Interview with Artist Angela Williams
By Lindy Stockton
Second in our series…The phenomenal Angela Williams. We were so thrilled and excited when Angela accepted our invitation to talk. It’s always a wonderful time spent in conversation with a kindred soul. We gathered ‘round the table on a gloomy sleety rainy day…and this conversation was the perfect antidote. Bedecked in jeans, heather grey cropped sweater, knit cap, and her ever-present African hand-beaded bangles…. Angela strikes a stunning silhouette.
EM: Tell me how this all started for you.
AW: My earliest memories are of my mom being at home in the midst of her easel and oils. I was introduced to the arts at a very young age. It was always a part of my life… I remember visiting galleries and museums frequently and I was exposed to design from the start. My mom was an executive assistant at a well-respected shoe design company, so I was continually surrounded by props, furniture, and all matter of design. I was a sponge; I soaked it all in.
I can vividly recall loving to make things as a kid… and I was always encouraged to pursue my vision. One of my fondest memories was making a shoebox highrise—it even had a rooftop pool and string elevator… I was mesmerized by the beauty of it.
EM: When did you know you wanted a life in the arts?
AW: I knew from an early age that I wanted to work in the arts. And because my mom was practical as well as creative, she steered me towards what was then called ‘commercial art’. I grew up in St. Louis and studied advertising design for 2 years at Florissant Valley Community College. Then I received a scholarship to the Art Institute in Chicago. I was lucky to study graphic design, fine art and performance art, too.
During my early career, I freelanced all over Chicago working on everything from package design, branding, and museum exhibits to sets for television and theater. I pored over big design work, was so excited by being part of the Organization of Black Designers where folks in Industrial, Fashion, Interior and Graphic could all come together. That’s when I met Evanston’s own Charles “Chuck” Harrison, a ground-breaking designer with Sears. From my freelance experiences, I discovered I wasn’t interested in advertising. I was drawn to the world of exhibition design. It’s interesting how many jobs there really are in the arts… beyond being an artist who paints canvases.
EM: So that leads us to today… it seems you have found a fantastic home at the Museum of Science and Industry. And congratulations on your promotion to Deputy Director of Design in the Exhibits Department. So this setting feeds one side of your creative passions… are there other avenues you pursue as well?
AW: I am lucky that I’ve had a life surrounded and immersed in the arts. It has been fun exploring different sides and trying my hand at various endeavors… I’ve done art fairs, jewelry design, abstracts, mixed media, but I find that as an artist my primary influence is pattern and design. I am drawn to the graphic nature of design and am currently exploring the intersection between the African art and contemporary design. I love combining African antiquities with the modern aesthetic.
EM: That sounds intriguing… how do you see it playing out?
AW: Ultimately I would love to build a lifestyle brand. Finding that balance between the fine arts world and the licensing (commercial) world. I also want to write a children’s book, and create a series of work that can be translated into surface design. I’m exploring the ins and outs of the big Surtex design show. It keeps me busy. And happy.
EM: So, what haven’t we asked that it’s important for people to know about you, Angela?
AW: I’m a newly appointed member of the Evanston Arts Council.
EM: Congratulations!!! What do you hope to bring to the council?
AW: I hope to add a voice of the underrepresented. I want art and to be truly accessible. I think there is a point of reference that is sometimes missing and I hope to help close the gap. We can ALL appreciate art and there is a beauty in the collectiveness. The arts help life and we need to think more broadly than art in galleries (though art in galleries is good, too.) I also want to make connections with others across our community and on the council.
EM: At the end of your tenure on the council, how will you know you made a difference?
AW: People will say, ‘She shook things up.’ I want to help move the conversation along … help people acknowledge bias in art and design. I think the stated beliefs and value systems of many established artists and arts organizations need to align with their actions. I want to help take down the wall of exclusivity and open doors to more voices and expressions.
I am also very passionate about exposing our youth to the wide range of creative careers that exist and provide pathways for pursuing them.
I am all about embracing this role and being the change maker.
EM: It’s been so great getting to know you a little bit more and we look forward to continuing the conversation. Where can people follow your adventures or reach you?
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