By the time Natalie Ramirez arrived at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, she knew that art would forever be a driving force in her life. Her creative juices sparked by the Chilean immigrant mother who was raising her and the artist next door who nurtured her passion, Natalie excelled in her art classes in school. Encouraged by an art teacher who recognized her special gifts, Natalie first applied to Arts on the Block as a freshman — but was turned down along with other 9th grade applicants and encouraged to reapply.
True to her tenacious spirit: by her senior year, Natalie was taking advanced placement art classes and felt ready to try again. This time, she was accepted, and soon found herself in a vibrant environment that encouraged self-expression and allowed her creative spirit to flow. “To be around kids from different places and working with such an experienced art teacher was an awesome experience,” said Natalie. “And to get paid while doing art made it even better.” Her return coincided with the season AOB was commissioned to do its first major public art installation – the Silver Pass mural – under the direction of artists Byron Peck and Carien Quiroga. It was an experience she’ll never forget. “When I show the mural I worked on to other people, I get a real sense of pride. I feel connected to the community.”
While attending the prestigious Montgomery Scholars program at Montgomery College, Natalie travelled extensively, including a visit to the mosaic-covered city of Barcelona where she experienced first-hand the works of Antoni Gaudi. The following years, while earning her bachelor’s degree in studio art and a master’s degree in art education from University of Maryland, Natalie returned to Arts on the Block to serve as a teaching assistant and later as a program manager for the organization’s middle-school enrichment program. In 2012, she launched her teaching career at four Montgomery County elementary schools, applying what she learned at Arts on the Block and from her UMD education. Above all, she says, “I encourage my kids to keep learning, keep expressing themselves, keep going in whatever they do.” And with Natalie Ramirez as their model, they just may!