Life begins as a blank canvas, in essence, with dashes and dabs over the years and decades coming together to form a complete picture. Liz Henzey’s canvas wasn’t blank when she arrived in Columbia — and at Columbia Association — in the early 1990s. But her years spent working at Columbia Art Center have brought more color and companionship to her life.
Henzey, 51, is now the Art Center’s director. She started more than two decades ago, however, as an administrative assistant and program coordinator, hired in September 1991, shortly after the Northern Virginia native had moved to the area. She was promoted to assistant director in 1999, and became the center’s director in 2006.
“I’ve always loved the arts, and I thought being part of a community center would be ideal,” Henzey said recently while standing in the center, which is located in the Long Reach Village Center. “I have seen this place grow and evolve. I think being a part of the arts is really rewarding. I love the idea of people coming to take classes and showcasing different artists in the community.”
The Art Center draws in a variety of people, she said, whether they are having their pieces showcased, taking introductory classes, or participating in themed parties in which attendees get to make their own works.
“The local art scene is wonderful,” Henzey said. “We have a very strong ceramics community. We’ve had students here at the Art Center that have been here for more than 20 years. We have wonderful painters — international and nationally known painters here in our neighborhoods.”
“It’s so important for each of us to explore our creativity and to have access to honing those skills, whether you’re going through a life change or have always wanted to paint and never did, or you did do painting in school and want to revisit it,” she said. “I think it’s so important to have a place where you can go and be among people doing the same thing. And it’s very important in this date and time — it’s a very fast-paced world we live in — that people are able to stop, breathe and enjoy exploring their creativity.”
The Art Center is one such venue for people to have that, Henzey said.
“It’s convenient to all the neighborhoods, and it provides a really welcoming, warm atmosphere for people of all levels of experience with art to come, to enjoy and to explore art,” she said. “We offer year-round classes for all ages and all levels, so if you’re an introductory student and have always wanted to try jewelry or stained glass or painting, you can come here. We also have a lot of parent and child courses, and we have a lot of daytime programming targeted to audiences that are home during the day.”
There also are studio rentals, lecture series and special events, she said.
Henzey’s medium of choice is marbling, in which liquid colors are put into a bath and manipulated. Fabric or paper is then dropped into it, creating beautiful designs.
“I actually learned it here, close to 20 years ago,” she said. “I fell in love with it. It became a wonderful transitional hobby that then turned into kind of a semi-professional thing.”
And it was through the arts, in a way, that Henzey met her husband. Troy Bailey works for CA’s Open Space Division and was working at the Columbia Festival of the Arts about 15 years ago. They have been married for seven years.
That created another piece in the picture of her life — a picture that is constantly changing.
“I’ve been here 20 years, and it feels like a different job every year,” she said. “We’re always evolving and growing.”
– Story by David Greisman. Video by Erin McPhail.