Ife Williams Discusses Women Leading Socially Engaged Art

As you may know, March is National Women’s History Month. Last year, C4 Atlanta shared the stories of women arts administrators in our city as part of a project with the National Women’s History Project called “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives”.

C4 Atlanta is excited to curate this blog series for the second year in a row! We will be highlighting women’s stories on our blog and on our social media throughout the month of March and into April. This year we have expanded the project to include

Ife Williams,
Ife Williams, Executive Director at the Hudgens Center for the Arts

the stories of more women and to share a diverse range of experiences, including women nationally as well as locally. Sharing women’s triumphs challenges stereotypes within today’s society and overturns social assumptions about who women are and what women can accomplish.

With that being said, we’d love to introduce our next leading lady, Ife Williams.

Where do you work and what do you do?

I am a sculptor and the Executive Director at the Hudgens Center for the Arts.

What did you think you were going to be when you grew up?

An artist.

Who was your favorite artist/writer/performer growing up?

The earliest favorite artist I can remember was Degas. He was soon followed by Georgia O’Keefe, Arshile Gorky, Rothko, Pollock, Brancusi and Henry Moore, all before I graduated from high school.

Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did that person teach you?

My mother is without a doubt the biggest influence on my life as an artist. She gave me my first art lessons, teaching me to draw what I saw rather than what I knew and she never made me feel that pursuing a career in the arts was anything to reconsider.

When and how did you first become interested in the arts?

I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t interested in the arts. I remember going to the art museum with my mother and sisters, when I was still in single digits, and I remember my sisters getting tired of being there long before I was.

Hudgens Center for the Arts
Hudgens Center for the Arts

 

How long have you been in your line of work?

Twenty-two years in arts administration, forever as an artist.

How is art a passion for you?

Art offers opportunities for me to connect to the world around me through unique vantage points. The emotion, energy and narrative that can be contained in each piece is endless. A single piece of art can offer new insights each time it is experienced and the conversations that can come from two differing perceptions is what draws me to art. It is what makes every exhibition, every studio visit and every artist talk a memorable experience. For me, it is inspiring to watch others engage with new genres, styles, content, and mediums. It is inspiring to see how perspectives shift as artworks are shown within varied contexts: alongside other artists, in unexpected venues and against unforeseen backdrops. The deepest connections are made with art and artists in an instant and witnessing that instant is amazing.

What are your thoughts on equality and representation of women in the arts?

Women working in the arts face the same gender equality challenges faced by women in other fields. Quite often, gender challenges are magnified in the arts because regardless of a woman’s role in the art world there are so many opportunities to be seen as a sexualized object that is intended as entertainment, not to be taken seriously. At the same time, unlike many fields, women in the arts have the opportunity to bring these issues to the forefront of their work. Socially engaged artwork provides an opportunity to push audiences to confront inequities and open dialogues that would otherwise be avoided or ignored and more and more often these works are finding a place in galleries, museums and private collections around the world.

What in your profession has given you the greatest satisfaction or fulfillment?

I have received the greatest satisfaction from being in the position to nurture projects that connect studio artists with communities to develop meaningful permanent installations. The success of these projects is most evident in the response of the community to the newly installed works. There is so much learning and discovery throughout the process. I have also enjoyed bringing artists together to discover each other’s works and share approaches to their mediums, communities and audiences.

Ife's hands hard at work throwing clay
Ife’s hands hard at work throwing clay

Looking back, what would you have done differently?

I make it a practice not to look back with regret and as an arts administrator, I believe the path I have taken has brought me to where I am today. Of course every moment has not been perfect but I am happy with where I am and I’m proud of the journey it took to get here.

As an artist, I would’ve explored ceramics as a medium earlier and I would’ve dedicated a number of years to experience more residency opportunities, domestically and abroad.

What would you do again?

I would fall in love with art as a child and share my love for the arts at every opportunity. I would encourage others to engage in the arts as lovers, learners and leaders.

What most excites you about the arts in Atlanta?

The depth and range of the artists in the Atlanta arts community excites me as do the  innovative exhibition spaces that continue to evolve alongside ever-changing engagement strategies. No matter how long I am here and no matter how many artists I meet or how many exhibitions I see, there is always a new voice, a new spin, a new artists’ collective to sit down with and in most cases all that newness comes with a familiar face. I love the mix of new and old, not unlike the phoenix, the Atlanta arts community is continually renewing, revisiting, and rejuvenating from its heart.

What do you hope to contribute to the Atlanta arts community?

I strive to expand the reach of our local arts community by developing programming that stretches beyond the metro region, connects artists with communities and encourages everyone to engage in the arts.

Where can I learn more about your organizations and work?

www.thehudgens.org

20150924_073559-1
A study from Ife’s ‘Enlightenment Series’

Bio:

While she has served in her capacity as Executive Director of the Jacqueline Casey Hudgens Center for the Arts since January 2016, Ms. Williams joined the Atlanta arts community in 2005 as the Public Art Program Coordinator with Fulton County Arts and Culture, (FCAC). She went on to manage the Contracts for Services Program and held the positions of Deputy Director of Arts & Culture (acting), and Interim Director of Arts and Culture. Through her tenure at FCAC she learned what it means to serve the public, facilitate genuine community engagement, and provide guidance to elected officials. Her professional experience includes the role of museum curator at the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens (Miami); development consultant at the Diaspora Vibe Cultural Arts Incubator (Miami); assistant collections registrar for the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington (Seattle); and most recently Program Development Specialist at Fulton County Arts and Culture (Atlanta). Ms. Williams holds a bachelor of fine arts degree in Sculpture/Metalsmithing from the University of Michigan, pursued her master’s degree in Museum Studies at Syracuse University, and received a certificate of nonprofit organizational management from the Georgia Center for Nonprofits.

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