Mia Farrell

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"I’ve always had a heart too big and got angry when kids killed bugs on purpose because I thought it was “messed up”."

Take us back to you as a kid. I was a lot as a child. I was moody, opinionated, always joking, always messy and talked nonstop! I’ve always had a heart too big and got angry when kids killed bugs on purpose because I thought it was “messed up”. My brothers and I loved Adam Sandler, Kevin Smith and horror movies and I wrote essays for fun when I was 12. 

Who did you want to be? I went through phases. My second-grade teacher who spent extra time with me (instead of giving me detentions like my 1st and 3rd-grade teachers), instilled a love for writing and for art. It’s incredible how much can be fostered with attention. When I was in fourth grade my Catechism night classes had me convinced that I could become a Saint or at least a nun, but of course, not a priest. I humored the idea of being a comedian like my uncle or a business owner like my dad. I wanted to be a massage therapist. It’s funny, at 30, I’ve done a little bit of all of it already. 

What was last Monday like for you? I am a receptionist at the Des Moines Art Center in the education department. Last Monday was our first day of the Summer semester, so I was helping folks figure out their classes from 7:30-noon, from 1-4 I wheat pasted a mural of my artwork for Art Week with artist and friend Rachel Buse and my partner Andy Buch (it was an incredibly fun messy experience) at the Des Moines Social Club, we ate tacos at Malo and met up at Mainframe for the Art Week poster (a collaborative project between Buse and I) unveiling. After which I went home and napped for like 4 hours, coming down from a busy weekend ministering to my brother’s wedding. 

"I’ve “made” forever, but it wasn’t until about 3 years ago that I realized that I was an artist."

Walk us through the days leading up to you doing your own art? I’ve always made art as a part of life. Hand-painted Birthday Cards, altars for my dashboard, fliers for my friends’ bands, street art with my old Anarchist Collective. I’ve “made” forever, but it wasn’t until about 3 years ago that I realized that I was an artist. It wasn’t so much a realization as it was my friends, many successful artists in their own right, telling me that I was an artist, and I have been showing work ever since. 

Describe your art. I think a lot about intention, what am I trying to do. I like to research. I consider myself a spiritualist and recognize that both artists and spiritualist are searching for truth. I make tiny paintings that I turn into buttons, I make interactive performance art, I make rituals and tours and experiences. In my performances I actively strive not to be mysterious, to illuminate, I want to lay it all out there, I want my audience to understand, to feel and to hopefully grow with me. 

What artist and artwork has inspired you the most in your creative journey? That’s ever-evolving too. Once for a Halloween costume I was Marina Abromovic’s “Rhythm 0” performance from 1974, I carried a backpack full of 31 of the same items that she used (the gun was a toy of course) and allowed people to “use” them on me throughout the night, it honestly got a little depressing, but that’s what I love most about performance art, you have no idea what it will be about until it happens. I am also a big fan of Ana Mendieta, Andy Goldsworthy, and Dario Robleto. 

"I think a lot about intention, what am I trying to do."

What keeps you busy? How much I can keep packing into one performance piece. While preparing I am constantly reading into the theme, I gather props, I meditate, I make handouts, I make promotions, it never feels done until the minute before I begin. I might have everything I wanted complete but I can always find more elements to incorporate, like “oh I have 10 free minutes, how about I make a ceremonial perfume?” 

How do you stay focused? I don’t, but that is a part of my work. I feel like you have to meander, to listen and notice things outside of yourself to truly be creative. I consider finding inspiration a form of divine intervention.  I tried teaching this method to teens that I worked with at the Des Moines Art Center, as they worked on their projects, I would also put a relevant film on (Jackson Pollock painting on glass, Andy Warhol’s art films), I would mute it with subtitles and have on thematic music (50’s jazz, the Velvet Underground), and then I would keep a great big stack of books on the subject on the tables for kids to thumb through when they felt stuck. When you dig into your mind for too long it stops showing you new things. Artists throughout history did not live in a vacuum, the art community is so much about sharing! 

What’s been the biggest challenge? Finding the time to do everything I want. But isn’t that everyone's? 

How did you overcome it? I do as much as I can but I don’t beat myself up about prioritizing or dropping the ball. I do what I want first, I am grateful to have a job that I am always happy to go to and feel valuable being at. I am amazed at all the other things that I am still able to make time for even though I dream of doing more! 

"When you dig into your mind for too long it stops showing you new things."

You get to redo something you’ve done. What would that be and why? I wish I had had a better understanding of modern art when I was younger. I have always been a “talented artist” but I thought that meant drawing. I took every art class offered in High School but did not pursue art in college. I loved drawing and painting but that would have never meant enough to me for me to pay to learn it! If I would have known about what art has become in the last 50 years, if I would have known about living working women artists, if I would have been part of the bigger discussion and realized that art can be anything, I think I would have given all of myself to becoming an artist. 

Someone is getting into art. What would you say to them if they came to you for advice? Don’t make art if you have nothing to say. I have a lot of creative and talented friends, a lot with formal art education and the amount of guilt that they feel for not creating is honestly heartbreaking. It becomes another thing for the best people to tear themselves apart about. But when you are inspired, when something moves you, don’t let anything keep you from making, don’t be critical of your own work- you made it for a reason, show it and move on. A lot of adults criticize themselves out of making altogether, wasting time using their erasers more than their pencils. I think the solution is trusting yourself. 

Why Des Moines? My family is here. I was born here. I’m in love with the Art Center. All the creative circles that I have found here, from music to visual art, from DIY to professional, are all unbelievably supportive. Plus, it’s like being in the palm of a hand with each finger touching bigger cities; Minneapolis, Chicago, Kansas City, Omaha- it really makes this place special! 

What’s one new thing that has caught your eye? I took a Thai Massage Yoga class at Art Terrarium with Bridget Nicole Ryan that was pretty life-changing. Also, I really dig that new KIN shop in the East Village. 

You can grant Des Moines one wish. What’s that wish?  Progressive politicians in office, art, and entertainment mean nothing when there are members of our community living in fear, fear for their bodies, their homes, and their lives.

For someone new to DSM where do you suggest they go? The Des Moines Art Center, Yellow Door Gallery and the Vaudeville Mews. 

"Don’t make art if you have nothing to say."

The most underrated thing in DSM is ________. Why? I want to say the Des Moines Art Center. I still hear lifelong Des Moiners surprised that it is free. But it’s not just the museum, where you can easily pop in to visit the Francis Bacon, Basquiat or Jenny Holzer work even if only for 10 minutes, but the Art Center offers so much programming to the public, thoughtful exhibitions, engaging lectures, artist-led week-long workshops, all kinds of parties and tours and almost all of it is totally free! 

What are you most proud of and why? That I love everyone I know. Because it gives me a special way that I see the world, all I want to do is help. 

It’s been six months, what do you hope to have accomplished? I’m just going to keep going with the flow, saying yes to what comes my way. I have an ongoing list of projects on my phone notepad, it would be nice to get to some of them worked on and finished but if I don’t it’ll just mean I was busy doing something else. 

One thing that matters most to you is what? That the people around me feel loved, listened to, cared for and safe.  

Derek Jensen