Sarah Louise Wilson loves getting into her creative zone. The incredibly dynamic writer, director, teacher, painter and occasional actor co-founded Stella Bella Productions with Mercedes LeAnza back in 2006 and has been a prolific artist for some time.

Artists are the cultural bearers,” Wilson says of her craft. “We’re supposed to hold up a mirror to society. But how do we do that if we don’t have time to digest reflect and express? The only way we can do that is if we have time. And we all know that time is money, so funding is always important.”

The San Bernadino County resident’s work stretches far and wide. Wilson’s pseudo-autobiographical romantic comedy, Jellystarred Natasha Lyonne (Orange Is the New Black), in fact, and went on to win four Accolade Awards and nab a coveted release on Netflix, Hulu, and The Sundance Channel. Her next feature, The Accidental Death of Joey by Sun premiered at the HBO Latino Film Festival. 

By 2016, Wilson was living in Almaty, Kazakhstan, where she shot No Exit, a feature film about a man moving through transition after the untimely death of his father. The movie went on to win multiple awards.

Additionally, Wilson’s plays have been performed at The Walt Disney REDCAT Theatre, California Institute of the Arts, and Artishok Theatre in Kazakhstan. She has also been spotlighted in Huffington Post, L.A. Times, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, and other media outlets.

Still, it’s a tricky creative dance being an artist. One must learn to understand their craft, perhaps find a muse, or draw inspiration from real life. Mostly, artists must know the importance of occasional stillness—from that stillness, art emerges—and have financial resources that allow them valuable time to create art.

“I’ve had different parts in my life where I’ve had the luxury [of time],” she explains. “I know the difference between time and no time, being able to figure out what I get to say versus not having any time to even digest anything because I’m just running on fumes trying to make ends meet. Financial resources buy you that time. All artists need that to create.”

As an artist working diligently and passionately in the community, Wilson recently received a grant from IECF through Creative Corps Inland SoCal, which provides grants to local, regional, and statewide organizations in 58 counties to fund unemployed and underemployed artists. The funds allow artists to create public awareness messages and projects in support of civic engagement and community participation in multiple priority areas, including pandemic recovery and environmental, civic, and social engagement.

It’s completely life-changing for me,” Wilson says of receiving the grant. “I’ve had a monocle of success here and there, and funding always facilitates huge possibilities that otherwise wouldn’t be there.”

The grant will allow her to write a new musical about the effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic, specifically highlighting stories from the people in San Bernardino County.

“This grant is a way for me to do community arts, which is close to my heart,” she says. “No matter where I’ve gone in the world—and I’ve lived and created art in Kazakhstan and Lebanon—community arts pulls me on a spiritual and emotional level because it can ‘save’ people. It’s a collective thing. 

“All of us together making art really does make our community a better place,” she adds, “because people can find healthy ways of self-expression instead of turning to, say, violence.”

Her efforts do not go unnoticed. In addition to film, stage, and artwork, Wilson is an exceptional workshop leader. She always begins her workshops by inviting others to tell her their “story.” Looking ahead, she aims to host workshops with retiring citizens, at-risk youth, and veterans, and “hear” their stories through various mediums—movement exercises, improv, painting, and the like. 

“I love to do something artistically to start the conversation and capture stories,” she shares. “We don’t get to hear these types of stories, so this grant, in particular, will just facilitate a bigger conversation, because that’s what it’s all about. You know, it’s not like a one-stop shop. We don’t fix it with one grant, but it makes it so that we can start to heal this great pain. I think art does that.

This story originally appeared in the Press Enterprise November 2023.

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