We had the good fortune of connecting with Erin Schalk and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Erin, what do you want people to remember about you?
I believe there is the legacy we feel we should leave as artists, and this can change from year to year. When asked this question 5 or 6 years ago, I would have responded with a stock answer such as being invited to the Venice Biennale or becoming a New York Times bestselling or Pulitzer Prize winning author. To be clear – if these or similar accolades befell me, I would be thrilled! Yet, I am now mature enough to know that the measure of my creative work, in terms of quality and positive impact, is not contingent on external recognition alone.
Then, there is the legacy we ultimately leave after passing from this life, and hopefully, this is the legacy we needed to leave, rather than a legacy by default. I hope to spend the remainder of my time on earth making visual art and writing, as well as becoming a creative educator par excellence. My wishes are to teach and make creative work of substance, focusing on arts education that is more accessible for all (regardless of geographic location or ability), and creating visual art and writing that examine the alchemical process of shifting challenging circumstances into moments of beauty, hope, and trauma resilience.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Quite honestly, I do not feel as though I’ve “made it,” and I will probably never feel this way! For continued growth and mastery, I feel it’s important to retain a balanced combination of humility and hunger – understanding that there are artists who are farther along the path than I am, and fostering a desire within myself to continually improve.
I often struggle to answer the ubiquitous question, “What do you do?” What often sets me apart from others stems from the range of my creative work. My visual art encompasses painting, drawing, digital photography, and digital video. I also write and am a published poet and author who composes free-verse poetry, fictional prose, and non-fiction for artists. In addition, I have been teaching for over a decade, and my experiences as an educator include teaching internationally in Japan, developing and teaching bilingual classes in English and Japanese, lecturing at the university level, and working with students ranging from preschool-aged through seniors in their early 90s. I also dabble in voice narration and have produced descriptive audio tracks for the visually impaired.
Regarding my brand and story, I recently came out with a cross-genre book called “(quiet, space). a place for rest, reflection, and creation,” available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble (ISBN: 978-0578311104). In 2020, I launched my business Bridging Art (www.bridgingart.com) that focuses on filling the gaps in creative education.
My life in general, including my creative work, have been filled with challenges that have propelled me to develop increased inner strength and resiliency. As examples, I fight battles with chronic auto-immune diseases, provide daily caregiving to a child with special needs, spent years near military hot-zones, was living in Japan when the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami occurred, built support structures at home when my husband was deployed multiple times overseas, and even survived an F-4 tornado!
I am a petite and soft-spoken person, and culturally, Americans are often quick to assign traits of passivity and fragility to such people. However, those who are closest to me know that my outward appearance contrasts with the person that life has challenged me to become. The key lessons I have learned are to not let bitterness or anger overtake you. Feel and work through the emotions and painful circumstances as needed, and in healthy ways. Learn the lessons and wisdom a particular experience is demanding of you, then put this knowledge toward helping others…and toward creating meaningful art.
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?
Being an artist, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is one of my favorite places to visit and bring family and friends. To note, I have not been able to attend recent exhibitions due to the pandemic. However, I’m always impressed with the quality of the artists, work, and overall curation when I visit. After a visit to LACMA, I am often inspired to spend time in the studio, fleshing out an existing body of work or experimenting with new processes and content.
In addition to the world-class art museums, I also love to check out local galleries. A favorite is “take care,” an art gallery run by Brendan and Molly Getz in the LA Fashion District. I had the pleasure of getting to know both Molly and Brendan when we were students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The gallery is intimately-sized, and I always find myself pausing to look closely and think deeply about the work on display. Substrate Gallery, near Paramount Studios, is another favorite.
As far as eating goes, I’m a fan of Wild Living Foods. Day-to-day, I have to eat a highly restricted diet for health reasons. Wild Living offers delicious raw and gluten free dishes including my favorite “Lettuce Eat Tacos,” as well as an array of tasty ice cream flavors.
I am also a mother of two small children, so my husband Byron and I are perfectly content to take the little ones for a relaxing, quiet walk or stroller ride by parks, outdoor ice rinks, or colorful buildings. As a family, we love to people-watch, taking in the spectrum of sights, sounds, and aromas found throughout the city.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
It’s difficult to select just one person, so I will share the love and recognition!
First, I want to acknowledge my dear husband, Byron, who has provided unwavering support and encouragement in all stages of my career: as a student, freelancer and traditional employee, and now as an independent creative and business owner. When I struggle with self-confidence and trusting that the unknowns will work out, he remains a grounding force, helping highlight the gifts and abilities I struggle to see in myself.
Second, I would like to spotlight and thank the staff at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center for providing me with the wonderful opportunity to be their Artist in Residence in 2021. In working with the Muck, I received invaluable support for accessibility-driven art projects including workshops, exhibitions, and educational resources.
Lastly, I would like to thank two remarkable creative women I have the privilege to know: Marleena Barber, gifted vocalist and Director of Very Special Arts (VSA) Orange County, and Clarissa Castillo-Ramsey, visual artist and creative entrepreneur. Both women have provided me with mentorship, encouragement, and art opportunities. I admire Marleena and Clarissa for their talents in leadership, their dedication to creative education, and passion for their chosen art disciplines.