Thoreau wrote: Know your own bone; gnaw on it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still. I have come to know art making and the artistic process within the context of community as my bone. I have felt led to it over many seemingly divergent paths that, in the past decade, have so remarkably converged upon the present moment. The practice of community art has drawn from much of my life experience; it has integrated so many of my studies, gifts, and learned skills; and has in turn continuously taught me about the practice of building community and the daily work of being aware and present to it.
My childhood was spent on a small family farm in Wisconsin with parents who instilled in me a deep appreciation for the natural world. It was unbelievably hard work, but love and stewardship of the land were my first examples of art, of art-work, of the daily poetry of creative expression. A self-designed undergraduate degree in environmental education and communications provided a new technical language and situated my interest in the natural world as a nucleus around which many other fields and disciplines whirled, wove, and interconnected. It also provided my first foundations for teaching at a time when holistic education and hands-on, interdisciplinary learning were coming into their own.
My teaching and philosophy of education were further enriched by years in Costa Rica. A love of the Spanish language and an interest in Latin America led me there at a propitious time - the early 1980's – and I immersed myself in the language and culture as well as Costa Rica's astoundingly diverse natural resources. My years there marked the beginning of my growth as a political being, challenging my notions of community and providing another cultural lens with which to understand the world and my own social identity. The rich cultural wellspring of Latin poetry, particularly poetry of protest, fueled my own writing in both languages, and opened an understanding of the political struggles of the time. Liberation theology, the teachings of Paulo Freire and the use of his liberatory education principles to teach the newly-freed country of Nicaragua how to read -- all contributed to the growth of the artist within, and provided examples of how impossible it is to separate art or politics or community building from daily life.
Graduate school, upon return to the United States, further honed my skills as an educator, but it was the move to Baltimore in the late 80's that fueled my growth as a visual artist, community activist and more humble learner. I felt compelled to be a real part of a community and to work for change for the first time as an adult in my own country. My experiences of institutionalized racism here, of finding two Baltimores-- one privileged and the other vibrant but virtually abandoned--maintained in part by a disgracefully substandard public education system and policy decisions at every level, sparked questions and opened gates of inquiry and art making that shape me to this day. My work for the past 15 years in Baltimore's nonprofit sector in adult education and community and organizational development has given me an important vehicle to make my contribution to social change; it was not until I combined this with my artist and my art that both areas of work and expression felt whole. Art classes combined with the flotsam and jetsam of a post-industrial city helped me find expression for a second political awakening. Rusted metal was my primary medium for sculpture; mobiles, mixed media assemblages and jewelry formed the basis of this early work. It was children and youth in my own neighborhood who initially pulled me into what I'd later call "community art", compelling me to dig up that bone once again! To youth all over Baltimore and beyond, I owe a profound debt for much of my "for real" education as a community artist. They brought me to question the lack of art in public schools and led me to realize that having access to the resources to develop one's full creative potential in a safe, exciting, nurturing environment should be a right of all children and not a privilege for a few. A fellowship for social entrepreneurs enabled me to further experiment with my work, to hone my craft, to read and study and learn from others. I've chosen mosaics as both medium and metaphor for community and racial healing, youth development, storytelling, creating beauty, and working for social and environmental justice. Not surprisingly, it has become a primary medium for my personal work as well. I have found that art created authentically within a community context is a powerful tool for deeply listening and responding to the stories that need to be told so that the bonds of community may be woven and repaired.
My thanks to the poet Federico Garcia Lorca who miraculously sums up my ever-emerging philosophy of community art:
is only water
drawn from the well
of the people
and it should be given back
to them in a cup of beauty
so that they may drink
and in drinking
I maintain that we cannot be empowered to help heal and change the world until we begin to understand ourselves, and our own power and beauty. Participation in a process of art making with others allows us to drink deep from that well, and fortify ourselves and inspire ourselves for the journey. After years of solo practice, I enjoy helping community organizations design community art projects while being actively involved in my own. The opportunity to share this work and experience with a new generation of community artists at MICA is an honor and a pleasure.
Community Arts Projects – Facilitation and Consultation
- Maryland State Arts Council, on using a collaborative artistic process to prepare the Council to begin its strategic planning retreat using mosaic as metaphor.
- The Art of Solidarity: Nicaragua Study Abroad program in community arts (faculty), mural project and assistance with video documentary, Maryland Institute College of Art.
- Johns Hopkins University Interfaith and Community Service Center, group assemblage workshops to share faith.
- Mt. Washington Elementary School Outdoor Classroom mosaic entryway with student-created ceramic work.
- Mt. Washington Arboretum mosaic entryway with student-created ceramic work.
