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Creativity and Community: A Conversation with Marlesha S. Woods

Updated: Mar 23, 2022

Marlesha S. Woods, a Louisville Metro Area-based interdisciplinary artist, has led NAC's Families are Artists, Creators, and Teachers Program (FACT) in Louisville’s Russell neighborhood since 2018. As an art instructor, creative entrepreneur, family mentor, and dedicated practitioner of civically engaged creativity, Marlesha exemplifies Public Kinship as a concept and as a way of doing public work. We’re happy to feature the experience of our friend and advocate as our latest Civic Story!

“I have been creating art as far back as I can recall. Before I could write and read, I innately was drawn to the visual art making process. As a very shy child, one of six children and five living, I found myself with a sketchbook, a napkin, anything I could find to draw on -- sitting alone in a corner, on steps, in the back of a classroom. I would spend my adolescence drawing, painting, singing, writing...constantly creating a world that did not exist at times, or making my own more colorful.”

Marlesha was discouraged from pursuing art as a career, often receiving the dreaded question: “What can you really do with an art career?” Life got in the way as well, and she felt that she needed to prioritize a sustainable career path. Ironically, after graduating with a humanities-centered degree, that path led toward the arts, where she continues to create and thrive, using art to turn life experiences into points of growth and inspiration. Over the course of more than 15 years as a practitioner and teacher, she has transformed her experience from solely creating art into sharing it and educating others about its importance.

“At times, I struggle with the vulnerability required to create and teach, because art is simply a process to interpret life and sometimes that process is not comfortable.

Marlesha recognizes that the communities she serves transcends physical boundaries. They are grounded in the conditions that affect the area: food deserts; environmental injustice; gentrification; and inhospitable city geography. Like many organizations now, she advocates for the power of creative placemaking. “Authentic care catalyzes change,” she writes. “Art, like many disciplines, is a byproduct of humanity. There is no way to ignore the impact of race, gender, and socioeconomic realities within the art industry. My works uplift narratives that spark conversations around...universal themes.”

Marlesha predicts a transformation in the art industry as more people recognize barriers to equity and access. Galleries in particular must become more accessible to attract a diverse audience, which is why Marlesha has launched the Elsz & O Storytelling Gallery. This online gallery, which honors her grand-mother and great-aunt, will bring intergenerational creativity and power together through interactive art.

Marlesha’s own story and its civic dimension demonstrate how creativity can sustain Public Kinship. Building equitable and safe spaces for art to tell the stories of ourselves and our communities is a necessary step in forming social bonds and unity.

“We uplift narratives inspired by resilience. The art is not the story. The story is the art.”

Interview by Emma Sullivan, NAC

Learn more about Marlesha S. Woods’s artwork and civic involvement at

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