Our featured person for this week is Amy Souza. Not only is Amy a talented writer, but she is a visual artist as well. In 2008 Amy founded Spark, a quarterly call-and-response project in which artists, writers, and musicians have ten days to create something new using another person’s art or writing as inspiration. Here’s what Amy has to say about herself and the Spark project:
I have been writing for a long time and painting for about seven years. I definitely consider myself more writer than artist, but I love to paint and draw.
I met Cary and Norma at the retreat in Tomales Bay. I had been reading Cary’s column for years and felt drawn to the Amherst Method as a “kinder, gentler” way to approach writing and responding to work. Sometimes I freeze when asked to write in the presence of other people, but prompts always push me and much of the work I did that weekend felt real and important, pieces I wouldn’t have written if not for that experience. I also met a lot of great people, many of whom (including Norma!) have taken part in my call-and-response project called Spark.
Here’s how it works: Artists, writers, and musicians have ten days to create something new using another person’s art or writing as inspiration. To begin, participants get paired with someone who works in a different medium: for instance, writers send artists a story or poem, and artists send writers an image of their painting, photograph, or sculpture. During the ten-day project period, each person uses their partner’s piece as a jumping off point for new work of their own. People are allowed to respond to their partner’s work in whatever way they wish. (“Response” is left purposely vague.) Inspiration pieces and responses then get showcased on the Spark website.
I started the project in 2008 as a way to bring together my art and writing sides. The first round featured ten writers—many I’d met at Vermont College—and ten artists—most of whom I’d met at the Torpedo Factory in Virginia. The project grew mostly through word of mouth, and since then more than 500 people from five countries have taken part, resulting in more than 1,000 new works of art, writing, and music.
I try hard to make Spark inclusive—anyone can join us, regardless of skill level, so long as they’re open to the experience and respectful of other participants—and I want people to feel welcome. At first, I wrote that I want them to feel welcome and unafraid, but that’s wrong. There’s always some fear involved in creating. What I want is to give people the support and space to feel brave.
Spark requires people to approach the way they work in a new way, which is a lot to ask. You have to stick to a deadline; you have to work from the inspiration you receive (which could be something that doesn’t appeal to you). Not only that, you are asked to share just-created work. Some of us like to let pieces sit for a while before we put them on display, but with Spark you share your ten-day creation with the world.
I have taken part in all 19 rounds, sometimes paired with more than one person, and every time I feel vulnerable and afraid. But, I like making things more than I like to feel safe, and I think other Spark participants would share similar sentiments. Also, not surprisingly, I end up creating things I would not have made otherwise.
The project’s main goals are to give creators a challenge, a new way of looking at the world and their work, and a chance to inspire another creative soul. My other big goal is to build community. I’m proud of the art, writing, and music that Spark has helped bring into the world, but I’m equally (if not more) proud and happy to know that real bonds have formed as a result of this project. I’m driven by a desire for community and connection, and that’s why what Cary and Norma do to bring people together really resonates with me.