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Feature: Ellie Cross

the LIFESTYLE is a place for a global dialogue on creativity, Reflection, and Response associated with the arts. This week we are proud to feature Ellie Cross, whose commitment to community arts has led her to opportunities to interact with people around the world. She currently is part of a team that is starting an International School in Mumbai, India where she will become an art teacher after the school opens its doors in August. Check the dialogue below and view some recent work Ellie has been a part of in Mumbai!

That’s why I love community art projects and arts education, because it challenges the myth of the artist as some talented genius-loner making things that regular people can only appreciate.

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

EC: I’m from Seattle, but I’m living in Mumbai, India at the moment. My day job is helping start up a new International School, where I’ll be teaching art once we open up in August. This has fed my brain as I’ve explored the educational landscape here, plus supported and grounded me as I feed my insatiable inner appetite for community art projects.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

EC: Reflection means your brain thoughtfully digesting things, and according to the dictionary, it also means “the throwing back by a body or surface of light, heat, or sound without absorbing it.” I believe the most powerful art does both of these. It shines some truth straight into your face by revealing something that’s been in front of you, previously unexamined. I think that’s what James Baldwin meant when he said: “The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been hidden by the answers.”

As for response, I think art is response. The way I see it, humans are like little dust bunnies that roll around collecting tiny sparkles of dust, aka inspiration. Sometimes a dust-sparkle punches you in the stomach and you lose your breath with the truth of it. Sometimes it just gets filed away unceremoniously into your fold of pre-accumulated dust and it doesn’t germinate until much later. Sometimes it swirls around the tip of your tongue until something else catalyzes it, and art is born! We might create the art as individuals but it’s always the product of much more than that. Which is helpful to remember as an artist, because it takes the weight off of you a bit. 

How do your current artistic endeavors fit in with that definition?

EC: That’s why I love community art projects and arts education, because it challenges the myth of the artist as some talented genius-loner making things that regular people can only appreciate. I do think some artists deserve disproportionate acknowledgement for putting in the 10,000 hours and challenging some incredible ideas into beautiful music/dance/visual arts, etc. I’m just more interested in awakening/nourishing creativity in kids and people that aren’t being celebrated as artists. I also love using art to change spaces, which I see as reflecting back a different reality. Especially in the murals we’ve been doing in Children’s Home, which was previously a jail and no changes have been made to make it feel like a home for kids. Even though painting the walls seems like a relatively superficial solution to a challenging situation, I think that spending the time and investing the thoughtful creative energy into those walls fundamentally alters the space. Especially when the kids have painted it themselves.

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

EC: I’ve been taking a bunch of art classes in the traditional Indian arts. One of my favorites is Madhubani Painting, which is a tribal art form in which anything living gets a double outline. The outside line is the body, and the inside one is the soul. My friend and I wrote a Children’s Book about a kid’s tumultuous relationship with a bean plant, which is based on real life. We’re trying to get it published, so if anyone’s interested I do hope they holler. Also, I’m super excited to do a series of murals called “Blanks” in which certain sections are painted in chalkboard paint, so that passer-by’s can participate in the mural by contributing their chalk art.

Who or what inspires you?

EC: Abdul Sattar Edhi, this 84 year-old Pakistani that has only driven an ambulance in his life because he’s dedicated to helping people. Also, a Ghanaian man named Professor Smiles who believed in art the way religious fanatics believe in God. Caine’s Arcade and all the people that flashmobbed it. Great art blogs, like http://www.thisiscolossal.com/ and kids’ fearless faith that magic is pretty real. And definitely the Christian the Lion video when the lion hugs his long-lost human friends. I always cry with delight at that one.

Is there anything else you would like the Collective to know?

EC: When I tell people I’m either an artist or an art teacher, they quickly respond by telling me they “can’t draw.” I don’t know when being an artist got smooshed into the tiny box of fine motor skills and training associated with drawing, but I’m continually saddened by the fear many people face in the pursuit of artistic endeavors. I also think it’s important that visual arts get added to that often cited proverb from Zimbabwe, “If you can talk, you can sing.  If you can walk, you can dance.”  And if you can make any mark on any surface you can draw. Maybe you can’t draw the way you want to or the way you think the world wants you to. However, when you try and draw a horse and it looks unlike any horse anyone’s ever seen before–you’ve got to respect that horse. Because no one else living or dead could have made it. That doesn’t mean you have to like the horse, and you can definitely try again to make one you like more, but please stop hating on your horse and yourself. You’re not a camera and you’re not a photocopier. We have those now. You’re way more interesting than that.

Shout out to…?

EC: All the friendships, particularly the Art or Choke Collective and my amazing India collaborators that have helped make all the public art possible. The absurdly great family, the steady sweetheart, the internet, revolutionaries, manatees, and all the people doing the good work daily to cultivate love, justice, and magic.

Children’s Home mural project (Mumbai, India)

Check out Ellie’s blog for more information on the Children’s Home mural project and more photos documenting the process!

Also check out Ellie’s website to learn about powerful community arts projects she has facilitated in Ghana, Thailand, Malaysia, Tibet, Cambodia, United States, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala!

Reflection and Response.

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