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Amanda Downs Answers the “What If?” Through Her Art

August 23, 2021

View Amanda and 59 Other Great Artists’ Works in Our Metro Arts Lending Library

With our Metro Arts Lending Library now available for checkout, the team at Nashville Public Library (NPL) and Metro Arts are stoked for you to discover our collection of artwork from 60 Nashville artists that you can take home for up to three months.

To introduce you to the collection, we sat down with a few of the amazingly talented artists who contributed their unique visions to our collection. Through our conversations, we learned more about their history with art, what inspires them to create, and the legacy they want to leave behind.

We hope that you enjoy discovering these artists as much as we did, and to kick things off, we’re honored to welcome an artist whose work has been closely associated with NPL for many years: Amanda Downs.

Welcoming Back an Old Friend

Amanda Downs is no stranger to NPL. For our part, we consider her a dear friend to our library. She’s been such a part of NPL that, when we were telling the stories of amazing women through our Nashville Voices series, Amanda was one of the first people we thought of.

Not only has she given free classes at NPL to teach people how to paint, but also, in a way, got her “start” at our library.

“I always wanted to be an artist, ever since I was a kid. When watching cartoons I tried to draw Cinderella and Mickey Mouse, and that’s where I got my interest. I actually moved away from art in my adult life because I was told it wasn’t a good idea to work in a creative field like that,” Amanda said. “I didn’t start getting back into painting until 2017 at the Hermitage Branch Library. I took a Painting with Bob Ross class there. I loved it so much.”

From there, Amanda created a series of paintings, “Black History is Beautiful,” that was featured at NPL for Black History Month 2018. Amanda had her first solo exhibit, “The Core Essence,” at abrasiveMedia in 2019, and has since gone on to host other exhibits and open her own art agency, Creative Legacy Art. Most recently, Amanda’s piece about the legacy of the women’s suffrage movement, “Lifting as We Climb,” was featured at the Living Arts & Science Center in Lexington, Kentucky.

Amanda, as a mother to two high school-aged children, also uses NPL as a homeschooling resource to give her children the best possible education she can. 

So, when the call went out from the Metro Arts Commission to Nashville artists who might be interested in contributing to the new collection, Amanda was a natural fit.

Keeping Her Eyes on God

Amanda’s submission to the Metro Arts Lending Library, “Watching God,” is a culmination of everything that inspires Amanda to create. Using acrylics, Amanda crafted a portrait of author Zora Neale Hurston, whose most famous work, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is considered a classic of the Harlem Renaissance and one of the best novels of the 20th century.

“Hurston has been one of my favorite authors since I was in high school, when we were assigned to read that book,” Amanda said. “Just the way she told stories about people who I could relate to made me feel seen and heard. Reading her stories helped me to personally understand the importance of representation. That's why I love her work.”

Hurston’s work often explores gender roles, femininity and masculinity, liberation for women, and the role race plays within a community, all topics that inspire Amanda.

Answering the “What Ifs?”

Exploring different possibilities, both in life and in art, is something that Amanda loves to achieve in her paintings. Asking questions, and finding answers, is a key theme throughout much of her work.

Indeed, it was the central focus of her “The Core Essence” exhibit.

“A lot of my artwork is answering ‘what if’ questions, and my question was, ‘What if each planet was ruled by a black goddess? What would she look like?’ As I started researching different planets, different goddesses, different stories, and mythologies, I really got into it, and it made me think about the idea of the dark night of the soul, a deep depression that people go through, and I also went through that. Dealing with depression, I discovered different aspects of my own personality that I was afraid to use in the past, but needed them to pull myself out of a dark time in my life. That is what the planet goddesses represent for me: the process of becoming ruler over your own emotions, thoughts, and actions to eventually recognize your personal power.”

But more than anything else, people are what inspires Amanda, both the people she knows and the ones she reads about.

“If you could see me right now, I’m in a room surrounded by piles of books. I can definitely say Alice in Wonderland inspires me. I read it as an adult — I didn’t even read it as a kid — but I think that book is so great. I believe that a lot of authors, especially writers of fiction, aren’t writing at face value. There’s always a message hidden inside that story, and I just loved trying to decode the symbolism from Lewis Caroll in Alice in Wonderland.

“I was part of the Votes for Women interview series, and it was so deep, and we talked a lot about my views on voting at the time. That conversation inspired me to really study more about the history of voting and women’s voting. At that time, I was really just — to be honest — didn’t know about the history. I found so many stories about Black women and women in general in Nashville who were instrumental in that process to further women’s voting rights. I did hand sketches, but I was inspired to do a bigger piece that basically depicts women going up a spiral staircase. It has the banner “Lifting as We Climb,” which was the motto for the National Association of Colored Women, founded in 1896. I was really excited about that.

“In the way that authors tie lessons into their stories, I intend to tie lessons into my art to inspire the viewers to research more about the subject matter that I paint,” Amanda said.

A Collection for All of Nashville

Through the Metro Arts Lending Library Collection, Amanda joins 59 other artists whose work can now be enjoyed by Nashvillians from all walks of life. That’s something we at NPL, our partners at Metro Arts, and Amanda are very proud of.

“I think that Metro Arts does a phenomenal job, as well as NPL. Metro Arts really shows up for artists when purchasing works and making opportunities for artists to get funding. It has impacted my life. I was able to get the THRIVE grant in 2020, and during that time it was a struggle for a lot of people to make money, especially people who have their own businesses. Getting that grant helped me out in 2020, and I wanted to say that.

“I appreciate the fact that Metro Arts and NPL help us artists to connect with the community. We’re able to meet people that we never would have because of the fact that we have this opportunity to have our work in homes of patrons all over the city.

“Speaking from a patron’s perspective, there are a lot of pieces I want to check out myself. The Art Lending Library is really cool because it removes limitations so that everyone can experience art.”

Be sure to check out the full collection for yourself in our online catalog, or in-person at our Southeast and Madison locations. If you’d like to purchase art directly from Amanda, please visit her page on the Metro Arts website.

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Ed's a proud member of NPL's Marketing and Communications team. Some of his favorite books include Dracula, Once an EagleNeuromancerStarship TroopersThe Black CompanyBerserkBlade of the ImmortalBlame! and Vampire Hunter D. When not at the Library, you'll find him spending time with his wife and son, doing interval training, reading, or waiting for the next FromSoftware game.


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