlotte several years ago, the first Black artist she’d met in person. For someone who believes that what you see is a reflection of who you are, it was more than a coincidence." What was that like?
Being able to paint alongside him for the mural was just, ugh, so unbelievably perfect.
Do you have any advice for prospective students looking into the Department of Art & Art History?
There is more than one way to get where you want to be and to get the things that you want! Sometimes it may feel like the journey has to look or feel a certain way because that's all you've seen before and considered valid, but that is not true!  We live at a time where now, more than ever, anything is possible. Like, anything!
College is but a sliver, a slice, a fraction, of your whole life and you're allowed to change your minds as many times as you'd like to find out how to align to your soul. People may not understand, but if you have a calling or a feeling, follow that wholeheartedly because you can't go wrong. If you have a gift, put it into the world in your own unique way. Find other people that are doing the thing you want to do or living the life you feel like you want and take small incremental steps to get there.
Life doesn't change when you become an adult or are out in the "real world." Know that a lot of things people tell you just may not apply to you. Take it all in and run everything through a filter of your own. Always, always, check in with your own self first. Feel free to receive guidance from parents, friends, partners, pets, wherever, but know that anyone that gives you advice is only doing so based on their knowledge. NO ONE can make the best decisions for your life and your situation except for you. 
And sometimes (all the times,) you just gotta jump and see what happens. The world has yet to see someone like you, with the specific set of skills that you carry, so you can't go wrong when you hone in on that and sit in your authenticity. Life is inherently good. It is truly an honor to be here. :)
Profile photo by Reese Bland. Aerial R photo by @robsnapped.