Like many other people, Liz Courts’s world changed in 2020 with the onslaught of COVID. Courts had a long-time career but when her freelance work bottomed out, so she turned her sights on The University of New Mexico.

“I think we can all agree that 2020 was a weird time for everybody,” Courts recalled. “I was at my wit's end. My freelance work had dried up, and I did not get the opportunity to do remote work as a graphic designer through the company I had been employed at. All my life, I had heard ‘You can't make a living as an artist," and, finally, I was tired of hearing it. Anyone who says that has a very limited idea of what a formal art education means, and how it informs and affects every part of your life. The scope of what I wanted to do with my education absolutely changed, though. It's not enough for me to just pursue my own art, I want to help others be creative as well.”

This month, at the age of 41, Courts will graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Art Studio degree with a minor in Arts Leadership and Business.

“Don't ever believe that you're not a creative person. I promise you that you are."

 – Liz Courts, Bachelor of Fine Arts, Art Studio 2024

Prior to returning to school, Courts had a career in community management and e-commerce operations for a tabletop roleplaying game company. She also freelanced as a graphic designer and illustrator, with a full-time job as a graphic designer at a local sign company.

“I had previously attempted to go back to college twice before but couldn't pursue it because of relationship and job reasons. Third time's the charm!”

Courts came to New Mexico from the Pacific Northwest and found a good fit for her creativity.

“New Mexico in general has been very good for me,” she said. “The pace of life here was exactly what I needed when I moved here. UNM, in particular, really nurtured my love of learning and meeting staff and faculty passionate about their work made me feel at home. Seeing students around campus in deep conversation about extremely specific topics makes me happy about humanity in a very particular way. Passion is a hard thing to cultivate in other people, but I've seen it time and again here.”

Courts said she got guidance on her path to education and graduation from her family.

“My father is into science, computers, and technology and my mom is into fantasy, crafts, and art. I am extremely fortunate in that their combined interests provided me a wealth of approaches to my life and my art, even more so in the fact that they told me that I was capable of doing anything I put my mind to.”

Courts also cited support and inspiration from her coworkers at FUSE Makerspace and UNM faculty for her success: Artist Welly Fletcher, UNM Associate Professor of Ceramics Gina Voelker-Bobrowski, UNM Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Art Stephanie Woods, UNM Professor of Spanish Colonial Art and Architecture Ray Hernández-Durán, and UNM Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science Leah Buechley.

“They all changed how I wanted to approach my art, as well as how to create opportunities and spaces for other artists. They are professors who have impacted me deeply while I've been at UNM. Their passion for their work has never failed to bring a smile to my face. [UNM arts lab managers] Jonathan Fitz and Brooke Steiger have also been wonderful people to talk to and work with over the years, and the practicalities of keeping a space prepared and ready for students to use is something I will take with me in my future plans.”

Looking ahead to after graduation, Courts will attend Rochester Institute of Technology in New York in the fall to pursue her MFA “and keep working to make the arts an inclusive and safe space for everybody.”

Courts had some advice for aspiring artists or anyone who has ever considered pursuing the arts but didn’t think they’d succeed.

“Don't ever believe that you're not a creative person. I promise you that you are. Creativity takes so many different forms, expresses itself in so many different ways, and it embraces what it means to be human. Whatever form that takes for you, no matter how long it's been since you've done it, it's there, ready when you are to pick it back up again.”