Nickole Kerner Bobley describes her childhood in The Woodlands as charmed. Summer days were spent exploring the community just north of Houston. One of her favorite activities was watching the installation of The Woodlands’ iconic public art. She and her friends would sit in awe, perched on their bikes, as the giant cranes carefully positioned the sculptures in place. It had a lasting impact on her. “I attribute my adult love of art to where I lived,” she notes.
She left the small town for college, earning a master’s in film production at the American Film Institute. She and her husband were living in New York when they made the decision to return to her hometown to raise their family. At that time in her life, she was dealing with the challenges of two autoimmune diseases. Finding it increasingly difficult to walk, she was told by her doctor that she needed to exercise to regain her mobility. For inspiration, she turned to an old friend: the public art of The Woodlands.
With the assistance of a cane, she began going on private “art crawls” of the Waterway Art Bench Collection, using each bench as a new goal post. She also kept a journal about how the different artworks made her feel. “I would relive a lot of memories by looking at the art. It invigorated me,” she says.
After many weeks, she reached the final art bench. She no longer needed assistance from a cane. It was an emotional turning point in her medical treatment plan and in the new relationship she had forged with public art. It was here the idea for ARTFEEL began to form.
She reached out to the local arts council with plans to promote the art as healing. What started out as an idea for a coffee table book morphed into an ongoing celebration of the local arts, complete with music, dance, poetry and artisans. The accidental event planner also writes a weekly column for the community newspaper and is one of the residents at the forefront of a movement to bring the arts front and center in The Woodlands.
“Public art is for us to enjoy,” says Bobley. “If you don’t engage with it, you're really missing out."