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May 13, 2024

Dailey reflects on CIA journey ahead of speaking at Commencement

Richard Rat and The Bat were puppets created by M Dailey for their BFA thesis film, "Fun in the Sun." Photo courtesy of the artist.

By Michael C. Butz

M Dailey arrived at the Cleveland Institute of Art four years ago with a passion to create and desire to learn. Now, they're just days away from graduating as a double major in Painting and Sculpture + Expanded Media.

In between, Dailey was recognized both for their art and their service to the CIA community. For example, Dailey earned a Board Grand Prize at the 2023 Student Independent Exhibition, and their presentation, “Neurodiversity in your hall,” was voted the top presentation during the Northeast Ohio Housing Officers' 2023 Mike Corr RA Conference.

Dailey's latest honor? They will serve as student speaker during the 2024 Commencement ceremony May 19 at the Maltz Performing Arts Center.

Prior to taking the stage, Dailey took time to look back at what they learned and gained from their time at CIA.

How does it feel to be selected as the student speaker at Commencement?
Initially, I was in disbelief. My peers are some of the most talented writers and inspiring people I have had the pleasure of knowing. I feel extremely honored to have the privilege to share my speech for the Class of 2024.

Where did you attend high school? And, how much do you feel you've grown since then (creatively, personally or both)?
I attended Shamokin Area High School and am from the Appalachian coal town of Shamokin, Pennsylvania. I have had a long journey since then. I lived in my small hometown my entire life until I arrived in Cleveland to attend CIA. Needless to say, moving to (and living in) a city was an entirely new experience for me. The amount of personal growth I have experienced from this opportunity to leave my hometown is indescribable. I only wish to continue to broaden my worldview in the future.

As for my growth in the arts, I attended a public high school with practically no visual arts program. I always craved a deeper education within the arts. I knew I had a passion to create, but much of my education in the arts was self-directed before I attended CIA. I had little knowledge of art history, which is one thing I especially looked forward to learning.

Hands down, though, the most fundamental aspect to my growth as an artist was that I was finally surrounded by others who are just as passionate for the arts as I am. I attended critiques for the first time at CIA. I was able to ask my friends and peers for their advice and ideas about a project I was working on. I had great professors with expertise in many different fields. The way I think about both art and life has changed; I would not trade it for anything.

Why did you choose CIA?
I remember taking a tour of CIA when I was 16, right before my senior year of high school. After the tour, my mom and I both agreed that this was the place for me. The atmosphere felt right. The interdisciplinary coursework of the school was something I knew I would later take advantage of. I also was a fan of the small class sizes, as I felt it would be easier to transition to from a high school that was about the same size. The proximity to the Cleveland Museum of Art was also exciting! A trip to an art museum before attending CIA was never as easy.

Most importantly though, I liked the art both on the walls of the school and the art made in the studios!

What led you to double major in Painting and Sculpture + Expanded Media? What interests you most about both art forms?
I double-majored because I am an extremely indecisive person. I am always looking for a new medium to work with and am very excited to experiment. When I was first accepted to CIA, I was actually enrolled as an Illustration major. I had fun in the Foundation illustration elective class they offered during my year, but I felt I was more suited for the visual arts department.

Before spring semester of my first year, I transferred to Sculpture + Expanded Media after faculty approval. My roommate at the time, Bonnie McCormick ’23, was a sophomore Painting major, and she urged me to join Painting. Her assignments from Painting were always so interesting, and I knew I just had to join the department.

I love painting because there is something ineffable when a stroke or a color has laid down onto the canvas just right. I am a very messy painter, but seeing renderings come to fruition is equally as satisfying and rewarding.

I love Sculpture + Expanded Media for the sheer fact that I have learned so many processes! Within that major, I have learned fiber techniques, made wearable art, performed, projection mapped, made films, welded, 3D modeled … and so much more.

I often found myself using ideas and skills I learned across both majors, and I am very excited to take all of them with me beyond graduation.

You served as a resident assistant and founded the Latinx Club. How important was Student Life + Housing to your time at CIA? And, what advice might you give to students who are considering getting involved in some way?
Student Life + Housing played a massive role during my time at CIA. I gained so much professional experience during my time as a resident assistant, and co-founding the Latinx Club with Rachel Ciriaco ’25 allowed me to connect with fellow students of Hispanic diaspora—an opportunity I did not have back in my hometown.

My advice to students who are considering involvement in Student Life + Housing is to ensure that you are able to balance your commitments! I took a break from both Latinx Club and my position as a resident assistant to fully focus on my final year at CIA. Julissa Bruno ’25 has since served as a prolific president for the club, and the current resident assistants continue to dedicate so much time and energy to their positions.

What would you consider some of the most important lessons you learned at CIA?
I believe that the most important lessons I learned from my time at CIA are, as I mentioned earlier, to balance my commitments, but also to give myself a little grace. I am a person who is constantly hurrying; trying to seize every available opportunity as if there was no tomorrow. This is a double-edged sword (especially when it comes to time management, which I have always struggled with).

There is a certain difficulty, I believe, with pursuing such a passion-based degree and profession. When you do not fully commit yourself to an assignment, or project, there is a very distinct and internal feeling that questions that passion.

CIA has taught me to learn from my mistakes instead of lamenting over them. I have found, in my experience, that understanding why something went wrong is how you continue to foster that passion. Artists find a way to persist, one way or another. A bad critique is not the end of your career. It is instead a path for growth.

Was there particularly valuable advice that a faculty member shared? If so, who was the instructor and what was their advice?
Painting department chair and professor Lane Cooper always tells her classes to “do all of the things.” It is short but very effective. It has always filled me with this whimsy for boundless opportunities and has always motivated me to keep pushing on.

Another piece of advice I will remember was a conversation I had with professor Tony Ingrisano, also a Painting faculty member. It occurred this year while I was working on my short film for my BFA thesis. I often have spontaneous ideas over the course of a long-term project and will completely divert the course of a project in pursuit of said ideas. Occasionally, this will work in my favor. Often it does not.

Around midterm of this spring semester, I had one of these ideas and proposed it to Professor Ingrisano. He listened to me and compared the idea to a foster dog. I would take care of the dog for now, but I should not become too attached. I experimented with the idea and ultimately did not include it in the final film. This advice has changed the way I think about my practice and my work on longer projects. It is easy to find that dopamine rush of a new idea amid a project you are trudging through, but it might not always lend itself to the final product.

What do you feel was your biggest accomplishment as a CIA student?
In 2023, I was honored to receive the Board Grand Prize at the 77th Student Independent Exhibition for my painting, “My Truth is Marching On.” At that time, I was feeling particularly insecure about my work. I could hardly believe it was accepted into the exhibition, let alone win an award.

Ultimately, though, I am proud of myself for finishing college. It has been a challenging four years, and there were many times when I felt completing seemed impossible. It is very hard to believe that the time has finally come, and all of the effort and persistence has paid off.

What are your plans after graduating from CIA?
Uh oh. This is the hardest question yet. I wish I had something exciting to share, but to be honest, I am going to take some time to celebrate and rest. I will be crocheting, painting, making puppets, gardening, and spending time with family and friends. My plans are to look after myself, develop some good habits, and most importantly, fix my sleep schedule! As much as an oxymoron as this is, I am excited to be bored again!