Interview With Artist Heather Haynes - Wall of Courage, The Art of Courage and Worlds Collide Africa

Photos are from artist and her website unless otherwise marked.
This Image is by Parker Calvert

Can you share a bit about your journey to embracing art as your passion and career, as well as opening a gallery?

Art has always been what I have done; as a young child and then as teenager who went on to study at university. When I was creating something, I always felts at peace. When I finished university, I knew I wanted to try being an artist/painter as a career. I also knew that if I got a “real” job it would be very hard to give up the money to pursue a creative career. So, I began right away creating and selling and building my business from the ground up. I represented myself for the first 10 years while my children were young. Opening the gallery 2012 emerged from the need to show my African inspired work, something the galleries I was showing in at the time didn’t seem interested in.

 Image is by Parker Calvert

In 2008, you began to travel extensively in Africa for humanitarian work, which led you to use your art to portray the plights of some of the world's most vulnerable people, especially through the WALL OF COURAGE. Can you share a little bit about this large art installation.

I went to Uganda in 2008 and I discovered that it was was the people I met and the way I felt around them, that affected me the most. As with most good things we encounter in life, I wanted to share this feeling. What I felt was a celebration of humanity rather than the plights of some of the most vulnerable. I felt the people I met had something special to share with us; a strength, a wisdom, a detachment to “things”. I witnessed suffering, but beyond the suffering was a celebration of the human spirit that I felt we, in the Western world, had lost touch with. This is what continued to draw me back to Africa. Tanzania, Rwanda and yes, the Democratic Republic of Congo...which ultimately led me to complete my Women of East Africa body of work and change my focus to telling the stories of 80 children who had lost their parents to the ongoing conflicts in the DRCongo.

The Wall of Courage emerged out of a chance meeting with a Congolese man named Kizungu. We were both using the free internet at the Ubumwe Hotel in Gisenyi, Rwanda. We talked and exchanged emails. He begin educating me on what was going on in DRC and how the orphaned children have no protection. I had seen street children on my recents visits to Goma and it was shocking to see children my own children’s ages, left alone. 

I began painting images of the 16 children Kizungu was taking care of when we first met. I also decided to raise funds to build a home for these children. One year to the day that I met Kizungu in January, 2012, the 16 children had shockingly turned into 80. This is why I painted 80 children and what ultimately became the Wall of Courage.

Creating and displaying the Wall of Courage became my mechanism to raise funds and awareness and also the regimen to help me personally channel the emotions I was dealing with after witnessing the harsh realities that women and children face in this part of the world.

I understand the Wall of Courage is a part of a major event in Los Angeles. What is this event and how can readers get more information on attending? 

The Wall of Courage was on display at the UTA Artist Space in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles for the month of October, as part of the group show "Emergency on Planet Earth". It was scheduled for the spring but because of Covid, it continued to be pushed back. The show has finished now, but we are figuring out where it will tour next. I am grateful for this opportunity because before this I had been hosting our own events showcasing the Wall of Courage, but there were limits in our outreach. To have the UTA Artist Space championing this work is a dream come true.

The Art of Courage and When Worlds Collide are also parts of your humanitarian efforts. Can you share a bit about each?

Worlds Collide was created from a song my husband wrote during my first trip to Uganda with our oldest son, Whit, who was 11years old at the time. The idea is that when worlds collide, anything is possible. For instance, the chance meeting with Kizungu has allowed some amazing accomplishments that neither one of us would have been able to complete singularly…granted we have had amazing support from many others in this journey…more worlds colliding. 

The work we were doing together was expanding fairly quickly and I was having to raise approximately $75,000 each year to support the children’s sustenance and operate the Jonathan Holiday School, a school we had built to educate 350 children without the families having to pay school fees. At this point we formed the registered non-profit, The Art of Courage, for accountability, to have a board of directors who could support the work, find news ways to raise funds and get the Wall of Courage seen by a larger audience. Our mandate was to use art as a catalyst to create change.

Beyond The Wall from Heather Haynes on Vimeo.

