Today we’d like to introduce you to Director Bonnie Lewis.
Bonnie, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I am a lifelong Goodyear resident. My parents were both artists, my Mom being born and raised in Goodyear. Both of my parents were involved in art all of their lives, being two of the founding members of CAS West, which eventually became the West Valley Arts Council. All of my siblings and myself had art exposure and creation opportunities, resulting in visual artists, poets, writers, art teachers, sign painters, muralists, and graphic designers.
I began my adult career in 1980 as a realistic water-colorist, doing southwest landscapes and murals. As time went on, I began to change my focus to large scale murals and large acrylic contemporary paintings.
In 1982 I opened a sign and graphic design business in Historic Avondale and expanded to add a gallery in 1996.
The gallery was closed in 2001, and I began to focus on my personal art development. In 2013, we formed a non-profit art organization, Catitude Gallery & Studio, to serve the needs of many emerging local artists and youth, who had talent but nowhere to display or get help and support for professional development. Catitude Gallery closed in 2017, and the organization went on to develop programs including The Business of Art, Follow Your Art JR., Youth Mural Mentoring, And Creative Aging, senior art classes.
We are expanding all of these successful programs, working with City partnerships and corporate sponsors to serve the southwest Valley.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It certainly has not been a smooth road. The arts are always hard to balance with the financial realities of life. The good was, I had no children, so I did not need to be responsible for feeding, housing, and caring for anyone but myself. The bad news I spent years with no insurance, security, or savings. The balance is… I would not do anything differently!
I was able to gain an incredible amount of experience, business knowledge, sharing of art ideas and resources with other artists, building strength, confidence and “feeling the pain” empathy that I consider that the basis for our current non-profit.
What else should we know?
I was a nationally recognized watercolor artist, ending my career with acceptance into the National Arts for the Parks Top 100 competition in 2001. While Attending the winner’s reception in Jackson Hole WY, it was obvious that I was as accomplished an artist as I would ever be in realism, but I didn’t see any expression that indicated who or why I was who I was.
After that moment, I never created another realistic watercolor, but began a series of 25 + paintings of 12-20 square ft each, mixed media, metals, acrylic, experimental. This was my series called “Life Lessons” in which I explored the most important lessons, relationships and discoveries of my life and how I felt about them, considering them “storytelling images” telling not only my story, but those that connect us all.
Continuing large murals, public art, residential and commercial has become what I am currently most known for, Our younger artists expressed an interest for instruction on all phases of that process and has led to our current Mural Mentoring Program.
I am most proud of our Catitude Arts Programs. They allow us to educate, provide opportunities, visibility, experience, and business and technical support to youth and emerging artists.
What sets us apart is our experienced instructors, community connections, partnerships, and commitment to educating artists in the real-life business of being an artist.
Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I have always been lucky to be able to move forward, no matter how small the increments through my whole career. There were many times when a situation felt like a failure, but in retrospect was actually necessary to move forward.
I attribute the ability to see that as gaining in maturity and experience. If you are happy the direction you are moving, it is past circumstances that have helped you to that spot. If you are not happy, take a risk, move!