Women We Love: The Lover of Kids – Phoebe Giffey-Brohaugh

the children's art gallery

Welcome to this week’s ‘#WomenWeLove’ – our weekly column where we celebrate women doing amazing things in their areas of influence. From tech to fashion, social activism to politics, these women, are definitely crush-worthy. Catch up on all our crushes here!

Today, our focus is on Phoebe Giffey-Brohaugh

We’d love for you to tell us a little story about your life and your favourite memories.

My name is Phoebe Giffey-Brohaugh, and I am the Director of The Children’s Art Gallery (TCAG). I am a visual artist and self-proclaimed Jane of all trades. I was born in the United States, and moved around various parts of the country growing up; I was born in a small town in the mountains, moved to a city on the coast, and then finally spent the rest of my childhood on a family farm. I became interested in art at 10 years old. I had a really fantastic art teacher, Mr. Scott Landwher, who classically trained his students in all forms of art. From 10 upwards whenever I wasn’t busy with school, sports, or music lessons, I was always doodling, drawing, painting, and building things. I’ve always had a particular interest in painting, printmaking, and ceramics. Typically no matter where I’m at in life and what work I do during the day, I always take the time to draw and paint. 

At 18, I moved to South Africa and was a full-time volunteer for 6 years at Ten Thousand Homes, an organisation which provides homes, sustenance, and long-term support for families in need, particularly those affected by the HIV crisis. I played many roles on the team; my favourites included being the Creative Lead of Media and Communications, managing a communal kitchen, hosting international short-term volunteers, and helping make bricks for the homes we built. Aside from all the work, it was an incredible place to call home in my late teens and early twenties. I had so many once-in-a-lifetime adventures almost every weekend; cliff-jumping, exploring Kruger National Park, and climbing mountains, all while doing my best to avoid snakes, baboons, and elephants. Having those experiences and memories at a formative age allowed me to realise I can do anything I put my mind to. 

In 2020, a few weeks prior to the Covid pandemic, I moved back to the United States to be closer to family, which proved to be a crucial time to be as close to loved ones as possible. During that time I also managed a locally famous bakery in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

In 2022 I relocated to Lagos, and have loved connecting with the creative community here. It has been an incredible experience to discover the positive things about this country which the media doesn’t tell you about! The food, the deep roots in music and art, and the people who are proud to be Nigerian! I feel lucky to have experienced all of this and more. 

What’s the story behind The Children’s Art Gallery (TCAG) and how are you connected to it?

I became connected to the vision of TCAG from a happen-stance conversation. I was chatting with the soon-to-be co-founder and was sharing about my previous travelling and work experience. He shared that his 6-year-old son had become really interested in art, particularly in selling his paintings. As the conversation continued, we realised there are so many talented artists under 18 years old who don’t receive the encouragement or recognition they deserve. There was something larger than just a fun project in front of us. We began to imagine what it could look like for children of all backgrounds and abilities to have the opportunity to invest in themselves through art– what if they could sell their pieces and put proceeds into bettering their own education, healthcare, and creative development? During this time of developing how the gallery would make a sustainable and direct social impact, I reminisced about what it was like for me as a child artist. I had such a passion for sharing my art that I organised a few of my own exhibitions as a teenager and looking back, I wish I had the mentorship of a gallery during that time. My own personal experience has motivated me to help pave the way for the talented children we are representing.

Just a few months later The Children’s Art Gallery has held a number of exhibitions and showcases, we have amazingly supportive clientele, are directly investing in the well-being of some of the world’s youngest and most amazing artists, and have our sights on the international expansion! Sometimes it really does pay off to say hello to a stranger and ask a couple of questions. 

Managing a business in Nigeria is no small feat and then an Art Gallery. How has that been so far since the official launch of the gallery? 

It has been incredible! We have been so lucky to have people who understand how important this is and have been in full support of exhibitions and events, and the overall success of TCAG. We have a fantastic team running the daily operations of the gallery. The team is full of diverse perspectives and experiences, and they put their full effort in. 

