Bobbi Thompson '77 on Showcasing Outsider Art

April 28, 2016

Bobbi Thompson

We caught up with Bobbi about starting her own art gallery!

What was your major at Simmons and what's your current job title?

I double majored in English and communications. I'm the Executive Director and Founder of Joy Factory Gallery/Cinema. We are dedicated to providing inclusive employment in the arts for emerging adults with cognitive disabilities.

What's a typical day like at your job?

I'm a social entrepreneur in the arts and my days are not at all typical. I'm in the start-up phase without staff, though I do have two virtual interns, one of whom is a Simmons alumna.

Everything I do is self-driven. Today I'm going downtown to select art from a disabilities arts program for my Pop Up Art & Movie Show and then I'm going to see an art installation in the DTLA (Downtown Los Angeles) arts district. When I return I will be e-publishing a call for to artists, galleries and art zines around L.A. inviting submissions for exhibitions at my April pop up.

Tell us about Outsider Art. 

Outsider Art does not aspire to the demands of anything other than the artists’ abilities or obsession. It's work created by artists that have not been formally taught any art theory, technique or discipline but who create out of inner compulsion with materials of their choosing.

What inspired you to make the move to open your own gallery?

I felt a call to disabilities advocacy having parented a child with special needs. The gallery and cinema concept came to me after being inspired by visits to two amazing arts programs supporting artists with disabilities. The idea of employment in the arts for uniquely abled young adults in L.A. — an arts capital — seemed a natural fit.

What goals do you have for the Joy Factory Gallery/Cinema? 

Two more shows in 2016, establishing internships for diversity in arts management and film exhibition, a dedicated space by 2017 and inspiring and creating joy for our patrons in each visit.

What's your role on the Undergraduate Alumnae Association Executive Board (AAEB)?

I've been involved with Simmons since 1992 when I was tapped by then president Jean Dowdall to join an alumnae/i leadership group. It lasted 20 years and I chaired twice over that period. Our purview was as advisory council to the president and other administrative departments as requested. This group of women created the Success Connection Mentorship Program — which still exists today. I was surprised and honored when that group was folded into the Alumnae/i Association to receive the Alumnae/i Service Award

Today I am the outgoing Director of Career and Life Transitions Committee of the AAEB after two terms on the Board and will stay involved as I rotate into a committee member role. I am also available for mentorship through the Career Education Center and Alumnet. I am planning to incorporate Simmons interns wherever possible into my new business.

How did it feel to have your daughter also choose to attend — and now work — at Simmons?

Annie came to Simmons after choosing to apply on her own. When it turned out to be an educational fit for her, I was really happy. Her success as a scholar/athlete and her desire to give back to Simmons Athletics and on the Alumnae Board is a great source of pride. We are the first mother/daughter members to serve simultaneously on the AAEB. As for her working at Simmons after attending, well…I wish there were a campus in Los Angeles.

What's your Simmons Moment?

I had a recent Simmons Moment at the convening of the 2015-16 AAEB Board Meeting when I realized I had lived in the same dorm with Theresa Brewer who was sitting across from me as the new chair of Diversity. I suddenly had a memory of who she was, what she looked like at 19, the girls with whom we were friendly and how much I loved them as college mates. That moment connected my years of involvement with Simmons as an alumna to my years as a student and it was very precious. 

Another moment is every time I come to Boston and go to the Gardner Museum. It's where I took my first college exam which I thought was very atmospheric — we were on the pass/fail, no grades, honor system then, so exams were not proctored. The Gardner Museum is also where I had my first real date with Richard Thompson, my husband.