Here at Art Spark Texas we are always busy with some project, class or performance, or other creative, or occasionally non-creative activity. Our staff is also pretty busy in their “off” hours as well, pursuing various interests, reading books, watching films, performing, painting, creating, growing things, and more. So, we thought we would share with you what we are doing this summer.
Executive Director Celia Hughes:
Sadly, I have not been extremely creative so far this summer. Unless, of course, you spend some time in my mind and see all the projects that I am dreaming about. I dream a lot and bring to fruition a little, and still stay busy! But one project I have been stewing over for months is my backyard. After three years of letting it grow, while weeding once in a while, and then taking long breaks to think about things I would like to do out there, I finally brought in Nacho, the terror of lawn care.
For two days Nacho labored in the hot sun while I darted in and out putting ribbons on plants that were to be spared and agreeing to some major branch and bush trimming. The glint in Nacho’s eye as he wacked his way through the knee-high grasses and weeds and poison ivy – yes, the snowpocalypse really nurtured by poison ivy patch – was at times 20 carat gold. So, now I have a fresh start on the back lawn in the hottest and driest time of the year. The critters are slowly coming back after the killing machines have stopped, and today I saw three different lizards darting around the ground. I have 11 bushes and plants to put into the ground, but, for now, they are tucked up under the patio out of the hot summer sun, waiting for October when they can help me create a more hospitable oasis for the wildlife I so enjoy watching from the edge of my dreams.
Artworks Director April Sullivan:
This summer has been a little different from other summers, due to this slow reintegration back into society. I would normally be out and about, attending different events with friends and family. While there has been some of that, I have found it to be difficult for my brain and emotions to adjust. Thankfully, my boyfriend Ramon came up with a fun summer project that uses list-making and order, which I like, because that cuts down on the thinking and feelings of being out of control that the pandemic has caused me to experience.
We have been watching movies and reading books in order by years starting with our birth years. For me, that means starting in 1973. We research the top movies of a year and narrow down our choices based on certain criteria. First, we look through Oscar nominations for the year and write down only the ones we have not seen. Then, we look those up online and narrow the list down based on what we can watch for free on Hoopla or YouTube. We usually end up with one or two candidates to choose from.
One of my favorites so far has been The Goodbye Girl from 1977, starring Richard Dreyfus. So far, we are up to the year 2003 for movies. We are using the same criteria for books. That list is going slower. 1977 must have been a good year, because I really enjoyed the book I read from that year, A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick. I am up to 1979, now. You should try it! Pick a year and a list, and go! Our next list to tackle might be top pizza places in town. Pizza is always a good time.
Director of Outreach Susan Slattery:
Late spring and early summer were spent restoring our backyard tropical-tiki garden after most of it was ravaged by the Texas freeze aka snowpocalypse in early February. Almost everything died or sustained significant damage. It was so disheartening after all the work we had done to create our little oasis of green. Happily, some plants came back, albeit very slowly, despite the suffering they endured, but we had to plant new ones.
One thing that cheered us up was the number of sunflowers that cropped up in our front yard and all over the neighborhood. I don’t know whether this was an after-effect of the storm, or my seed-flinging neighbor’s efforts (they shall remain nameless here), who may have gone on some late-night secret planting sprees. As for our yard, we can’t take all the credit for the restoration, as our heroes, Nicholas, Chano and their crew, helped with the heavy lifting, like the 10’ forests of dead bamboo that had to be removed. We would have been spent all summer on that part alone! Also, very thankful for all the rain we’ve had as it’s nurtured all the new plant babies.
The Garden Before and After
I also found a few evenings to spend time working on my rusty portraiture skills with teacher and artist Kemi Yemi-ese in an Afrocentric Portraiture class offered by Austin’s Carver Museum. Kemi’s beautiful style of putting pencil/pen/paint to paper really opened up my mind to try a looser style of drawing – and I’ve been really excited about the results. I really hope she’s going to teach some more classes – maybe something for Art Sparkers!
Communications Specialist Eric Clow
If you’ve spent any amount of time with me, then you probably know I’m a bit of a bird nerd. What you might not realize is how late my passion for birds arrived. Sure, I’ve always carried a minor fascination with the avian kind, but it’s only two years ago that I first set a goal of learning to identify birds by their songs and calls. Since then, my birding habit has unleashed a wellspring of excitement, awareness, and a feeling of groundedness in this small space of Earth I inhabit. As both my disability and the pandemic winnowed my movements to a standstill, the birds transformed my backyard into a galaxy, filled with frenetic activity and a multitude of stories that are constantly unfolding. The effect has been healing in every sense of the word.
In early April of this year, I began to share some of my bird observations on social media. These “bird updates” have garnered a modest following. I try to write them on a daily basis though sometimes the wonder and the awe that birds inspire render me speechless—as when I happened upon the courtship display of a black-chinned hummingbird, spotted a pair of yellow-crowned night-herons nesting in a neighbor’s tree, or first glimpsed the highly sought-after painted bunting. I hope to collect these writings in a book, and to bring this healing power of birds to others in need.
