Last month we introduced Sheila Cote as a new writer, who will be penning a monthly human interest column designed to help us get to know a little more about our neighbors. The name of her column will be Hello Neighbor! We think readers will enjoy the piece, and her column will be a welcome addition to the newspaper.
If you ever have an epiphany, you will likely remember the exact emotions you felt in that moment as if it just happened today. “It was like the stars aligned. The sun was shining, I could hear the birds chirping, and everything was clear to me.” Kate Manville Schwartz describes the clarity she felt that Saturday morning in the summer of 2018. Kate knew what she needed to do.
“Can you watch the kids, Matt,” she asked her husband, “I want to go and look for real estate for a school.”
Six weeks later, Kate’s Art School was open for business.
But the road leading up to this sunny-summer-morning-epiphany was long and arduous. Kate graduated from college in 2008, excited to apply for positions as an art teacher. Then the market crashed. With many art teachers getting laid off due to the recession, Kate remembered a job fair she attended at Michigan State University, where she learned about a prestigious International school in Beijing, China. Kate reached out to the school and said, “I know you didn’t post for an art teacher, but I want to give you my resume anyway.”
“No, we didn’t post for that position. However, we did lose our art teacher.” Matt landed a job as an assistant teacher in the preschool program at the same school as Kate. Three weeks later, the newlyweds sold everything they owned except two suitcases each and flew to their new adventure in Beijing.
Kate and Matt loved their jobs so much that their two-year contracts turned into three years.
There is a shift in Kate’s demeanor as she prepares to revisit the next part of her journey, the part where they move from China to Kuwait in 2012 to teach at a different high-level education school. “Everything is the color of sand — everything is beige — the sky, the buildings, the ground,” Kate says, comparing the stark contrast from China. The attitude toward art and women was different, and there was much underlying animosity in the region at the time. Kate struggled to acclimate to her new environment.
Sometimes you can’t make yourself belong in a place where you don’t belong or where the issues are more significant than you can fix. So, 45 days after arriving, Kate and Matt left Kuwait and headed back home to Michigan. Three days later, Kate discovered that she was 11 weeks pregnant.
“How is this going to get better?” Kate asked herself, realizing she was now homeless, jobless, and pregnant.
The woman who had written visual arts curriculum and various articles for magazines, and loved teaching, found herself working as a line cook, server, and front-end receptionist at the salon of a friend. Kate recalls, “I was incredibly fragile when we returned to Michigan; it was a humbling and depressing time.”
In May of 2013, Ada was born, but not without complications. Kate was induced 13 days past her due date and got a uterine infection leading to sepsis, which led to renal failure. Ada was good, although roughed up a bit, as she had to be pushed back up the birth canal and delivered by a cesarean. Everything turned quickly, and Kate became very sick.
Eventually, Kate was released to go home, but without a clue how long it would take her to heal from sepsis and the trauma she had gone through both physically and emotionally. Through prayer, art, and the holistic community, Kate found healing and help, and two years later, she gave birth to a son, Lenny.
For seven years after Ada’s birth, Kate continued to learn how to manage PTSD and the depression associated with it. She also threw herself into a lot of volunteer work for the arts. It was through Kate’s involvement with Bright Walls (a public art and mural festival run by members of the Jackson Young Professionals) that a co-board member kept telling her that she needed to open a school.
This idea is what brings us back to our epiphany moment on that sunny Saturday in the summer of 2018. Kate’s story of hope in a difficult season is relatable for many people; if you hold on, hope may find you in the darkest moments.
When COVID hit in 2020, Kate turned her waiting area into a store and began selling art supplies. “With no students, I needed income,” Kate commented. “I’ve lived with nothing before and survived, so I knew I could do it again.” Kate’s desire and persistence to purchase a building for the art school came to fruition in May of 2021 when she bought her current location on the square in Brooklyn.
What is the future for this spontaneous, optimistic, and forward-thinking lady?
“I’m currently in an outstanding season. There’s still grief and questions as to why I had to go through seven years of such darkness. I feel that all the roads of my life had led me back here when I was trying to be literally on the other side of the world. I choose this place to do this wholeheartedly — I am Kate’s Art School, and Kate’s Art School is me.”