Sam Watson’s body might be in Texas, but his artistic soul is bigger than any one place. His parents taught English in countries like Taiwan and China, so growing up he experienced extremely diverse cultures, from those that embraced freedom of expression to those that squelched it. As a result, Sam sees creativity, culture and community as basically one and the same.
“Taiwan honors creatives so much that the government gives a National Treasure designation to people – artists – as well as places,” said Sam. “In Oslo, Norway, there’s the largest sculpture park in the world by a single artist, Gustav Vigeland.” The 200-piece collection, dubbed “The Weirdest Statues in the World” by The Daily Mail, includes everything from a woman embracing a giant lizard to a naked man fighting flying babies, and everything in between.
By being exposed to cultures that nurture and celebrate artistic expression, “it became my childhood dream to be a person who creates art as an integrated expression of the community,” Sam said.
After returning to the states to study art at UT Arlington and the University of North Texas, Sam moved to Austin then Seattle. There, he worked day jobs and attempted to make art on the side. When he returned to Arlington about seven years ago, he tried to make a go at being a full-time, self-supporting artist. Financial realities have taken their toll, but not on his Big Idea. Someday Sam hopes to build a 4-dimensional, interactive sculpture park inspired by the game of chess. His Alice in Wonderland-esque vision includes giant chess pieces, zip lines and other interactive features embedded in a natural, wooded setting.
“In this part of Texas, we don’t have the natural, vertical landmarks such as the Sequoias in the Pacific Northwest,” said Sam. “I want to create that same sense of awe and wonder through my art.”
A shotgun loaded with creative energy, Sam seems to pivot effortlessly between all kinds of artistic media. His practice includes painting, drawing, bronze, and clay. When he’s not working his day job at Schaefer Art Bronze Casting, he splits his time between his home-slash-studio in HANA (Heart of Arlington Neighborhood Association) and Create Arlington, all located in Downtown.
“I really like that I can walk to work, to Create Arlington, and home,” said Sam. He also appreciates the vision of father-son team Mark and Christian Joeckel who founded Create Arlington as a platform for local artists to create and sell their work.
For nearly a decade, Mark has been diving into arts-related projects all around the city. The creation of Arlington Proud, murals on Park Plaza, and the East Main Arts Festival (in which Sam was a regular participant) all sprung from Mark’s passion for community organizing. Then in 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mark and Christian opened a “clubhouse” (Mark’s word) where artists can be artists as well as learn to become artrepreneurs.
According to Sam, Create Arlington fills a critical need in Downtown, which is a designated the Arlington Cultural District by the State of Texas. He believes artists need the support of their city and community to fulfill their promise and potential, and vice versa. “The artists are the dreamers in every community,” said Sam, “and every great advancement ever started with a dream.”
“Sam’s story is just one example of the creative energy building throughout Downtown,” said Maggie Campbell, President and CEO of Downtown Arlington. “There’s incredible talent, drive and perseverance on stage at Theatre Arlington, Levitt Pavilion and Arlington Music Hall; in the Kirk Franklin, Miss Persis, and Petsche studios; and on gallery walls at Arlington Museum of Art, Catalyst Creative Arts, Create Arlington, and Studio 204. Through our commitment to the arts and guided by our 2020 Shared Arts Feasibility Study, we aim to empower more artists who see creativity, culture and community as one and the same.”