Why This Matters: Cornelius visual artist Meredith Connelly is one of the four inaugural recipients of ASC’s Emerging Creators Fellowship, which supports emerging creatives with evolving practices that are at pivotal moments in launching sustainable careers in the creative sector.
By Bernie Petit
Meredith Connelly couldn’t escape her calling, even if her path to acceptance was unconventional.
She knew she was meant to be an artist after creating her first metal sculpture at 16 years old and being transformed by the process.
“That’s when I first experienced it and knew it wholeheartedly,” said Connelly, now 35. “Between the ages of 16 and 20 I was almost in denial about pursuing that calling because it was an unsafe track.”
During that time, she continued to create, albeit privately. She dropped out of high school and moved to Paris for a year when she was 17, taking along her sketchbook and drawing inspiration from the city’s museums.
She then returned to the states and reentered high school. At 19, she had her first daughter, dropped out again and started working multiple jobs. She went back to school during her lunch breaks, finishing high school, and then enrolled at Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington.
At the time, she believed she was working towards a career in psychology. That changed during an art appreciation class, when Connelly saw an installation work by Eva Hesse—a post-minimalist sculptor known for her innovation in using materials such as latex, fiberglass, and plastics—and decided to make her own.
Her professor encouraged her to enter it in the student art show, where she won best in show and started down the path she hadn’t planned to take.
“When I really accepted the calling it was like really accepting myself,” she said.
That decision has paid off over the past several years. Her installations and paper works have been featured in exhibitions at Cornelius Arts Center, the Mint Museum Uptown and UNC Charlotte’s Projective Eye Gallery. She was one of nine artists selected for ASC’s 2018 Community Supported Art program.
Last year, the U.S. National Whitewater Center commissioned Connelly to create her first public project, “Lights,” a half-mile walking trail that led viewers through a series of immersive light installations. The multi-sensory, site-specific experience featured honeycombs, vines, crystals, and other natural features integrated into the forest.
On view from Nov. 18, 2019 through Feb. 17, 2020, “Lights” was viewed by more than 100,000 people.
“I called ‘Lights’ my ‘pinch me’ project,” she said. “It changed my process and the trajectory of my career.”
The momentum continued in May as Connelly was named one of the four inaugural recipients of ASC’s Emerging Creators Fellowship, which supports emerging creatives with evolving practices that are at pivotal moments in launching sustainable careers in the creative sector.
“The fellowship really means so much from a validation standpoint,” she said. “I’ve never received a fellowship or a grant, so it was a very special.”
Connelly, who lives in Cornelius, is using her award to purchase materials and tools for the creation of a new series of work and explore new artistic concepts.
“It allows me to really focus and be more exploratory in a way that without those resources I would not be able to do,” she said. “Beyond that, it’s like a door is open for me.”