Stella Williams on the role of the arts community in Tri-Cities
During times of crisis, making and consuming art offers refuge and comfort, entertainment and escape. Art gives a voice to the people, preserves our stories, and documents our history. However, art makers, art advocates, and art facilitators were hit hard by the impact of the last two years, and issues that already existed were further illuminated and exacerbated. Facing these challenges head-on allows us the opportunity to reexamine the state of art in our community, the state of our community in general, and how we want to move forward together. I spoke with local art leader Stella Williams to learn more about her experiences as an artist and leader in the Tri-Cities during the pandemic.
Ashleigh Rogers: Can you tell me a bit of your involvement with the arts in Pasco?
Stella Williams: When I first moved to the Tri-Cities, I became active in the writing community through Rivers of Ink, Tri Writers, and eventually hosting Shut Up and Write Tri-Cities. Through Rivers of Ink, I met Jordan Chaney, who became my mentor in the Arts community. I separate the Literary community and the Arts community not because I don’t consider Literature as Art but because these are different circles in the Tri-Cities. Jordan took me under his wing and brought me into his circles. I helped him with Hopebuilders at the Juvenile Justice Center and the Tierra Vida location. Most notably, I worked with him on the Pasco Hope Wall. From there, I served one term on the City of Pasco Art and Culture Commission and briefly worked with The Arts Foundation of the Mid-Columbia.
AR: What is your vision for the future of the arts in the Tri-Cities?
SW: My vision of the future would be to have an inclusive and safe space for the arts to thrive in every community. For the Arts to be valued as a vital piece of the Quality of Life puzzle. I would also love to see more youth outreach, especially in underserved communities where exposure to the arts is limited, if not wholly absent.
AR: How has COVID impacted that vision?
SW: Covid was a significant disrupter of many of the programs already in place. We lost galleries, access to venues, and the ability to maintain Art centric spaces throughout the Tri-Cities. At the same time, I feel it also helped people realize the value of the Arts to some extent. Creators became the new celebrities during the pandemic, and now the call for more Art representation and programs has grown.
AR: What can the community do to work toward that vision?
SW: The Arts community should be more proactive in bringing the Arts to the community. In pushing for support of the Arts from city government and schools. Volunteering with schools, providing family friendly workshops and activities, partnering with cities to improve community arts outreach. I know that’s a lot easier said than done. Still, I feel the Art community would receive more community support if they showed the same to the communities they are trying to serve. As a whole, the community needs to take a hard look at the past and acknowledge the harm and exclusion there before moving forward into a more diverse landscape.
AR: I would love to hear more about your work with Hope Builders, can you tell me more about that?
SW: Hopebuilders will always have my heart. Working with Hopebuilders showed me firsthand how the arts can positively impact someone’s life. Hopebuilders was instrumental in starting two art outreach programs, One with the Benton Franklin County juvenile Justice Center which helped youth in detention explore the arts to channel their emotions into a positive outlet. The Second with the Tierra Vida community focuses on providing a safe space for youth and their families to congregate and explore the arts. Hopebuilders was based on the idea of the community stepping up and volunteering to share their expertise and care for the community.
AR: Is there anything else you would like to share about the impact of COVID on members of our community, a vision forward, or any other topic?
SW: I honestly feel like there is so much room for the Arts Community to grow into the bastion of hope it aspires to be in the community. That being said, if you are part of the Arts Community and would like to be more active in shaping the local politics surrounding the Arts, especially in Pasco.
The City of Pasco Art and Culture Commission has positions open. You can find the application and details here: pasco-wa.gov/1059/Arts-and-Culture-Commission
Learning from the pandemic
by Stella Williams
During the lockdown, I found myself with an abundance of time. Being stuck inside gave me plenty of time to test the limits of my conviction to the arts and my activism in the community. I found myself on multiple boards, working with youth in detention, writing, publishing, networking. I lived on Zoom. I breathed through writing. The pressure to be productive, to be creative, to be the caretaker, the teacher, the beacon of diversity in various aspects, all came crashing down after just one year.
2020 was the year of I can and will, while 2021 became my year of I can’t and won’t.
What I learned during this pandemic was that it wasn’t time that kept me from my potential. It wasn’t my penchant for procrastination that held me back. It was not knowing my limits. Not knowing how to set boundaries. Not learning when to remove myself from situations that would ultimately cause me more harm than good. I learned those lessons as a board member espoused hateful rhetoric on social media about Black Lives Matter organizers. I learned those lessons as I uncovered the history of the arts in Pasco and found myself on a commission unable to stop the destruction of a Mural meant to be a beacon of hope to the community. I learned those lessons being the only Black person or minority in the room despite the many other BIPOC art professionals in the community. I learned that I can’t be it all and still have time for myself and my creativity. I made a vow for 2022 to stop giving my time to unworthy causes. That I needed to return to my roots, to my creative safe haven. To my writing.
I wasn’t the only BIPOC creative who experienced the need to withdraw. Several prominent creatives chose to move on to greener pastures. To leave the Tri-Cities to its ashes and find fertile ground for their talents elsewhere.
The pandemic highlighted for me all the things that were beyond my control to change, and I have since removed myself from the spaces that did not serve me and did not serve the community as they claimed. The pandemic brought the Art community of the Tri-Cities to its knees, and while some have managed to grow and thrive from the ashes and will continue to do so, I can only hope they have learned a few lessons of their own.
Seasons may change, but my mind is my paradise
I strive and thrive in my Garden of Eden
Seeds of Change take root in imagination
Tiny buds of hope and truth spring forth
The fertile soil of my resolve
No growing pains can halt my story
If the branches are chapters
The leaves are my pages
Absorbing the eternal sunshine of my words
Producing the air of my sanity
— Stella Williams
Stella Williams can be found online at stellawilliamsauthor.com