May 25, 2010

last summer nico and i stayed with sarah on our roadtrip through the south. nico hadn’t seen her in seven years, since they studied in florence together, but she opened her house and her heart to us, letting us in on her volunteer work and her amazing, creative life. we caught her a few weeks before her big move out to la to start grad school for painting at ucla. while lying on the fold out sleeper couch in her living room in greensboro, a fan blowing on low in the late night humidity, i had a lightning strike of an idea. i wanted to know more about how sarah was feeling about her big adventure, about where she was going and what she had planned. it was so inspirational to see someone on the cusp of a brand new reality! so i decided to interview friends and others i encountered in my travels, asking them about the next BIG THING they had coming. i’d call it BIG THINGS AHEAD (duh!). i even went out the next day and bought a digital recorder!

for a year now i’ve been saving up these interviews, trying to design a website and put this whole project together. last night at dinner with jen and gabe, they suggested i just post them here on the blog. i don’t know why i never did it before, but now i think it’s the perfect venue. this trip will be a great chance to continue the project, see what old friends are up to and to meet more people with big ideas and plans. hopefully we will be able to inspire you with their stories of progress and new beginnings.

so without further ado, here’s the first of the series featuring sarah, the original inspiration for this whole thing! sarah’s endless energy, creativity, and giggling is contagious and her dedication to her work and the latino community makes you want to do so much more with your life. her magical paintings/dioramas are nostalgic, intimate portraits of private and public spaces. although she offers us a particular view of a space, we are always invited to imagine the personal histories and relationships built in/with/around each one. if david hockney and grandma moses ever collaborated, it might look something like this.

THANK YOU, SARAH!!! you can see more of sarah’s work at and check out her flickr.

Name: Sarah Dougherty
Age: 26
Hometown: Richmond, VA

Where are you right now?
Greensboro, NC

What do you do?
Painter, Art Teacher for (often multicultural) youth, and Immigrant Rights Advocate

Where are you going?
Los Angeles, California!

What will you be doing when you get there?
Working on an MFA from UCLA in painting and learning about Chicano culture and art

How did you decide to go in this direction? Since I’ve been working in immigrant rights and latino Art education for the past year now I want to focus on my art and get a Masters so I can take my painting and teaching to whole new levels. I am interested in Los Angeles’ Chicano culture and how it compares to the first-generation Latin American immigrants in North Carolina and study and teach at community art centers in L.A.

What led you to make this decision? Studying art at UCLA is an amazing opportunity I couldn’t pass up….getting an MFA at a liberal arts University in a large city with Latinos was my criteria, and professors, mentors, friends, and family all agree that it’s a good fit.

Do you have any expectations? I expect my art to grow leaps and bounds, I expect to be inspired and motivated by Chicano art and artists. I expect to meet people who make me want to be a better person, and I expect to continually learn how to promote immigrant rights for our Mexican neighbors through my work as an artist.

Are you excited? Nervous? Terrified? Thrilled? I am first Nervous, then Terrified, then Thrilled and then Excited.

What are you looking forward to?
The Los Angeles cityscapes, drinking pulque out of a can, having the city remind me of Mexico City, meeting my MFA peers and professors, the Los Angeles jungle-hills and being so close to the desert, having so much time to paint.

What are you scared of? Being too influenced by the MFA program, becoming too immersed in my own art, not knowing art school lingo and not knowing art history, hearing and then participating in the constant promotion that happens in L.A., feeling like I should spend too much money, missing North Carolina and its people too much, not finding enough people who are grounded, down to earth, humble, and who live cheaply but richly, not being surrounded with nature and not biking enough, losing sight of working class perspective, having too much time to paint, having my paintings change too much, bad influences that take me away from simple, good influences like family, nature, and sharing, having to build community all over again.

What happens if it doesn’t work out? I will cut my losses and move to Asheville to teach art, paint, and build a home off of the land in the woods with my boyfriend.

What is the worst thing that could happen? I find myself refusing to listen to what I deem ill-intentioned advice (advice given for image-based or commercial reasons) about my art and crying or sullenly sitting silent during critiques.

What is the best thing that could happen?
I am able to continue work with immigrant rights advocacy, but at a deeper level of understanding and effectiveness, my art grows in leaps and bounds, I continue to live cheaply without too may worries, I am happy.

Did you ever think you’d be where you are now? Not really!

Have you ever felt like this before? Not with this amount of pressure and at this level. When I moved to Mexico I felt emotions in this order: Excited, Thrilled, Nervous, and not really Terrified at all. So I guess I am not used to being this Terrified of a new move!

What are you leaving behind? A sweet, simple, balanced life in Greensboro with a bicycle, garden, cat, boyfriend, boyfriend’s family, awesome Latino teens who I teach art to in a successful and fun weekly class, beautiful strong
black women neighbors who invite me over for a soda or a Schlitz, about 25 Latina clients and their children who I’ve been doing social work with over the past year, the woman who’s first son’s birth I witnessed and who is making me lunch today, living close to my family in Richmond and DC, swimming in lakes, running for hours alone in the woods, slow dinners and porch wine, billowly grey-blue skies of the Piedmont, and a strong sense of community.

What will you miss? All of the above.

What did your friends say when you told them? Awesome, congrats! That’s amazing! This will be so good! Yes!

What does your mother think?
She’s very proud and thinks it’s a very good idea to get my Masters but hates me being so far.



more things i like
Serial Cultura fall 09!
day trippin' with dad

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  1. Elise on May 25, 2010 at 10:22 am

    This is one of the best blog entries I have witnessed in a while. Primo! Look forward to more. I just had a new beginning at the start of this year, and it's been 100% consuming and amazing.

  2. Andreas on May 25, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    Wow i am impressed! you could be an art journalist!!! ich werde die junge Künstlerin Sarah und ihre Bilder gleich mal in unserer Malklasse vorstellen! freu mich schon auf Dich, bis bald!!!!

  3. Tasja on May 25, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    nein nicht Andreas. Tasja!

  4. joshua on May 27, 2010 at 11:43 am

    this is amazing!!! i love it :-)

  5. sarah dougherty, MFA! | BIG THINGS on March 7, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    [...] for the past few years, you might remember my first ever BIG THINGS AHEAD interview with artist, sarah dougherty. nico and i went to north carolina in 2009 and stayed with sarah in greensboro, who was about to [...]

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