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By Greg Archer | Contributing Columnist

Sarah Louise Wilson loves getting into her creative zone.

The writer, director, teacher, painter — and occasionally actor — co-founded Stella Bella Productions with Mercedes LeAnza in 2006 and has been an artist for some time.

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“Artists are the cultural bearers,” Wilson said. “We’re supposed to hold up a mirror to society. But how do we do that if we don’t have time to digest and reflect and express? The only way we can do that is if we have time. And we all know that time is money, so funding is always important.”

The San Bernardino County resident’s work stretches far and wide. Wilson’s pseudo-autobiographical romantic comedy, “Jelly,” starred Natasha Lyonne (from “Orange Is the New Black”), won four Accolade Awards and nabbed a release on Netflix, Hulu and The Sundance Channel. Her next feature, “The Accidental Death of Joey by Sue” premiered at the HBO Latino Film Festival.

By 2016, Wilson was living in Almaty, Kazakhstan, where she shot “No Exit,” a feature film about a man moving through transition after the untimely death of his father. The movie won multiple awards.

Additionally, Wilson’s plays have been performed at The Walt Disney REDCAT Theatre, California Institute of the Arts, and Artishok Theatre in Kazakhstan. She has also been spotlighted in the HuffPost, the Los Angeles Times, Cosmopolitan, Esquire and other media outlets.

Still, it’s a tricky creative dance being an artist. It’s vital that artists know the importance of occasional stillness — from that stillness, art emerges — and having financial resources that allow them time to create art.

“I’ve had different parts in my life where I’ve had the luxury (of time,)” she said. “I know the difference of time and no time, being able to figure out what I get to say versus not having any time to even digest anything because I’m just running on fumes trying to make ends meet. Financial resources really buys you that time. All artists need that to create.”

Wilson recently received a grant from the Inland Empire Community Foundation and the California Creative Corps Fund, which provides grants to local, regional, and statewide organizations in 58 counties to fund unemployed and underemployed artists. The money allows artists to create public awareness messages and projects in support of civic engagement and community participation in multiple priority areas, including pandemic recovery and environmental, civic and social engagement.

“It’s completely life-changing for me,” Wilson said of receiving the grant. “I’ve had a monocle of success here and there and funding always facilitates huge possibilities that otherwise wouldn’t be there.”

The grant will allow her to write a new musical about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically highlighting stories from people in San Bernardino County.

“This grant is a way for me to do community arts, which is close to my heart,” she said. “No matter where I’ve gone in the world — and I’ve lived and created art in Kazakhstan and Lebanon — community arts pulls me on a spiritual and emotional level, because it has the capacity to save people. It’s a collective thing.

“All of us together making art really does make our community a better place,” she added, “because people are able to find healthy ways of self expression instead of turning to, say, violence.”

In addition to film, stage, and artwork, Wilson is a workshop leader. She always begins her workshops by inviting others to tell her their “story.” Looking ahead, she aims to host workshops with retiring citizens, at-risk youth, veterans, and to “hear” their stories through various mediums — movement exercises, improv, painting, and the like.

“I love to do something artistically to start the conversation and capture stories,” she said. “We don’t get to hear these types of stories, so this grant, in particular, will just facilitate a bigger conversation, because that’s what it’s all about. You know, it’s not like a one-stop shop. We don’t fix it with one grant, but it makes it so that we can start to heal this great pain. I think art does that.”


Inland Empire Community Foundation works to strengthen Inland Southern California through philanthropy.

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