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Della Wells uses art to inspire self-worth in Milwaukee's women

Milwaukee will forever be an art community. It is well known that Milwaukee is home to a multitude of fantastic artists when it comes to music, the visual arts, performance art and more. One of those artists, a recent recipient of the City of Milwaukee’s Artist of the Year 2016, is Della Wells.

Wells, along with artist Dasha Kelly, was presented the award this past week at a public reception at the Marcus Center. Following the reception, I sat down with Della Wells to discuss the significance of the award to her as well as to learn more about her as an artist and to understand the meanings behind her work.

Radio Milwaukee: Growing up in Milwaukee has influenced your work in many ways. What story or message are you portraying in your work?

Della WellsWell, actually what I want is-particularly women-to know their self-worth and that they can overcome adversity and first know the fact that crazy situations can make interesting art.

RM: Your work that you’ve done in the past, utilizes several different mediums such as collage, dolls, drawings and live performances and much more. So what role do the various mediums that your utilize, play in the art that you produce?

DW: Well, basically for me when I was a kid, I wanted to be a writer and I was really fascinated with stories. I was really fascinated with stories that my mother told me. Which I found out a lot later that a lot of stories that she told weren’t true because my mother had schizophrenia. And I was fascinated with fairytales and myths and cartoons and how it was portrayed to children as being very, very sweet, but actually when you get into the narrative it’s a lot of horrible things still going on.

RM: So what in your childhood made you want to pursue that interest? What about the stories of your childhood really started that interest where you wanted to explore the deeper meaning?

DW: Well, when I was a kid, I used to lay in bed and I would make up my own movies and I had my own stars in the movies and characters and I would lay in bed and make full length films. I wanted to be a writer when I was a kid and when I wrote when I was a kid, I…I didn’t write typical stories like kids did. Like I wrote a story once on a-we had to write something about Santa Claus-so I wrote about Santa Claus having a nervous breakdown in the middle of the kids. I remember writing another story in junior high-we had to write about a gambler who got mad and shot somebody and everybody wrote that the gambler was cheating-I wrote about a sore loser…. So I like twisted stories. I have a twisted mind.

RM: So kinda moving away from there, this year you, as well as Dasha Kelly, were given the city of Milwaukee’s Artist of the Year award for 2016. What does that honor mean to you?

DW: Well its good to be recognized. I think a lot of artists, visual performing, particularly visual artists, we kinda work in the shadow. And its good to notice and pay attention, but there’s a lot of great talent here, both in the visual and performing arts here and I think its important that we recognize this talent that’s here. Because this is what makes this city interesting. People come to see the art, they go to see performers, they go to the art exhibition. So basically for me, its acknowledging what everybody in the arts has done.

What I want is women to know their self-worth and that they can overcome adversity.

RM: So what are your opinions on the current state of the art community both in Milwaukee and nationwide in regards to artist to artist communication and promotion and potentially collaboration?

DW: Boy you would ask me that question *laughs. Actually my feelings are mixed about it. I think Milwaukee and Wisconsin have some very good and great artists here and are making some very interesting art, but sometimes I don’t feel that this art is being seen and sometimes I think there’s more emphasis on events, rather than finding out what or why the artist creates works and I’d like to see more public art. Because right now, me personally, I really don’t like quite a few of the projects that have been done. But I found that I actually like the artists work that have done some of the projects and I think part of the problem is budget. I think there’s too much emphasis not put on the actual creation of the work and what the artists do. But there’s a lot of good things happening here too. There’s a lot of energy that’s going on, there’s a lot of market, you know like the Milwaukee Market, Brownsville Days, etc. I’m kinda excited and particularly excited to see what some of the younger artists are doing.

RM: So do you think there’s more of an emphasis on the promotion of the art instead of focusing on who the artist is themselves and what their thought processes are?

DW: I think its important to know what artists do and why they create the work that they do and I would like to also see artists more, not as an afterthought, but as collaborators. They can collaborate buildings and other things instead of just as an afterthought, “lets get this artist to come here and there.” I know in Minneapolis, they do have artists that work with the administration and they’re more like collaborators as far as getting projects and stuff. So that’s what I would like to see. I’d like to see artists as more of a collaborator than an afterthought.

Pieces of Della Wells' artwork will be sold at the National Museum of African American History and Culture when it opens its doors in September.