Sushmita Mazumdar founded StudioPAUSE 5 years ago, and has become a thriving staple in Arlington. PAUSE is a place for art, stories, and community. Sushmita has an incredible list of projects involving the community, ranging from art on the ART Bus to her Family Memory Storybooks, a bookmaking activity and beautiful way for people to share all kinds of stories, and countless others. An immigrant herself, Sushmita has always strived to bring together people of different cultures, languages, and stories, to share the wealth of our collective creativity.
When I caught up with her recently, I lost track of time as we talked about the evolution of her work, the definition of an “artist,” the challenges and many opportunities, and through it all, the need to disrupt our mental models around how art, community, and equity intertwine. She is crystal clear in her statement that PAUSE is “not a place for artists,” but instead is a safe space where people can come, and never be left feeling that they should stop making or exploring.
This sentiment is evident as she tells me about Art on the ART Bus. When she was first approached about the project, she was warned that the art might get damaged, because the bus drivers had to move it frequently to reach a mechanical box on the bus. She wondered why the drivers didn’t care more about the art. The bus was their work-space, she reasoned. Why wouldn’t they want it to be a beautifully decorated environment?
Sushmita wondered who this art was for. The drivers, who spent all of their time in this space, or their passengers, who passed through on their way to their destination? Or could it become a means to connect the two?
Inspired by this thought, Sushmita proposed a project that would be driven by the drivers. She was able to attend one of their regularly scheduled meetings, and she asked each person to write down one word. She knew that many of them were immigrants, speaking many different languages, and bringing many cultures together. Their words beautifully expressed their diversity, some written in different scripts or languages, and each illustrating the vast interpretations of art.
Sushmita then took each word and created a piece featuring it. When the drivers returned weeks later to see the results, they were stunned. The work is on display on the ART Bus throughout 2018. You can read more about the project here.
She recalls the origins of her journey, when she started a Meetup group for creative writing and started to see that people were coming there with the hopes of becoming published writers. She wondered at the time, why can’t writing be simply a creative practice, without having any other larger purpose? At StudioPAUSE, writing activities are done in a circle, so that you can always see the faces of everyone in the room. Whether writing, drawing, sharing stories of past or imagination, Sushmita creates a space for anyone to be creative. There’s no room for judgment here.