East Metropolitan Park, my new favorite (and surprisingly accessible) place to bird! My caregiver snapped these photos while we were seated perfectly between the thin, cheerful singing of a painted bunting and the raspy ko-ka-REE of a red-winged blackbird.
Education Director Jerry Slayton:
I’ve set the goal to complete 3 new collages by summer’s end. The work is labor intensive, with each piece being composed of roughly 50-100 parts, but I’m hoping that collage will allow me to express many ideas within one composition. Each piece is a capsule for my thoughts and feelings regarding the natural environment. I’m interested in encapsulating the shelter, comfort, and connection I feel when in natural spaces.
For me the woods are a place for healing, a place to learn through observation. It’s not an ecstatic state, it’s not always filled with pure joy, but rather a consistent and unfolding wealth that sometimes challenges me and yet allows me to connect with my surroundings and myself. There is a profundity to this feeling that I want to explore and share. So far, I’ve finished one piece and I’m thinking of titling it “a sleeping companion,” but who knows? Wish me luck!
OMOD/Speaking Advocates – Ms. Boye Nagle:
I have been investigating the intersections of my various identities and communities. I’ve written and directed my first full length devised play investigating an Intersectional Pride Festival, a Fairytale called “Alex and the Fairy Butch” and two monologues.
When You Know, You Know.
This is for all of you straight folks out there—who think you don’t know anyone—or have never met anyone—who maybe isn’t as straight as you -and for anyone who is questioning
that they might not be as straight as they hope they are—spoiler alert—it doesn’t occur to really straight folks to question their sexuality – they just take it for granted… just saying!
So, when did I know?—see the thing is you always know—even when you don’t know, you know—years ago there were people, especially women—who didn’t know
because, they didn’t know there were options—they didn’t know there was anything to know—so it didn’t occur to them—then my ancestors let Sappho’s secret out of the closet – and a universe of knowing possibilities was born
But even now,
there are kids who grow up not knowing—because they don’t ever see anyone who looks like them—because they don’t know anybody else that knows—so, they don’t even know to imagine what is waiting, longing to be known
but they do know in their hearts, that something is missing…wrong – when you live in a world
that undervalues and demonizes difference
it’s easy to assume the wrongness lives inside you
the thing is – It’s simple really—when you know—you know – and when you admit you know—others will start seeing you—and you will start to see them everywhere—what you don’t know is – they have seen you for years – but because you didn’t know, and they knew you didn’t know – they acted as if they didn’t know – which is irrelevant – because even if they’d told you they knew – it wouldn’t have mattered because you didn’t know – you couldn’t see what was possible so you couldn’t see them anyway – any more than you could see your self – no matter what anyone sees – only the knower gives power to the knowing
but when you know – they will know you know – and you will know that they know – and because really seeing needs really knowing and knowing requires seeing – you will start to see what you couldn’t see – know what you didn’t know and what you see will confirm what you know – so you see, acting on what you know – is the first step toward a life beyond any you can imagine…
SEU Art Spark Intern Lindsay Winters:
My Lush Summer Project
I remember reading an article once questioning why millennials love tending to houseplants as a hobby. It’s an unexpected hot trend, and I, a millennial, am an active participant in it. My plant journey started at the end of May and quickly turned into a summer project. As I dabbled in indoor gardening, things quickly escalated into becoming a collector of all things foliage.
The concept of indoor gardening is pretty straightforward; it’s the act of growing produce inside your home due to improper climate or lack of outdoor growing space. I got my start planting herbs and microgreens, like basil, mint, cilantro, and sprouts on the windowsill of my kitchen. As my collection grew, I invested in a minimal Ikea bookshelf and indoor growing lamps and continued to expand my collection! I am just a beginner at indoor gardening, so my setup is not as lush as more experienced plant enthusiasts. Nevertheless, I hope one day, if not soon, I can have a space that looks similar to the elaborate decor of the Rainforest Cafe.
[Insert plants on shelves image]
My Summer Reading List
As a current college student, my relationship with reading has changed quite a bit, shifting from what once was something done for leisure to an almost chore-like activity. However, it is summer, after all, and I finally have the time to take in some good books. My favorite read so far is Tenth of December, a collection of short stories by George Saunders. I like reading short stories but hate writing about them. A short story is so fleeting and momentary; it’s like trying to describe a cloud! This collection of 10 short stories by Saunders is especially complicated. His writing is rich and visual and takes you inside a very personal and unique world where danger lurks for every character. Each story is unique, with different textures and difficulties.
However, the overall themes remain the same: class disparity, great compassion in the most ordinary people, and the stories themselves seem to take place in a recent US future where our current affairs have only gotten worse. The stories are abstract and quite dark at times, but Saunders does a great job at using humor to cut the tension. I enjoyed reading Tenth of December, and if you feel inclined or have the time, I recommend checking out these three unforgettable stories from the book: “Victory Lap,” “The Semplica Girl Diaries,” and “Escape from Spiderhead.”