You Need to Meet: Holly Carr, Acclaimed Artist and Creator of…

Holly Carr is a nationally renowned artist, known for her unique style of silk painting. Having designed for theatre productions and large-scale public installations, her most ambitious installation to date is a larger-than-life environment created out of painted silk, “Light in the Forest,” for Acadia University Art Gallery, designed to shed light on youth and the importance of their mental health guiding them to supports and resources available in their community. This installation has been redesigned as a mental wellness multimedia production that Holly is currently touring across all regions of Nova Scotia, and Light in the Forest has also been transformed into an award-winning children’s book and app.

After being an artist for over 30 years, what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned about working for yourself? How has this shaped how you strike a balance between being an artist and an entrepreneur?

The biggest lesson I have learned as an artist is the importance of diversifying creative outlets within my career, and exploring areas where I can use my skills. For example, I create paintings for galleries, but I also design for theatre, design wearable art and homeware, illustrate books, and create art installations. The variety of projects creates several income sources and keeps my brain challenged and entertained.

Your biggest installation to date, Light in the Forest, is a larger-than-life environment you created out of painted silk for Acadia University Art Gallery. Where do you draw your inspiration from and, how do fuel your creativity?

I draw inspiration from my life experience and the 200-year-old farmhouse and property I share with my husband (also an artist). Our home is surrounded by acres of fields and forests. We hike daily and the natural world often ends up in my artwork. Light in The Forest was inspired by my then young son who suffered from anxiety. His love of forest animals and his fear of the dark were the seeds of the project. Exploring this theme and many others through my medium has created endless possibilities. I suspect I will run out of years to live before I ever run out of ideas.

Light in the Forest was redesigned as a multimedia production that speaks to mental wellness and is currently being toured across Nova Scotia. How do you think it has made a difference in communities across the province?

To date, I have run my Light in the Forest multimedia production for 25 audiences ranging from 50-300 audience members per show. My audiences are of all ages, though I tend to focus on the youth. I am currently in the middle of a regional tour — each production ends with a conversation about mental wellness and mindfulness. I am working hard to destigmatize mental health issues. The response from attendees has been very moving. I often receive messages from teachers and school counsellors about the positive effect the experience had on their students. Mental wellness requires many tools for youth to choose from because there is not one fix that works for all. I consider Light in the Forest a safe place that directs people to various mental wellness tools. The initial response has been overwhelmingly positive.

Light in the Forest will also be published as an app and children’s book. What impact do you hope both the app and the children’s book will have?

The Light in the Forest Children’s book was included in the top children’s Books in the Spring 2021 edition of the Canadian Children’s Book Center publication. The book supplies additional support for my younger audience members. The app is for all ages but is directed towards older youths. They are both takeaways from the initial multimedia message but can also stand alone as resources for hope and resilience.

You’ve gained national acclaim for silk painting. What does this kind of recognition mean to you? 

The only time recognition is helpful is when I am building my projects; the credibility helps me create partnerships which are important to their success.

You’ve partnered with notable organizations like the Nova Scotia Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions and the Canadian Mental Health Association (Nova Scotia Division). What advice can you offer to other entrepreneurial artists who aspire to partner with organizations and create impactful work? 

Light in the Forest is my heart project — I have been working on it for five years. My belief in its message, persistence, and already established career have helped open doors. If seeing or experiencing is believing, then getting those you want to partner with in the room with your project would be a great start.

For many artists, they strive to successfully integrate their practice with business, allowing them to make a living from their art. What strategies would you recommend to artists looking to effectively integrate their art and business?

The more you diversify your art practice, the easier it is to create an income stream (hence a business) that is not dependent on one source.

What excites you about the future?

Everything! I love the life I have created, my career, and my family.  When I wake up in the morning, my brain is lit up with all the creative projects I am working on, some commissioned by businesses, others I have created for myself. Not to mention the endless possibilities. Life is good.

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