Instead of healing bodies, Debora Palmer decided to heal the whole community.
Debora Palmer didn’t plan to have a career creating masterpieces. In fact, she was on a pre-med track at Cornell University when some serious soul-searching opened her eyes to how much she loved art. Now, years later, her portfolio is impressive. She’s taught almost all ages how to unleash their inner muses, not only in local schools and through BOPARC programs but also in Fiji, where she has traveled at least once a year to work on murals with kids overseas.
Chances are, you’ve seen Palmer’s stunning public art around town. There’s the Singing Tree of Diversity along the Caperton rail-trail, Flight at the Morgantown Municipal Airport, and the recently restored 70-foot Spirit Wall at Dorsey’s Knob, to name a few.
We caught up with Palmer to talk about art and life.
Q: What is the value of public art?
Debora Palmer: I became convinced a long time ago that the health of a community is reflected in its public art. A community that has public art and values public art is a healthier community. It’s also a nice way of having a cooperative effort where many people can be involved and all work toward the same goal.
Q: How do you encourage community engagement?
DP: I’m a fearless crusader for public art. The more people see it, the more people enjoy it, and the more people take the time to get involved. They find that this art really does make a difference. It showcases the community and makes it more beautiful.
Q: What do you like about teaching?
I really enjoyed teaching high school, because I got to help young adults work through their problems through art and then watch them grow up to be adults. Working with little kids is fun because they have no inhibitions. You see kids solve problems and come up with solutions that excite and surprise you at the same time. Working with adults is great, too, because they may not have any art experience. But, through working with them, you’re able to show them that they can create something that they can be proud of.
Q: What motivates you?
DP: It’s a satisfying thing to be able to orchestrate efforts and work with others to create a product that’ll give people pleasure. It’s also satisfying for me when I tackle a job that might seem undoable, solve the problems, and make it happen. Sometimes it’s a struggle in the process—but then when I’m done, I feel like I’ve made a contribution to the community.
Find more stories about public art in Morgantown magazine’s 2020 Insider’s Guide to the Art Scene.