This is the twenty-first in a series of interviews with each of the Sondheim Award Semifinalists. Finalists have been announced, and will be on exhibit at the Walters Art Museum June 21 to August 17; those not selected as finalists with be exhibited at the Decker, Meyerhoff and Pinkard Galleries at MICA July 17 to August 3, 2014.
Name: Nora Howell
Current Location: Sandtown, Baltimore
School: Wheaton College (undergrad), MICA Master of Fine Arts in Community Arts
Current favorite artists or artwork: national/international: Nick Cave; Baltimore/DC:FORCE, Upsetting Rape Culture
What is your day job? Program Director of Jubilee Arts. Jubilee Arts is a community art program that’s mission is to provide arts opportunities to youth and adults as a tool of empowerment and social change in our community. We organize community beautification projects as well as offering 18 art and dance classes a week for ages 6 and up.
How do you manage balancing work with studio time with your life? It’s all about the deadlines. If there is no deadline, it does not get done.
How would you describe your work, and your studio practice? I describe my work as performance based sculpture with a community context. I try to walk a fine line between a community based and studio based practice. The two are often in conflict with each other and the challenge is bringing the two practices and ideologies into harmony.
What part of artmaking to you like or enjoy the most? The least? I love the initial ideal, the burst of ideas and a vision of the work in the very beginning, and the moment the piece is completed. Everything in between can be rather torturous, full of internal conflict, failure and problem solving.
What research do you do for your art practice? I participate in an ongoing racial justice organization in Baltimore as part of my on going education and research and read critical race scholars. In addition to the book research my work always involves first person research. Whether that be through formal community based interviews or workshops in a community context or an ongoing record of conversations and personal experiences with the content of my work.
What books have you read lately you would recommend? Anything here: http://bmoreantiracist.org/resources-2/booksvideos-websites/
Do you ever get in creative dry spells, and if so, how do you get out of them? A lot of my work involve sewing and making impractical or unwearable garments. When I’m in a rut, I make functional clothes for myself. While involves a lot of the same materials and tools, the functionality of the product gives me a sort of mental break which is usually what I need in a dry spell. I’ll make clothes for myself until I’m tired of it then I’ll go back to art making.
How do you challenge yourself in your work? The challenge for me is always finding the perfect fusion and balance between community based work, with visually compelling products that are conceptually complex but are easily accessible to the general public who are unfamiliar with critical race theory nor have a thorough understanding of racial injustice and or racial privilege.
What is your dream project? The project that does all of the above! Still dreaming!