Julie Struck is a self-described servant leader — a person who spends her life being of service and fulfilling a leadership role within the context of doing service for others. The 57-year-old artist who resides in Spencer County, Indiana, believes art can provide therapy to a community in need.
“A lot of times people think art is superfluous, one of those extra luxuries that maybe we don’t really need and can’t afford,” she says. “But I think without it, it leaves a really big hole.”
Struck spent 16 years of her career in higher education teaching art, including at the University of Evansville from 1998 to 2001. After moving from one university to another to another, she says she began to think teaching at the college level just wasn’t meant to be for her. In 2010, she left her job at Kentucky Wesleyan College in Owensboro, Kentucky, and spent two years living “a creative life.”
“It was the first time since grad school (Struck graduated with a Master of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Fine Arts from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois) where I could actually just do what I wanted to do, every day, and be quiet,” says Struck, who has a studio space at 22 Jefferson Ave. in Haynie’s Corner’s Arts District in Downtown Evansville.
Now she brings art to the homeless at United Caring’s shelters on Ingle Street between Fifth and Sixth streets in Evansville. She encourages individuals to use art as a way to relax and find a sense of calm in a sometimes-chaotic space. In the outside area of the shelter, she created a mural project, which offers residents a chance to express themselves in a way they may not have had before.
Those at the shelter paint whatever they like on the mural, says Struck. One section of the wall displays a well-loved Disney painting done by a man who used to paint murals for his children. “People just add to it,” she says. “There’s an astonishing array of talent that goes through the shelter all the time.”
She also works with Henderson County Schools Center for Youth Justice Services in Henderson, Kentucky, where she collaborates with students on art projects at Central Academy including two murals painted by seventh and eighth graders.
“Julie brings a unique mix of real-life experience and artistic talent in her work with our students,” says Deborah Keown, a guidance counselor at Central Academy. “She is a rare combination of teacher and artist and she makes a difference every day in the lives of our students.”
Struck recently started a program through a grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women in Henderson as well, which allows elderly women to share their life stories with troubled girls. She currently is researching ways to open an alternative arts co-op to provide a place for like-minded artists who don’t fit the mainstream art scene to gather and contribute ideas.
“It’s a lot, but I’m not going to stop anytime soon,” says Struck. “There’s too much ugly in this world. Art keeps that at bay.”