Today we feature VersAnnette Blackman, a visual artist, poet, and facilitator from the Chicago, IL area, who talks with us about her work, her own relationship to libraries, and what it means to show her work in a public library today. Her response to our question, “What does your ideal library look like” is worth a deep reading. ~Laura

Library as Incubator Project (LAIP): Tell us about yourself and your work.

Verse Blackman (VB): I’m a poet, painter and facilitator. I’ve always been a creative; I wrote my first poem at the age of eleven, and was always making things. I picked up painting again in my late thirties; and was just using it as an outlet for creative expression. I was just intuitively creating things, and wasn’t sure how well they’d be received. The first show I had someone wanted to buy my work. That was nearly three years ago; and my business has been growing ever since. I’m an abstract painter, but my love for both collage and poetry shows up in my work as well. I think this makes me a Mixed media Artist, but I try to avoid labels so I can create freely. I facilitate healing arts workshops, where I invite participants to explore their own innate creativity via painting, writing and demystifying the notion that creativity is only for a certain few.

I’m convinced that Creativity is deep soul work.

LAIP: What’s your relationship been like with libraries?

VB: Libraries are heavenly spaces to me. I was born a book nerd, and I grew up surrounded by books. My mother was a voracious reader and my Dad was big on having me read the dictionary daily. Our house was like a library in its own right. We had everything from Encyclopedias, both World Book and Britannica, Time magazine, Disney classics and Mom’s Danielle Steele novels. I don’t really know how to exist in a space without books, so the library just naturally always felt like home.

LAIP: Have they influenced or inspired your creative work?

VB: Absolutely. My work is inspired by experiences; by words and the vibrancy of visual language. I think of painting as storytelling. Like I get to access these worlds I might not otherwise know about. But also, I notice that any creative space I’ve ever had has to have books. There’s something very comforting and satisfying to me about the aesthetic of books themselves. I am a tactile person; I need to hold a book in my hands, I enjoy seeing all the various colors and sizes in the book shelves. When I visit a library, I’m amazed by just how much the overall atmosphere affects me; the architecture, the vibes from the people, the freedom to open as many books as I want and sit on the floor with stacks until I’ve exhausted myself. I’d like to think this shows up in my work. Most recently, I discovered that I can actually check out books about art! In all my years, I’d never done this before. It’s insane now, I walk away with like 22 books at a time.

LAIP: Tell us about your upcoming show at a public library.

VB: My upcoming show, “In Praise of Spartan Women” is a collection of figurative abstracts painted intuitively on canvas. It’s actually not a collection I planned; these ladies have been showing in my work for over a year now. I decided to gather them and create an exhibit to share because I’m a women’s empowerment junkie. I love being a woman, supporting women, and connecting with women across divides. I’m fortunate in this way; my world is a melting pot and my friends come from all over. I learn a lot, I get to witness the magic in soul stories shared I just believe there’s so much power in our communities! The message is simple: Women are warriors. And we’re often thought of in a way that doesn’t highlight our strength enough. When we hear the term Spartan, there’s this image of men doing battle in movies like 300, or Troy, (or the warriors who fought for ancient Greece, obviously). But I think of the battles we face daily, like fighting to be seen and heard and equally valued in business. The way we raise and educate our children, the way we are hyper-sexualized but rarely respected for what we bring to the table. It drives me nuts. And art is the only way I know how to respond. That’s my contribution.

LAIP: What does it mean for you to show your work in a library?

VB: Well there’s two angles: One as an artist showing her work in a huge library is a big deal. But then, there’s being an artist of color showing her work in a predominately white space. Now that’s HUGE. And I don’t mean this as taking a dig at the library – but it is something I’ve thought about. It’s my reality; and I have to consider whether or not I’ll be accepted. I live in the NW suburbs, outside of Chicago. There’s not a heaping amount of Artists of color, (not that I’m aware of, anyway).The art scene here is different. Lots of nature photography, still life and landscape paintings. I’m excited to exhibit because I think my work offers a different vibe; and I feel honored to share what’s in my soul. My hope is that my exhibit will invite others to think of the library as a safe space for us to connect.

LAIP: As an artist what does your ideal library look like or have in it?

VB: My ideal library has an incredulous amount of diversity. There are people of all races, religions, and ages, and there are programs to honor these differences. There are opportunities for authors and artists like me, who are just hoping to be a part of the conversation and offer some fresh perspectives. There are books that reflect my story, my lineage and ancestry. There is powerful art on the walls that stops you dead in your tracks and makes you question yourself and your thought process. There is community engagement, Artist talks, and a coffee shop would be the cherry on top. But that’s wishful thinking, I know.

Verse is an Artist, Author & Advocate on a mission to empower others to discover their innate creativity via painting and the written word. She is the founder of a nonprofit, HEM (Heal, Empower, Motivate) whose mission is to offer healing to Domestic Violence victims via art projects and creative writing. Her business Soul Revival Healing Arts is where she sells her own art, exhibits, and facilitates workshops and offers poetry readings. She’s passionate about social justice and empowerment, and her work is fueled by a desire for inclusive community engagement. For more you can visit: www.mysoulrevival.com

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