HAPI Hero: James Spearman

Updated: Mar 27, 2021

At the beginning of 2020, James Spearman, an art instructor at HAPI, was getting ready to begin another year of teaching at two Centerstone programs in Middle Tennessee. When the pandemic hit and states started shutting down, James’ first class was canceled as HAPI tried to restructure its offerings for the evolving landscape.

“When Lynece [HAPI’s Executive Director] got in touch to ask if I could do virtual classes, I had only been on Zoom twice with family -- and I had nothing to do with connecting,” said James. “I really didn’t know anything about virtual classes and asked for a little bit of time.”

James, an artist with a prolific body of work in figurative, portraiture, and landscape art, has taught art classes in-person for more than 15 years. He joined the Healing Arts Project, Inc. (HAPI) in 2008. At HAPI, James has taught painting with various mediums including tempera, a water-soluble paint that is flexible with artists’ different abilities, and watercolor, which can be a more advanced level of skill and usually more expensive.

Teaching painting virtually presented a lot of challenges. With in-person classes, James can develop a one-on-one repertoire with students and help them as needed. With virtual classes, it was up to an internet connection speed and the webcam setup.

James went online and scoured the Internet and YouTube for help. He purchased a webcam, practiced presenting from his home studio outside of Columbia, then purchased an additional webcam to assist in the process. After about a week of deep-diving into Zoom guides and instructional training videos, James jumped on the virtual wagon and began teaching his first class online.

“Virtually, it’s a little different. I miss the one-on-one contact where I could see exactly what they were doing and offer help,” said James. “Now, the students bring their finished work up to the camera so I can comment on it.”

With the help of Centerstone staff physically at the program, James can pass out instructional guides and supplies for his students. Some staff take the classes with Centerstone members, which helps students feel more engaged without an instructor in the room, said James.

“The night before classes I come up with some ideas and usually do some type of sketch for the next day,” said James. “The student’s seem to enjoy what I’m giving them, which is very satisfying to me. I try to taper my class to the students needs and what they can handle.”

As James got into the rhythm of virtual classrooms, the number of students attending started to grow. James added more classes to his roster, eventually teaching at Centerstone programs in Columbia, Nashville, Shelbyville, and Dickson without ever leaving his home.

“Nashville doubled their students that came to the classes,” said James. “Typically, we have about eight to nine students in a class. Last year, we had about 14-15 students in each class. One student has been in the class for 8 or 9 years.”

James’ outstanding ability to adapt to the evolving landscape of the pandemic and continue teaching art to the people we serve makes him our HAPI hero. Right now, James is prepping for his next class with an all new medium: clay. Students will work from clay kits and be able to fire their projects upon completion.

“Sometimes all of us have moods,” said James. “Every day is not the biggest day, but every time I get into that class it cheers me up and brings me out of whatever mood I was in and I’m right there with them again. I really enjoy doing it and get a lot of gratification.”

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