‘Inclusion art’

Posted: April 8th, 2016 | Arts & Entertainment, Features, Top Stories | No Comments

By Margie M. Palmer

How to be a part of artist’s huge paintings

Contemporary artist Nan Coffey wants to tell you a story. If you follow her on Facebook and tell her a little bit about yourself, what you love and what makes you happy, she may wind up telling your story, too.

The Mission Valley artist is currently working on her second public participation, or “inclusion art” piece, as she calls them. Her intention is to use her artistic talents as a vehicle to show connectivity, inclusion and love in the world.

Nan Coffey paints on large canvases, inspired by other people’s stories. (Photo by John Schulz)

Nan Coffey paints on large canvases, inspired by other people’s stories. (Photo by John Schulz)

“When I did my first public participation painting in 2015, it was a social experiment to see if people would respond if I asked them to participate in one of my works,” she said. “I wanted to see if I could take all this information from friends and total strangers and flow it into one unified piece.”

The audience participation far exceeded expectation.

“I initially started out with a 66-square-foot canvas but I realized it wasn’t going to be big enough. I wound up scrapping the first one, pulled out something bigger and started redrawing,” said Coffey, who has a bachelors in animation from the San Francisco Academy of the Arts.

By the time all was said and done, Coffey included the stories of 172 people in her 10-feet-by-13-feet masterpiece.


Mission Valley artist Nan Coffey’s piece, “All in My Mind — Sitting” (Photo by John Schultz)

“Before I started that first project, I was in a place of frustration and boredom. Quite frankly, I was utterly, miserably unsure of my place in life. What ended up happening is that through that project, I started to find my purpose — not only as an artist, but in life,” she said.

“The response I received on my first public participation painting was amazing. People reacted in such a loving and joyous way and made me realize what my true purpose was.”

Her current masterpiece measures 10 feet by 17 feet, and she hopes to include the stories of roughly 200 people by the time it’s completed. Although Coffey notes the final tally could be slightly less, or slightly more, she hopes to include as many participants as possible.

“The more people I include, the happier I get,” she said. “I’ve found that so many people are going through the same life experiences and one of the things that’s most comforting to me, is I’m creating a space for people to connect with one another through my art.”


Nan Coff ey interacts with people via Facebook to find inspiration for her artwork. (Photo by John Schultz)

The final kinks of where this piece will be displayed are still being worked through, but the artist is hopeful the large-scale piece will be displayed publically. What she does know is that she’d like a lot of people to be able to see it and the stories behind it.

“My art is now focused largely on inclusion,” she said. “We should all work in this world to include, not exclude people. My art is about breaking down walls, not putting them up. It’s about learning more about each other, listening to each other, connecting with each other, recognizing each other and in the end, simply loving one another.”

Those interested in learning more about Nan Coffey’s art can connect with her at or at She occasionally paints live at galleries or public events for people to view her process. Coffey has art hanging at the Bali Hai Restaurant and at Tender Greens in Liberty Station and Downtown. Her artwork can also be seen at Skye Art Gallery in Las Vegas.

—Margie M. Palmer is a San Diego-based freelance writer who has been racking up bylines in a myriad of news publications for the past 10 years. You can reach her at

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