Downtown ‘Ekphrasis’ art exhibit aims to spread awareness about mental health

Waco resident Gracie Arias enjoys a vocal performance on Austin Avenue during the Ekphrasis Art Festival. Baylee VerSteeg | Multimedia Journalist

By Jennifer Smith | Reporter

On Saturday night the Central Texas Artist Collective (CTAC) had its opening reception for their new downtown art exhibit, titled “Ekphrasis.” The exhibit is a combination of written and visual arts, and will be displayed until Nov. 30 in the windows of various businesses between Austin Avenue and Washington Avenue, between Sixth and Eighth streets.

Steve and Angie Veracruz are the co-founders CTAC, and Steve said the overall importance of Ekphrasis is to provide resources and services to the public for those that may need help with mental health issues.

“We felt that location was crucial for the exhibit to get noticed. We wanted to really bring it to the public because most people feel like they have to go out of their way to visit a gallery, and it isn’t easy to encourage that. We chose a location that will bring the art to the public in an encompassing way,” Steve said. “Being so community-driven in everything that we do, we really felt like these were the components that needed to come together in order for it to happen.”

Steve said the idea for this downtown art-walk exhibit stemmed from a local open mic night, and because of that, CTAC has been able to collaborate the written and visual arts more frequently.

“During one open mic we attended, my friend and I were kind of joking about writing poetry around a visual piece he had made. The director at the time of the Waco Poetry Society told us there’s an art form for combining both of those things, called Ekphrasis,” Steve said.

He said the opening reviews of the art exhibit were very positive and exciting, and that people found the artwork to be enlightening and powerful.

“There was a lot of curiosity and probably a little nervousness over what the art would consist of, considering mental health is a serious theme,” Steve said. “An issue that a lot of artists, including myself, struggle with is approaching the topic of mental health in a respectful way, but also in a very informational way. That was the drive for us to curate the 2017 art walk.”

DeShauna Hollie, one of the writers for a piece displayed at Ekphrasis, said the creation did not come without it’s challenges. Hollie’s poem “Letting Go” accompanies a sculpture created by Laura Caruthers.

“We were given about four months to dialogue and create our pieces. It was incredibly hard to get to a place were I could be vulnerable enough to authentically respond to the prompt,” Hollie said. “I write a lot, but knowing how public these pieces were going to be made me more hesitant to be as vulnerable in my writing as I normally am.”

Hollie said she often uses her writing to articulate hard feelings to help her make sense of the world, and Ekphrasis has helped her grow in many ways.

“We can’t afford not to have conversations about mental health in the art community. Ekphrasis stretched me as a writer and as a person. It also created a safe place for me to intentionally delve into my own mental health to pull out words and share them freely,” Hollie said. “I’m so thankful to Steve and Angie for organizing the event. They have done such great work with the Central Texas Artist Collective.”

Joshua Bueno is an artist who painted a piece accompanied by an essay, “Anxiety Art,” written by Rebecca Kupetz. Bueno said he kept Rebecca in mind throughout the entire creating process.

“The piece was about her anxiety, so I made it in her style and put a ton of effort into the smaller things about the piece, right down to the use and choice of color. None of that piece is what I usually do, artistically,” Bueno said. “She’s a good friend of almost 10 years, and I’ve watched her struggle through her large bouts with anxiety to get some gorgeous pieces done. I wanted to try and do it justice since she’s become almost an inspiration for me to keep going through whatever life throws at me.”

Bueno agrees with Hollie that art can help normalize the conversation about mental health.

“I feel like there’s this type of double stigma on that subject. One being the standard, ‘Well, we don’t talk about that. It’s not right,’ and the other being an odd dynamic of, ‘Well, art is meant to make people happy or be pretty when you look at it, not sad. Don’t do that,’” Bueno said. “I feel that if this type of thing was more accepted and absorbed, it would amplify the spreading of awareness on serious topics like mental health though a medium that can be a middle ground for all parties.”

Bueno was pleasantly surprised by the support the CTAC received Saturday and said it showed major growth within the art community.

“I feel like this put the final straw on whether or not there is an art base in Waco, and it’s only upwards from here. I met a lot of people who were only there for the mental health aspect and had no clue there was so much art in Waco in general. This whole thing was a bead of growth for everyone involved or in attendance,” Bueno said,

You can experience the creativity and vulnerability of Ekphrasis until Nov. 30 while walking down Austin Avenue and Washington Avenue, between Sixth and Eighth streets.

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