Making Art in the Mall

An Interview with Ann Williams

In anticipation of the MAKING NOW conference, CIVA is interviewing some of the presenters to find out what our community’s makers are up to. What follows is a conversation with Ann Williams, recounting how “way leads unto way” as she goes about her life, work, and art-making in Lincoln, Nebraska.

mosaic mural in process

CIVA: Before we get into your Gateway Mall story, tell us a little about how you spend your days.

Ann: To be honest, between my family, my art, community art, and my job as Director of Visual Art at our church (Lincoln Berean, in Lincoln, Nebraska), I spend a lot of my days just running from one thing to another!

CIVA: As is the case with many in the arts community, you have your hands full—making art and inspiring others to do so, while also taking care of family and other commitments is a busy life.

Ann: It’s true, but I wouldn’t trade it. Thanks to my dad’s early introduction, I’ve been immersed in the art world my entire life, and I love it.

CIVA: Tell us the amazing story of you and the Gateway Mall—from mall-walking to feeding people in your own community and as far away as India, Uganda, and Kenya?

Ann: Well, yes, there were a few steps in between, but it did start with me walking the mall, which I’ve been doing with others for about ten years now. It’s a great way to become invested in your community (and not just as a consumer). Over time, relationships begun with simple waves and exchanged greetings deepened into actual friendships, and meaningful conversations ensued.

Having connected with the General Manager and several of the mall staff, I was approached one day about creating an art space at the mall. We were all very excited about the prospect and talked, dreamed, and planned for it, but eventually it was determined not to be financially viable.

Ann Willimams painting a lightbulbDisappointed but not devastated, we continued our conversations about art in this public space and, a couple of years ago, when The Lighthouse (an after-school program for middle and high school-aged youth) sponsored a public art project of several dozen 6-foot resin lightbulbs, painted by various Nebraska artists and placed throughout Lincoln, Gateway Mall agreed to allow me to bring one of the lightbulbs to a location near their food court and work on it for  two weeks in situ as act of public art.

The following year, in support of a project designed to raise money for People’s City Mission (a ministry of food, clothing, and shelter to Lincoln’s poor and homeless population), Gateway Mall donated a Christmas tree and accompanying ornaments which had been hand-crafted by various individuals, under the direction of a friend of mine—again, as a public art project—to be auctioned off for the mission.

Ann and little guy making a mosaicLast summer I was honored to be invited to design and lead a team of participants in creating a three-paneled, 12 x 7-foot glass mosaic to be placed on permanent display at the mall. This was a sixteen-day project called Sixteen Days of Hope. The completion of the mosaic coincided with a fundraising event, which raised $100,000 for Hope Venture, an organization engaged in meeting basic health and educational needs for children in India, Uganda, and Kenya.

As a result of the relationships built while working on the mosaic, I was invited to complete a commissioned painting for another church in town. Also as a result of the mosaic project, I was invited to talk about it on a local radio station, which ended up being broadcast throughout the state, which led to more connections with other artists. And it just goes on and on!

CIVA: It’s incredible to think of all that’s transpired—and at such a fast pace these past few years, in particular. What an amazing run! It’s clear that, among other things, your willingness to be available for these opportunities is a key factor in all of this.

Ann: Well, I stand in awe of God’s orchestration of these events and his handiwork throughout. I’m an ordinary mom, wife, and artist, but I believe my commitment to this community—and the many years and concerted effort to build relationships–here where I’ve been placed has opened doors to engaging the community with my art, and I trust that, in various ways, the gospel is getting communicated and God is being honored in the process.

CIVA: Thank you so much for sharing these vignettes of your life and art at the mall. We look forward to your presentations at the conference. See you in a few weeks!

Ann Williams is an artist based in Lincoln, Nebraska, and serves as the Director of Visual Art at Lincoln Berean Church where she curates and oversees five gallery spaces, shepherds artists, and continually looks for new ways to integrate art and faith in the lives of pastors, staff, and the congregation. Her work has been exhibited in Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, and other places across the nation.

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