Not to say that it hasn’t come without challenges. Aside from the typical challenges you are faced with when starting a business in Nigeria, the world as a whole has not recovered from the impact of Covid. The way a business operates now is totally different from a few years ago. Some of these changes favour the gallery, and some have been very difficult. The silver lining is that as a social enterprise, the work we are putting in has a measurable impact on our artist’s livelihood and well-being. It is very motivating to find a way to bring in money when you know that a child will have access to better quality education, healthcare, and art supplies. 

Covid has harshly taught businesses to plan ahead for disaster and unpredictability like never before. Unfortunately, right now, many people who would buy art in the past are focused on making sure they are only spending time and money on what is essential. However, many others are relieved to see the worst of the pandemic over with and have been looking for a way to start fresh, have fun, celebrate the little things, and make a positive impact on the world. With every challenge also comes a positive aspect. If you are able to identify what that positive thing is, you can focus on that item and find a way for it to benefit you. 

While we at TW Magazine love art, there is the perception that Art is for the upper class. How true is that and why so? 

There is no simple yes or no answer to this one. Oftentimes this is true and continues to become more so in certain ways. I do not believe art should ever be dependent on status or wealth. The artist in me dislikes the idea that art is only meant for the elite to enjoy, while the businesswoman knows this connection is undeniable. In recent years art has transitioned to becoming a commodity; it is considered to have value and can be used as an alternative investment tool. In the past few years, we have seen a huge increase in interest and auctioning of West African art because of this. The art retail market is consistently growing and changing in both challenging and very exciting ways. 

At TCAG we believe the enjoyment and creation of art should be accessible, practised, and appreciated by all people. How that exactly happens is different for every person. We’re connected with an incredible network of art teachers and mentors helping fine-tune these young artists’ skills to be able to make beautiful and impactful art that has a story. We also have an amazing network of people who believe in these artists’ creative voices and buy their art in

support. Every person can and should contribute to supporting the fine arts in many, many different ways– the process and journey of art is something for everyone to enjoy. 

Why Children’s Art? Is there a backstory we should know about?

The fine arts sector is one of the only areas where children are not supported or represented, and The Children’s Art Gallery is determined to change that narrative. As all the artists we work with are children, we also must work within the education system. High-quality fine arts education is typically only available at the university level. This is a trend we see on a global scale, and I believe this causes detrimental harm to children and therefore the foundation on which society is built. Just as we have discovered the effect of learning musical instruments on developing brains, it is extremely important that visual art is accessible to all children. Half of our brains are wired for creativity (the right side). When the basics of art/expression are taught to children, they are developing fine motor skills, recognition of colours and shapes, and much more of these basic rudimentary growing blocks. However, this side of the brain is also responsible for important human qualities such as emotions, spatial and visual awareness, imagination, intuition, and holistic thinking. If this side of the brain is not provided with enough stimulation and growth opportunities at a young age, there are detrimental side effects. In reverse effect, if all children are given proper creative education, even if they do not become one of the world’s most recognized artists as adults, they will excel in many areas of their life because they were able to develop holistic thinking at a young age. Children who experience well-rounded education are not only well-prepared for what the future holds for them but grow up determined to make a positive change in the world! 

We’ve seen the gallery and appreciate the works of these kids. Tell us more about the current artists TCAG is showing and their art style. (pls share pictures too pls)

Where to begin! We have so many amazing talents, and we’re constantly growing our numbers of represented artists. At the moment we have 21 star member artists, including 3 new artists in our upcoming exhibition. I’ll highlight a couple of artists with interesting works on the horizon. 

Zizah O. Zizah joined the gallery last November. At 14, he has developed an incredibly unique style already. I know for a fact Zizah’s art will take him far, and I’m excited to see what his works develop into as an adult in a few years. Having already done a solo exhibition, TCAG regularly features his works in exhibitions and showcases. Zizah has autism and uses art as a means of processing and communication. He has a natural eye for form and subject in his drawings and paintings that you just can’t teach a person… it comes very naturally to him. Anyone looking to invest in unique and eclectic pieces should check out Zizah’s artwork. 

