When Amanda Blake launched the Carter Community Artists in 2017, she did so based on lessons she learned from her previous work at the Dallas Museum of Art.
“I thought the most beneficial and fun [events] were when we brought in an artist,” said Blake, who is now director of education at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art.
Six years ago, the Amon Carter had a robust system for busing students to the museum but fewer options for accessing the community outside of the Cultural District. The basic Carter Community Artists idea hasn’t changed, she said. It’s just that the scope of the venture has evolved. Every fall, the Amon Carter reviews around two dozen applications to select four artists to be integrated into the museum’s programming with a special emphasis on education. The workload varies month to month, Blake said, with an average monthly commitment of several to 10 paid hours.
The 2024 outreach team is illustrator and art educator Colleen Borsh, author-illustrator Stuart Hausmann, painter and illustrator Anna Joy Pham, and collagist and acrylic painter Kelsha Reese. In recent years, Blake said she began involving museum departments outside of her education branch to encourage more members of the Amon Carter team to collaborate with the community artists. The members of the 2024 class come from varied artistic backgrounds. Hausmann, for example, is a children’s book author whose 2023 debut was published by one of the Big Five. By representing other, perhaps nontraditional media, he and the other community artists show how art is a lot more than what you can simply hang above the sofa.
Blake said bringing in outside artists from diverse backgrounds demystifies the museum’s work in the eyes of people who traditionally may not have interacted with an art museum outside of in-person tours.
“We have had wonderful K-12 programs on-site” for many years, Blake said. “One of the big goals I had since joining was expanding the work the Carter did in the community.”
School districts in Mineral Wells, Brock, and other small North Texas cities are less able to bus students to the Cultural District, Blake said, due to tighter academic schedules, longer travel times, and four-day school weeks, so the Carter Community Artists will spend additional time driving to far-flung campuses. The 2024 community artists will also help draft museum literature, lead drawing classes, visit community centers, and augment museum events, among other tasks. While Blake launched the venture with a focus on educating children, the community artists now also engage adults and families.
The education aspect of the community artists project really appeals to Reese, who grew up on the East Side in a single-parent household. She looks forward to working with underserved youths.
“I enjoy listening to the stories they bring,” she said. “I am giving them an outlet to be themselves. Many of them are having to be the head of the household because they are missing a parent. They may have to pretend to be tough, but with me, they can be free.”
Reese’s childhood years came with challenges, but she benefited from a strong mother and grandmother who supported her artistic ambitions that have now gravitated toward collage.
The artform is something that she’s “falling in love with,” she said, because she’s “creating a juxtaposition between the subject matter and the materials used — Black women are expected to be seen as strong and powerful, but paper is fragile. That juxtaposition is interesting to me. My art is about reclaiming narratives we are used to hearing and reclaiming the power of being a Black woman.”
As a teenager, Hausmann got nervous every time he walked into a museum. As a Carter Community Artist, he hopes to be a “smiling, friendly” face of the institution.
“Museums can be intimidating,” he said. “I’m motivated to do anything I can to alleviate that.”
With each new class of Carter Community Artists, the alumni base grows, Blake said, adding that past participants are often invited back to lead programs and work with museum staff.
“We like to say, ‘Once a Carter Community Artist, always a Carter Community Artist,’ ” Blake said.