Artist Profile: Moira Villiard
Moira is a self-taught, dynamic visual artist, Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe direct descendent, and current Minnesota-based community organizer. Though early in her career, her proficiency is in a wide variety of artistic genres, including portraiture, illustration, graphic and digital design and as a muralist. She’s worked as a curator and passionate arts educator, concentrating her efforts around issues of equity and justice including arts access for underrepresented voices and communities, creative placemaking, environmental sustainability, youth empowerment, and acknowledgment of Indigenous land, culture, and history.
She was broadly recognized in 2019, when she received the 2019 Duluth NAACP “Take a Stand for the Revolution” award, 2019 Emerging City Champions fellowship, Forecast Public Art 2019 Early-Career Project Grant, 2019 YWCA Women of Distinction award, and The Duluth News-Tribune 20 under 40 award.
Her work has been featured in numerous shows in Duluth and around Minnesota, including her recent traveling solo show, “Rights of the Child”, and group shows “Beyond Borders” at MacRostie Arts Center and “We the People” at the Minnesota Museum of American Art. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Communicating Arts (Global Studies Minor) from the University of Wisconsin-Superior in 2016.
An Interview with Moira Villiard & Angela Two Stars
Angela: What mediums you work in?
Moira: I’m mostly known for my painting, which I do through public, community-engaged murals and pop-up art projects, as well as in my own personal practice for exhibits. Graphic design has also become a versatile medium for me.
Angela: What is your background and how you became an artist?
Moira: I’ve always done visual art in some capacity, but there’s a few different stories that explain how I ended up where I am now. I think the basic formula for my story has been growing up pretty poor, but in a really beautiful section of forest on the Fond du Lac Reservation in an environment/home life that was to a large extent, very isolating and difficult for me as a kid. In that isolation, I passed time by myself making art and experimenting with different mediums and dealing with some of my trauma in that way.
It’s interesting to think back on it, but the internet actually played a huge role in my ability to spread my wings, so to speak, and I spent a lot of time sharing my work online and looking at different arts opportunities.
As far as my actual art career, I’d never dreamed of going to college, even though I was a really good student academically. I was convinced it would be a bad place by my upbringing, but it was a spur of the moment decision to apply to Fond du Lac Tribal & Community College just so I could connect with people again that eventually led to me meeting another artist, Rocky Makes Room For Them. He offered me a show through the American Indian Community Housing Organization’s arts program, which was brand new at the time. That was my first art exhibit and it led to hundreds more and to where I am today. Art has played a huge role in my story of connecting to a world I don’t feel like I had the chance to be an active part of as a youth.
Angela: What your influences are as an artist?
Moira: There’s so many, I’m a total sponge when it comes to influences. Right now I really love artwork that combines realism/hyperrealism with patterns or areas of abstraction, solid color, texture, etc. I’m really drawn to woodland style art like Norval Morisseau’s work and any imagery that plays with time and connection in single vignettes.
In high school, I was really drawn to surrealism, especially the work of Salvador Dali, but it was really exciting to be introduced formally to the work of Jonathan Thunder and Karen Savage-Blue when I was a teenager when I was part of a scholarship exhibit at UW-Superior. The funny thing is that I grew up seeing Karen’s work, but for some reason at that exhibit it clicked that she was a contemporary, living, breathing artist, if that makes sense. I feel as kids sometimes there’s a disconnect and you forget that art is made by people, and we study so many artists who aren’t living anymore that it’s easy to forget that there’s artists making work today, shaping the world.
As a young kid from the rez who loved art, I started noticing how much of our artwork is influenced by dreams and how much of it fell into a category of surrealism, and I just remember feeling proud and feeling like I’d found where I belonged in the art world. It’s been so wonderful (and surreal) to have had so many opportunities to work alongside Karen, Jonathan, and so many other Indigenous artists from our time.
Angela: How did the pandemic affect your artistic calendar?
Moira: This was going to be my first year as a 100% freelance artist once I left my full-time job in January, and my calendar was pretty full when I started building it out. I was the most excited to travel around the country and give artist talks and teach workshops. But by the end of March, every single project I had set up for the year was canceled.
Fortunately, I’ve had a lot of community support, and many folks and organizations have reached out to offer gigs to help keep me afloat, and some of my speaking engagements were moved online.
Angela: How can people find your work?
Moira: New Website: www.Artbymoira.com
Instagram (which is a mix of my process, my personal life, and my art): #moiraliketheory @moiraliketheory
Updates on the Chief Buffalo Project: https://ioby.org/project/chief-buffalo-memorial-community-murals-and-historical-markers
“Rights of the Child” a solo digital exhibition of work by Moira Villiard.
Angela: How can people support your work this year and in the future?
Moira: Hire me for a project! I’m not currently looking to do full-time work, but if you have an interesting project or commission idea and a budget in mind, I love it when folks reach out. I also really love public speaking opportunities and participating in panel discussions, if you have opportunities for me as a relentless extrovert to connect, please reach out.
Donating to the Chief Buffalo project is going to be important in the coming months as well. It’s required a lot of volunteers, behind the scenes legwork getting through some of the red-tape and finding the balance of approval of parts of it and funding at the same time is a chicken-and-egg dilemma (where funders require approval, and approval requires funding).
Angela: What is next on the horizon for you?
Moira: I’m still working on a plan for the Chief Buffalo memorial murals I started last summer so they can be finished in 2021. If there’s one project I complete during my time in Duluth, it’s that one.
Until then, I have a mural I’ll be working on that was funded by the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council and a McKnight program through the American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO). I put out a request during the pandemic for youth to submit dragonfly designs, and so those will be used in some of the patterns on the mural. I was also selected as the lead artist for a projection installation this winter for the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock thanks to AMRA/NACDI, which is an opportunity I am really excited to learn from. My year is pretty much set for large-scale projects.
Otherwise, it’s looking like gig work has been sustainable for me and I’ll continue to collaborate with organizations and community groups to make art accessible for everyone, even with social distancing in place.
Angela: What have you been focusing on during the quarantine period?
Moira: I’m always involved in a lot of different things at once, and that didn’t change with quarantine. My previous employer (AICHO) reached out and offered me some contract work doing graphic design, and overall I’ve stayed pretty busy doing design projects because those don’t necessarily require in-person activities.
Personally, I’ve been working on different ways to think about and organize my practice. I’m working on redoing some of the sketches I did when I was a teenager, only on a large scale and with paint … It’s a collaboration with my younger self and a way of revisiting that part of my life since so much has transformed since then. I’ve also been trying to treat this as an “artist residency”, so making sure I can make the most of my time at home (I’m not a homebody at all so it’s taken a lot of rethinking my comfort zone in order to be productive).
Angela: What can art organizations do to help artists now and in the upcoming months?
Moira: I think the answer is always … invest in artists! Share opportunities, finances, space, and resources often. Beyond that, I have absolutely loved seeing all the Zoom artist talks and conversations happening online, as well as all the promotion of artists’ Facebook live videos and digital content. I feel like the pandemic has helped a lot of us move a little more into the 21st Century / Digital Age, and with that comes smarter and more efficient use of social media. It’s so easy to share an artists’ work (with credit obviously) or promote people right now, and I really appreciate when arts organizations take time to do that – to celebrate the artists in their community who are making an impact, or even those just starting out.