Lauren Callis on the Power of Play


Lauren Callis (on the right) is the co-founder of Curiosity Studio, where she leads classes that encourage adults to explore art through play and wellness. As an art therapist, Lauren brings healing, exploration, and growth into her artistic practices and classes.

Where did you grow up? Where do you live?

I was born and raised in South Dakota. At age 18, I moved to Superior, Wisconsin for an undergraduate program in Art Therapy. Superior was a beautiful place to be and to learn. It was there that I began to explore art as a practice of wellness. After that, I attended the Art Institute in Chicago where I worked towards my masters in Art Therapy. I didn’t want to go back to South Dakota, and so I found myself here in Minneapolis where I began to practice art therapy!

How did you become interested in Art Therapy?

I really love working with people. People are incredibly resilient, and resilience is an integral part of the creative process.  And so, through art therapy, I am able to connect these two facets into one beautiful process of growth, healing, exploration, and fun.

My parents have always encouraged me and supported my artistic endeavors. But, they also encouraged me to make supplemental and consistent income through my art.

What inspired you to start Curiosity Studio?

I met Ashley, my co-founder, in the building where I have my studio. Ashley  and I bonded over having elements of play within our art making. Over our careers as artists, we both had many individuals come up to us expressing their struggles with knowing where or how to start making art. Ashely and I decided we wanted to create a space where we could introduce art with less barriers and as a source of wellness. We hoped to inspire people to feel very comfortable with making mistakes. We believe that we must flip insecurities on their head. So we founded Curiosity Studio to open a space to be messy, imperfect, and fun. We embrace the childlike nature of curiosity without remaining childbased.

What are some of the practices you have for overcoming creative blocks? 

I encourage folks to not get so wrapped up in the material. At Curiosity Studio, we try to eliminate some of the barriers about having the right materials.  For instance, for one class we focused on using food coloring. With that we made bubbles to make some beautiful marbled paper.

How has art enabled you to become more in touch with your true self?

I feel very grounded when I make art. It is probably the longest relationship I’ve ever had. It is a comfort and a practice of problem solving. Art making in itself is a life. It has its own creative ebb and flow.

Tell me about your site, An Upcycled Closet?

In grad school, I was introduced to fiber based art. Through that I learned a great deal about the textile industry and what kind of waste was accumulated through that process. I started looking for other materials that I could use that would result in less waste. So, with An Upcycled Closet, I use classes and resources to teach mending practices and source second hand materials to produce functioning, sustainable, and expressive products.

Could you tell us more about the issues you found with the textile industry?

People don’t necessarily realize how much waste is produced in the textile industry. Waste is generated during pre- and post production. Pre-production waste occurs during the creation of the garment. Post production waste is once the garment is used up, worn, or simply discarded for being out of style.

There are so many elements to the waste cycle that are happening when the clothing item exists. It is a cycle of constant decay. For example, there are microplastics released even when certain textiles are washed.

You posted a photo with a caption that asked “What does sustainable fashion mean to you?” Can you delve into this more?

The word ‘sustainability’ is a mixed bag. Today, the idea of ‘sustainability’ has been diluted with much greenwashing. Companies throw around the term to trick us into thinking their product or their way is  the right choice. I don’t believe there is one way to be sustainable. Sustainability, in general, has a buzz word quality that I want to have people challenge and poke. How can we make sustainability accessible across all demographics? And so, with that post, I want to push you to delve into what sustainability actually means – aside from what mainstream media would like you to see – how you define it for yourself, and how you can embody it in your lifestyle.

Have you created anything that you’ve been able to wear?

I make a lot of my own clothes and try to source as much of my materials from 2nd hand sources like thrift stores and estate sales. Making my own clothing has allowed me to toe the line of what wearable art means. I love visible mending – it is an easy way to add an element of fun into your wardrobe and it is a subjective way to show pride for your clothing and choices.

What are you excited to do after this period of social-distancing is over?

I am excited to make art around people again. I know that won’t look the same as it used to, but I am missing my artistic community! The building where we have our studio space has open studio crawl every first Thursday of the month. Community members and locals can wander through the building and grab a glimpse of what the resident artists are creating. I don’t know what that experience will look like after this, but I am encouraged by my community that our hope will shine through and we will find a way to work together again.

What are some ideas about how your studio and art spaces will change after this period of social distancing?

On a base level, there will be more transparency. Everything about what we’ve set up is really intentional. Our classroom experiences are rarely greater than 15 people, but we could scale that to be smaller. We will be more transparent with our sanitizing habits and ask our community to be a part of that experience and conversation. At Curiosity Studio, one of our core values is the voice of our community. After this, we will continue to listen to our community members for their creative ideas on how to adapt to their needs.

How has this pandemic altered your relationship to your home or environment?

I am in a big season of change. So, I was already in a place considering what home meant to me.

What does it mean to have a place to call home? Who have I called home in the past? How can I connect to those people without physically having them? I have been reflecting on all of these things a lot lately. Having a place to call home is not something to be taken lightly. So I’d say my relationship hasn’t greatly changed, but it has deepened.

With most people currently in quarantine, what are some fun projects people can work on?

You can do a fun project with tape and aluminum foil while thinking broadly about what sculpturing is.

  1. Use the foil to mold or sculpt any structure you’d like to obtain.
  2. Surround it in tape as a nice pallet to work on.
  3. Then you can paint it or draw on top of it.

I’d also say to look at the scraps from your food. You could use your onion skins to make a dye and then dye your textiles or cotton. Black beans make another great dye.

Lastly, be adventurous! Try to make something with things you have an excess of (like food scraps, plastic bags, textile scraps).

What is your advice to young women who want to be more creative?

Find inspiration that is not on the internet: look in a shop or in the library! Finding physical things that inspire you is quite healthy. Look for beauty wherever you are. Focus on what you have access to.

I really think that creative practice is something that we have put a lot of emphasis on in society. I love when people look to their inspirations around them before they look to what everyone else is doing online.

Do you have any daily rituals that help keep you grounded?

I live and breathe by the radio and the timing of the radio. The voices of the radio follow me through the day like a coworker. My relationship with listening to the radio has become a ritual. But, something important about this ritual is that I know when to turn it off. I know that it isn’t healthy all of the time.

What does it mean for you to be powerful? 

I used to think that power was more about strength or force. I have been challenging myself to shift that stance. Power can be softer. As a woman, I have tried to prove myself in a lot of situations using force – and that didn’t always achieve what I was after.  To be powerful (especially in leadership) it is necessary to take stock and address what you bring into a situation whether that be your privilege, areas of tenderness, what your current bandwidth allows, etc; I’ve come to value the responsibility of checking in with what you’re bringing.

What is something that brings you power when you need it?

When there is really good light in my kitchen and I’m cooking a really good meal, I’ll maybe get a little dance going and feel powerful all the way in my belly!

Stay up to date on what Lauren is working on through her instagram and website!

Photos by Graham Tolbert and Mary Mathis.


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