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To be or not to be a working artist: That is the question

By Andrew Miller

Lamont Dixon, Zachary Green, and Maureen Heffernan (left to right) shared their experiences as working artists in today’s society with College students at Friday’s Brown Bag event in the Mayo Concert Hall. (Janika Berridge / Photo Assistant)

An actor, a visual artist and a poet explored the life of a working artist in the context of today’s society in “What Does it Mean to be a Working Artist?,”  the first chapter of this year’s Brown Bag Series in Mayo Concert Hall on Friday, Sept. 9.

Maureen Heffernan, an adjunct professor of music at the College and the first of the three to speak, described her childhood in Chicago, starting as a rebellious “troublemaker,” which unexpectedly propelled her into acting. Heffernan said she was called down to the principal’s office one day to be reprimanded, but instead of receiving a typical punishment, she was made to act as a witch in the school play. Though intended to curtail her behavior, the principal’s punishment exposed Heffernan to the art of theatre, and she discovered her passion for it.

Heffernan pursued acting as a career, but quickly decided that making a living in this field was not possible. However, acting exposed her to different aspects of the theatre — stage management and directing.

This is how Heffernan now supports herself, and she is both “grateful” and “lucky” that she does not “need to work in a grocery store” as she did when she pursued work as an actress.

Unlike Heffernan, visual artist Zachary Green was influenced by many different kinds of artists when he was a child. His mentor was a family friend who made stainless glass windows, and his neighborhood was filled with sculptors, painters and photographers. When he spoke, Green focused on his most recent works, including how he juxtaposes the conventional standards for superheroes and villains through his craft.

Green is able to balance practicing his art for personal gain and for financial necessity. If asked what his job is, he said, Green responds that he is “a stainless glass window maker, but a jack of all trades,” referring to the fact that he makes everything from tarantula-shaped chandeliers to bathroom signs and still has time to pursue his own artistic interests.

Lamont Dixon was the last of the three to share his experience. Born and raised in Philadelphia, he was exposed to literature at a very young age when his mom read him Dr. Seuss books every night. Dixon grew to love writing, specifically poetry, and shared one of his most treasured poems with the audience.

At the end of the event, one audience member asked the three artists about challenges that arise in daily life. All three agreed that the most difficult part about being an artist was to be observant of everything all of the time. By being open to everything, artists will “never have a shortage of ideas,” Dixon said.

When asked about the role their work plays in society, the three acknowledged that the opportunities they were given when they were younger allowed them to love art, and they find that their role should be as mentors: Heffernan said she wants to “empower kids to become creative,” Green said he wants to “challenge the norm,” and Dixon said he wants to “give kids the opportunities” that he was given.


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