From a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology to a Bachelors of Fine Arts to a Masters of Business Administration, artist Yancy Villa-Calvo has changed life paths multiple times throughout the years. One thing, however, stayed true, her willingness to help people. Inspiration from God, her family, and underserved communities have allowed Yancy to create pieces that advocate for civic engagement and influence individuals no matter their background.
Villa-Calvo has used her talents of art and background in psychology to be a socially engaged artist striving to promote positivity. Her artwork, no matter the medium, provokes thought for the viewer so that they can empathize with other communities hoping to create a sense of civic action. The issues could range anything from mass incarceration to deportation.
Villa-Calvo hasn’t always been interested in art— that changed in her last semester of undergrad as a psychology major. As many schools require, Yancy had to complete one last gen-Ed. course and the one she chose: acrylics. This one class sparked what she described as her “Ah Hah” moment, and she instantly fell in love with painting, but it was too late to pursue it as a career… or so she thought.
Yancy is naturally an overachiever and after many years of that stressful life, her body collapsed. She was paralyzed twice in the short span of three months. She developed stroke-like symptoms and was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy. Half of her face became paralyzed, and if you drew a line down the middle, it was as if she had two faces. The neurologist said it was the most severe case he had ever seen, but that did not stop her. The doctor gave her advice that would soon change her life forever, “Focus on what is important and don’t do it for you, but for your children.”
Taking that leap was intimidating, but her husband and children always pushed her to pursue what she loved. Her route has been adjusting as she goes, and she takes advantage of each opportunity. Everything about people fascinates her (hence the psychology major), and she combines those elements into her art.
Among her most recent and popular work, “Barrier Free” is a traveling art installation that is created as a way of addressing the idea of the U.S.-Mexico border proposal. Multiple laws are being placed that prevent families from being together, and this project is to break them down. The interactive piece is made up of three components: photographs, a message board, and mirror silhouettes. The photographs are put in black and white to not give emphasis on color, because we are all one community and should protect diversity. The message board is for people to leave their own story. Lastly, the sculptures are silhouettes of families, but the caregiver is an outline. When you step in front of them and see your reflection, you start to wonder why the adult is missing. It is representing those taken for deportation or mass incarceration, showing that it could happen to you, too.
“This project is less about the actual wall and more about the systematic attempts to divide individuals, families, and communities.”
Barrier Free has been in cities such as Washington D.C., Houston, Phoenix, and Memphis. With border control being the central topic of the Trump administration, it was a powerful moment for Yancy to have it displayed in Washington. “I couldn’t have been in front of the White House, but being there with that message… it was a high,” Yancy said.
Yancy has found it hard to position herself and make a living with art, but she does not regret her career. “Before it was more about how I can provide for my family, and I was not focusing on my own professional career or mission,” Yancy said, “After the paralysis and when I decided to change my life with my husband’s support, I love every day.” She is a living example every day to her kids that if you love what you do, everything will find a way to work out.