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story.lead_photo.caption Flower Portrait (Woman) by Heidi Carlsen-Rogers: “As an abstract painter, I use color and line to translate the thing I connect with. I felt like [the flower portrait] needed to be very expansive because I feel like that’s kind of how a woman is represented.”

By now, most people in Northwest Arkansas know that actor and activist Geena Davis co-founded the Bentonville Film Festival, which holds its second annual event next week. The mission of the festival is to highlight the voices and creative works of women in the entertainment industry, as well as increase diversity in the media. The vision Davis shares with the other founding members of the festival bled out into the community and affected more than just those in the film industry, inspiring local artist Heidi Carlsen-Rogers to create an art show with a similar mission.

"It really made me start to think about myself as an artist and as a woman. I wondered what other artists were thinking about in our area," Carlsen-Rogers says. "It was really important to me to bring together different art forms [for the show] if we could, because people will say they do creative work but they're not an artist. But if you're creating, you are."


WomanMade: NWA

WHEN — On display through May 16

WHERE — Story: The Gallery at Grace Point, Bentonville

COST — Free


The exhibit "WomanMade: NWA" opened April 16 at Story: The Gallery at Grace Point in Bentonville to an engaged crowd of artists, art students and art lovers. The physical works submitted for the exhibit will remain on display through May 16, but the reception also included artists in nontraditional mediums, with a vocal performance by singer/composer Kierstin Bible and a reading by poet Linda Leavell.

"I loved what came together," Carlsen-Rogers says of the reception. "The gallery has always really embraced shows that bring the community in. We had a fashion designer, an opera singer, educators and students there. I loved that whole combination. I asked the artists to be prepared to talk about their work, and I think that expands our perception -- getting to know the artist and what drives their work. It gives us the opportunity to connect with the story behind the work. It's an opportunity to have a richer experience. Everybody grows."

Carlsen-Rogers says she was blown away by how purposeful the artists were in their work and by the complexity involved in the layers of the exhibit. In the artist statements, the artists were asked to discuss the piece they submitted for the exhibit, as well as how being a woman affects their work or their inspirations.

"This show is important because everybody has a unique point of view, but I think when you highlight a woman artist, women definitely see through a different lens. Since this is all about women, there are some seriously powerful words there," Carlsen-Rogers says.

One example of the significance of giving a voice to groups who can be overlooked -- like women and minorities -- is revealed in the statement by painter Cassaundra Sanderson included with her piece for the exhibit. Sanderson uses layers to evolve her paintings from one thing to something indistinguishable and discusses the struggle between being passionate and wanting to be taken seriously.

"I think, as women, we are told that when we make decisions impulsively or emotionally -- being an emotional painter -- it's translated to being weak and making less thought-out, more whimsical, less purposeful work," Sanderson says. "It's easy to believe this and try to repress painting with passion, where sometimes, in a part of a painting, one needs to just throw a brush-stroke down onto the surface. It's easy to believe this and lose that brushstroke in order to try to be perceived as strong. But I think we need to embrace who we are, and if someone asks me about my process and I can't explain every single brushstroke, I can stand behind my work and say, 'Because it felt right; it needed to be there in that way.'"

NAN What's Up on 04/29/2016

Print Headline: Passionate Purpose

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