Employees at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth are surrounded by great art on the job, but many of the museum’s employees — from gallery attendants to custodial staff — are also artists in their own right. A new gallery exhibition at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center, which is managed by Arts Fort Worth, will showcase their talents.

The show, which opens Nov. 4, will feature close to 50 works from employees across the organization and in media ranging from sculptures to photos and video. The exhibition came out of an internal, multi-department employee group focused on inclusion.

“We had a staff member in our facilities department kind of start the seed talking about it because he’s been making art and thought it would be great to see what everyone else was doing,” Kendal Smith Lake, director of communications for the museum, said. “So the committee kind of took his idea and ran with it.”

If you go

Gallery hours: 9 a.m. -5 p.m. Mon-Sat
Dates: Nov. 4 – Jan. 7
Location: Fort Worth Community Arts Center
              1300 Gendy Street
              Fort Worth, TX 76107

Raegan Wesley, a marketing and communications coordinator, is a recent University of Oklahoma graduate and started working at the museum in September.

She has two ceramic pieces in the show. One is a hand-built butter dish and the other is a 50 pound self-portrait made out of clay.

Clay is a challenging medium, but Wesley said she appreciates that it forces artists to let go of perfectionism and be vulnerable. While she was working on her large-scale self portrait, there was a major winter storm that prevented her from going into the studio for more than a week.

“When you’re working on something that large, you can’t leave it uncovered and without being worked on for that long. So if you look closely at the piece, there are several cracks and really rough patches,” she said. “But I really like that it ended up turning out that way because it showed all of the insecurities and the flaws that came with me working on the parts of my face that I didn’t like… It’s just really cool.” 

The recent grad and new employee didn’t expect to have an opportunity to show her work so soon, but she appreciates it. 

“I’ve never shown my work publicly. I’ve shown it to my friends and my family, but it’s really cool to get to show everyone else about something that you love and something that you work so hard toward,” Wesley said. 

Her colleague, Tippy Phetsamone, has worked at the museum for close to three years and is currently a retail associate in the gift shop. She has a triptych piece in the show, or a work of art that is divided into thirds, depicting her three favorite meals in a mixed-media collage.

When she was having trouble painting, Phetsamone was inspired by the author Eric Carle, who is best known for “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” to try letting loose with a collage.

Growing up as a first-generation Asian American, she said the book also helped her learn English. The piece honors her childhood with both the style of the collage and the foods that are depicted.

Working at the museum, Phetsamone said it makes sense that many of her colleagues are interested in art. Learning about her colleagues’ variety of artistic interests can still be surprising, she said.

“Sometimes it catches me off guard, like, ‘Oh, you do artwork, too?’” she said. “It is kind of cool to see inside of their mind and what they make compared to how they are in person.”

Lauren Fleniken might be one of the people who others will be surprised to see her work.

“I think it’ll be interesting because most people here kind of see like one side of me,” she said. “And then they’ll see my art, which is a little bit darker and creepier.”

The gallery attendant and Texas Christian University senior has two oil paintings in the show. One depicts a hand in water and the other is a three-headed lamb. Fleniken’s work tends to be focused on themes of femininity, innocence and societal standards for women. 

Aside from having her colleagues see her work, she is also excited to have the public see the show as well.

“I hope they realize that like gallery attendants and people that are here are also artists themselves,” Fleniken said.

Jerith Edwards has worked at the museum for about seven years and is a custodian on staff.

He enjoys writing in his spare time and has two pieces he wrote and narrated that patrons will be able to listen to in the gallery, including one piece he wrote to mark Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Edwards said that his fiancé encouraged him to start writing, and this is the first time he will showcase that work publicly outside of his Instagram account.

“I think it’s a beautiful thing when everybody can share the same passion, whether it is writing, drawing, painting or anything (and) come together and see each other’s ideas,” he said.

Smith Lake said there was high interest from the museum staff in participating. Of the museum’s roughly 100 part-time and full-time employees, close to half of them will have works in the show.

“I love awareness for the museum and for the opportunities working here provides. It’s a community space,” she said. “The artists that work here, a lot of them are young and up and coming, haven’t had a platform to show their work. I think this will kind of open that up.”

Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at marcheta.fornoff@fortworthreport.org or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Marcheta Fornoff

For just over seven years Marcheta Fornoff performed the high wire act of producing a live morning news program on Minnesota Public Radio. She led a small, but nimble team to cover everything from politics...