During college Kirby Bowman sometimes worried about finding a sustainable career as an artist. Now she is thankful to be making art and facilitating meaningful community collaborations as a production artist and jewelry designer at Passion Works Studio, a collaborative community arts center in Athens, Ohio, where she works with and supports a core group of working artists with developmental differences.
Bowman transferred to Ohio University from Columbus State Community College as studio art major in 2016, then moved into the specialized studies major in University College. In 2020 she earned her specialized studies degree with an area of focus in linguistics and art.
All specialized studies majors are required to complete an internship, so after getting to know Passion Works as a volunteer through one of her classes in 2019, Bowman interned with the studio the following spring.
As a Passion Works Studio intern, Bowman found a way to create unique jewelry pieces using small scraps of metal that are usually thrown away in the process of creating their trademark Passion Flowers. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she had to complete the latter part of her internship remotely, but she was able to continue contributing to the organization and connecting with Passion Works artists and the broader community by producing art from home and participating in Zoom meetings and community art night sessions.
Bowman said Passion Works has given her a new sense of community. “Collaborating with artists (with and without developmental disabilities) is very rewarding and I love the concept of being a part of a community like this,” Bowman explained.
“They’re very open to people coming up with new product concepts,” she said, describing the jewelry she began making during her internship, and which is now offered for sale, along with the Passion Flowers and many other unique Passion Works creations.
Each day at Passion Works is unique according to Bowman. “It’s nice to have change every day,” she noted, explaining that her job involves checking inventory, designing and producing art such as the metal flower sculptures, and assisting Passion Works artists as they gather their materials and make art in the studio. Whether she’s making jewelry, putting glitter on Passion Flowers, or helping Passion Works artist execute their visions, she enjoys being a part of the Passion Works Studio community.
“I love my job at Passion Works and I love being in Athens,” Bowman said. “For a lot of my college career I was nervous about what I could do as an artist and how to find a sustainable career. Getting to know Passion Works allowed me to see that there are options for artists of all abilities. I fell in love with being in the studio and their story. The idea of collaborating, making art, and communicating with people fit well with what I wanted to do.”
Bowman was introduced to the specialized studies major by a friend at a time when she felt somewhat lost in her academic journey. She had a lot of interests, knew she wanted to study art, and had begun taking linguistics classes. When she discovered the specialized studies major would allow her to combine those interests and design her own major, she knew she’d found the right path. “The bachelor of specialized studies allows you to apply what you’re interested in,” Bowman said.
Completing an internship, graduating, and working during a global pandemic has been a strange experience, Kirby said, but she believes Passion Works adjusted beautifully with the pandemic restrictions. “The studio shut down, but we continued to have online meetings every week and people were working from home. I could make jewelry at home and participate in meetings. It was nice to have something to do,” she explained. Bowman is glad to be able to gather and make art with the Passion Works artists in person once more and is excited to apply what she’s learned at Passion Works in other places. “My dream would be to spread Passion Works to other communities,” she said, explaining that she hopes to travel and help build similar studios in other communities.