We recently connected with visual artist, philanthropist, and writer Nancy Hilliard Joyce to talk about her commitment to educational access and women’s rights, as well as the role these themes have played in past and current creative projects.
Lotus Outreach: Over the years, you have given generously to our Lotus Pedals program, which provides bicycles to marginalized young women in rural Cambodia so that they may have reliable transportation to regional schools. How did you find Lotus Outreach initially, and what drew you to the Lotus Pedals program in particular?
Nancy Hilliard Joyce: I suppose that it was very serendipitous. In the Fall of 2014, I was in my office sitting in front of my computer screen. I think it was around 2am and I was looking for inspiration on Pinterest. I had been painting women with long dresses on bicycles for a while and was fascinated with the wheel as my subject matter. Then, I ran across a Susan B. Anthony quote, the one where she spoke of bicycles emancipating women more than anything else in the world. She talked about the feeling of freedom, self-reliance, and untrammeled womanhood. It struck me at that moment that the bicycle was the original vehicle to freedom for women. I continued down the "Pinterest pigeonhole" and then ran across a little girl from Cambodia holding a hand-drawn picture of a bicycle. Underneath the photograph, I learned of her connection to Lotus Pedals. That same night, I contacted Lotus Outreach International, did some quick research and immediately pledged to give 10% of the proceeds from my next show to provide bicycles to young girls in Cambodia. I decided that I would have an art opening a year from that time in October.
LO: In 2015, you traveled to Cambodia to attend a bicycle donation ceremony and meet some of the young women whose educations you helped to facilitate. What were some of your impressions and takeaways from that experience?
NHJ: Traveling to Cambodia was one of the most humbling and life-changing experiences of my life. I was overwhelmed by the surroundings of the country and the kindness of the people. I think Cambodia gets some negative press and is one of the greatest hidden treasures of the world. Obviously, there is a lot of poverty and underprivileged families but I saw such opportunity there to create change and help women. I thought of Susan B. Anthony when I was there and considered the fact that Cambodia was several hundred years behind the position she was in during the late 1800's. Education was at the forefront of my mind during the visit and it reinforced the powerlessness of life without an education.
LO: You are now in the final stages of publishing an educational memoir, Coloring Outside Lifelines: Life Stories of Connecting Passion with Purpose. Can you tell us more about how that project came about?
NHJ: Originally, the memoir was not intended for public consumption. Something hit me when I heard Julie Lythcott-Haims speaking at our children’s school. Julie is a New York Times bestselling author of How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Over-Parenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success. I began writing in February of 2017 with the idea of leaving detailed stories of my childhood to my children. My book took on a whole new meaning about six months into my writing journey. The entire book is about both my education and life-learning experiences. It has stories of my failures (and there are many) and how I eventually turn them into successes. In essence, I write about how I went from a passionate child to a purposeful adult. It is now a piece that I believe parents with overly passionate children will pick up and enjoy. I think the things I endured will surprise many people. It gives anecdotal life lessons and it unfolds truths of how falling down can ultimately make us stronger. We all have a story to tell but I decided to tell mine through the lens of education.
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