I'm a Rochester native who graduated from UW-Whitewater with a BFA in painting. Three months after graduating, I realized I needed to follow my passion for teaching and start up my own art studio. Three and a half years later, I'm teaching around town at events for groups, private lessons, and showing my personal artwork around town.

Like so many small businesses, mine has taken a hit. In 2019, I saw an unprecedented amount of students of all ages. This year in the spring/summer, I had four months off of work. Summer art camps, which were supposed to be 38 different art camps, turned into five in total. I've had to switch over to online classes and small-group lessons outside the studio. It's been a hard year, but with it has come many new opportunities.

Butterfly barricade by Willow Gentile (contributed)
Butterfly barricade by Willow Gentile (contributed)

Creatively speaking, it's been one of the most art-filled years I've had. Painting is a way I can work through my emotions and level the balance in my soul. When things get hard, painting and art tends to explode, and I've noticed that in our city as well.

From left, Freddie Suhler, of Rochester, Kim Norton, Mayor of Rochester, and Willow Gentile, who created the community mural in response to the Minneapolis Police killing of George Floyd, work to repaint the mural Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, at Soldiers Field Park in Rochester after it was defaced earlier in the week. On the morning of Aug. 18, Rochester Police Department officers identified and detained an individual who was spray-painting in Soldiers Field Park, Lt. Tom Faudskar said. That individual received a ticket for fleeing police, but was not charged with damage to property because of the nature of the community mural. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
From left, Freddie Suhler, of Rochester, Kim Norton, Mayor of Rochester, and Willow Gentile, who created the community mural in response to the Minneapolis Police killing of George Floyd, work to repaint the mural Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, at Soldiers Field Park in Rochester after it was defaced earlier in the week. On the morning of Aug. 18, Rochester Police Department officers identified and detained an individual who was spray-painting in Soldiers Field Park, Lt. Tom Faudskar said. That individual received a ticket for fleeing police, but was not charged with damage to property because of the nature of the community mural. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

Newsletter signup for email alerts

With the death of George Floyd and so many other Black Americans, the sorrow I felt needed to get out. I was sure others felt the same way. I sent an email to the mayor with an idea for a community art mural at Soldiers Field Park. This installation was installed a couple days later, and paintings and chalk art were applied to the 30-foot structure.

"One Ecosystem" mural in Cooke Park, by Willow Gentile
"One Ecosystem" mural in Cooke Park, by Willow Gentile

In August, city grants for visual artists were posted and I applied for the barricade painting grant through Destination Medical Center and Threshold Arts. Over a five-day period, the positivity and kindness I felt from strangers while creating is a memory I will carry with me.

The power art has in our public space for the mental psyche and the emotional is profound. It's a ripple effect — one person stops by to watch, another comes by, and a conversation is had, then all of a sudden, people are laughing and having a great time in the middle of the street.

See more from Willomina Art Studio online, or see Gentile's art in person at the mission-style shelter at Cooke Park off of Seventh Street in Rochester.