I am different from a lot of visual and oral storytellers in that it’s not really my story that I am telling. The narrative of a given mural does not come from my head, it begins with the community. I consider myself a vessel with a vision: I hold the stories I hear from a community and apply an artistic vision to them. - Meg in an interview with Jonathan Laidacker from Mural Arts Philadelphia
As an outsider, it can be a challenge to create a final artwork that a community feels ownership of but MLS Studio's community-based practice helps alleviate the risk of leaving an invasive or alienating impact. We talked with Core Artist Sofia Seidel, who's been working at the studio for four years now, about how Meg’s practice encourages you to slow down, implements social justice and question who art is for and where it can be seen.
MLS: What type of work do you do for the studio?
SS: I’ve worked in the studio for four years and my role has shifted throughout them but has always been one of concept, design and creative problem solving.
I remember when Meg was planning something for the Pope’s visit there were a couple days when it was just us in the studio and she was bouncing ideas off of me. I think helping with concept is one of my favorite things to do. Right now I’ve been doing a lot of install of Urban Fairytale, some painting sometimes, some photoshop when it’s necessary, and I’ll help facilitate workshops in the community where we’re doing an installation. So, I would say: workshop coordinator, painter, fabricator, and something with ideas…
Can you describe what kind of work you do outside of the studio?
It has always changed but I think I’ve settled into experimental films. I gather content daily on my iPhone or use stuff I find on the ground to make a collage. Every once and awhile, when I feel like I’ve gathered enough content that has similar themes, I’ll start to put together a video. I don’t know if that’s what I’ll do ultimately- I’m open to whatever.
Can you give an example of how the studio’s work implements social justice?
I think people don’t necessarily understand how powerful public art is. I went to school in Yonkers [New York], and the mayor was attempting to force gentrification on parts of the city and one of the strategies he used was to pull in street-style public artists to create “hip” style murals and bring in the creative people up from Brooklyn. Those murals went up in the middle of the night, they had nothing to do with the community around them and they alienated Yonkers community members from that block. So public art can be really invasive. What I’ve learned from Meg, the way she does it, is that public art can also be really empowering and create something beautiful that a whole neighborhood can come together on. Meg designed a method of painting, that’s like a paint-by-numbers, where many hands can be involved in the actual process, as well as real people in the community modeling for her. So they’re very site-specific, very community-based and I’ve really learned a lot about what art can be outside of a gallery.
What are some things about social justice that you’ve learned from Meg?
Meg has a really beautiful and intense love of almost every person she meets, which is really inspiring. I think it comes from her compassion for individuals that she wants to make big changes for larger communities. Meg shows me how to slow down and listen to each person I come in contact with in a day because everyone has stories.
How has Meg influenced your own artistic practice?
Since I’ve started working for Meg, nothing I’ve made has been with the intention of being a non-interactive gallery piece. I’ve stepped away from that kind of work. Where I am now, I have more awareness of mode of display and I’m more interested in creating interactive work or work that’s in alternative or more accessible places. I think a lot more about who art is for. Who has access to it. Meg has changed the way I think about where my work will ultimately end up.
Beyond art, has what you’ve learned in the studio translated to your everyday life?
Yeah, what I was saying about slowing down. I think Meg’s process is empowering every person she works with to be an artist in a way. I think there are many different ways to be an artist, beyond a paintbrush- people speak stories, live their lives creatively and I think I’ve been trained to notice that now, which has brought me an incredible amount of joy and pleasure because that’s a whole element of life I can see and appreciate now.
Anything you’d like to add?
Other programs that have the intention of doing social good, it’s easier to understand the impact. It’s can be hard to gauge what’s actually accomplished when it comes to murals, you never want to over congratulate yourself. I’m curious to watch how art is continued to be used more in social justice-oriented projects.
Thanks Sofia- she will be premiering new work this summer at the Walla Walla Movie Crush!