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Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

(Illustration: Eliot Faine/The Citizen)
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Childhood photo of Burgess
Tea with Tamara: Drew Burgess, art faculty at College of Alameda
Tamara Copes, Columnist • February 21, 2024
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Tea with Tamara: Drew Burgess, art faculty at College of Alameda

In this monthly column, I chat with folks from the Peralta community and ask ten questions aiming to make everyone more relatable to each other. (Graphic by Randi Cross/The Citizen)

Drew Burgess has been in love with art since the wee days of drawing at his parents’ kitchen table in San Jose, California. To Burgess, art is the lens through which he views life, and he explores his creativity through the wonder and color of music, with all of its intricacies.

However, serving as art faculty at College of Alameda (CoA) the last 18 years is Burgess’ biggest love, as he explained that teaching and public education has always been his calling. The opportunity for varying life experiences and perspectives to coalesce is a special thing! His purpose is crystal clear each day, he explained, as he and his students come together to learn from each other and create beauty.

Oftentimes, I take for granted the marvels in my small world, thinking about the immediate day’s tasks as I keep my nose to the grindstone. My chat with Burgess was a gentle nudge to lift my head to the skies. We sat down virtually as Burgess joined from his kitchen table in Berkeley, where he resides with his wife of over 20 years.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Tamara Copes[T]: What are people surprised to learn about you?

Drew Burgess[B]: I’m kind of an introvert. And I’m kind of learning that about myself after all these years, because I’m old now […] I’m very comfortable with just being by myself and working on things by myself. If my parents said, ‘Go to your room,’ I was just kind of like, “Sounds good.”

T: Is there a moment when you realized ‘I’m an adult now?’
B: Growing up I was always around everybody and everybody knew where I was.When I went to New York for graduate school, I went to Hunter College, a nice place to live and do all these things… just with a suitcase, you know.
It was kind of freeing in a way. I could do whatever I want. And yet I was responsible for whatever else and what I was doing, too. And there were times when it was kind of just lonely, but it was also very much a time when I learned a lot about myself and life. And I worked real hard too.

I can remember standing on the platform of the train, because I found a place [to stay] in Queens, and I remember it was just cold. And standing on the elevated platform, there was something so kind of scary and beautiful at the same time.

Gallery: Burgess through the years

T: If you started a band, what would you name it?

B: It’d be called the Blue Bottles. […] And I, okay, I have been in a band. I’ve been in a band with my wife. And we’ve played, you know, ukulele and guitar. And then she played the cello in high school, so sometimes I can get her to get the cello out and we’ll do something. But we have this one bottle that we’ve had the whole time we’ve been married, that we got when we were in an apartment in New York, from Pottery Barn. And then we thought, that’s kind of us, the Blue Bottles.

T: When you were growing up, what historical event stood out to you, defining that time in your life?

B: I know exactly what it is. It’s when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, followed by Martin Luther King, and then followed by Robert Kennedy.

You know, I was just a child and I remember being at recess and the teachers called us in and said, ‘Something’s happened.’ And then they told us the president had been shot. And that was in 1963. And it was so devastating. And I remember being so bewildered by it, you know, just being a kid […]I think those three incidents really shaped me a lot in my thinking.

A lot also with the events of the 60s, the civil rights and Vietnam and all those things […] the whole world around was influencing my perspective, I think. And then in that era, being a kid, I think anybody who’s my age would probably say something similar. […] The parents were all talking about the depression and World War II. It was just always on people’s minds.

T: What is your favorite ride at the carnival or fair?

B: Maybe the Ferris wheel. I like the way it spins around and it’s just so elegant. [There’s] something sophisticated about a Ferris wheel in a way, the way it goes up and the way you swing and you do it with somebody else.

T: What is love to you?

B: I think love to me is our ability to kind of extend ourselves, the most inner parts of ourselves to others. And to embrace people with kind of the sense of hope that we have for who we are as people on this Earth and joining with each other and recognizing that there’s a chance and a possibility.

And for me, I told my students […] ‘If I can’t be a teacher and kind of be loving, I don’t really want to do the job.’ Because there’s that quality of teaching, I think. I mean, you have to be professional and distanced and detached sometimes, but there’s also that piece where you’re just wanting to extend those best feelings and those best intentions that you have for the people around you. I do think it’s a supremely important part of our culture.

T: What’s one food that you think that everyone should try?

B: Oh, boy. Oh, I think you should try the Chicken Milanese at Garibaldi’s Restaurant in San Francisco. It’s kind of expensive, but we went there for my birthday and it was such a great meal. It was so memorable and everything about it was just so delicious. I think everybody needs to do that sometime if you can, wherever you are in your own little neighborhood, go enjoy some little meal at some little place, you know, treat yourself.

T: In a zombie apocalypse, what skills would you bring to the group?

B: Uh, I can do carpentry. I have lots of skills in that. And I can write… need to write a letter or something. I can do that. I’m an okay cook sometimes, you know, and my wife is more of our chef of the family, but […] she’ll be pretty surprised at what I come up with sometimes. [laughs]. I can scramble, you know. In a refrigerator that doesn’t have much in it, I can be creative, come up with something.

T: What strange smell brings back good memories?

B: The wet grass of a field. It conjures these memories of morning and walking to school and crunchy puddles and iced over puddles and things like that. And crunching to school with a raincoat and rain boots and things like that. But, that smell of California grasses and things that’s so rich. I love those kinds of smells and, uh, foggy mornings. There’s something so enveloping about it that I just love. I’m still like that.

T: What is one of your favorite movies?

B: Let’s see… On The Waterfront, I’d say. Yeah, that’s one of my favorites. And I like the movie The Misfits. […] Elia Kazan [director of On The Waterfront] was controversial in the 50’s for having kind of gone against Hollywood a little bit. […]

And I tend to like black and white a lot as a medium because I did a lot of photography. I used to have a, well, up to not too long ago, I had a darkroom. I do a lot with developing prints and photography. And I have lots of cameras, film cameras. And it’s just kind of a big part of my life.

Burgess is still active in the art scene and regularly produces new works in different mediums. Stay up to date with his art portfolio and hear some of his music here.

About the Contributor
Tamara Copes
Tamara Copes, Columnist
Tamara Copes is a California native with a nomadic spirit and curious mind. Deep family roots in Oakland brought her back here to live as an adult and since then she has involved herself in numerous and varied community projects; determined to leave her mark. When not working, you may find her dancing to House, Salsa and Hip Hop music or rolling around town running errands and rhythm skating. Tamara most enjoys creative forms of storytelling. She is on the hunt to find her place in the literary world and has returned to a Journalism major after 20 years of pursuing other interests.
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  • S

    Shuntel NathanielFeb 23, 2024 at 9:56 am

    What a great interview. Drew is such an inspiration and great person here at the College of Alameda. He has always been so kind to everyone. It is a pleasure to have Drew as a colleague. Go Drew!!!

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