- Youth Dreamers, The Joy Project, guided youth to create a mosaic for the clinic neighboring its new youth center.
- Irvington Peace Park entryway, facilitated a summer mosaic art workshop with a peace theme for youth.
2006 - 2007
- Marian House collaborative fountain mosaic planning.
2005 - 2006
- Mt. Washington Elementary School PTO, art workshops & consultation for designing a new playground.
- Kids on the Hill, mosaics in the sculpture garden.
- Johns Hopkins University Interfaith and Community Service Center, 5th Anniversary commemorative collaborative mosaic.
- Banner Neighborhoods, Port Street Outdoor Gallery.
- American VisionaryArt Museum, art car fabrication with Tri State Reuse Center youth.
- Tench Tilghman Elementary School, Legacy Club murals.
2001 - 2002
- Julie Community Center, youth mosaic workshops.
- Urban Arts Institute, Franklin Square.
- Tench Tilghman Elementary School, Legacy Club murals.
- Kids on the Hill, mosaics in the sculpture garden.
- General Wolfe Elementary School, The Great Walls of Happiness murals.
- South East Youth Academy, teen mosaic mural.
- "What the Moment Requires of Us: Toward Egalitarian Relationships in Community Arts Mentoring". Prepared for the National Community Arts Convening and Research Project, Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, Spring 2008 and published on the Community Arts Network website. August, 2008. [view article]
- Labyrinth, Community art in the wake of September 11th. Self-published online at http://www.cinderart.com.
- You Can Only Hear if You Really Listen: A Youth-Centered Community Arts Project Emerges in Urban Baltimore. Co-authored with Ken Krafchek in Art / Vision / Voice: Cultural Conversations in Community, a Book of Cases from Community Arts Partnerships. ColumbiaCollege Chicago and the Maryland InstituteCollege of Art, Chicago.
- Big Dreams and Wide-Open Visions: A Synthesis of Ideas for Rejuvenating Mt. Washington Elementary School's Old Playground. A report presented to the Mt. Washington Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization. Baltimore, Maryland, December.
- Reaping What We Sow: Community Art and Greening in Inner City Baltimore. Article in the Kids on the Hill Newsletter.
- Art in Every Direction: Expanding the Scope of Cultural Programming for Children in the Mount Vernon Cultural District. Commissioned report for the Mount Vernon Cultural District, Baltimore, Md.
- A Letter to Joseph Beuys. Peek Review. [view online].
- Collective Wisdom and Great Ideas for Using Art in the Classroom. A handbook for elementary school teachers prepared in collaboration with participants in the Teachers' Fine Arts Workshop at Eutaw Marshburn Elementary School. The Child First Authority and the Community Arts Partnership, MICA.
- The Great Walls of Happiness Mural Project, Art Catalogue, slide show and video.
- Thinking About Learning and Learning About Thinking: Using portfolio assessment in adult education. Essex, Maryland: Dept. of Business and Industry Training, Essex Community College.
- By Our Own Hands: A collection of writing by adult learners in LIFT Literacy Program, Southeast Community Organization in association with Passager. Baltimore: University Of Baltimore.
- Landscape. Group exhibition, Rouse Foundation Gallery at the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center of Howard Community College. Curated by Kini Collins.
- Blackbird Thirteen Ways. Group exhibition, University of Baltimore Student Center. Curated by John Wilson.
- New Mosaic Works: Solo exhibition. Liquid Earth, Baltimore.
- The Art of Making a Living. Group exhibition, Gallery M.I.M, Baltimore. Curated by Daniel Stuelpnagel.
2005 - 2007
- Creative Alliance Big Show. Annual Member Exhibition.
- Stages of Life exhibition. Group exhibition in coordination with the NCECA conference at The Theatre Project. Curated by John Wilson.
- Beyond the Looking Glass: Perspectives on the African American Community. Community artist group show. Maryland Federation of Art. Curated by Paula Phillips.
Selected Professional Activities & Honors
- Society of American Mosaic Artists
- Maryland Nonprofits, Professional Membership.
1997 - present
- Member, The Creative Alliance. Baltimore, Maryland.
1998 - 2004
- Founding Member, Board of Directors, Friends of Patterson Park.
- Volunteer award "For Helping Us Kids Improve", Banner Neighborhoods' Reading and Art Club.
- Community Fellowship award, Open Society Institute.
- Agents of Change: Anti-Racism, Anti-Oppression Training of Trainers, PASO Training and Consulting 1997.
- Agents of Change: Anti-Racism, Anti-Oppression Training. PASO Training and Consulting, 1996.
- Interfaith Action for Racial Justice Study Circles: An Honest Conversation about Race and Reconciliation, 1996-1997.