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Women in the Arts: Libby McFalls

Updated: May 1, 2022

written by Carrie Beth Wallace

If my team and I have learned one thing over the past several years together, it's that creative women are a force for good in our community. It is our shared goal for this series to shed light on the many different ways these local women are working behind-the-scenes to advance the arts every day - no matter what other roles they may also be juggling.

We open this series with artist and educator Libby McFalls. Read on to discover how her work, influence, and leadership are making an impact in Columbus, Georgia and beyond.

McFalls in her studio. Photo by Sammie Saxon

Q: What is your specialty in the arts?

A: Well, I am a maker. Art is what I went to school to study. But my practice itself really is kind of hybrid between drawing and printmaking and collage. I mainly work in mixed media. I also am a professor at Columbus State University.

Q: What does your job entail?

A: At the university, I am a professor of art and I'm the Foundation's Coordinator. What that means, is that I primarily teach in the printmaking discipline and work with students taking coursework in printmaking. I also teach courses in everything from screen printing to lithography and cover various other methods as needed. Occasionally, I teach introductory art courses as well.

As the Foundations Coordinator, I help oversee the first year experience for all art majors coming into the department.

I help coordinate the curriculum, see them through their various reviews, and work with our department chair and associate chair to make sure we have enough seats available for incoming students.

I also serve as a Vice President of Communications for FATE, which is stands for Foundations in Art: Theory and Education. It's a national organization and I was elected by our membership. It's an honor, and I am currently serving my second term.

Q: Wow. That's amazing. I had no idea you had a national leadership role in addition to your studio practice and teaching.

A: Thanks. It keeps me pretty busy, but FATE really has helped give me more of a national platform for my work in pedagogy - especially as it relates to first year students. This encompasses philosophies of teaching, programming, and informs what we're doing at Columbus State University. It helps to assure that what we're doing on campus is really up to date with current trends, curriculum, et cetera. It's a lot of fun.

Q: On top of everything you're doing, I believe you're also a mother. Is that correct?

A: I am. We have two kiddos, an 11 year old and a seven year old.

Q: Can you, or are you willing to speak to, the elusive work-life balance that comes with working in a creative profession as a parent?

A: Yeah, sure! The main challenge, as any parent knows, is time. For me, I would say the first several years of having children were difficult to navigate because not only were we doing things for the first time, but we were also each trying to figure out how to establish healthy boundaries within our careers and other responsibilities. Even though I have my academic career, you know, I also have a studio career. The first few years of parenting really made me aware of how different things intertwined in my life.

Q: How did you structure your lifestyle after this realization?

A: When our daughter was two years old, I had to re-examine what I was doing by way of my studio practice. Not only did the content change a little bit, but really what changed was the way in which I worked. I went from doing large scale drawings and longer in-deoth projects, to having to manage my studio time in a way that was very segmented and flexible.

Q: What did that look like for you?

A: Well, I quickly had to realize that though I may set aside 10 hours a week to go into the studio, in reality, somebody could have fever and my husband and I could quickly be playing tag with work and be in a situation of asking who's at home with the kids? I had to be flexible knowing that on those weeks, I maybe only could get an hour, or an hour-and-a -half and I needed to be able to adapt.

I'd worked in collage before, but hadn't exclusively worked in collage. However, I found it to be the medium that fit best with this stage of life. I don't know if I'll continue doing it exclusively forever, but for right now it allows me the flexibility I need.

It's also beneficial because I'm reinvestigating prints and drawings now that I've done previously. Collage allows me to work alongside with new things that I'm making as well as some previously created pieces. Personally, it helps me to not have the pressure of saying, I have to have 60 hours to finish this one, really large drawing. That freedom has been something that's been very important to me in this stage of life.

I also have a supportive partner, which is so important. Our relationship goes both ways. Depending on where we are an academic year, one of us may have more time than the other. And you know, that's a partnership, you make it work.

Q: Are your children ever in the studio with you?

A: Oh, absolutely. I think allowing my students, and my children to come into the studio at times is very important. I don't want them to ever feel as if it's such kind of precious space where I have to have dedicated silence. I mean, working in silence is great (laughing), but it just isn't always a reality as an artist, and that's okay. I do try to keep schedules, but you know, life happens. I think it's a valuable lesson for my students and children to see that as artists we have to work with the time we have.

