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New Podcast Offers Intimate Look Into Artists’ Lives and Stories

Berkeley resident Shannon Smuts compiled the personal stories of artists and their work from all over the world.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about major changes worldwide. Beyond social distancing laws, shelter-in-place orders, and mask regulations, millions of people lost their jobs and were stuck at home with little to no income. For Shannon Smuts, a self taught photographer, there was a silver lining to this sudden loss of occupation. She now had the time to create something she’d always dreamed of starting: a podcast about artists and their work. Operating from her home in Berkeley, Smuts planned, created, and edited the Living Artists Podcast, which has come to attract the attention of listeners worldwide.

Throughout the course of her life, Smuts has always been interested in art, and the Living Artists Podcast is something she has wanted to create for quite some time. “I was trying to find a creative outlet, so I had been thinking about starting [the podcast]. And then once I got laid off, I had the time to do it,” she said. 

The podcast focuses not only on artwork and specific pieces, but also delves into the story and personality of the artists. “I have an art background and for me, I’ve always liked hearing directly from artists when they talk about their work because I think it makes the work more meaningful,” Smuts explained. Rather than just giving an overview of their career to the listeners, she asks more personal questions about the artists’ lives to gain more insight.

Nancy Hilliard Joyce, a painter featured in the second episode of the podcast, spoke to its uniqueness, noting that, “A lot of the podcasts reach back and talk about art history, [whereas Smuts] was interviewing the artists themselves, rather than just talking about art from the past.” 

The podcast currently consists of nine episodes, with the tenth coming soon. It features a wide variety of artists from many places, as Smuts makes an effort to feature works of many different art styles. Poets, sculptors, painters, and photographers from different countries have all been invited onto the podcast, bringing new and exciting perspectives to each episode. 

Smuts picks her interviews based on what art speaks to her, rather than following a specific pattern or restricting the podcast’s content to one genre. “The world of art is so broad that I just pick people whose art speaks to me somehow,” she explains. Joyce agreed with this, saying that, “It wasn’t just about visual art, it was about the creative spectrum of artists.”

To find artists, Smuts contacts people that she has met before or friends of friends. “Most of them I know through a personal connection,” she notes. This allows the artists to feel more comfortable sharing their stories, as it makes the interviews feel more like a chat with a familiar face. 

Smuts said there is essentially nothing that would cause her to turn down an interview. The only possible criteria she might consider is that she prefers to “feature someone who already has a website committed to their art. Just because that shows that [their art] is truly a passion of theirs and [is] a really important part of their life.” Smuts says she would be happy to  feature artists in high school, so long as they are committed to their work. “Age is not something that would stop me from featuring.”

The podcast attracts the attention of listeners from a wide variety of age groups, many of whom are between 18 and 28 years old. The podcast has picked up speed since its publication in March, and has reached listeners from all over the world. This includes places like Australia (4 percent), the United Kingdom (4 percent), and Canada (2 percent).

Listeners find Living Artists to be a breath of fresh air in the world of art podcasts. “The world is missing smart talk about art. I can’t love this podcast more,” wrote one reviewer. To Joyce, Living Artists seems to be an excellent source of inspiration for those aspiring to advance into the art world. “I think a podcast allows you to live vicariously through these artists’ lives and know that people are out there actually making a living from practicing their passions,” she explained.

Although Smuts has a new job, she wants to continue creating episodes. Currently, she is thinking about a second season, and with her final episode on the way, the prospect is looking hopeful. “That would be my dream, to interview ten more artists,” she remarked.

With no end to the pandemic in sight, listening to this podcast is a useful way to spend time in quarantine. “Now more than ever, [Generation Z] has the opportunity to stretch their creative arms and try something new. And don’t worry about failure, as failure is what makes us grow,” encouraged Joyce.

To listen, search for Living Artists on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, RadioPublic, Breaker, Overcast or PocketCasts.

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