Fellows Update II: Libby Bland

Photo credit: Alex Barber.

Photo credit: Alex Barber.

The beginning of August marked the end of the 2019 Summer Studio program with local college students from the University of Houston, Texas Southern University, and St. Thomas University. Working with the 8 young artists every week over the course of about two months was an absolute highlight of the summer for me. As someone who came to the arts world from an architecture and city planning background, I was pretty intimidated by the concept of leading so many students who were receiving formal training in visual arts. Instead of trying to conduct weekly art critiques, we instead focused on developing their personal narratives. After reading through their applications we decided that what everyone had in common was an urgency to tell a story about themselves and beyond themselves, the communities to which they belong. So we wanted to make sure that that urgency in their story was clearly expressed in all of their work by making sure that it was explicitly articulated for themselves first.

Accordingly, the summer began with everyone writing their own artist manifesto to present to each other to explain how and why they do the work they do. We read a series of essays from professional artists and writers about they conceive of their work and the world around them for inspiration and encouraged the students to seek out similar writings from the artists that inspire them. We wanted to tease out the intentionality of the thought process and understanding how one positions oneself in the world. In bell hooks’ essay, “Art on My Mind” she describes a conversation with her sister where they both agreed that art has no place in the life of a working-class Black family. This is a sentiment that many of the students were grappling with in their own lives.

How can art impact the lives of people who cannot afford or do not feel welcome in places where art is traditionally displayed? How does one feel comfortable with or explain being an artist to family members who struggle to understand the value of or reason for making art? How much of a responsibility does one have to make one’s work accessible? Certainly, the answers to those questions vary based on who is answering them, but the important part is for each artist to have a clear, intentional answer for themselves.

During one of the sessions where Sarah was able to be in town, she led them in another writing exercise where the goal was to workshop each other’s writing exercises by passing them in circles around the table. We wanted to make sure that they felt like a cohort of artists instead of solitary artists working in separate houses, so we tried to make sure that they had as many chances as possible to learn how each respective artist conveyed their own narratives. The more chances they had to share with one another, the more chances they had to learn from one another.

Now that the summer studio process has ended, I am so proud of each and every one of the eight students for sharing themselves and their work through this program. I think that everyone was a little intimidated by the vastness of white space when they entered their homes for the first time, but everyone rose to the occasion beautifully. The Summer Studios houses are open for viewing Wednesday - Sunday, 12-5PM through September 15th, and if you haven’t already then you should come by to see the students’ work.