We had the good fortune of connecting with Annie Buckley and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Annie, what habits do you feel helped you succeed?
Ever since I was young, people have told me I was persistent. There have been lots of times that I thought this was a negative, and it isn’t always framed as a positive trait. But when I believe in something, especially if it is for someone else or to make a positive difference for others, I will do just about anything to help ensure it can happen. This has helped me to build Prison Arts Collective and to navigate the many challenges along the way. Another thing that I think has helped me with life in general is that I tend to be optimistic and action-oriented. If something is difficult or frustrating, I try to think, okay, what I can do, in my own way, to help interrupt it or to make a positive impact? I think it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the challenges in our world but if we can find even one thing that we can do each day to bring about positive change, that is going to have a ripple effect over time. It also makes you feel good so it’s a double win.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My work as a creative practitioner is expansive in that I work in visual art, writing, and community building. I have always enjoyed and participated in making things. I remember drawing and writing little stories as a kid. At the same time, I have been curious about the world around me for as long as I can remember, with a special interest in making a difference wherever possible. One of my first art pieces was a collage that I made about the vast gulf between global wealth and poverty. I don’t think that the collage changed things in the world, but expressing my confusion and outrage at that injustice helped me move forward.
After graduating from college, I worked as a bilingual teacher in LA Unified during the day and in my studio at night. I loved teaching even though it was a steep learning curve at first and felt deeply connected to my young students. At that time, I worked primarily in photo collage and I was also doing a lot of welding, creating metal chairs with wings. I was engaged in teaching and making art for nearly 10 years before going back to grad school, where I studied art and writing.
After grad school, I wanted to make my living as a creative person. I researched more about how to write about art and started sending out queries. My first published review was in Artweek and I went on to write for Artforum, Art in America, the Huffington Post, and many other publications, and even became the editor in chief of Artweek for a time. It is hard to make a living as a writer so I also did some work for school and library publications writing books for children and teens. At the same time, I continued showing my art in galleries and worked with fellow artists on some really cool large collaborative projects. One of the most fun, and most difficult, things about being an artist is that there is no roadmap so it’s always an adventure.
After about 10 years, I was ready to move back into a full-time teaching position and was fortunate to get a tenure track position at CSU San Bernardino. It was here, working with amazing students and community partners, that Prison Arts Collective began. We began teaching classes at the men’s prison in Chino and then evolved to the women’s prison. From the start, I and the student teachers that worked with me, really enjoyed the curiosity, enthusiasm, and engagement of our students inside the prisons. In 2019, I was hired to direct the School of Art and Design at San Diego State University. Now PAC is based there and we continue to partner with CSUSB as well as CSU Fullerton, Cal Poly Humboldt, and UC Irvine.
I want folks to know that you can achieve beautiful things when you balance holding onto your dreams with also letting the world guide you. I don’t think there is one path to happiness or creativity but I do think that all paths involve a combination of knowing what we believe in and want to achieve while also being open to what is possible and where we are needed.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I grew up in LA so I could go on and on about my favorite spots. Mostly, what I love – and miss – is the diversity and energy of the city. No matter where you go, there is always something new to see, someone new to meet, and some little adventure – whether it be a beautiful jacaranda tree in bloom, a new coffee shop around the corner with vegan pastries, or a friendly connection with a waitress at one of my favorite spots, Homegirl Café. Most of my best friends are already in LA but when folks visit, I like to take them to Farmer’s Market and LACMA. On the Westside, I love going to Venice Beach and the Getty. And it’s always fun to visit new shops in Highland Park, a cool market in Koreatown, or even pop into an old favorite – where we used to go on field trips in elementary school – Olvera Street. One of my favorite things to do in LA is go to galleries…there are so many contemporary art galleries, with new ones opening all the time.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I want to dedicate this Shoutout to all the participants in our programs in prisons across California. Each time I go to facilitate or observe our PAC classes, I am deeply inspired by your resilience, creativity, optimism, and collaboration. Within the most difficult circumstances, you rise to the occasion and join us in co-creating spaces for imagination, growth, and connection.
Linkedin: Prison Arts Collective
Youtube: Prison Arts Collective
Others: Art Inside Archives – BLARB https://blog.lareviewofbooks.org/category/art-inside/