Wednesday, July 13, 2011

the wellsprings of creativity

I run the volunteer program at the biggest gallery in the city (lucky me!) The best part of working here, before the art and the building, is the people. They fill me with inspiration. I’ll always remember a conversation I had when I was living back in Winnipeg, and working at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG). Our Chief Financial Officer (money bigwig) – new to the gallery- shared with me her biggest insight on leaving the corporate world, and entering the non-profit. She was amazed, AMAZED, at the lunchroom conversations. She had no idea people talked about art, ideas, and, more than that – had such rich “other” lives – whether it be sewing into the wee hours, or getting up early to catch the morning light to paint. These are the secret lives of artists working day jobs.

If you work in the cultural sector, you’ve long known this secret, as it’s really the best part of the job. Surrounding yourself with likeminded people goes a long way. Most of us have administrative roles – that’s another secret – so the creative part of work isn’t in the task, it’s in the environment. That’s something I wish they taught you (me) in grad school, but I digress. Today one of my colleagues asked me about the wellsprings of creativity. When are you most creative? More specifically, she had seen one of mushroom terrariums, and asked where the idea came from.

I started making mushrooms years ago, with thrift store finds from Value Village. I love the idea of rescuing old needlework, and attributing wealth to materials that have lost their value; hence, the crocheted doilies. I think craft and community are also inextricably linked. I think of the potters I met in peg city, who came together for wood fires, shared kiln space and secret glaze recipes. I know living in Winnipeg, a city well-praised for its collective leanings and arts community, was instrumental for beginning my own work. I can’t help but think that picking up and moving to the prairies (circa 2001) was one of the best things I ever did. I found my inner artist, long ago silenced by a (terribly) influential art teacher.

Fast forward to 2008, and my move back to Toronto, and the terrariums. I started putting mushrooms under glass the summer I moved home. Without employ, (such an unsettling time), artmaking was a source of comfort. I am lost - lost- without routine. Looking for fabrics to sew, and vessels to fill - it was just what I needed.

This past Fall, when my mum’s cancer diagnosis rocked me to my core, I reached out to craft again. This time, more painstakingly, I painted tiny white dots on bright red fabric. It may sound trite, but the focus calmed my mind, even just for brief moments (something that work/sleep couldn’t do). Today, that terrarium - the first of the painted mushrooms- sits in my mum and dad’s kitchen bay window. For them, a present. For me, a reminder of my mum’s (and my) journey. P.S. Today my mum is cancer-free. Better and more beautiful than ever.

Where do your ideas come from? Or maybe more importantly, when do they spring?

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