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Dakota Parkinson teaches beginner and mixed-level wheel-throwing classes at Access Arts. They dip their hand into a mix of water and apple cider vinegar to help shape the clay.

Dakota Parkinson didn’t recognize her passion for art right away. For Parkinson, who uses she/they pronouns, art is a way to connect to their identity and create community.

Graduating from MU in 2016 with a degree in exercise physiology, Parkinson didn’t begin to focus on creativity and ceramics until their transition, which began publicly in 2019. “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you know: security, feeling like you exist, food, shelter then creativity finally,” Parkinson says.

Parkinson has been a resident at Access Arts since April and enjoys creating ceramic pieces that illustrate the complex and chaotic relationship between clay and glaze. Her finished artwork is often rough-hewn, with the emphasis placed more on visual interest than beauty.

Willow Stevenson, another resident ceramics artist at Access Arts, describes Dakota’s pieces as striking. “I love the organic shapes and textures, the oxides and glazes she chooses, and how her body of work is so distinct and recognizable as Dakota’s,” she wrote in an email to Vox.

As a transfeminine artist, Parkinson channels their own personal identity and connects with others through the process of creating art. “Every pot I make is in itself a trans body,” she says. Other trans people have purchased Parkinson’s work and shared their own experiences with gender identity. “It’s interesting connecting a very stratified population, like trans people, together through me creating a functional piece of work that they can use and pass that on to somebody else,” Parkinson says.

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Dakota Parkinson holds a bowl with finger indents in the sides of it at her studio in Columbia. 

Access Arts has centered this idea of connection since its beginning. Inspired by his son with cerebral palsy, Hurst John founded the School of Service, an integrated learning nonprofit and the parent organization of Access Arts, in 1971. “We were founded with the mission of creating an inclusive environment for people with disabilities to learn in the same place as people without disabilities,” says Shawna Johnson, executive director at Access Arts. “We have continued to do that for people with disabilities, but we have expanded it and fostered that spirit of inclusion of other populations as well.” The organization offers classes, workshops, outreach programs and demonstrations to underserved community members including veterans, seniors, at-risk youth and the LGBTQIA+ community.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Access Arts, and the organization is raising money for another art building to accommodate more students and ensure its future growth in the next 50 years.

Within the Access Arts residency program, Parkinson creates their own projects and has the option to consult with a coordinator. She also volunteers as part of their residency by teaching art classes.

“Dakota is the sort of artist that is very inspiring because they’re constantly working or making connections to things,” says Adriana Cristal, another resident ceramics artist at Access Arts.

One of these connections is how Parkinson brings their background in exercise physiology to her work with clay. She says she enjoys the common element of growth in both professions. “In the same way that you can only create a positive environment like the growth of muscle or a healthy body, you can only guide the clay so much before you have to relinquish control to an atmospheric environment,” Parkinson says.

“It will either turn out how you want it or turn out completely differently, surprise you, disappoint you, turn out mediocre, but it still has that same drive and interest for me.”

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