Food for the Soul: Seven Washington Artists

Libby Federici (left) and Helen Lewis (right) in front of Helen’s artwork called Ireland. Her medium (what was used on her artwork) is watercolor and marker on paper. Courtesy of Amanda McShane

By Amanda McShane

From December 12, 2018 to January 25, 2019 the exhibit of the show Food for the Soul: Seven Washington Artists was hosted at the Salve Regina Art Gallery on campus. The exhibit showcased the artworks of local painters and graphic artists from Art Enables. Art Enables is an Art Gallery and Vocational Arts program that helps artists with cognitive disabilities by making opportunities for them to create and sell their artwork.

The show was curated by Libby Federici, a senior, Art History major. This was the first show that Federici has ever curated.

“We basically referred to this as my ‘senior capstone project,’” said Federici. “In the past, art history majors have joined together as a group to split the work of curating a group show like this one.”

The name Food for the Soul comes from a quote by Catholic activist and political radical, Dorothy Day.

“Her quote ‘Food for the body is not enough- there must be food for the soul,’ also invokes the idea of art being something that nourishes the soul,” said Federici. “I think art is something that nourishes the artists, who have found professional meaning in the practice of art making, and also viewers.”

The show had been in the works since April 2018, and  for Federici, the experience of curating her first show was very rewarding.

“This is the first time I’ve really thrown myself into a long term project like this. It was a taste of what working in a curatorial department might be like, where you’re planning shows years in advance,” said Federici. “I don’t want to speak on behalf of the artists, but just from knowing them personally. I know that they are all people who are passionate about what they do and are generally excited for opportunities to showcase their work to new audiences.”

Bethlehem House was the platform of the show, and is the home of one of the featured artists, Helen Lewis. Lewis is a professional artist and one of Federici’s good friends.

“It was really from her that I began to think about creating a show, and the community at Bethlehem House ultimately put me in touch with Art Enables and the other artists,” said Federici.  

“I could tell Helen loved the show,” said Colleen Connor, a senior nursing major who is paired with Helen Lewis in Best Buddies, a campus organization which fosters friendships between students and adults with physical and intellectual disabilities.

“She was really honored,” said Connor. “I was also honored to have a buddy to be part of it. It was wonderful how Libby contributed to the community.”

“The most rewarding part of the show was probably seeing everyone together at the closing reception,” Federici said. “I was able to deliver payment to all of the artists as a result of fundraising efforts, and 5 of our 7 artists were in attendance at the reception with their families and friends. It was just wonderful to see everyone enjoying the art together, it felt very communal. They secured a paycheck for each of the artists for this show, which was something I was really firm about doing.”

The most challenging part for her was the editing of the proposal, press release, the curator’s statement and budget, and others.

“There was a lot of writing and re-writing involved, in part because I wanted to be certain I was using appropriate and empowering language to describe both the artists and their work,” Federici said.

“The show was amazing. So many people think that those in our community with disabilities cannot offer anything to society,” said Beth McElhiney, a senior biology and Spanish for international service major who is the President of Best Buddies. “How I try to explain it to others is that everyone has their own special ability and that when we put a label on someone, such as saying that person has a disability, then we are cutting off our ability to be able to see what they offer and what joy they can bring to our lives.”

“For what it was meant to be in our little community, I think the show served a wonderful purpose and I’m very pleased with the result,” said Federici. She plans to go to graduate school after college and either work in a museum or go into art education.

Many Catholic University faculty and staff assisted Federici with the organization of the event. Dr. Nora Heimann, Chair and associate professor of the Art department helped with the writing and editing. Salve Regina Gallery Director and Assistant Professor, John Figura, assisted Federici for installing the show. Assistant Professor of Digital Art and Studio Art advisor, Jonathan Monaghan, helped with the digital promotions. Assistant to Chair, Peter Gribbin, helped her at anytime. Allie Frazier from Art Enables, helped with framing, packing and payment.

Two of the artworks from the exhibit have been sold and there has also been inquiries about two other pieces.

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