Fopefoluwa A. At 16, Fope has already developed a beautiful, intricate style. Fope tends to focus on the beauty and intrigue of the human form. She does wonderful figure sketches and studies, as well as portrait paintings with a minimalistic approach, focussing on elegant lines and shapes. Fope is one of our newest members and her recent paintings will be featured in our upcoming exhibition titled “Scapes”. 

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Sulaimon F. 12-year-old Sulaimon presented one of his recent pieces to the Art Hotel on the 19th of March. Although he is young, Sulaimon already is using his story and life experiences to create poignant and powerful artwork. He heavily utilises symbolism; interestingly, the message of his work is discernable and apparent to his audience. Most folks who have the privilege to encounter his work spend quite some time in front of it just absorbing and processing the details. 

Louise VA. Our newest member artist, Louise, picks peaceful colour schemes and titles for her artwork. At 12 years old, she’s still developing her subjects, yet has a very distinct approach to her painting style. I would say Louise’s approach brings the audience a sense of peace and calm– even down to watching Louise write her signature there is a harmonious and intentional approach. It’s very striking and rare for a young artist to have such an approach to her artwork. A few of Louise’s pieces will be in the “Scapes” exhibition at TCAG. 

What’s the philosophy you absolutely live by? In life, in friendships/relationships and now, in business 

It doesn’t pay to do what everyone else is doing. When you begin to play games by comparing yourself to others or decide to stick to the status quo, you are confining yourself to a very limited amount of opportunities and experiences. Trust that gut instinct of yours! Find who you are at your core, know what you love, appreciate the tools you have at hand, express yourself, and find a unique way to benefit from your skills. Find friends who support you in your journey, not people who you have to please or change yourself for. It is always good to heed the advice of your elders/mentors, and you’ll oftentimes realise they are not pointing you in the direction that everyone else is heading. 

If I wanted my child – who has some artistic skills – to be part of the TCAG artists, what do I need to do? How can this happen? 

It’s very simple! We believe all children of all backgrounds and abilities deserve a seat at the table. Our artwork submission process is online, and can be found on our website (www.tcagallery.com), or via Instagram: @tca_gallery. Applications are free and require 2-3 pieces to be submitted, including certain details such as videos of the artist making the work. From there our curatory board takes a look. When artwork is accepted into the gallery, the child automatically becomes a member of TCAG as well. If parents have questions about the submission process, they can either email us at info@tcagallery.com or send us a dm on Instagram. Aside from displaying art at the gallery, we have monthly opportunities/activities for children who are particularly interested in art; details of these events are posted on our Instagram page and email list. 

What was your life like before the gallery? How has it changed with the gallery?

The Gallery has been very inspiring for me in my personal life; as an artist, there is nothing more inspiring than helping children discover their love for art. My favourite moments are when the light bulb turns on, when a child is proud of their artwork or when they realise they are relating to a piece of art, their eyes have a certain brightness and sense of wonder in them. It motivates me to prioritise making my own art. 

As we were in the process of getting things in place so TCAG could open to the public, I was adjusting to life in Lagos; I still am really. I recently got married, and am learning what it means to share life with a partner, adjust to living in a new culture, and so much more. All of those things still happen, even with the exciting and glamorous things a gallery space opens you up to. The older you get, the more you realise it requires concentration and being intentional to balance all sides of life so you can maintain peace of mind. 

If you met a young person who wanted to be like you and do what you do, what would be your advice to them? 

Don’t give up on what you love to do… even if you think it’s just a hobby. Go for it! If something intimidates you, but you feel like you can do it, it’s time to give it a try. The worst you can do is make mistakes, learn from them, and apply what you’ve learned. These are a few guidelines that I remind myself to follow when it comes to upgrading my knowledge and capabilities surrounding a life goal: Practice Integrity, Research/Self-Educate, Dream/Think Ahead, and Identify what exactly is intimidating you.

Images source: TCAG

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