Artists Supporting Artists: Sharma Shields

Photo credit: Rajah Bose

Sharma Shields, a literary artist, 2009 GAP recipient, and donor to Artist Trust’s COVID-19 Relief Efforts, spoke with us about the importance of supporting artists, the urgency of this moment in time, and what’s inspiring her to keep going. 

Art is the most necessary ingredient to understanding ourselves and our place in the world. By its very nature, it’s an antidote to destruction and avarice. I’m grateful for the way art has educated me, formed me, bettered me as both a storyteller and a human being. I want it to keep changing me. The artists in our State need to keep producing so that they can tell our story—maybe even the story of this pandemic—in their myriad ways. This feels very urgent to me. 

Many people think of art as a hobby or a luxury. I don’t want the oil of this erroneous thinking to spread, especially now, as lines between what is necessary and what is not are being drawn. I worry that the small amount of money set aside for artists will be thinned even further. This could be disastrous for so many of us, for the artists, yes, but also for our communities. 

Funding is a priceless lifeline for artists to keep telling the stories that need to be heard. Like Gillian Welch sings, most of us are “gonna do it anyway, even if it doesn’t pay,” but potentially at the risk of our health, our families, our homes. There is so much stress and anguish over financial needs. Artists need mental space and wellness to create their best work; funding makes sure this space still exists. 

Regarding finding inspiration, I’ve been moved by an Ocean Vuong poem, an Ellen Welcker poem, the gorgeous, heartfelt essays in our local independent weekly, the music of some of my favorite bands. A group of writer friends and I got on Zoom and endured awkward pauses and laughed together and joked around and spoke of our fears and it was odd and slightly painful to be a part of but also wonderful to see and be seen. I did a virtual storytime for local children, facilitated by Wishing Tree Bookstore and Spark Central, and the children were so fun-loving, so willing to listen and dance and sing. My heart was bursting by the end of our session. My writing group sends one another jokes and occasional pieces to edit. My anxiety spikes and then recedes, but a steady, low-humming hope is there, too.”  

We’d like to thank Sharma for sharing her story with us. To support Washington State artists like Sharma, please consider donating today.