We Create Birmingham: Willie Williams of Studio 2500

"Black artists are already underrepresented, so for me to own a fine art gallery as a black male and artist, I’m trailblazing and setting a precedent for generations now and to come."

Wilie Williams is the visionary creator and owner of Studio 2500 in North Birmingham. Studio 2500 is a fine art gallery with a mission to promote visual art within a diverse and inclusive culture of creatives to stimulate learning and freedom of expression. We had a chance to hear more about Willie’s story, work, and dreams for the space and community.

Let’s talk about this beautiful space. It was a car garage once, right? When did you transform it?

Really, the transformation of this space happened in late 2015 and early 2016. Yeah, this place was a car shop. When my dad and I came in and saw how big the space was and how much potential it had, we were excited. And given that I’m an artist and come from a family of artists and builders, we were able to transform it into our aesthetic naturally.

We didn’t have to restore the building because the existing bare bones of this space were really good. The only things we did were design and build the gallery walls, lay out the flow of the gallery spatially, and freshen up with paint along the way.

Who introduced you to art?

I credit my dad for that. My dad taught me how to control my hand when I was painting watercolor. He and my mom would always take me to the Birmingham Museum of Art, so my passion for art developed early. I was only four years old. I was drawing every day, everywhere. In the car going to the store, at church, etc. I just remember everywhere I went, I was drawing.

I always drew what I saw. I remember drawing a lot of buildings, people, and cars. Just things in space.

My dad was a painter in high school, and his background is in architecture. My mother is more so on the writing side. She does a lot of self-reflection writing, nothing professional, but still creative. Not many people know she can also sing. That’s one of her best-kept secrets, and I picked that up from her, I believe. My sister is a classical pianist and played through high school and college. We actually learned piano together and played for our church together. The inspiration and encouragement of my family is the primary reason for my creative endeavors today.

You’re proficient in several artistic mediums. What has that journey been like, and how’d you find your stride in sculpture work?

Well, I went to the Alabama School of Fine Arts, and toward the end of my time there, I really got into sculpture. I found a unique voice in that. I graduated, and when I went to Birmingham Southern, that’s where it really grew. But lately, I’ve been getting back to my multi-media work. I enjoy mixing my sculpture techniques in two-dimensional work. That’s been a really great way to see those two worlds come together.

I’ve really been focused simultaneously on developing new two-dimensional work while still doing sculpture commissions. It’s a balancing act, really. One informs the other.

Speaking of sculptures, when did you create the Arc of Justice? Was it hard to move into large-scale work? 

So, I developed that concept in 2020, dead in the pandemic and during that time of the social justice movement and our continued work towards justice. Seeing what was going on at that time, as an artist, I leaned heavily on Nina Simone’s words. She said that artists have the responsibility to reflect the time. I agree. I started thinking about how I could contribute to the dialogue that’s happening. Maybe I could provide some resolutions or a different perspective. 

And that’s where the Arc of Justice came in. I started listening to leaders of the past. Ultimately, Martin Luther King’s quote, “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” really inspired that piece. It was reflective of our time. I hold onto that hope that our society is trying and will resolve the major issues that keep us divided. That we will overcome what keeps us from evolving from a more human-centric global attitude.

It was hard to work on a large scale. That was one of the most difficult parts. The Arc of Justice’s magnitude was, at times, something I thought I couldn’t do. It felt hard to achieve, but I think that’s actually what made it more apparent that it was what I should be doing. As an artist, the tendency is to remain comfortable in a certain rhythm and scale, but something large like this, and out of my comfort zone, like the Arc of Justice, is where I’m growing as an artist.

I had to employ new tools. A company down the street actually donated a lift for a day to help me get the artwork out. We had a ceremony for the Arc of Justice when it was completed on August 26th of last year. Important historical figures, like the foot soldiers of 1963, came out to speak during the ceremony, along with some other community members. The Arc of Justice is here, in the sculpture garden at my gallery, and I’m working on its second part, which will be a traveling installation.

So many artists I admire say the key to their success has been persistent creation, even in times of doubt. They claim that eventually, consistent creation turns into clear expression and artistic expertise. Do you agree?

Yes, to be prolific takes persistence. I do put work into my craft, and I try to expose myself to a lot of different ways of creating and using things I’ve picked up in my journey. Also, it’s a spiritual thing. I have to wake up daily and tune in my mind, body, and soul to work towards my goals, regardless of not even feeling as creative. Consistency keeps me honest in the process of development.

Even when my art is frustrating to work on, I find a way to continue. Definitely being persistent and consistent, nestled with discipline and patience. It’s literally a marathon, not a sprint.

As a kid and into high school, my constant creating was just for the pure joy of creating. Of course, now, as an adult living as a working artist, I must be intentional about my future. Most importantly, with faith in God, I have confidence that the universe will continually create pathways for me.

I do agree with that advice. Be grateful for what you have and where you are, but always try to push yourself past the last project or the last thing that you accomplished.

What’s your dream for this space? And for this neighborhood?

Oh wow. For this space to be more impactful and renowned in Birmingham, the state, and the region. We are the only Black-owned art gallery in the entire state of Alabama. That’s really historic and significant. Black artists are already underrepresented, so for me to own a fine art gallery as a black male and artist, I’m trailblazing and setting a precedent for generations now and to come.

Also, more beautification in my community with art. I want to do more murals around the building and add work to my art garden – like a really nice art village. And not just having myself here, but inviting others here to create more frequently. I want to continue hosting exhibits, including other artists, and help them sell their works. I want to have them come in and have some space to actually create. That’ll probably be the next move.

Growing my art camps and opportunities for youth to be involved with art. I think art is a community-building tool that can unify communities and help youth succeed in life.

Where will we see Willie Williams’ work in the next few years? 

You’re going to see more of my work across the southeast region. I will be exhibiting my public art in more public spaces soon. And some more up north too. I’ve actually had one of my sculptures on temporary display in Chicago for the past four years and will pick it up this year and take it elsewhere. I’m a big dreamer, so expect to see my work on an international scale. This goal may be within a few years, not sure, however, it’s in the plan.

Any programming you want to talk about?

Next month, outside of the gallery, I am doing an artist talk and print and book signing at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute book store in honor of the Four Little Girls of 1963. The prints are of the piece I did ten years ago dedicated to the City at City Hall in honor of the girls. The book will show a little behind-the-scenes of the creation of the work of art. That’ll be September 9th from 1:00 – 3:00 pm.

Also, my current summer event series is called Sip and Sculpt, which is a laid-back art event for people who are looking for something different. You drink and sculpt. It’s fun. I host and guide the people in making small air-dry clay sculptures. My next one is September 22nd at 6:00 pm.

Art at Night is another series I’m doing featuring local and Alabama artists, music and poetry, and more! October 20th, 7:00 pm.

Also, I’m excited to partner with you all to host the next Coffee with Creatives this November. That’ll be a free event on Friday, November 17th, from 8:30 – 10:00 am.

Where can we buy your art?

You can buy my art by visiting the gallery. I’m open Saturday from 1:00 – 3:00 pm and Sundays from 3:30 – 5:00 pm. Monday through Friday are appointments only. 

My online store is coming soon, I’m setting it up as we speak. I’m also open to any inquiries for sculpture commissions for public and private spaces. Email is my best form of contact – studiotwentyfivegallery@gmail.com.