Renaissance woman Yati Debi Garrett: Artist, healer & community educator
Yati Debi Garrett
BY J.A. JONES, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG –Yati Debi Garrett is the proverbial Renaissance woman — one of those people with so many talents and so much creative energy it almost seems unfair to the rest of us. But there’s no time for the hate because she’s using her God-given talents to serve, educate and heal in her community.
Plus, her warmth and humility make it abundantly clear why she is beloved by her students, young and old.
Born and raised in Harlem, she arrived in St. Pete 22 years ago. She can attest to the many changes the city has gone through in the past two decades.
“Central Avenue was destitute; I was a vendor on the street before they started moving in all the businesses,” she mused, revealing that she sold hats to white Rastas until a woman told her she had to pay $10 for setting up near her storefront.
While that might have put a damper on her street vending on Central, it was a blip on the radar for this full-time mother, mixed media artist, BayCare Health Systems trainer, part-time recreation specialist and art instructor at Pinellas Job Corps.
Garrett is responsible for most of the art programming at the Job Corps along with drama specialist Cranstan Cumberbatch, who is the co-writer, co-director and co-producer of the local film “Art in the City.”
Those who saw the movie might remember Garrett as the community center art instructor who inspired Cumberbatch’s struggling vet character to find the “creator inside,” which is exactly what she does at Job Corps.
Garrett has a full schedule. She works four days a week at Job Corps, with her longest day being Saturdays when she incorporates trips to the different museums or to visit local artists who have galleries.
During the week, she takes her students to the theater. She especially likes when Cumberbatch is acting in play because the students are able to see their drama instructor in action.
Garret is also a photographer and is currently constructing her own idea for a film. She’s currently working as location manager for Cumberbatch’s latest film project “Agent X.”
As a mixed-media artist, she works and teaches in a variety of mediums including fiber, ceramics, quilting, sewing and crafting, along with painting and drawing. Her home is filled with her work from intricate decorative quilts and powerful ceramic Adinkra symbols, to the mystical gold and azure spinning worlds sparkling within a series of dream-like paintings.
“I have so many different areas that I can work in and it becomes a little perplexing because when it comes time for artists to do a show, they try to look for a series of work in the same category. So, I try, from time to time, to focus on one area,” acknowledged Garrett, who also upcycles and teaches fashion design with found objects such as used potato chips bags and old vinyl records.
She smiled wryly as she admitted to working on three different projects. A painting series: “I’m trying to develop a relationship with American Stage.” Upcycling and fabric designs: “I’m working on garments for my goddaughter (singer Sierra Davis).” And her jewelry: “My daughter (artist Joy Garrett) and I are launching an earring line of Adinkra symbols. My daughter does the laser cutting and I make earrings out of them.”
Garrett was a struggling single mother upon landing in St. Pete. She left behind her family, a job at New York’s Bellevue Hospital and a part-time career as a set designer in the theater. However, she was determined to do her art and finish school after finding herself sidetracked from both in the Big Apple.
“I had submitted some artwork and to a show in Manhattan for Lever Brothers — the people who make Dial soap — and I won the contest,” she said, adding that she took her $2,500 winnings and moved to the Sunshine City.
St. Pete’s beaches allowed her to refresh and reset, and soon she was back in school at Eckerd College. Her young daughter was enrolled in the Youth Art Corp program funded by Family Resources when Garrett met and was inspired by a workshop visit from quilt artist Faith Ringgold.
“She sat there and made four quilts – I have one in my house right now — and she told them, ‘This woman is a great mother and she has potential.’”
Next thing she knew, she was hired on part time. Through her employment with Family Resources, she ended up with a TV segment on WTSP-Channel 10 showing viewers how to do DIY art projects.
Eventually, she graduated from Eckerd, earning the most distinguished award for excellence given by the school’s art program.
Always searching for optimal health in mind, body and spirit, Garrett is currently studying to be a certified touch healer, citing the ancient tradition of “laying on of hands” that is pervasive throughout many cultural and religious traditions from Christians to Buddhists to Hindus.
“I used to go to the Pentecostal churches growing up in New York City where women used to lay hands. The techniques are very similar to what we study: laying on your hands to balance your energy fields. There’s a method of breathing and aligning your chakras at the same time and finding your Zen.”
To Garrett, it’s all organically connected to her driving passion: art.
“People tell me that when they look at some of my work, it puts them in a Zen-full state,” she smiled quietly, gazing around her art-laden home. “So maybe there’s a correlation.”