Interview with Michael Bell by Martin Cid. Social Activities
M.C.- Today, we would like to talk about your social activities. We know you are helping to several causes and we would like to know a little more about this, in special about your feelings in the case of Amanda Todd, a very special girl who suffered cyber-bulling with a sad end.
M.B.- Sure Martin. As you know, Amanda’s story captivated my heart and for a number of reasons. My initial connection is that I work with teenagers on a daily basis and constantly try to impact their lives in positive ways so that they find something creative they can connect with in order to deal with life’s frustrations and struggles and put them in their proper context, to deal with things in constructive as opposed to destructive ways. Secondly, I lost a sister named Amanda who died shortly after birth, so her name was an immediate connection. The loss of my sister impacted my immediate family in ways words could never accurately describe, so I created a mini-installation about it in form of a Red Box, which was exhibited in a Group Exhibition in St. Louis, MO entitled: “Darkest Dreams a Lighted Way”. Here’s a short one minute video clip of my Red Box:
M.B.- I’ve also been heavily involved in supporting domestic violence causes in both New York and Los Angeles for years. Upon hearing about Amanda Todd, and for those that don’t know her whole story she’s the Port Coquitlam, B.C. teen that committed suicide on October 10th, 2012 after years of bullying. She posted a haunting YouTube video just weeks before her death that has become her legacy in the fight against bullying in order to try and help other kids in her situation before it gets to that point of no return. That’s the thing that’s so hard for kids to understand – the PERMANENCE of such a tragic action. So, in response, I became inspired to create a collaborative portrait of the teen and I chronicled the making of the painting I made alongside other teens her age as a response to her video one year ago as a gift I donated to Carol Todd, mother of Amanda Todd.
M.B.- This year, coincidentally or not, World Mental Health Day happened to fall on the anniversary of Amanda’s death – October 10th. So, I helped her mom spread a worldwide “Light up the World Purple” Campaign for the Amanda Todd Legacy Foundation. This included lighting my studio purple with twinkling lights and a huge snowflake in memory of Amanda, spreading awareness about bullying by re-sharing Amanda’s story with fans, friends and student artists and urging everyone to wear purple in memory of Amanda, and as an anti-bullying message in honor of World Mental Health Day. It’s nice what everyone did to participate in this, but it’s still also really sad, because at the end of the day Carol is still without her daughter and nothing we can do can bring her back.
Five months ago on May 10th, as you also know, I lost my Grandmother. Coincidentally or not, her name was Violet, which is the name and flower I had Ty Pallotta ink onto my forearm so while I’m painting or drawing my Grandma will always see it and be with me. With that said, my feelings about the case of Amanda Todd lives on and will continue to long after the media hype.
M.C.- Painting, music and art in general often help people to overcome their troubles, help people to live… art, sometimes, is more than the work of the artist and becomes a form of helping people. I would like to know how art has helped you to live and how you live for art.
M.B.- I agree. Some people run, some work out, some hit the heavy bag, some…make art. For me, making art is very therapeutic and I literally use my sketchbook as a visual training ground to make myself better (and you can take that any way you want). Sometimes it takes the form of visual journaling, sometimes as“31 Nights”, which is a series of month-long self-portraits based on exciting prompts I’ve created. Sometimes it takes the form of non-traditional visual journals, like my Red Box, a 24 hour visual journal, or a dream diary.
M.C.- Last question, Michael. We would like to know a little more about this year and the Washington Post… do you remember something about that? I’ve heard very positive things about this and Agnes Meyer… and something about a prize. What can you tell us about this? Guilty or not?
M.B.- Yes Martin, this past year I did the unprecedented in the field of Art Education, first being awarded the CollegeBoard’s 2013 William U. Harris Award of Excellence in Brooklyn, NY in February for demonstrating extraordinary leadership skills in the field of education; the National Art Education Association’s 2013 National Art Honor Society Sponsor of the Year in Fort Worth, TX in April; and the Washington Post’s 2013 Agnes Meyer Award in May for exemplifying excellence in my profession. I was awarded this on May 14th in Washington, D.C. It was just four days after my Grandmother passed away so I hid a lot behind my smile that evening but I was truly humbled to be honored as being one of the “best of the best” educators in the nation.
It’s certainly not why I do what I do Martin, but I’m very grateful for all the doors these accolades open, especially so I can continue to create even greater opportunities for our young rising stars out there as I carve out my own legacy in the art world.
M.C.- Thanks for everything, Michael.