Political science senior Abby Ahlgrim sits on the front porch of her home and spreads out print copies of her work. Each piece is a unique glimpse inside her mind, over the course of many years.
For Ahlgrim, art has always been a dynamic outlet for self-expression and reflection. From watercolors and acrylic paints to photography and knitting, Ahlgrim said creating is a critical source of empowerment.
Valuing the arts was something that was instilled in Ahlgrim from a young age. As a student at Waldorf School of the Peninsula, a school focusing on creativity and artistic expression, her K-12 education was not by any means conventional.
According to Ahlgrim, the curriculum provided students with all types of artistic classes, which gave her the opportunity to master a variety of artistic mediums.
“It’s a pretty epic educational system that is really infused in the arts,” Ahlgrim said. “It was my biggest privilege by far.”
With Waldorf School of the Peninsula as her foundation in art, Ahlgrim found security in artistic expression.
“Art is a really critical outlet for me as a full functioning, holistic individual,” she said.
Although Ahlgrim decided to take a different educational path at Cal Poly, she continues to incorporate it as much as she can in her daily life.
As a political science student, much of Ahlgrim’s artwork is reflective of her political beliefs.
“When you’re a political person and care about political issues, I think that your art is innately political,” Ahlgrim said.
Although it is not manifested in all of her pieces, much of Ahlgrim’s work is inspired by womanhood.
“I think that I’m really inspired by pretty radical feminist artwork,” Ahlgrim said. “Artistic expression is such a rich, dynamic and holistic form of outlet.”
Although some of her art evokes certain political undertones, Ahlgrim best describes her work as personal.
“It’s multifaceted and it comes with a lot of context to it,” Ahlgrim said. “Whether or not it’s visible from the outside, I think that your activism as expressed through your artwork is not necessarily transparent because that may not be [the] point.”
Ahlgrim said art was always something she did for herself. It was not until about six months ago that she began to share her art in San Luis Obispo for peers and other members of the San Luis Obispo community to see.
Through social circles, Ahlgrim has showcased her work in house shows and local businesses such as SLO Donut Company.
“I think that [San Luis Obispo] is a really small town and it’s cool that by one degree we pretty much know everyone here,” Ahlgrim said. “There are a lot of young artists in [San Luis Obispo] doing really cool stuff, whether it’s music, multimedia art, spray paint or clay. It’s all across the board, there’s so much going on.”
This exposure to San Luis Obispo’s rich art culture inspired Ahlgrim not only to share her work with the community, but to also instill these values in others by encouraging them to find this artistic expression within themselves.
About two months ago, Ahlgrim did just that by encouraging three young women to showcase their creations for the San Luis Obispo community.
As an employee at Libertine Brewing Company in downtown San Luis Obispo, Ahlgrim said she felt she could incorporate art in her place of work. She pitched the idea of hosting Art After Dark at Libertine Coffee Bar to management a couple of months ago. With her employers on board, Ahlgrim, along with Libertine Coffee Bar manager Rob Torres, organized Libertine’s first Art After Dark April 6.
According to Torres, Art After Dark at Libertine had always been a thought, but it was a challenge to find artists who would showcase their work.
“I was kind of giving up on the idea and [Ahlgrim] approached me saying that she wanted to do it. Then she said she had some art she wanted to show,” Torres said. “[Ahlgrim] was definitely more a part of the younger artistic community.”
As she manifested this event, Torres was exposed to a side of Ahlgrim he had not seen before.
“I have been working with [Ahlgrim] for over a year and I knew that she was interested in that kind of stuff but I had never seen it,” Torres said. “It was kind of cool to showcase that.”
Ahlgrim took it upon herself to find artists for the event. Civil engineering junior Brittany Ciauri was one of the young women who was chosen to display her art and was recruited by Ahlgrim after they met at an art show where their pieces were set up next to each other.
According to Ciauri, this was the second Art After Dark she participated in.
“Libertine had such a great energy during the event that it was easily my favorite,” Ciauri said. “I think it’s the ultimate compliment to be asked to show your work somewhere, so it absolutely aided my confidence as an artist.”
Both Ahlgrim and Torres were pleased with the outcome of the event.
“It was a huge hit and it was really cool to have seen that manifest into a piece of culture and to participate in the creation of that,” Ahlgrim said. “I think it’s a really cool platform for the young women who are artists who maybe haven’t shown stuff before or maybe have only a few times or just don’t have the platform.”
Ahlgrim said she hopes to continue organizing Art After Dark at Libertine Coffee Bar and is already organizing the event for next month.
“With this new opportunity at Libertine, I really hope to open up space for young artists to show their art,” Ahlgrim said. “I think it is really important for us to value our art and for us to value our time and to set aside time to create art and community and I want to place external value on young artists’ art.”
With only a few quarters left at Cal Poly, Ahlgrim said she hopes she can influence other young artists to feel confident in
“It’s really easy to judge your artistic identity. People always say, ‘I’m not an artist,’ all the time, but literally everybody is,” Ahlgrim said. “That statement is so full of fallacy and I think that despite whatever cultural, social or personal barriers are placed in front of us, setting aside time to practice expression — if and when it’s possible — is so important.”