Artist Leah Grant uses words for discovery in new Crystal Bridges gallery

Artist Leah Grant uses words for discovery in new Crystal Bridges gallery

The project that became the “Dear Friend” exhibit started in 2020 because artist Leah Grant had a lot on her mind — and those thoughts needed a place to go.

“I wrote letters as if I would write it to a friend in real life but never gave it to them,” she begins, explaining she didn’t want to be “a burden to them” or share too much of herself. Those letters, she says, reflected on the state of her mental health and “the challenges I face while trying to be transparent with those around me.”

Instead of sending them, Grant kept her words and turned them into art.

“People lean into art more because it removes an expectation that is usually placed on them when we confront people with intimate parts of ourselves,” she says. “Later that summer I was a part of an artist residency called ‘Public Storage’ created by Breanne Trammell. They helped me create the large foiled letter called ‘Dear Friend #1’ which was installed in the window of their home facing toward the street. People were able to see it as they drove by.”

Inspired by her experience, in 2022 Grant facilitated creative writing workshops in community partner sites throughout Northwest Arkansas as part of the Crystal Bridges Museum’s CB to You Mobile Art Lab program. Participants were invited to start from the same premise of a letter to a friend and then, with the permission of the writers, Grant re-created some of the letters in a scale large enough for public display, using hot foil stamping to highlight specific words that resonated with her to create a new message within the letter.

“I really enjoyed getting to see people take home their individual letters they wrote and how they reacted to the foiling process,” Grant remembers. “I also felt honored to witness a lot of people’s first time writing and sharing their thoughts out loud with themselves and strangers.”

Grant calls herself “an artist in the multiple” because she includes photography, writing, audio and video in her art practice. It’s no surprise when she says her creativity as a child in Hot Springs was never limited by traditional mediums. Her influences included her family’s “own sense of interior decoration and plants throughout their houses” and her own youthful dreams of becoming an actor or fashion designer.

“I just know I absorb everything that pertains to art, and at some point I want to find a way to be a part of as many mediums as I can,” she says. “Which is why my art practice is so diverse now! To me art is the multiverse/matrix; it is always happening even when others do not see it around them. Becoming an artist is honestly just consistent practice. It’s a lot of doing and starting over.”

When Crystal Bridges was looking for an exhibition to open a new space designed to showcase the museum’s arts-based community projects — with the idea of “promoting social connection, dialogue and community perspectives” — “Dear Friend” came to mind.

“’Dear Friend’ is the perfect exhibition to guide the creation of the Community Arts Gallery in a meaningful and responsive way,” says Sara Segerlin, director of community engagement at Crystal Bridges. “The gallery provides a dedicated space to spotlight local artists and community leaders who are working to energize and inspire the community through various creative projects.

“Research shows that art and social connection raises morale and improves quality of life,” Segerlin says, “so we’re thrilled to continue to deepen community engagement through this new space.”

“This installation is very special to me,” Grant says. “I wanted to share my experience with others and give them the same opportunity to heal through the vulnerability of putting their own thoughts and words on display.”


‘Dear Friend’

WHEN — Through Nov. 27

WHERE — Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville

COST — Free


FYI — An opening reception for the exhibition will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. July 22 in the new gallery. The reception is also free and open to the public.

Categories: Galleries