A Light Bearer in Tucson
All work shown created by Linda Cato
Linda Cato is a light bearer. In her dual roles as artist and teacher, she brings a profound commitment to spread, reveal and honor the light that animates creative spirit in our world. As the world speeds toward our next chapter, it was an honor to sit with Cato in her downtown adobe apartment and studio to talk about the important early influences that shaped her life and choices.
What brought you to the visual arts path?
I think I was essentially wired that way before birth. My grandparents were immigrants, all arriving in Brooklyn, where I was raised—at a time when there was an overflow of creative people from all over the world streaming into New York. My grandmothers and other family members worked magic with textiles, creating costumes for Broadway plays and sewing for the big department stores. Other family members worked in visual merchandising and window design. One of my grandmothers was a self-taught portrait painter. My mother and father were both very artistic as well. In addition to my creative family members and neighbors, my friends and I took advantage of the easily accessible arts programming around NYC. I attended Alvin Ailey dance classes and free drawing lessons at The Met. I was fortunate enough to attend a high school where the arts were a vital part of the curriculum. There, students were supported to pursue their own projects in an “open studio” format.
Did you pursue additional fine arts training post-high school?
I attended the University of Arizona, where I had the great fortune to study for my B.F.A. with luminary teachers. There, I worked with Bruce McGrew and Jim Davis. Through Pima Community College, I studied with Jim Waid and George Welch. I also worked with Sam Scott.
That was a ‘golden era’ in Tucson—how lucky you were! Post-degree, were there any particular experiences that helped you to form the foundations of your current studio and teaching practices?
International travel and living abroad were instrumental in developing observational abilities and cultivating a deeper understanding of people and our relationship to the natural world and to each other.
You have worked with students across a spectrum of age and prior experience for many years. Can you share some insights about your role as teaching-artist?
My teaching practice incorporates guiding students to cultivate deep observational skills, as well as the ability to see things from multiple perspectives, which is key to building empathy. I believe that creative practice is a powerful tool in the development of empathy, and that arts programming plays a vital role in positive transformation on personal, community and global levels. My teaching approach ties together four points which develop alongside each other: skill-building, concept, authentic voice and identity to culture/community. I feel very strongly that these four points must all be developed and that they work together in symbiosis in the making of art.
Skill-building is about learning materials and techniques—similar to learning a language, building a fluency in order to convey deeper, more nuanced stories and points of view. A person may have a passion or a vision to convey but have limited skills to express it with. On the other hand, a student can become so focused on materials and technique to the expense of concept. For me, the art happens when all four points converge.
I see teaching as facilitating a connection to innate creativity and empowering personal voice. When we practice creativity in any capacity, we honor our story and our journey. Art is one way we share our experience with the world.
You have taught locally in a range of schools and programs. Are you teaching currently in Tucson?
Over the years, I have found that people of all ages and walks of life may have had an experience of “art wounding”. This phrase refers to what happens to us when a well-meaning person (often an adult) injures our self-confidence related to something we have created. Anyone at any age can feel the sting of negative responses to one’s creative expression. For several years, I worked primarily with youth in Title I schools, ages preschool through high school. We did so much wonderful work together during all those years, and I learned so much from every student I worked with. I have also facilitated collaborative community art projects nationally, and worked with a number of nonprofit organizations.
Currently, I am working in creative expression at Canyon Ranch here in Tucson. Connecting to our creativity is powerful and healing, no matter the age or the venue. I feel very grateful for all the opportunities I have had to promote creativity in such a wide variety of settings.
Your work is currently being exhibited at the YWCA here in Tucson through the month of August. Can you translate the title, ‘Zaufishan’, and share the focus of the show’s theme?
Zaufishan is a blended word of Persian/Arabic roots. It means “light bearer/light spreader”. This body of work is an investigation of light as it exists in the world. Light has long been seen as a metaphor for hope and faith, but on a pure physical level, we have, for example, bioluminescence in the depth of the oceans, and phosphorescence in minerals. Even our brain scans detect our neurons as they “light up”. I believe we all carry the seeds of light as well as the ability to shine light and illuminate shadow.
Can you connect that last statement forward to address creativity as a healing force for yourself on personal level and for community?
I believe that each and every one of us is hard-wired for creativity. From the very earliest humans to the present, we have exercised our creativity. I am speaking of creativity in its broadest sense to include the practical, spiritual and emotional aspects of creative work. I feel we all have a responsibility to plant seeds of light and to carry light forward. We can make commitments to bring light into our lives and the lives of others as we tend to our personal healing through creative expression. Creativity is a powerful force which widens our vision and understanding and leads us, and our communities, to greater empathy and healing.
View Linda Cato’s exhibit, “Zaufishan”, through August at Galeria at the YWCA, 525 N. Bonita, in Tucson. Connect at LindaCatoArts@gmail.com.
Carolyn King, M.A. in Arts & Consciousness, is a local practicing artist who has worked with communities as a teaching-artist for over 30 years, both in the U.S. and Mexico. Earlier this year, she founded Heart to Hand Studio, where she offers visual arts experiences for Tucson residents and beyond. Connect at CKing72@cox.net.