Ava Virginia Edmonds has been an artist in one form or another since she can remember. The daughter of an elementary school art teacher and a cartoonist, Edmonds has always received encouragement at home to find her own creative way in the world. But that hasn’t always been the case at school for Edmonds, whose art didn’t fit the mold of her teachers.
“When I was 12, I watched Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ and thought, ‘Oh, this is art, isn’t it?’ That was a turning point for me,” says Edmonds, who spent her youth experimenting with different art forms, from writing and illustrating, to acting in the theatre. “When I went to high school, teachers didn’t like the way I did things. They thought I wasn’t trying because I wasn’t doing things their way, but I have a way too.”
Determined to create art on her own terms, Edmonds withdrew from school halfway through her junior year and completed high school online while working as an assistant in her mom’s classroom. This gave her the freedom she needed to not only focus on her artwork but to also find her voice.
“It was really difficult to overcome what my teachers had told me – how they made me question my art and the way that I create,” Edmonds explains, “but I realized that I have an instinct of what I enjoy and what I think is good, and that’s worth something – my art is worth something.”
She enrolled at Polk State College because “it was the affordable and relatively close option,” but she quickly realized it was the best option because she receives the support and technical skills she needs to continue growing as an artist.
Edmonds is currently pursuing an Associate in Arts degree with plans to transfer to the University of Central Florida to study illustration. Polk State’s transfer track in The Arts allows students to complete general education and art prerequisites so that they may seamlessly transition to university-level art programs.
Polk State Visual Arts is led by faculty members with decades of professional educational experience who encourage students to not only develop and diversify their artistic skills but to also explore the wide variety of careers available to them in the arts. Students are afforded numerous opportunities to showcase their work at the College with faculty members supporting students in entering art shows in the community as well.
“The interactions, instruction, and opportunities I’ve had at Polk State have been miraculous,” Edmonds says. “The professors treat me with understanding, allowing me to pursue my goals while also giving me the technical skills to better myself.”
Professor of Art Holly Scoggins sees great potential in Edmonds and asked her to exhibit her art in the Polk State Winter Haven Library in the spring. The library entrance was transformed into a gallery that greeted visitors with paintings of “other-worldly people” and archetypes including angels and matriarchs, which often find their way into Edmonds’ art, which can be colorful or black and white.
“People liked the exhibit, and I realized that I could safely be myself – I am a person worth exhibiting,” Edmonds says. “I have never received feedback as generous and empathetic as I have received here at Polk State, and it has encouraged me to continue creating in my own way.”
She aspires to encourage other young artists that they are just as valuable.
Edmonds has a long list of goals: publishing at least three books, directing her own film, recording an album, and becoming a high school art teacher, where she will positively influence students who may be struggling to find acceptance and confidence in their own way of creating art that is meaningful to them.
“I want to encourage others to take advice, but not blindly follow it,” she says. “Don’t let anyone invent you – nobody knows you better than you do, and you will learn the most from yourself.”
Edmonds’ future classroom will be one that fosters creativity and support for young artists, much like the learning environment she has found at Polk State College.
“I want students to know that if they feel like they’re not good enough to pursue their art or enter a program like Polk State’s – they are good enough,” she says. “You’re not here to prove yourself; you’re here to learn, and no one will tell you that you’re not good enough here.”