idiomART: Investing in Your Creativity

idiomART: Investing in Your Creativity

Magdalena Poetry Book

When writer, teacher and artist Kathy McCullough first decided to start idiomART, she did so out of need. She had led various workshops in Cuenca and many of the artists had said they wanted a studio space but couldn’t afford their own. The idea of a collective studio naturally followed, and Kathy and her partner, Sara Coppler, threw their creative energies into the idea, creating a GoFundMe page to raise funds. But would it be something that the community could get behind? And how important is a studio space for artists in the first place?

founders of idiomART

Sara Coppler and Kathy McCullough

An artist is one who creates, period. I define writers as artists; we just paint with words. Anyone can be an artist, but you do have to follow through with an idea, and the follow-through is often the hard part. Thankfully, the muse of idea comes in many forms. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love,” describes her muse as an elfish creature sitting in the corner. Another writer, American poet Ruth Stone, told Gilbert that her creative spirit was a natural force:

She said she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape…she felt it coming… She knew that she had only one thing to do at that point, and that was to, in her words, “run like hell.” And she would run like hell to the house and she would be getting chased by this poem, and the whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. -Elizabeth Gilbert

Artists each have their own muse, and often that inspiration comes at a time when the mind has space to wander. Usually, the muse doesn’t want to visit when you’re sitting at home trying to entice it to enter. The muse can come when your toes are in the mud by the river, or when you watch the accordion skirt of Chola Cuencanas swish past. In these moments, wouldn’t it be nice to have somewhere to run to so that you can “collect it and grab it on the page.” That’s what idiomART hopes to be for artists: a place where you can bring ideas to life.

Original Sketch by Magdalena Herreshoff

Original Sketch by Magdalena Herreshoff

This past Thursday, idiomART opened with a day of free art and writing workshops. Dozens of people walked up the stairway and into the multi-colored rooms. Artists and writers of all ages surrounded tables or sat on couches– talking, sharing, and showing their work. It felt like a place where muses would want to visit.

I talked with one woman, Jaffey, who had moved here three months ago. She’d had her own art studio in San Diego, filled with knick-knacks necessary for mixed-media art. When describing her creative process, she admitted that…

“…mixed-media art ends up guiding you. You have to to stop at some point, because you can always find a paperclip to add on. My best art has never been my idea. You have to give up your idea of what it’s supposed to be like.”

Frances Augusta Hogg, writer and workshop leader, said something similar about flash fiction: when looking for an idea, consider all possibilities– what something does, and what it doesn’t do. Poet Magdalena Herreshoff also encouraged her participants to “come at [the poem] from the side.” Each artist, in her own way, said the same: Inspiration isn’t found when you’re looking for it; you just need to know what to do with it when it finds you.

Creators often get into the habit of thinking they can only create when X,Y, and Z factors are lined up: When I have the perfect studio, the perfect noise level, and the perfect materials, then the muse will come. But does that ever actually happen?

What’s great about idiomART is that it is simply there. It holds us, the artists, accountable. Buying a membership means you’re investing in your own creativity, and committing to take time out of your daily schedule to create.

The Membership Breakdown

The model is simple: artists of any expertise-level can come for weekly, monthly, or annual memberships. They bring their own personal materials, but they have access to basic tools and space to work; they can leave things in storage, talk to other artists over coffee and tea in the kitchen, and let the creative juices flow. Collaborating with others is one of the best ways to explore the ideas that are forming. The cozy lounge is a place to ask questions. Try something out. Clarify a technique. Take a break. These simple actions help artists return to their work refocused and ready to explore.

IdiomART has 3 studio rooms for visual artists. The studios are colorful, with paintings hanging and chalkboard walls for writing. There is also a quiet room with couches for writers and those who need the silence to invite their muse. Also, there’s a laundry area with large sinks and a bodega to store materials. idiomART will also serve as an event venue. Members will have access to gallery shows, literary readings, and art talks. The studio will also host workshops with artists like Ecuadorian Magy Peña for members and the public.

So what does membership at idiomART mean?

  • An escape from daily life into a studio with basic tools in El Centro.
  • A chance to bounce ideas around with other artists during the creative process.
  • Free access to literary readings, art talks, and gallery openings.
  • Accountability– you’re investing in your own creativity.

Creativity is a Bridge

Magy Peña

Artist Magy Peña

Ultimately, idiomART wants to create community within and between the expat and local communities. It’s one thing to create a community for a group of expats, but it’s another thing to become a place where Ecuadorian artists want to come, create, and share. So far, the studio has fundraised two annual scholarships for local artists which will be awarded soon.Two of the presenters on Thursday were Ecuadorians, and a handful of Ecuadorians came to participate. When asked if she thought locals would start coming to idiomART, artist Magy Peña said she had told her friends that idiomART would be an opportunity not just to create, but to practice language.

“Ecuadorians can practice their English; expats can practice their Spanish. That is interculturalidad.”

Interculturalidad is when multiple cultures merge, both giving and receiving. Creation is, at its core, a similar cycle.

Mixed-media art by Kristen Sawyer

Mixed-media art by Kristen Sawyer

Salvador Dali, the bizarre and wonderful surrealist painter, said that an artist shouldn’t just embrace the creativity; when the muse visits, the artist also has a responsibility to the idea.

“The true artist is not one who is inspired, but one who inspires others.”

If inspiration can be kindled at idiomART, then the studio will be serving its purpose– it will be a safe space for the diverse community of artists in Cuenca to create boldly. From those creations, the studio and artists can diffuse that inspiration back into the world. It’s a world that desperately needs all the beauty and truth it can get right now.

idiomART Studio
Located on the corner of Juan Jaramillo and Manuel Vega
Monday-Friday; 9:30-4:00
Weekends: Special Events

*Weekly Membership: $20 (5 consecutive days of studio access)
*Monthly Membership: $60 (4 consecutive weeks of studio access)
*Annual Membership: $400 (52 consecutive weeks of studio access)

  • *All memberships include:
  • WiFi, tea, coffee
  • Access to basic studio tools: paintbrushes, straight edges, eX-acto knives, etc.
  • Personal items storage space
  • Free access to some literary reading, art talks, and exhibits


Magdalena Poetry

Hand-stitched poetry book of Magdalena Herreshoff

A writer, teacher, hiker, wonderer and wanderer, Kristen enjoys taking moments to notice the beauty around her, recording and sharing the stories of others, and spreading positive messages around the world.