Photographer fosters community connections with Reynolda House in role as Creative Catalyst Fellow

Owens Daniels' work has covered a wide range of people and places in the Winston-Salem community throughout his years as a photographer and visual artist — a lens he was able to bring to a Creative Catalyst Fellowship at Reynolda House Museum of American Art this past fall.

The Fellowship in Art and Community Engagement at Reynolda House, supported in partnership with the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts at the UNC School of the Arts, allowed Daniels to experience up-close the inner workings of the museum, while bringing his knowledge as a portrait photographer and community member to the team.

As part of his role, Daniels led gallery talks and tours of the museum and exhibits, assisted with programming and helped foster relationships with partners in the local area. One such connection was with Big Brothers Big Sisters Services, which pairs children with caring adults in the community.

Owens Daniels

Owens Daniels

"With Owens’ participation at Reynolda as a fellow, we have been able to make some new connections with organizations and, in that process, identify some new ways we might help families or organizations in the area," says Julia Hood, Manager of School and Family Learning at Reynolda. "Owens connected us with Big Brothers Big Sisters, with whom we haven’t worked closely before, and that conversation made it clear that we can do a better job of communicating the various programs and opportunities we offer. [It also made clear] how Reynolda can be a site for learning and entertainment for adults and kids outside of scheduled programs."

Daniels was also instrumental, she says, in providing knowledge and perspective for exhibitions during his time at Reynolda, particularly for the opening of "Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite."

"Owens has brought his deep knowledge of photography, particularly portrait photography, to conversations and planning as the Teaching and Learning team at Reynolda has prepared for programs, interpreter training and educational efforts connected to the exhibition," Hood says. "His life experience and personal interests, in addition to his artistic practice, have also informed these conversations and approaches."

Those conversations, says Executive Director Allison Perkins, were enriching to her personally and professionally. "I have enjoyed all of my conversations with Owens," Perkins says. "In particular, I appreciate his openness to exploring and experiencing art from different angles, as artist, collaborator, teacher, and learner. I have benefited from Owens’ point of view as a teacher and artist."

The best part of having Owens in a Creative Catalyst Fellowship at Reynolda House is that I have come to know an individual who is an engaged learner, a compassionate teacher, and a new friend.

Allison Perkins, Executive Director, Reynolda House

"The best part of having Owens in a Creative Catalyst Fellowship at Reynolda House is that I have come to know an individual who is an engaged learner, a compassionate teacher, and a new friend," she adds. "Owens’ presence, energy, and grace made a difference everyday at Reynolda.

"I appreciate the Kenan Institute’s generosity in developing and supporting this fellowship opportunity, and I thank additional supporters Debbie and Mike Rubin and Lynn and Barry Eisenberg who made it possible for Owens Daniels to be a part of our staff team."

Daniels learned about the fellowship through social media and felt it would be an opportunity to merge art and community engagement into a voice that could expand the workings of Reynolda and needs of the community. 

Below, he reflects on how he accomplished that goal while gaining his own knowledge and skill set in exchange.

Can you describe some of the work you did as a fellow? What has been most exciting? What challenges have you encountered?

One exciting project that I got to work on was connecting Reynolda's programs department with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Winston-Salem. This connection opened the door for Big Brothers Big Sisters to have more options to offer their community, and it also exposed Reynolda to the needs for open learning with other organizations they don't normally connect to.  

The biggest challenge that I faced was in introducing Reynolda to a community that has preconceived ideas or perspectives about what Reynolda was … and not what it is today with its rich, diverse exhibitions and collections in African American art and open programs for everyone.

Can you tell me about your own art and photography? What interests you? 

Some of the things that interest me are people, music and art and how they intersect and merge with one another. I started as a creative person by making a stick figure for my mother. She showed it to my father and congratulated me for doing a good job. I felt proud and happy. Since that time, I have honed my skills through freelancing for newspapers and personal projects to learn the art of storytelling and visual impact.

How has the fellowship at Reynolda helped meet your goals professionally? How has it inspired or influenced you?

This position with Reynolda has given me integrity with the arts community and opened doors that I never knew were available to me, such as opening conversations with other art venues and galleries for greater work possibilities. The main influence Reynolda has had on me has been how to upgrade my skill set to produce artwork that is ready for the museum level.

February 18, 2022