Betty Eastland is an American Artist with Syrian and Irish heritage who works and resides in New York City and surrounding areas. She currently maintains an artistic practice in Yonkers, NY in which she engages in participatory, installation, painting, and fiber works and she supports the learning goals of emerging artists. She is a licensed social worker for NYC Government and has worked to facilitate collaborative groups for families and Child Protection Teams with families at the Administration of Children’s Services and create alternatives to policing for neurodivergent and disabled communities, and those coming from carceral institutions and/or dealing with homelessness. In addition she co-created artistic programming with Fountain House and Community Access, and has represented the Clubhouse Movement around the world.
Betty is particularly proud of her installation, fiber and performatory work. In 2016 she developed Rules to Live By - which is a collection of one sentence rules displayed on walls that define a family culture and system, and contextualize expectations and oddities that arise within generations that face trauma, poverty and othering. In 2019 she created Life After Loss - a participatory project on individual and community grief in which she reads short stories and poems to viewers and provides space for them to add their own stories of grief and those lost onto the walls of the performance space. In 2022 she created Suspended Memory, an installation of hanging fiber works evoking community memory and grief due to displacement, in honor of Syrian refugees, Irish resettlement and rural poverty causing home and farm loss. In 2023, Betty created Time Snake, a series evoking early European indigenous beliefs of snakes as passers of knowledge through generations after losing her fertility to cancer treatment (she is thankfully fully cancer free). From 2015 to 2018, she partnered with Artists at Fountain House on community murals, billboards and co-created shows while serving as assistant manager of the Fountain House Studio.
Betty’s experiences as an artist and her work are driven by the underlying connections and emotionality that is shared among populations and nature pushed to the brink of existence. Her own history, living and long since passed, and her heritage and involvement with homeless, neurodiverse and disabled communities has provided an endless well of energy that she calls from. These connections and belongings to fringe communities, the grief of being pushed to the fringe, and the beauty of outsider identities vie for her artistic attention. The work she creates pays homage to the experiences of the communities she works with and finds herself part of.
Betty received her Bachelors of Fine Arts from Hunter College, and studied with renowned painters. In addition she has a Master’s of Social Work from Silberman School of Social Work, where she focused on policy and organizing within neurodiverse and impoverished communities. Though Betty loved her experiences and education - marrying the two paradigms she is interested in: organizing within groups and arts has proven to be elusive within the social work community. For this reason she has sought further studies and is interested in the Trans Art Institute’s focus on practice and research. She would revel in the possibility of studying with an international community of artists, mentors and an advisor who are furthering the field of artistic practice research. The Trans Art Institute is the sole program she has researched that provides avenues to study and further the knowledge in collaborative arts and participatory research in a way that honors this population.
Weaving the Fringe
I have long been part of fringe communities. Growing up in rural poverty in a town in Western New York, allowed me to experience an often misunderstood community that thrives on its own insular nature. My weekdays were often spent with my mother and attending school in Buffalo NY - the nearest city. My mother was a poet, artist and deeply connected to the gay and trans community in Buffalo. My second father was a punk drummer and involved in a counterculture movement of video artists and performers. In each of these communities I found refuge as a neurodivergent child - a strange bird who loved insects, weird video art, carrying my dad’s drums and having eloquent conversations with people dressed in bizarre punk outfits. Suffice it to say - I did not fit in with peers of the same age, or have much interest in fitting in with them. I wanted to wax eloquently about nature, stars, art and literature.
In my 20s I found myself lost and alone in NYC - dealing with the surge of neurodiversity that would send me falling far from my family, and into chaos. I felt utterly alone, homeless, and riding the subway back and forth, to and fro. This otherness was difficult until I found others like me who created communities for those with a trifecta of identity: impoverished, neurodiverse and dependent on mainstream, yet underfunded systems to survive. It was through having these fringe identities that I found self-sustaining communities such as the Mood Disorder Support Group, the Icarus Project, Hearing Voices Network and Fountain House. Each of these had a sacred artistic group in the core. Over time I healed through community, got my housing in order, and began to work for some of these entities that aided me in finding myself. I worked with the Art Collective of Community Access and the Art Studio, Residency Programs and Scholarships for Artists at Fountain House and with the Fountain House Gallery. I became fascinated about the self-sustained communities and their binds to mainstream cultural socio economic resources. In addition I started to see my early upbringing in my rural home town through a new light. There too, were fringe communities of art. From shared looms at county fairs, to passed down quilt making going back generations, to sculpture making from rural farms and retired metalsmiths. There too, by nature of being excluded socially and economically from the mainstream, sprung up insular and well protected artistic communities.
My research interest is in these self-contained communities - and expands beyond merely study. I am interested in fostering collaborative participatory art and studying the process by which myself as an artist can work with communities to co-create, study our process and present within and outside of the community. Particularly am interested in collaborative participatory and installation work with fringe communities, including those in rural impoverished areas, communities for neurodivergent people and counter culture movements.
Community Building: How do these communities form and self-identity, how do they sustain themselves and create community around shared identity.
Self-Containment/Longevity: What practices do they employ to withstand the forces of mainstream and dominant culture, while relying on socio-economic support from the mainstream culture.
Historical Context: What is the history of working with fringe communities for artists from within and outside of these communities. How do these communities co-create art and symbolism of the collective together and in opposition to the mainstream
Artistic Practice: How do I, as an artist, on the fringes and in shared identity with these communities co-create collaborative and participatory art that can be engaged with in a non-voyeuristic or inspirational manner.
Through the study of the history of artists and artistic practice and the collaborative process with existing communities, my goals are to create at least 2 collaborative projects, while engaging in participatory research with the chosen communities that will enable them to be part of and inform the research from the ground up. In this manner, the research follows disability rights standards in being completed with, by and for the communities chosen by this work. Additionally, I intend this to inform my future work with fringe communities within the United States - as there are many regional communities that find themselves outside of the dominant culture with unique symbolism and rituals that can inform participatory work that honors their distinct identities.
Identify and engage communities: within 3 months
Work to organize communities in co-creating research and participatory project within 1 year
Co-create collaborative participatory, installation projects with the communities: year 2
Collection of data, analyzing and jointly writing and cataloging the documentation of the collective work: year 3
Presentations for and by the communities, and the general public, publication of presentation/finalized thesis. Year 3.