A Time to Create: UCA Art Professor Finds Peace in His Studio

Bryan Massey, professor and chair of the University of Central Arkansas Department of Art and Design, calls his studio in Schichtl Hall his “Kansas.” 

“When I became department chair I knew one thing for certain, I would need studio time. Schichtl is ‘Kansas’ because in the movie ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ Dorothy is wanting to get back to Kansas because there is no place like home. My studio is where I’m home.” 

Art has always been a part of Massey’s life. His inspiration to create comes from everyday sights and experiences. He got a lot of his early ideas lying under a tree in Greenville, North Carolina, and seeing images in the shapes of the clouds. 

Professor Bryan Massey works on a project honoring his sisters.

He started out studying commercial art when he enrolled in college, better known as graphic design today. A chance encounter caused him to change course. 

“One summer when I was in summer school I heard a commotion around the corner and saw this little man and a student struggling with this block of stone because a cable had snapped on the truck,” Massey said. “I asked if they needed help, and they said, ‘Yeah.’ So I put my shoulder underneath the block of stone and nudged it back on the truck. He was amazed about how strong I was. He said, ‘We need strong guys in sculpture. Come take one of my classes in the fall.’ So I took a sculpture survey class, and the rest is history. I switched my major to sculpture and minored in commercial art.”

Massey started working at UCA in 1988 as an assistant professor. In 2018, he became the first Black chair of the Department of Art and Design at UCA. Since then, he has created artwork that can be found in several places on the UCA campus, in Little Rock, Hot Springs, in several dozen states and internationally. 

He has been commissioned to design and create the award for the upcoming 2022 Governor’s Arts Award sponsored and presented by the Arkansas Arts Council. The event is scheduled for March 2022, where nine participants will receive the award for their individual and corporate contributions to the arts. He has also been nominated for the 2022 Arkansas Living Treasure Award.

Massey knows part of his legacy will be that he is a trailblazer in the field where there are very few Black people, but he also wants his students to be inspired to appreciate their craft and find their home – like he did – in creating art. 

“Make sure you’ve got a passion for it. Make sure you have a desire to learn your craft and your skill set to put the time and effort into perfecting that. Craftsmanship and presentation are a big part of what we do as artists. If you’re putting your work out there, you want to make sure you have your best foot forward.”