Vedale Hill didn’t really consider himself a gifted artist, but thankfully, a principal saw his potential and encouraged him to enroll in the Milwaukee High School of the Arts. That’s one of the best decisions he made as a young student, and it’s one that set him on the path that he continues to pursue today.
Born and raised in Milwaukee, Vedale grew up in one of Milwaukee’s lower income neighborhoods. Living with his mother, older brother and two younger sisters, Vedale attended school with friends and cousins, and somehow managed to get into a lot of fights. His GPA never fell too far from a perfect 4.0, but he was prone to fighting and had more suspensions than he can remember. After getting kicked out of Washington High School, Vedale found himself a bit lost when his second school, Juneau High School, shut down. With the help of his former principal, who looked past his reputation as a troublemaker and saw his talent, he enrolled in Milwaukee High School of the Arts, and began to thrive.
“The principal was fond of my artwork, even though I got into a lot of trouble and was in her office quite a bit. She wanted me to stay away from my cousins who attended the same school, so she recommended I attend the School of the Arts, because she was sure they wouldn’t follow me there,” he said.
Vedale knew he could draw and he always took advanced art classes, including painting, clay sculpture and some dyeing fabric work, but he didn’t really think his talent was anything extraordinary, until he started entering and winning various contests.
“When I was at the High School of the Arts, I entered and won several contests in Wisconsin and beyond. That’s when I first started feeling as if I could do something with my gift. I took higher level courses at Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD), including art history and went to the art museum twice a week during my senior year. I got accepted into a pre-college program at MIAD which I attended, even during the summer, and received a bachelor of fine arts degree from MIAD,” he said.
Today, Vedale’s art is shown in galleries and museums across the country. Moreover, for the third consecutive year, his art will be on display at Art Basel in Miami, Florida. Art Basel is a four-day event that first launched in 2002. It has become one of the premiere art festivals in the world, where galleries and artists from everywhere convene.
Vedale is also an adjunct instructor at MIAD during the spring semester, teaches art at the Boys and Girls Club, and he and his brother, Darren, also founded and operate Jazale’s Art Studio. Jazale’s provides art education and mentoring to youth in the Milwaukee area by working with them on a project basis and through year-round programming.
Vedale noted that Milwaukee’s job market is one of the biggest challenges he and others in the arts community face. Running a studio is largely dependent on grants and funding typically runs out in two or three years. He said that pursuing a full-time career as an artist can be challenging in terms of maintaining a steady income.
“One of the major challenges is budgeting. It’s difficult to budget when you are uncertain of where your next check is coming from. The cost of living is rising faster than wages or opportunities, so it takes some juggling and creative budgeting to make it work.
“My siblings and I grew up in pretty extreme poverty and it’s difficult to see your potential as a young man of color living in a world that does not nurture creativity. Minorities are really in a tough situation—trying to build careers when there are few opportunities. Companies that catapulted the Black middle class like American Motors and A. O. Smith no longer exist. Now, to get ahead, you have to become an entrepreneur. We teach youth 7 to 17 years of age to be pragmatic. Beyond that, we also mentor young adults. Sometimes we even mentor our peers when it comes to arts, business and entrepreneurship. My brother and I reach back into the community to help out however we can,” said Vedale.
“I found a way to do what I want to do and serve humanity at the same time. I did what I wanted and I am also able to help others. I’m able to take care of my family and make sure my kids are doing great in school. They are tough, kind, smart and creative. I try to make sure they are taken care of in every respect so that they are successful and can build their own careers,” he said.