Devotion

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Wendy’s full-time “day” job is in the outdoor media industry. She travels extensively, often away from home for a week at a time. She’s very good at what she does and has high standards for her work and the relationships she builds with her clients. Somehow, miraculously, she manages to put in a full-time schedule at her primary job, while simultaneously running ArtPop in several U.S. cities. While her friends are ready to kick back and wrap up a typical work day, Wendy picks up her (what should be a real) Fairy Art Mother wand and spends countless hours working to promote ArtPop and her beloved ArtPop artists. She handles her own social media for all of the ArtPop cities, as well as announcing the calls for entry and planning events to announce the finalists. In Charlotte, she and her all-volunteer board host twice-monthly events to celebrate past and present artists. She does this, because she genuinely wants people to meet and appreciate the work that these artists are doing. I’ve never seen anyone live, breathe, talk, tweet, post, call, or network to further an organization’s mission like Wendy does for ArtPop.

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Wendy is more than passionate about the public art program she envisioned years ago and has, in four years, brought to fruition. ArtPop is her mission, her life’s work. This mission is straightforward: to celebrate local artists and make art accessible in cities everywhere. Anyone who knows Wendy can’t help but be touched by her warmth and genuine desire to help people. It’s impossible not to be drawn into the work she does. Wendy wants to change the lives of artists, enrich the lives of those who encounter the art, and inspire whole communities of people who may have limited access to art in their daily lives. It’s her greatest dream to be able to fully fund ArtPop so that she can move from working two full-time jobs to focus completely on improving and expanding the program.

Everywhere Wendy goes, ArtPop artists tell her that being a part of the program has helped their careers. A commuter saw an ArtPop billboard and called to purchase the original. Many artists sell prints of their billboard art, or are contacted about commissions and gallery shows. One artist says she sells her paintings for a much better price than when she was an unknown name. Another now owns her own gallery. Several artists now collaborate on work. The vinyl billboard art is also getting repurposed in gallery installations and being upcycled for garments and accessories. Wendy often receives emails from commuters just saying thanks for making their travels better and more inspiring. One artist said because of the exposure he got through ArtPop, he was able to quit his day job and become a full-time photographer. Wendy said she broke down in tears at that news.

Wendy not only sees beauty wherever she goes, she shares it. We often take walks through our neighborhood and must stop twenty times in forty-five minutes to appreciate something that catches her eye: a tucked-away flowering vine, art in someone’s garden, a dropped toy waiting to be reclaimed. Wendy recognizes that art is everywhere; more important, she feels in her core that everyone deserves to be surrounded by it. She looks beneath the surface — of a person, an object, an idea — and gets to the heart of what needs to be known and shared.

First of all, knowing Wendy, she would be incredibly humbled and grateful to receive this kind of financial commitment. It would be an affirmation that others recognize the power and importance of bringing art into the public sphere. Wendy would use every penny of this donation to support the ArtPop mission to benefit local artists. Her wish list is long, but grounded in empathy: she wants to provide artists with professional development and mentoring opportunities so that they can learn how to market themselves and make a viable living. She wants to reach out to other non-profits in the communities ArtPop serves to explore art education programs. She wants to continue expanding the program to additional cities. This commitment would provide much-needed financial stability, something that would to allow Wendy to move closer to the day where she can work for ArtPop 24/7.

There are many good people out there, doing selfless, vitally important work. I'm quite sure that not one of them is doing what they do for the recognition or the money. They do it, because something or someone has moved them so deeply that they are compelled to make supporting a particular cause their life’s work. I’m nominating Wendy Hickey of ArtPop Street Gallery for this opportunity, because she embodies the spirit of this kind of commitment. She works tirelessly for the greater good, and she will probably never know the full reach of her efforts. What young person will see an ArtPop billboard and identify with the message presented by the artist so much so that he or she is inspired to create? What rift or obstacle might a community overcome if they are brought together in a common conversation about art? Wendy lives her life like it’s one giant opportunity to bring out the best in others. To me, this kind of devotion is exactly what it means to live a rare and admirable life.

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