Win tickets to see the smash hit musical Mamma Mia at the Roanoke Civic Center. Two winners will each receive four tickets!
Sunday, June 23, 2013
I have been a working artist in the Roanoke Valley over the last 25 years, although my art career began with my first box of crayons. I had always loved to draw and thought everybody else did, too. I didn’t know there was a label for me. I learned that word in school . . . artist. I also learned I was different and special, and both encouraged and discouraged at the same time. Because as everyone knows, you can’t make a living as an artist.
I just knew I loved to draw, and it helped me cope through a very tough early life. I got a scholarship to go to art school where, for the first time, I didn’t feel so lonely. Art school was great!
When I graduated, I found out that it was hard to make a living as an artist. Even with a commercial art degree, there were few jobs, and the competition was fierce. I became disillusioned with an art world that didn’t seem to have a place for me.
So with my Dutch husband, I hit the road and lived in a VW van, searching for the perfect alternative community. By the time we rolled into Roanoke to visit an old college friend, I had left my paints and brushes behind and was selling baskets made from twigs and vines. We set up shop on the Roanoke City Market and discovered a community of farmers, small business owners and citizens who welcomed us and bought our work. After years of craft fairs and Renaissance festivals, I found myself in a real community where folks knew me, watched my kids grow up and helped me cope with life’s ups and downs.
Once settled here, I could no longer ignore that voice that I had pushed aside that said, “Paint!” I rented an art studio above the City Market and found it was still tough making a living. I decided to get a graduate degree from Hollins University. I found a studio in Salem where I could do my artwork and also teach children’s art. After many years, and many students, as well as several twists and turns later, I found myself in a new studio in Grandin Village where a farmers market has since opened for business.
Coincidence? Maybe, but I can’t help feeling there is something to learn from this. When I first arrived in Roanoke, there were not enough farmers to fill the market tables, so artists filled the gap. Now, more and more people are aware that locally grown foods are an important part of our economy and that sustainable agriculture improves the quality of life for everyone. Our cultural ideas about food and the people who provide it have changed. I am inspired and encouraged from the success of our local food movement.
Artists are pretty much in the same position as farmers, doing something they love, learning from those who came before us, and working hard to survive as small business owners. Farmers and artists both provide something that is a basic human need.
However, artists face an additional obstacle. We have to survive in a culture that sees art as a frill, not a profession. Our culture is changing constantly, but basic human needs stay the same. The isolated, suffering, starving artist who sacrifices well-being for art is an unsustainable concept that we need to discard.
Every person has a basic need to express his or her own individual experience. Art, in whatever form, can help meet that need. Art helps us stay connected to our true selves and to feel connected to others. Artistic experiences nourish our emotions, and art education can teach us how to think creatively in a rapidly changing and unpredictable world.
Sharing my own artwork and encouraging others to find their own creative identity is a deeply rewarding livelihood. It is possible that I could find more opportunities in a more “artsy” town, but the relationships with people from all walks of life that have grown over time keep me rooted here.
So, how do we sustain a vibrant art community? I suggest we start by taking the word “art” out of the question. Who really knows what defines the art community? Everyone knows how painful it is to feel excluded and how empowering it is to feel welcomed.
If we want to make a place for art in the Roanoke Valley, we need to work to sustain a community that provides good food, shelter, safety, economic opportunities and artistic expression in all its forms and to all its citizens. In this locally grown, inclusive and nurturing environment, artists will thrive, along with everyone else.
Weather JournalNext system: Possible ice/snow Sat.