Why are you an artist?
For as far back as I can remember I have understood and envisioned my world through
visual language. As a young child, I would gather small objects from the streets and
gutters of Manhattan to build my first sculptures. I have always made art, even though
it took me until I was in my mid-twenties before I called myself “artist.” When I was a
student at the Boston Museum School, I had the privilege of working with a number
of activist artists and began to bridge rigorous training in sculptural formalism with
conceptual work focused on social issues. These same ideas still compel me to be an
What is the role of relationship in your work?
Much of my work is about collaboration. I am interested in the often murky in-between
spaces where relationships, ideas and physical boundaries intersect. I find this a place
of possibility where thoughts can be explored and new ideas can be forged. A few years
ago the artist Sama Alshaibi and I collaborated on a show about Muslim and Jewish
dialogue through art. The exhibition, “We Make the Road By Walking” was shown in
multiple venues throughout the U.S., including along the border with Mexico as a way to
use the arts as a place of wonder and questioning of boundaries, even if the questions
and ensuing dialogue were difficult.
We saw that this project you did “How does engaging in community-based art
impact the development of the visual artist’s sense of social responsibility?” What
are thoughts on the provocative question?
Seana Lowe Steffen and I wrote a whole book on this topic—Engaging Classrooms
and Communities through Art: A Guide to Designing and Implementing Community-
Based Art Education. Since the mid-eighties I have had the great fortune of working
with young artists in community-based venues. They intentionally created art that was
situated in the public domain. I have witnessed (and researched) the impacts on the
young artists, as well as on members of the communities, in which the art was created
and displayed. It has been remarkable to me that so may people who participate in or
experience community art become more interested and engaged in their communities.
How does nature, the land, landscape, the environment affect our creativity?
The land and environment have had a powerful impact on my development as an
artist. During graduate school, I was projecting images into the sky and onto mist. I am
currently working on a series of portable sanctuaries that are intended to respond to the
natural or built environment while providing a refuge of sorts—a space within a space. I
need sanctuary in order to be creative. I think we all need sanctuary for this.
How do you like working in academia? Pros and Cons?
Academia has allowed me to combine two areas that are important to me—teaching
and working on my own creative and scholarly research. My students are a big pro. I
am invested in mentoring students so that they realize their ability to use art (as artists
and teaching artists) to explore and comment on issues that are important to them and
to this time. That said, it would be nice to have more time creating.
What is the role of the artist in our society? In Utah?
Artists have the ability to comment on, indict and even envision society. They can even
be soothsayers. I have been most influenced by a long line of artists who reach beyond
their studios and situate themselves within their respective communities. Elizabeth
Catlett, Frida Kahlo and others believed it was an obligation of artists to do so. What is
the role of artists in Utah? I am in the process of defining that for myself. The way artists
think about things and creatively address challenges is a very important attribute that
needs to be incorporated into so many areas of society.
Where do you see yourself as an artist in 5 years?
I see myself continuing to explore transcendence and ritual by creating objects for
real or imagined rites as well as using the objects in performative ways. I also see
myself engaging in communal artistic practices. I think teaching will still be an important
element of my life as an artist.
What are your ultimate goals as an artist?
I am interested in addressing issues that transcend the political for the human and in
creating sanctified objects and spaces to facilitate this.
What does art mean to you?
It is my spiritual practice.