ArtsKC Inspiration Breakfast
Thursday, October 22nd
Join ArtsKC as they take the stage at Starlight Theatre to present the 6th Annual Inspiration Breakfast. This year's theme is Elevate and will feature textile artist Debbie Barrett-Jones whose work has been featured at Children's Mercy Hospital and Truman Medical Center. Her unique story tells how she uses textiles and fiber arts as healing. Guests will leave inspired by the amazing work that art can do in our community.
Join Honorary Chair Bobby Epsten, Event Chairs Brad Douglas and Arzie Umali, and Presenting Sponsor Spencer Fane for this fundraiser to support and promote the arts in Kansas City.
Here is my script along with my slides from Thursday morning. Please share this post to anyone you think would be interested. Thank you so much for all your encouragement throughout the years. It means more than you will know.
First of all, I want to thank Arts KC for your wonderful support and believing in me enough to give me this opportunity. It is a joy and honor to be here with you this morning.
My name is Debbie Barrett-Jones and I am a textile artist.
I have been working from my home studio for 8 years while raising my two daughters with my husband. I am a weaver, which means I get to see and be a part of the transformation of a white cone of yarn into a colorful delicate piece of fabric.
Along with my large woven pieces, I love making scarves. Scarves are my learning tools to figure out how colors work together and then I can apply what I have learned to my larger pieces.
One is that I love being creative.
And two; I have a huge desire to help people.
However, after graduating from high school, I didn’t have confidence in my artistic abilities. So, I decided to pursue a career in nursing.
My heart was set on the idea that I wanted to help bring peace, comfort and healing to those in a hospital setting. I was confident and excited for my career path decision.
The moment I started nursing school, I was so surprised by the terrible feelings of doubt, discovering I was in the wrong place. Nursing wasn’t my calling even though I knew I wanted to help people. Many tears of shame and failure came in those weeks, knowing I had to give up what I thought was my "dream".
After quitting the program, I started fresh. My husband and I got married and I landed a job at a decorating store. That is when everything changed for me. I started studying the color charts and finding life and energy in working with color. And I found a reason to create again, making paper collages and mosaics.
After a year and a half of creating again, I was encouraged by my husband, family and friends to apply to the Kansas City Art Institute. And much to my surprise I got accepted.
So in 2003, my husband and I moved from a small town in Iowa to KC. I still didn't believe very much in my abilities as an artist, but instead of having that horrible feeling that I was in the wrong place while pursuing nursing, I had a peaceful feeling that I was in the right place.
I choose the fiber department just because I thought it would be fun to learn how to sew. On the first day of my sophomore year, I stepped into the room full of looms and shelves of yarn and knew was in the right place.
I was hooked to weaving from that day on. I fell in love with the process from start to finish. There is something magical that happens when I am sitting at the bench of my loom, in front of hours and hours of yarn dyeing and threading.
And when I finally get to weave, thread by thread, beat by beat of my loom, it’s one of the most satisfying, rewarding and sometimes therapeutic experiences I have.
I loved every minute of being in the weaving studio at KCAI, being taught by such amazing teachers. Just behind me is an example of one of my hand-dyed, woven textiles I made to hang in the three story stairwell located in the Vanderslice Building for one of my weaving projects.
At the end of my first semester of weaving, I received my first commission from Community Christian Church on the Plaza. And thankfully, my second commission from them right after graduating, (with a 4 month old baby) that paid for my loom that I have since worked from these past 8 years in my studio in the basement of my home.
Four years ago I was selected to make a piece for the new Lisa Barth Interfaith Chapel that was being built at Children's Mercy Hospital.
We have two children; it can be extremely hard to pay the bills every month. I wasn't sure if I was good enough to make a living as an artist.
Along with those doubts I was also grieving a miscarriage. I found a lot of healing came from making the three woven textiles for this space. For many years, I still felt ashamed for leaving nursing, I was unsure about my future as an artist, I was confused and angry and so terribly sad that I lost a baby.
However, I found moments of peace and clarity as I sat at my loom, moving with the fibers, as if the movement allowed me to transfer my loss and pain and ultimately my healing into the actual textile in front of me.
For an entire year I was given update on this beautiful chapel along with images of different artwork that was selected along with mine. A few months before the opening of the chapel, I was shocked to find out that my piece was not going to be in the chapel but was to be placed in a side room by itself.
This room was the only room in the hospital that was converted into a hospice room. There hung my piece.
Grieving families will spend their last precious moments with their little loved ones before they pass, in a room with my artwork.
At that moment, I remembered that great desire to become a nurse because I wanted to help bring comfort and healing to those that were hurting. And I remembered the great sense of shame and failure I had when giving up that dream. Those feelings crept up in my life for years. And here I was, years later doing the thing I wanted to do, provide healing, but in the right way for me, by making art.
I was humbled, and in awe. When I have my doubts, and I still do, I remember the Children's Mercy piece hanging in their hospice room, and am reminded that is what I know I was made to do.
Since graduating from KCAI in 2007, I have tried everyday to live the balance of motherhood and being an artist, making and showing my work in churches, businesses and hospitals along with art galleries. But last year, I realized how much I needed help with figuring out how to make a career out of being a textile artist.
Connecting with ArtsKC programs was the next step for my career.
(Location of installation at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation)One of the ArtsKC programs I’ve taken advantage of is their Now Showing program. You heard from some Now Showing artists in the video, and I have to echo their sentiments. This program has given me some great exhibition opportunities, in office and other public spaces, such as the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. My textiles have been viewed and hopefully being enjoyed by hundreds of visitors each day.
This past spring I was a part of Artist INC Live, a professional development program that ArtsKC helped found which gives artists the fundamentals and strategies to become better business people.
What I took away from Artist INC was a lot of resources, a new strategy to promote my work, and a network of colleagues that still remain a great sounding board and source of encouragement.
During Artist INC Live, I was encouraged to apply for an ArtsKC Fund Inspiration Grant. Inspiration grants are awarded to artists for special projects, new ventures, training opportunities and innovative ideas. I worked with the staff at ArtsKC to help refine my idea, review my proposal and provide moral support. And although I didn’t receive funding my first time applying, I was encouraged to not give up and apply again, which I did this summer, and was approved!
Thanks to the Inspiration Grant I just received, I will have a small budget to create some marketing tools to help me launch my Healing with Weaving Initiative.
Healing with Weaving will help highlight the importance of how art can be a tool for healing and therapy, not only the making of art, but the viewing of art. The process and the act of actually sitting at my loom and weaving has been a gift of healing to me in so many ways. I hope to continue to make artwork for hospitals, mental health and counseling facilities and places of worship, along with teaching weaving as a part of therapy and healing.
I am so honored to share my story with you although it’s not unique. We all struggle with being a good person, a good parent, a capable professional, a genuine contributor in whatever we do.
My story embodies all of our struggles to be human, humble, yet inspired and generative. We all know loss and we all know that art can challenge, transform, and touch us in very unique ways.
You’ve seen today how art can heal so much in life and society and how important it is to have an organization like ArtsKC around to help nurture that creative community.
ArtsKC has elevated my career and I hope today you’ll help ArtsKC continue to elevate the arts and artists who create on a daily basis.
Thank you so much!
Thank you so much!