Looking Back, Looking Forward 10

Nancy Hilliard Joyce on Giving Back Through the Arts

Nancy Hilliard Joyce grew up in nearby Greenville, but her love for Asheville began young, when her parents would bring her family to the city to hear tunes at Bill Stanley’s Barbecue and Bluegrass. Hilliard Joyce cites this early exposure to traditional Southern craft as inspiration for a lifelong attraction to the arts. “From a very young age, I drew pictures of my teachers rather than listening to them. It didn’t produce the best grades,” Hilliard Joyce admits with a laugh, “but it was an attraction I’ve always had.”

After gaining degrees in Art History and Arts Education, Hilliard Joyce moved around the country before she and her family alighted in Asheville. Like many local artists, she was attracted to the thriving arts community here. “The city is just filled with inspiration,” Hilliard Joyce says. “It’s almost like being thrown into a shark tank with hundreds of other talented artists. You have to up your game and focus in on your work and find a way to stand out.” After moving to Asheville, Hilliard Joyce painted upwards of twenty hours a day, getting up before her children to paint and staying up late into the night after they had gone to bed.

That level of dedication paid off. Aside from being a featured artist in hotels and homes throughout Asheville and upstate South Carolina, Hilliard Joyce is now the curator for The Omni Grove Park Inn and previously served 4 years on the Board of Trustees at the Asheville Art Museum. While many artists would sink into content after attaining success as an independent artist, Hilliard Joyce instead chose to begin using her art as a means of giving back. “It’s an incredible gift to be able to paint and make a living. At the same time, I felt like there was something more that needed to happen in order for me to feel inspired, rather than just the need to produce.”

In 2013, Hilliard Joyce partnered with Girls on the Run of WNC, a transformative outreach program for young girls that trains them for a 5K with accompanying lessons that inspire them to think deeply and live healthfully. The artist created a series of thirteen paintings of inspirational women, such as Amelia Earhart, Sacagawea, Joan of Arc and Mother Teresa, as thirteen-year-old girls and donated the proceeds to the non-profit. “I wanted to show that these women were always great, it didn’t just happen, and have girls get inspired by them.” After seeing and hearing the positive responses of parents, teachers and children, Hilliard Joyce had a revelation. “I realized ‘that’s what this is about.’ This is about changing people’s lives,” she recalls.

Hilliard Joyce next partnered with Lotus Pedals, a non-profit which raises money to buy bicycles for young Cambodian girls so that they can get to school safely. She far exceeded her initial goal and raised enough money through her painting sales for 250 bicycles. After the campaign, Hilliard Joyce travelled to Cambodia and was treated to a banquet as a show of gratitude. “It was one of the most moving experiences of my life,” she says. “Every time something like this happens, I think ‘I just want to do it again, and do it bigger and better and give back more.’”

In 2017, Hilliard Joyce has continued her mission of giving back by partnering with The National Forest Foundation to raise money to aid in rebuilding forests damaged by wildfires with”a series of paintings of trees called “Southern Roots.” Each painting is of a different species of tree native to the southeast United States, portraying the interconnected nature of trees and forests as well as a theme that focuses on the impact different perspectives can have on how one views each tree.

That idea of gaining perspective is central not only to Hilliard Joyce’s art, but her life. “Perspective drives my art,” she admits. “I portray a lot of mundane things, but try to convey that if you just take a step back and take a look from a different perspective or get some distance, it can allow you to get outside of your own head. It can be meditative and clearing.”