Columbia resident Allison Smythe is a graphic designer by trade, with a thriving passion for poetry and prose. Smythe has been a strong driving force behind the Orr Street Studios, located near downtown Columbia.

Whitney Hayward/Senior Staff Photographer

Allison Smythe finds creative playing field

Smythe is a graphic designer by day and a poet by night.

By Jasmin James | Feb. 19, 2010

Tags: Local artists Profiles Visual art


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A trip down East Broadway means entering a district of culture. In the maze of Orr Street Studios, artwork replaces traditional doors in an industrial setting. There, artist Allison Smythe occupies a space with floor-to-ceiling windows, shared by her husband and fellow artist, Wayne Leal. There is a world of sculptures, paintings and metal work, some from friends, others from colleagues and all lending to the mosaic feel of the space.

Allison Smythe is the ultimate multi-tasker, working as a graphic designer by day and a poet by night, still leaving time to take her daughter to guitar lessons and run the art program "Hearing Voices, Seeing Visions."

The program, which runs every Tuesday night during the fall and spring semesters at Orr Street Studios, showcases local artists and writers, alternating genres weekly.

Sitting in Sven's Kafé and Gallery, another social landmark in Columbia's art district, Smythe spoke about her history with art, the studio and the program.

"My senior year, we took a trip to a local college, and I saw the design department," she said. "If you have to have a job — it looked kinda fun."

After pursuing her dream and earning her degree, she worked as a graphic designer for some time, but it wasn't feeding her hunger for creativity.

She wanted an outlet, something "strictly creative," so she started writing poetry and even dabbled in photography. While living in Houston, her hometown, she joined a writing group and later relocated to Missouri after a former member came to call Columbia home.

"The move was radical," she said. "We left a big city like Houston and came to a small town, a college town. We love it."

Smythe is the creative director for her own studio, arsGraphica, and writes for numerous journals across the country. She spends her summers at the Glen Workshop, a retreat center focusing on art and faith, in New Mexico. Every year, about 200 artists and writers gather to learn more about their craft and become stronger, more intimate artists.

Smythe loves getting the community involved through "Hearing Voices, Seeing Visions."

"A lot of the people that come and come back aren't artists, but they enjoy the creativity and the feeling they get here," she said.

Since her relocation to Columbia, Smythe still finds time to enjoy the different art communities in her hometown and across the country. When visiting St. Louis or Chicago, she takes the train. She said she enjoys the visual variety the trips present her.

Smythe and her husband want to get university students to really appreciate and be a part of their artistic community.

"The whole Orr vibe on this little block here — it's a lot going on," Leal said. "The artists, the community, it's just great."

Smythe agrees.

"If you come, you'll be surprised," she said. "The people that run it, we're always surprised."

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