Community Voices
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An art exhibit by Laurie Steelink.

Since March is Women’s History Month and this year’s theme is “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories,” I asked Renee O’Connor, a professional actress (known around the world for playing Gabrielle on the television series Xena: Warrior Princess) and founder of House of Bards theatre company in San Pedro, and Laurie Steelink, Native American artist and founder of Cornelius Projects on Pacific Avenue, to tell a little bit about their stories.

Grimes: Tell me a bit about yourself.

Renee O’Connor. (photo: courtesy Renee O’Connor)

Renee O’Connor: The House of Bards Theatre Company began in 2019 with Shakespeare’s Macbeth. We wanted to build an immersive, intimate environment to showcase the talents of our design teams and our local acting community. 

Laurie Steelink: As a multidisciplinary artist, I identify as Akimel O’otham and am a member of the Gila River Indian Community. [I was] born in Phoenix, Arizona, and received a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and an MFA from Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University. I was the director of Track 16 Gallery in West L.A. from 2002 to 2016. Recently, I was included in the California Biennial 2022: Pacific Gold at the new Orange County Museum of Art in Costa Mesa.

 I came to San Pedro because I was offered a storefront live/workspace, and in 2012, I founded Cornelius Projects, an exhibition space on Pacific Avenue named after my father. 

How did you first discover you were an artist?

O’Connor: In kindergarten, each student had to stand by their desk and say what they wanted to be when they grew up. When I said I wanted to be an actress, everybody would laugh at me. My mom told me, “They secretly want to be an actor too, but you were the first one to say it.” 

Steelink: I recently heard someone say [that] Indigenous artists don’t have boundaries between our personal lives, our political lives, and our artistic lives because they are all intertwined.

What influences do you draw on when creating your work?

Laurie Steelink. (photo: courtesy Tira Howard)

O’Connor:  I begin by looking at art to inform my vision. Then I study the play in detail while noting all underlying archetypes for character analysis. 

I’ve worked with many legendary actors, but my favorite is Lucy Lawless [on the television series Xena: Warrior Princess]. House of Bards collaborates with actors from Little Fish Theatre, Torrance Theatre Company, Shakespeare by the Sea, and Encore Theatre Group. 

Steelink: As a multidisciplinary artist, I draw on everything in my life. I was given up for adoption by my Akimel O’otham mother and raised by a progressive Euro-American family. There has always been an enormous void — the lack of rootedness and of the culture, which was lost to me. My work is a form of healing from the fragmentation of these existences. I’m creating a bridge using the tools I’ve received, embedding them in a conceptual material embodiment of decolonization through assemblage and installation while paying homage to my Indigenous culture.

Was your family or a mentor particularly supportive of this choice?

O’Connor: I begged my mom to let me take acting classes. When I was eight years old, a traveling educational theatre company came into my neighborhood and set up at a local church. At the end of their summer program, I invited my mother to my show, where to her surprise, I made my entire costume by hand and was the sardonic caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland. 

Steelink: My parents were very supportive of my creativity in music and art but believed it would be difficult for me to make a living as an artist. They encouraged me to study nursing, which did not interest me. It was my choice to apply and pay for art school. Overall, they were supportive of my choices, especially when I received my BFA and MFA. 

How did their support manifest itself?

O’Connor: After much pleading, my mom felt obligated to drive me to Houston to attend the well-known Alley Theatre’s youth acting intensive courses. I found my first mentor there, Sheri Brogdon, and she introduced me to Shakespeare, as well as helped [me] land my first role as the understudy for Miranda [in The Tempest].

Steelink: I received private instruction in art and music from elementary school until high school. I was the only female student in mechanical drawing, wood shop, and welding classes. At Bahti Indian Arts, I learned about Southwestern Native American art and witnessed demonstrations of traditional art practices from visiting Native artists. spt

Do you have arts and culture story ideas? Please share them — email to

Linda Grimes

Linda Grimes is a retired sales and marketing geek with a passion for art, design, and creative placemaking. She serves as the Executive Director of the San Pedro Waterfront Arts District and can be reached at

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