Corrie Francis Parks: Artist, Community Builder, and Advocate for Students

Published: Jul 16, 2021

Artist Corrie Francis Parks stands in front of her exhibit at Montpelier arts Center
Artist Corrie Francis Parks. Photo: Thom Parks (Corrie Parks standing in front of her exhibit)

Compared to the tropical midsummer heat outside the Montpelier Arts Center in Laurel, Maryland, UMBC visual arts professor Corrie Francis Parks’ latest show “Uncanny Bodies” provides cool respite.

The exhibit’s home is in a dark room, where multiple projectors coat the walls in Parks’ unique animation style through which tiny sand particles are enlarged, diminishing your own size as they dance across your vision. The exhibit is multidimensionally entrancing, meanwhile, the sound design created by visual arts instructor Jason Charney, M.F.A. ’20, imaging and digital arts, is body-encompassing. 

View from inside artist Corrie Francis Parks’ exhibit “Uncanny Bodies” displayed at the Montpelier Arts Center. Photo courtesy of Thom Parks.

Even before her career began as an animator, and now as a professor, Parks has always made a point of creating her artwork through uncharted channels. Parks attributes her animation origins to her mentor and professor David Ehrlich at Dartmouth College. “He became very influential in challenging me to try things differently, like painting on glass which was really interesting to me because it looked different from anything else that was being made,” says Parks, “and I liked having my work stand out.” 

Eventually, this path of striving for the unique led to Parks’ remarkable sand animation technique which has been displayed on walls from Disney to Serbia, and currently, at Montpelier Arts Center. And now Parks hopes to play a similar role promoting her own students’ work as her mentor did for her.

Giving students space to develop ideas 

“People are interesting, and I see my students as people with really unique ideas that sometimes just need a little push,” says Parks. “As a professor, you’re supposed to do that. You have that authority and experience.” Throughout her past seven years as a professor at UMBC, Parks’ posture has allowed her to develop a reputation as an “above and beyond” professor. Her pride in promoting and developing her students’ talents is evident, her Instagram account @corrieeeee features a collection of her students’ animations, but goes beyond social media, too. “Some of the most influential professors I’ve had,” says Parks, “are the kind of professors who don’t necessarily develop that student-teacher relationship but rather a colleague relationship with their students.”

Camille Ollivierre, a senior visual arts student with a concentration in animation, describes Parks as someone who talks “to us with the same level of respect she would other professors, while still acknowledging we are young adults with much room for growth.” 

Where that growth can come from is something that Parks helps her students find.

Parks with students at a 2017 show at UMBC’s Center for Art Design and Visual Culture. Photo by Marlayna Demond ’11.

“She encouraged me to apply for an Undergraduate Research Award grant (URA),” says Ollivierre, “to explore my idea to create paint on glass animation by creating my own multiplane animation camera.” Receiving the URA allowed Ollivierre to work closely with Parks as her mentor. “She encouraged me to push myself further than I thought I was capable of,” says Ollivierre. “Also, since I’m interested in professionally pursuing stop motion animation, I’ve really enjoyed working with someone who has extensive experience using unconventional materials like sand and paint.” 

Visual arts major senior Chase Nickoles expands upon Parks’ ability to connect students with new professional experiences. Nickoles found an opportunity to submit the class’s rotoscoping project to be displayed at the Carroll Arts Center in Westminster, Maryland. “Corrie was quick to help as much as possible with the logistics and providing necessary information,” says Nickoles. “Thanks to her help, our project was successfully displayed, pushing me into the Westminster art world as a representative of the piece, and pushing all the students to be seen by a wider circle.”

Constructive classroom communities

Meanwhile, within the classroom, Parks has found ways to connect with students on a level that is accessible and relatable to them—including creating a Discord server for her students to continue building community. 

Visual arts senior Aaron Wescott says that “the space Corrie created online for the whole class was amazing, and it really let us bounce ideas off of each other and her. Being able to talk to someone who had genuine experience and talent in the field made me feel comfortable enough to start branching out and grow as an artist, and I even looked forward to talking with her. She is an amazing teacher and colleague.” 

For Parks, creating a community that cultivates her students’ abilities is something that comes naturally. 

Angle of Repose. Photo courtesy of Thom Parks.

“The thing that I love about teaching college is we’re all adults, my students are just a few steps behind me in their development as an artist… I’m really happy to share my experience as to what it means to be an artist, I love sharing information,” she says. 

Her exhibit, “Uncanny Bodies” is available from now until August 1, 2021. In Parks’ own words “It’s a really enveloping and calming space that is good to go to on a hot day, it’s cool in there. It takes you into a different perspective and it allows you to take a little break from whatever you’re dealing with right now”.  

Visit it now and see what it means to be a grain of sand.

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