Michelle Daly is a local artist and arts manager, and her expertise was relatively unknown to the city of North Adams until recently, with the creation of her recent exhibition, Everything I Never Told You: Secrets Too Beautiful to Keep. She uses a diverse range of mediums in this show, from paint to collage, combining her skills as an artist and arts manager, all in one.
Nothing compares to reading about an artist’s work, to actually sitting down with them, discussing what makes their work their own. In this case, I sat down with Michelle Daly: artist, baker, and maker, to talk with her about her work. With the recent opening of her co-curated and created, Everything I Never Told You: Secrets Too Beautiful to Keep, I was interested in getting to the source of her creativity. In our hour long conversation, I was able to talk with her about her story, especially getting into what helps her create.
Michelle Daly grew up in Bennington, Vermont, and spent her childhood occasionally driving through North Adams, but never stopping by. As small as it is, North Adams had always been a drive through city for her in many ways. When she was 16, she went to Mexico for a year for a High School exchange program. It was, Daly says, the first time she was taken seriously as an artist, and something that truly opened her eyes. It’s not surprising that this was not the last time she moved far away. She moved to Portland, OR when she was 19, wanting to get away, and there, Daly says, “I really formed my identity as an artist”. Her being there constructed her creative path towards where she is now, here in North Adams, coming here only 3 years ago.
As she recounted her life till the point of our meeting, Daly paused, thinking of North Adams when it had become something else, no longer a “drive through” town. Her first thought was about the murals that cover the city, something she had never before seen as a kid, in the car and on her way to dance class. She discovered Downstreet Art through these murals and then became a piece of the large puzzle that is an arts manager, of which she’s never been before.
“It’s a happy medium. I think it’s true you can’t really plan for this stuff, right? You just have to take opportunities as they come in life. I draw from all of that past work experience that I did. I draw from my experience as an artist, so all of that blended together for me in a way that gave me the skillset to do this job. But I got to it the long way around.” -Michelle Daly
The winding path that led her to her position at Berkshire Cultural Resource Council and as a curator and artist, it was filled with rocks and potholes, in addition to the frequent twist and turn. Navigating this path separately as an artist and curator is definitely a challenge, especially seeing herself as an artist, and distancing herself from the professional. “People know me as a person who works in the arts, but not necessarily as an artist. So navigating that can be a little complicated,” Daly says.
As an artist knows well, she had to make the decision to pursue it as a career, accepting the fact she may have to work for a living in a job that was not what she wanted to do as an artist. Knowing the difference between being professional and being an artist were too completely different things, until she learned exactly how they overlapped, especially being a curator on top of that. This, of course, takes time to learn, and in her words, is “a real challenge.”
Daly’s identity as an artist came when she was young, still in Mexico with her host family, in which she got to take art lessons. Taken seriously as an artist in this manner opened her eyes, yet this feeling never truly stopped. Coming back to this area after living twelve years in Portland, it created an image of herself that no one could see with one glance. Her show, Everything I Never Told You: Secrets Too Beautiful to Keep, she really shows her ability as an artist, coming out to the community as a lover of art, and a creator as well.
Personal space is important, especially as an artist. Space influences art, whether it be a small studio or a large one, that causes the art to differentiate slightly, even when the artist is the same. Studio space is important because it makes or breaks the piece. I wanted to know more about Michelle’s space, whether or not she has a studio, and what her first studio was like.
She reminisced briefly about her first studio in which she called hers, a space completely separate from her personal living space while in her senior year of her undergraduate degree. It was a basement, a “half of a half” where she could personalize the space to her own needs, giving her the ability to make her own art. Then, after moving back east, she rented a studio and that was the first time she thought of a space as something “proper.”
To have a space be your own, each artist has a separate idea. There are always characteristics that make each artist feel at home, and that differs slightly between everyone. Myself, I like being able to see a window when I work, or even to be outside. Others, like Michelle, have other requirements, like “a good sit and think chair, the ability to make coffee or tea, a way to play music or a podcast,” and something that is most important to her: painting clothes, just for painting.
Sitting down with Michelle Daly gave me the opportunity to pick her brain and unlock the secrets of her life as an artist. I was able to figure out makes her an artist, and what she finds most important in a studio space, and in life. We also had the opportunity to talk about North Adams, life in the Berkshires, and the differences between here and Portland, OR. Talking with an experienced businesswoman and artist opened up my eyes to the possibilities that await in the future, and North Adams, as a whole.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Erica Wilcoxen is an artist and arts manager with a hidden passion for programming. She has managerial experience in multiple different fields including curating, programming, as well as a leadership position in a mental health awareness club she helped co-found, of which she currently resides as the secretary. Erica currently studies arts management and art at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.