“Art is a diverse range of human activities involving the creation of visual, auditory or performing artifacts, which express the creator’s imagination, conceptual ideas, or technical skill, intended to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”
Throughout the tough times we’ve been going through as a country, it has been inspiring for me to watch individuals unlock their inner artist, something I believe lives within us all. From creating small designs on rocks to large mural paintings to artful food, these kinds of projects have reminded us not only the creative power within us as individuals but how art helps foster human connections.
Think about how a musician brings people together through song – whether virtually or in person — even providing a sense of connectivity within his or her fan base. Think about how public art draws admirers from different beliefs and backgrounds and provides a sense of pride for those in the community in which it is exhibited. Think about the family that explores new art forms together, creating new shared experiences, cherished memories, and demonstrated acts of kindness with the outside world.
When we engage in activities which require our focus in gentle, mindful ways, we benefit on both psychological and physical levels. Research shows that art as a hobby or a practice serves as a tool that distracts us from worrying, reduces stress and anxiety, improves memory development, and helps us imagine a more hopeful future. The process of mapping out, then executing, an original design keeps our minds focused on the task at hand, distracting us from outside stressors and temporarily relieving anxiety and worries for the future. Art also has the power to boost confidence and improve social and perceptional skills, making us feel more engaged and resilient.
With so much to gain from making art part of our lives, how can we use different art initiatives to “generously pour” back into the community and provide opportunities to stretch our imaginations, exercise creative thought, and ultimately benefit personally from the power of art?
I picked the brain of one of Arlington’s own artistic geniuses, Amy Stephens, to answer this and many other questions. Amy has created or contributed to art pieces and installations throughout Arlington and DFW. Her passion for art and youth development through art is second to none. An MFA student with a focus in glass and a teacher of record at The University of Texas at Arlington, Amy also has a BFA in Metalsmithing and Jewelry as well as a BFA in Sculpture from the University of North Texas. Amy has eight years of foundry experience and has been involved in over thirteen public artworks. Her work is represented by The Upstairs Gallery in Arlington and can be seen as a part of the Arlington Star of Texas public art project. Her work revolves around collecting and repurposing single-use items to address the ever- growing impact humans have on the environment. Amy’s colorful sculptures create an appreciation for these materials while bringing attention to the overwhelming abundance of these objects in our daily lives.
Larry Curry: How did you get into art?
Amy Stephens: Art is really all I’ve ever known. You could say I’ve always been drawn to it. The moment I could hold a crayon I started drawing, and as a child I was always collecting and crafting with whatever I had around me. I was lucky that my parents supported my creative nature, now here I am making public art and working towards my MFA!
LC: What different mediums do you use to create your art?
AS: I dabble in a little bit of everything. I tend to work in whatever material inspires me. Just a few of those materials include glass, nature bits, paper, hair, metal, yarn, single use containers and wood. I’ve made sculpture out of conventional and non-conventional mediums. However, I began my art career as a painter, and have done several murals. Acrylic paint is still a constant in my work. I’ve also worked in a bronze foundry and now I blow glass.
LC: In your opinion, how does art help with the all-around development of young people?
AS: Art helps to develop creative thinking which assists in other areas of study. Creative thinking is also extremely necessary for adapting to an unpredictable world. Art creates a safe outlet for expressing ideas and individuality, which helps develop confidence and character. Art has always been a healthy way for me to work through my thoughts and emotions, and is the most constant part of my life. Being allowed to express my creativity as a child helped me cope and grow. I believe access to art and creative acceptance helps youth deal with and work through the ever-mounting pressures in life.
LC: Are you involved in any youth art initiatives?
AS: The first time I got involved with youth art activities was in 2019 when I helped mentor a Girl Scout who was creating a mural on her way to achieving a Girl Scout Gold Award. That was so rewarding! Then I had an amazing opportunity to collaborate with the youth involved in your non-profit organization, Metro Sports Fieldhouse. Each child created individual works of art that we combined into beautiful quilt murals. In fact, those murals are currently being displayed on the second floor of the Downtown Library, where I’m honored to serve as the December 2020 Artist in Residence for the Library’s Art is for Everyone program. Lastly, I’m looking forward to working as an Arts Enrichment Specialist with the Arlington-Mansfield YMCA in 2021, teaching creative classes that blend art techniques with environmental facts.
LC: What do you think of the overall art scene here in the Greater Arlington area?
AS: I am excited that our art scene is really beginning to flourish! It’s encouraging to see artwork and creative events popping up everywhere. There are so many talented artists in the Greater Arlington area that are being showcased and recognized, and it’s just too cool to be able to point at so much of the art and say “my friend made that.” It makes me feel really special to know I’ve gotten to participate in the growing art scene alongside so many genuine, caring and skilled people.
LC: How can art and artistic expression make our communities better?
AS: When artistic expression is accepted and allowed to spread, individuals feel safer and therefore more comfortable engaging with one another, which allows a community to grow. Public artwork creates a sense of pride and connection to the surroundings. The artwork becomes part of the community and emits positivity and inspiration. Art is something everyone can view and experience which creates a common ground for conversation and understanding.
LC: How does art make the world a better place?
AS: Artwork heavily influences our perspective on the world. Artwork can create a smile, or inspire the next great idea. Art helps to inform and educate. It helps to lift spirits. Art is essential. Basically, when the power of art is used for good it helps shape curious minds, heal broken souls, and brighten up a dreary day. The world would be a very boring place without art.
LC: How can art be a tool for healing during the pandemic?
AS: Art is a relatable and comforting form of expression in difficult times. During these months of isolation, art helps people know they aren’t alone. Artwork creates the opportunity for conversation and understanding of heavy topics that are painful but necessary to heal.
LC: What are two things you want people to know about art?
AS: One, art is for everyone and doesn’t take just one form. Two, art is not only about the finished work but the exploration of ideas.
“Collection” is an ongoing project. This archive focuses on casting and compressing everyday single use items. Meticulously collected and catalogued this work analyzes the footprint we leave as consumers and gives a visual representation of the hundreds of materials we encounter daily.