When I graduated from college with a degree in art, I never thought that I would be a public art advocate or a muralist. Of course, I never thought I would be on TV or an AmeriCorps Service Member either. Today working on community art projects is one of the things that gives me the most joy.
Art has always been a passion of mine but taking my skills to the size and scale of murals to be displayed in public spaces is new. I have always used art as a tool for my personal expression, never thinking about doing art for the public. Now as a mature artist, I am sharing the feelings and passions of communities, programs, and groups of people. The change is fundamentally new to my understanding of what it means to create and to be a creator. I see my work now as a tool for positive change in a community. A gift that will have lasting effects in many of the small rural towns where I live and work.
Over the last month, two more quilt panels that I was the project manager for and head artist have been installed, 6 window murals have been installed that I helped to create with volunteers, and the beginnings of an office mural, that I am personally painting, is ready for paint application. I am also on the board of an Art organization called Mountain Arts District that is in the process of installing a collection of student art work in a city park in June. It is over whelming when I stop and look at the amount of people and projects that have passed through my life in the last 3 years. Yet, this is not my main job and I only do what I can for non-profits who rarely have the funds to pay for such projects. I am doing most of this work as a part of my AmeriCorps service but also as an educational experience to those around me. Public art is a niche skill just like any other field and the leaders of our communities rarely understand or feel comfortable talking with arts, I aim to change that.
I often paint with non-artist volunteers and spend much of my time helping and teaching interested community members skills that they can use to make community art themselves. It is a joy to share in the process of watching an idea come to life, then see people learning to make art, then watch the pride that comes to their faces when they walk through a downtown seeing art that they have helped to make. It is sometimes the only real change that they can point to and say “I did that” in their community.
Community art is best when people who live and love a place take part in the creation of their culture. That could mean painting murals, taking part in community dances, attending festivals of live music or creation of community gardens. It is when people begin to see that they have the power to create positive change that things begin to thrive.
Even if I never planned to be doing this kind of work and I am surprised everyday that I get paid to create these images, I am thankful to AmeriCorps for allowing me to share my skills.I am fortunate to work at sites that have allowed me the time away from the “office” to work on these up lifting projects and I will have the best memories of my service time. It is my final wish that as I leave AmeriCorps next spring that I can continue to make a difference in my community with art in some way. I know that it has changed me for the better and I hope it is always part of who I am.