Everybody has pressures and everybody has challenges, but they all look different to different people. Depending on your stage of life, things change, and that's normal. It's good for us to adapt and create through life's changes. It's an important lesson for each of us to learn.

Photo by Sammie Saxon

Q: What does being a woman in the arts mean to you?

Well, you know, we mentioned stages of life a moment ago, and I think that what it means to be a woman in the arts for me has kind of changed over time. Having children has made it important to me that they see me as not only their mom, but also having a life outside of the house and trying very hard to be successful in that. What I view as successful in my mid-forties may not be what I thought success was in my twenties, and again, that's a good thing.

And so for me, when I think about being a woman and our role in the arts, I have to think about how my role translates as I model things for my students and children. Some of my students will openly ask me about having kids. My answer has always been that it is something to be heavily considered before entering depending on what your career goals are.

With my students, I really try to make sure that they know that I am actively pursuing my studio career. While academia takes up a good bit of my time, I intentionally try to model the fact that I am continuously trying to make work that is relevant, and evolving over time. It's also important to me that they see me putting my work out there because I tell them no matter how old you get, you're still being evaluated by your peer group.

Another important thing to me that's changed is that I've looked for more leadership roles. I think that's how I ended up on the FATE board. For me, it is a certain level of success and it has brought enrichment to my life because I'm making connections with other artists and educators around the nation.

Q: What a thoughtful response. Thank you. What are some ways your various roles/jobs impact your work?

A: I have very blurry lines in my life, my way of segmenting areas. I think all of these things really at this point are kind of sharing this experience of where I am in life as it relates to family, community and teaching. Being connected to people locally and nationally fuels me as a teacher and then my students and children end up fueling my studio work. It's all kind of a cycle for me, and I think my work illustrates that. I hope it does.

I really think my role in the arts as a woman is to share my experience and connect to women who I hope are maybe at a similar place. Even if they're not a mother and they're not also working, can they begin to maybe look at my work and identify with some of those dualities and contradictions that we have in life? I hope they can. My work explores the dualities of life. Successes and joys and stresses, they often become tied up and mangled in the same thing.

Q: What else would you like for our audience to know about you and your work? Any upcoming shows or projects?

A: Well, I've got three upcoming exhibitions. The first is a museum show in South Carolina this summer. I'm part of a four women exhibition and oddly enough, it's about being female and different stages of life. I was really excited when the curator reached out to me and I'm thrilled to be included.

Then, I've got some group exhibits happening. One of which is the faculty exhibit currently on display at The Corn Center. Everyone should make time to go see that show. It's a wonderful collection of the work of my colleagues and I really love the way it's been curated.

I also have a solo show that will be opening up in Moultrie later this year. So I do have a pretty active studio practice. The work that I'm making right now? It's all collages where I am recontextualizing imagery that I've either made in the past, or with work that I'm doing currently.

Again, so much of what we've talked about today plays a major role in my work. I like to think about my work being about like the dualities of life and how we were talking about how things are just so deeply-intertwined into all the complexity and layers of life. If you're looking at my work as a whole, I hope that it comes across that I'm really talking about life and kind of the messiness it holds, and celebrating the beauty in that. That's what I want people to see when they view my work. ◾️

Libby's Local Favorites

Small Business: Midtown Coffee

Place to take a Walk: Hilton Heights in MidTown Dinner Spot: Salt Cellar

"I teach a freshmen seminar and teach some comparative arts courses as well. Something I try to do is find something happening on the national level and then find artists that are dealing with these things. I also am trying to get more foot traffic with students into our museums. I feel like part of my job is to get people to look at work and then talk about about why these artists are so important. The Columbus Museum's collection is really fantastic and there are so many pieces there and at The Bo Bartlett Center, but right now the Amy Sherald piece is something I've been directing students to over and over because of its significance."

Favorite Columbus Hidden Treasure:

There are so many good things about Columbus, but as a plug for the art department, there's not been a time that I've taught a high school workshop or given a tour where parents or their kids haven't come through and said, "Oh! I had no idea that you all have galleries or that such nice facilities!" And so, while we are certainly not "hidden" I'd love to see more potential students and community members coming to The Corn Center to look at art and visit our facilities!

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