Gadsden State’s Cardinal Arts Journal cultivates creativity across community

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CAJ editor-in-chief Tabitha Bozeman (left) and Winter Issue editor Ashley Ross Handy display collages during a CAJ workshop. Katie Bohannon/Messenger.

By Katie Bohannon, News Editor

While Gadsden State Community College provides numerous opportunities for students through its plethora of programs and partners with its communities to educate, uplift and encourage brighter futures, one college-based publication fosters a transformative aspect of life – personal creative expression.

Cultivating creativity with each issue, GSCC’s Cardinal Arts Journal welcomes students, employees and communities to participate in a movement designed to discover connection and generate deeper understanding.

Gadsden native and GSCC English instructor Tabitha Bozeman planted the first seeds for the CAJ in 2015, when she implemented the initiative as a portion of her creative writing students’ cumulative course writing portfolios. Students garnered the experience of editing a print publication, learning the detailed process of assessing submissions and crafting a final product, while earning the opportunity to witness their own work published.

With an exceptional talent for crafting poetry herself and a keen eye for fellow artistic minds, published author Bozeman nurtured the journal. Throughout the years, the journal transitioned from print-only to online-based after the COVID-19 pandemic, with 2022 signifying the resurgence of its first print issue in May. Since its inception, the journal’s influence and presence flourished – encompassing multiple creative specialties and incorporating original works in a variety of genres including art, poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, dance, photography, digital art and music.

“I enjoy experiencing all the talent we have in our communities and I am continuously surprised by the hidden talents people share,” said Bozeman. “I love the creativity of putting each issue together and editing the visual aspect. The journal encourages and nurtures my own creativity, by seeing and appreciating what others are creating.”

Each issue emerges as a reflection of its corresponding release season or neighboring holiday. For example, the CAJ publishes four seasonal issues: Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall, with each seasonal publication possessing an additional sub-theme. Previous publications featured submissions relating to themes such as “In Memorium,” “Looking Forward,” and last April’s “Poetry Around Us,” to commemorate National Poetry Month. While the CAJ publishes quarterly, the journal accepts continuous submissions throughout the year.

Bozeman attested to the journal’s transformation from its earliest moments until today. Its online presence summoned a whirlwind of potential, allowing the journal to broaden its submissions and expand its audience across both the United States and multiple countries. With certain limitations lifted, the online journal showcased local singing and acting talent, alongside digital music composition and performance. All of these submissions were from regional middle and high school students, including GSCC’s own Jazz Band.

“Another really exciting part of the evolution of the CAJ is watching the transformation of submissions,” said Bozeman, who strives to ensure the journal remains welcoming and encouraging to all interested. “When we began, we only had Gadsden State student writing submissions. Now, we have students from all levels in our service area – both K-12 and college. We also have submissions from international students, so readers have the chance to experience not only what people from other local areas think and create, but from other countries. We have submissions from all ages, spanning from young children to grandparents, and we have submissions from so many different genres now, too – not just the creative writing we began with.”

The journal’s expansion integrates a semi-monthly bulletin “The Art Around Us,” which compiles and presents opportunities that foster enjoyment and support for the arts in the community. Posted on the journal’s Facebook and Instagram profiles, anyone is free to submit information for events relevant to the CAJ mission and purpose.

“CAJ Creatives,” the journal’s workshop series, furthers the journal’s innovative atmosphere that promotes creative inclusion and makes artistic opportunities accessible to the public. As with journal submissions, workshops remain free and open to students, employees and community members. Local artist and GSCC employee Hilary Blackwood led the first workshop on various methods of creative journaling such as bullet and art journaling, while the most recent workshop in April featured artist Ashley Ross Handy, who focused on collage art. May’s workshop discusses creative writing.

“Having a creative outlet is such an important part of crafting a fulfilling life – I think a lot of people realized that during pandemic isolation,” said Bozeman. “We wanted to make sure that our communities have the opportunity to connect with others who are creating. It also allows us to display all of the varied and incredible talents in our communities; it validates to artists that their work has value, and encourages others in their own creative journeys. For viewers and readers, the Cardinal Arts Journal serves as a reminder of the value of art and a creative life. Each community has unique expressions of art, and the Cardinal Arts Journal allows our communities to showcase their talents.”

Bozeman illustrated how creative outlets impact individuals of all ages, signifying its relationship with workforce development for those at the community college level. Several GSCC students pursue technical and medical professional paths, entering the workforce after a few years at the college. With a mission that centers around preparing students for success in the workforce to further the growth and stability of local communities, GSCC provides countless routes for students to develop themselves both professionally and personally, to become productive members of society.

“Everyone is an artist in some way,” said Bozeman. “Honoring that part of ourselves is vital to developing personal growth – and our creative lives can thrive alongside and as a part of our work and careers.”

Bozeman entwined this mission with research that conveys the benefits of artistic involvement, reflecting on a 2021 San Diego Workforce Partnership report that discovered college students highly engaged in the arts are more than twice as likely to graduate. She noted that while the CAJ broadens perspectives, the journal provides students in technical and medical fields greater engagement with their peers while at GSCC and offers them a chance to remain connected with the college after they obtain their degree.

“For all students, art education and creative outlets have been repeatedly shown to positively impact school attendance, performance and completion, which are important to the success of all institutions of higher education,” said Bozeman. “Regardless of the field of work of our students and community members, creativity is a key component for problem-solving and career success, civic engagement and quality of life.”

The CAJ team is comprised of GSCC faculty, staff and community partners who serve as editors, joining editor-in-chief Bozeman on her quest. Faculty editors are David Murdock, Patricia Connell and Charity Jones; art editors are Brandy Hyatt and Laura Catoe; staff editors are Tina Pendley and Randa Tolbert; and community editors are Carol Roark Wright and Ashley Ross Handy. Each of these passionate individuals commit themselves to the development of the arts in Etowah County, delving into submissions and creating collections that reflect the clever and thoughtful minds residing throughout the region.

Bozeman shared while her experiences with the CAJ surface as treasured and cherished moments, she the validation authors and artists receive from realizing their work is appreciated the journal’s most meaningful accomplishment. In a world where collective value hinges upon production and success is often measured by monetary or materialistic gain, creating art – weathered words scribbled in ink, powerful story-telling performances narrated with dance, brushes dipped in paint, musical melodies that evoke emotion – reclaim agency for individuals, proving that creative lives are successful, fulfilling and personally validating. Regardless of how much art is created, Bozeman said, there is always room for more – an ever-present seat at a table enriched with empathetic and innovative individuals whose talents affect, impact and connect others in a profound manner.

“We live in what is often a divided and fractured world,” said Bozeman. “There are so many things that can separate us from one another, and we have to actively and intentionally work to find, strengthen and celebrate the things that connect us. The arts are things that connect us in basic human ways.

“We can all appreciate the creativity of those around us, no matter what form it takes. Until we take the step of sharing our own creativity, we may never know what connections we are missing. Reading and viewing the Cardinal Arts Journal, and submitting your own creative work, are steps you can take to better understand and value your own community – driving that connection for yourself and others.”

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