Michael Gray with sister.jpeg

Michael Gray frequents the exhibits on display at the Tullahoma Art Center, where he taught a special summer class. He is pictured here with his younger sister, Emily, 9.

Of all the people who help keep the Tullahoma Art Center (TAC) running at full speed, one volunteer has made himself indispensable to the operations at the center.

Michael Gray, a lifelong fan of all things art, has dedicated a significant portion of his life to the center.

At only 16 years old, Gray has even been named an honorary member of the TAC board of directors. He doesn’t hold any voting power during board meetings, but he’s still able to take a peek behind the curtain and listen to the discussions about the center.

And this summer he was able to take things a step further and teach his own art class to children who also love art.


A passion

The former Tullahoma High School student has been a fan of the Tullahoma Art Center since he was a small child.

“When I was the age that I’m teaching … I would go to the center and I would take classes and I would have a wonderful time,” he said.

As he got older, Michael said, he started wanting to help out with the people who put on the classes, asking his instructors if they needed any help.

“I started doing little things; volunteering here and there,” he said.

Eventually, Michael was helping TAC President Beth Thames with her weekly after-school art classes when Tullahoma elementary schools dismissed early.

“She had a class where she had a bunch of art supplies, and [the students] would basically get to pick what they wanted to do,” he said of the weekly class.

During this time, Michael saw just how talented the children of Tullahoma were.

“It was amazing what the kids would think of,” he said. “One kid was making a boat [and] another kid was making – out of popsicle sticks – a whole little house.”

In those children Michael recognized his own passion for art, he said.


In for the long haul

In between those weekly art sessions, Michael recruited friends to come volunteer at the center with him.

Recognizing his dedication to the center, Thames eventually asked Michael if he would be interested in sharing his passion with the artistic children of Tullahoma.

Being able to give back to the center that gave him so much was an opportunity Michael didn’t want to pass up.

“I feel good that I can give back,” he said. “That’s been my mindset since I first started volunteering with them. What can I do to just help out and give back to this place that I’ve loved?”

During his week-long art class in June, Michael was able to let children have fun while creating. He said his class was a pirate-themed art adventure, with elementary-school-aged children drawing and cutting construction paper to create any swashbuckling thing they wanted.

“At that age, we really want to try to get them involved and have fun and use that creative spirit,” he said.


Making art accessible

Letting his students create art out of simple materials was everything Michael thinks art should be for people.

As an avid art fan, Michael follows other artists on social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter. Whenever those social media artists share their work, Michael said, they tend to create with more expensive art supplies.

And Michael doesn’t necessarily believe all art must be created with top-of-the-line supplies.

Instead, he feels that the “cheap things” can help people create just as well as the “expensive stuff.”

“I take pride in the fact that I can make something look good with Cray-Z-Art colored pencils or markers,” he said. “The thing that I’ve found is it doesn’t really matter what [supplies] you have – just the time and passion that you spend on it.”

That accessibility is what he brought to the dozen or so art students he had in his June class – showing children that they can make something amazing out of a simple piece of colored construction paper.


About TAC

The Tullahoma Art Center is located at 401 S. Jackson St. Operating hours are noon to 5 p.m. on Fridays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.

For information about exhibits, classes and memberships, visit the TAC website at www.tullahomaartcenter.com or call 455-1234.

Erin McCullough may be reached via email at emccullough@tullahomanews.com.