You have a LOT on your plate - family, running an art gallery, finding time to create new artwork, travel, continuing your charity work and down time? How do you find a way to balance all these demands and not burn out?

Well, I have learned a lot about myself through this project -what is most important to me, who I should surround myself with, what are my main goals, being very clear to myself about my vision and purpose for being here on earth at this time, as an artist and human being.

My image. 
We actually closed the gallery down as it didn’t seem like good business sense to keep it running during Covid, and to be honest, it’s time had come to and end for me. I have been editing my life to arrive at this moment where I could be creating the work I am burning to create. I am at a point where I don’t want to have the need to be creating for the sake of selling, but rather just creating through inspiration, from where the best work comes… I believe sales will still come but they will come from new places.

My children are both in university now, and we have moved twice in the last year and a half. My work is my life and I don’t want to spread myself any thinner. I have done the balancing act for 24 years - mother, artist, promoter, wife, sister, friend, daughter. It’s my time now to get very clear on who I am, what I am capable of and what I want in my life. My husband is my partner in every way - life, family, business, art, charity. You name it, we are in it together… where I fall short, he picks up and vice versa… this allows me the time to totally immerse myself into my passions for moments of time without the pull of life. I don’t think I could balance it all with out him. 

My image.

What effect has COVID had on both your art and your humanitarian efforts?

Covid brought my boys home for 6 months… this is the silver lining. To be a family of 4 for a moment in time has created a lasting foundation on which we will all stand stronger. 

My art hasn’t wavered. If anything, I felt stronger in my purpose. Fewer distractions have allowed me to really get out what has been burning from within. The time where our gallery was forced closed due to Covid made me realize it isn’t serving me anymore, so giving it up became much easier. Fundraising has shifted, but luckily we have been able to maintain our projects… no growth, but maintaining for the moment is our objective.

My image.

What has changed for you as an artist and business person as you have matured? 

I suppose I don’t see a separation in my life as artist and business person. When I was young I had the innate intuition that I would be successful. What that meant to me then was, I would create artwork and sell it to make a living. I also believed that if you kept your focus forward, you could reach any goal; and that would be my biggest hurdle to tackle. And it has been. When I was young I didn’t listen to anyone’s contradictory ideas and limitations… perhaps I knew enough not to solicit advice. 

My image.

As I got older, I thought others may have better ideas than I did, so I tried some of those out. Through maturity I have come full circle back around to listening to my intuition. I have the answers inside of me for what the next move is. I know more than I ever thought I did… I knew it all along. I think I had to go through the experiences and challenges I have had to strengthen my belief system to be solid in my knowing... that young adult had it right all along! 

We have to be careful on the advice we give others, especially young people… they have a path and we must be sure to help them find their voice not become their voice.

What would most like readers to know about you, your passion and you work? How can we support your efforts?

I am an idealist.. no apologies here. I believe amazing things are possible! I believe love is an energy force that can become contagious… we are drawn to it. When we are living and acting from this energy we can do great things for humanity. This in return fulfills our lives in a way that fills all the empty spaces we find within. 

You can support my efforts by supporting The Art of Courage. If I can consistently have the funds to support the projects in the Congo, I can then free up my time to create more projects like the Wall of Courage that could move forward to inspire and support vulnerable communities, whether locally or globally.

I'd love to close with your thoughts on the importance of art in our lives and how it can be a powerful tool to create change.

Art or the act of creating with the energy source of love put into it, can touch the lives of the viewer or experiencer, sharing this energy, and this emotion is lifted out of our minds and transplanted into our souls. We, as a human race, need to live in this frequency more often. We need to be completely immersed in the moment, out of our thought patterns and just feel inspiration. When we feel whole, we no longer need to fill our lives with “things". 

 I have felt the most alive amongst the dancing, singing voices of the poorest people on this planet, who seem to recognize something innate to the human experience that we seem to have lost as a culture. Art brings this back alive for us… more art, happier people, less consumption, less fighting, less greed, less war… more love.

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  1. Replies
    1. I love her story, her artwork and her humanitarian efforts. Such a joy to share this interview.


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