Barbara Joann Combs, artist, art educator, community arts collaborator born in Los Angeles, California, has worked within the discipline of visual arts since childhood. Barbara holds a B.A. with distinction in visual arts from Fayetteville State University, exhibited in galleries, completed commissioned works and has a silkscreen mosaic acquired by a permanent collection in North Carolina. She was prompted to pursue a degree in community art after seven years of dialogue with teens wrestling with issues of self esteem, lacking direction and needing to discover their potential.
Awarded a MA and MFA in Community Arts with a Certificate in the College Teaching of Art from Maryland Institute College of Art, Barbara has worked with five communities facilitating quilt projects. Currently she works with children, teens and adults at the Goodnow Community Center. “I want to inspire people’s creativity, strengthen their self-esteem and help them find peace and joy through art that expresses their individual voice.”
I respond to society through independent art making and by motivating others to respond to their individual and/or their community’s concerns by creating art in collaboration. The outcome of this action brings forth material that can educate, provoke, inspire, heal, and ultimately, produces joy and peace within the participants and viewers.
Recently in the educational field, social-emotional learning is being discussed because youth do not know how to interact with one another. I believe for youth to interact with each other peacefully they need to have peace within themselves. I am not trying to bring about a radical change with a political agenda, but a revolution of social-emotional skills: self-regulation, self-consciousness, motivation, empathy, and social ability.
Combing elements of both art education and art therapy, as a community artist I engage people in creating art that helps them find a place of peace and joy.
My artistic investigation began with photographing the areas where I live; attend school, and my travels around Baltimore to destinations such as my community art residency site.
The work is about conflict, beauty and joy. There is a need for beauty and joy in the lives of the people of Baltimore who are in the midst of conflict. There can be no argument that people in urban centers, such as Baltimore City are experiencing conflict in their lives. The Arabbers are trying to maintain a family tradition and provide for their families. A gang infiltrates a non-profit organization and causes doubts of its validity. And there is always homelessness, drugs, crime, teen imprisonment, closing of recreation centers, closing of schools, blocks and blocks and blocks of empty homes…conflict. These issues do not support healthy living conditions. They create tension, mental struggle, and clashes in families, neighborhoods, districts and cities as a whole.
How does a community in the midst of adversity find joy through social justice? Beauty and joy bring stability. They are abstract ideas and not necessarily identifiable or easy to verbally describe. People experience joy when they serve others or when they are stress free. Usually people attribute feelings of joy to relationships with family and friends. Others see beauty in the natural world with all its wonders and glory. Creating art is one way I express beauty and receive joy.
As I walked through the Baltimore neighborhoods I found objects that were like life, harsh but smooth – spiked nails with bright orange rubber tips, broken glass from a shattered bus stop shelter, red seeds that had to be pried from their brown pods and asphalt leftover from repaired streets. All my life I have tried to escape conflict but I cannot. The work is intentionally made to have inconsistency in pattern, colors and repetition to provoke uncomfortableness in the viewer. Throughout the creation process of this piece I found pleasure in combining materials that I had never used before with mediums I am familiar with.
Three artists have influenced me – Matthew Kern, Carole Presnall and Maggie Neely because of the inspiration they gain from every day life experiences. Kern intrigued me with his photographs on canvas and his use of a grid system. Presnall had strong color images and Neely’s abstracted work motivated me to continue with my abstract investigations of the photographs taken of Baltimore. But it was reading Maya Lin’s thoughts and hearing Paula Phillips’ words that gave me clarity and conviction to keep working on my theme of conflict, beauty and joy.