Tell us about yourself, where did you grow up / how did you find yourself in Seattle?
I was raised by my mother (a librarian) in South Carolina, with long weekends/holidays/summers (and then College) in Atlanta, Georgia where my paternal side of the family lives. I found myself in Seattle because my partner was starting a business up here and I graduated college with no other plans —> so, packed my volvo up and drove cross country with my best friend (the southern route, with cowgirl hats and no A.C.! So fun!)
I’m an only child of my mom’s, with awesome half siblings on my dad’s side – so I know how to be alone and also how to share…though I tend to need *a lot* of space and solo time to charge my battery, then cannot wait to socialize to deplete it again. It’s a cycle I’ve finally learned to embrace and nurture.
I love heavy books, all coffee, bad dogs, cold shrimp, no shoes, and surrounding myself with strong and hilarious women. But I have a particular affinity towards people who can measure and are good at math, two things that I do not excel in. I’m a measure once cut twice kinda gal. (architects: call me!)
How did you find out about Urban Artworks?
I started as a volunteer, you should too! ;-p
Many moons ago, I used to work for a small pre-press company in Pioneer Square and the founder of Urban ArtWorks (the epic Seattle champion Mike Peringer) was a client I’d seen around. I also happened to stare out of my office window at a plywood mural designed by Jesse Brown and Urban ArtWorks youth. I thought to myself every day walking by it: “man, that sounds like a fun job.”
So when the recession hit and everyone I knew was suddenly unemployed I reached out about volunteering!
Unfortunately, the organization was underwater, understaffed, and on the verge of closing. That’s when the plugging of holes in a sinking ship began, and with the help of Mike Peringer (our founder) and some amazing alumni, artists and volunteer board members the ship slowly floated back to the surface. In hindsight, that panic and need for help is what caused an open position for me now, so I wouldn’t change it.
I stayed on as a volunteer, then became the program coordinator and then Executive Director, then formally changed my title to Director because there is nothing Executive about me.
What’s your favorite component of being the director?
Keeping the books. KIDDING.
What I love is that my day to day is spent supporting a mission that I so very much believe in. I’ve become so ingrained in the mission that I sometimes wonder what I would be without the job – I’m working on that!! More soon…
One of the best parts: that all of the organization’s collaborative artists, clients and vendors are people and companies I believe in. Commissioning some of my favorite artists for public works is I job I never thought I’d have, it gives me actual joy to scribble these impressive names onto a checks. I only wish I could add another zero to them all! So many artists and clients have become dear friends through our creative process, and it makes my heart sing to share ideas, text pictures of walls and to plant a garden of seeds made from our craziest ideas – it is a garden I will tend with love for years to come, and cannot wait to see it bloom!
When I joined the Urban ArtWorks team, we were in survival mode, so I was blindly following a formula that came before me. It took me about 4 years on the job to realize that I could exercise my own vision, and that day was a really good and pivotal day – it was a start to a lot of growth and change. I’m really proud of where it is today.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?
People motivate me by saying nice things, a little pat on the back (from anyone!) goes a long way. PSA: High five a non-profit employee today, they need it more than you know!
Also Travel. Mainly road trips in my paint covered truck, to see how other cities keep art fresh and interesting. Other cities’ successes and even their not-yet-realized potential helps me to see our beautiful Emerald City with fresh eyes.
I have also found a special soul sister in our project coordinator, Lina, who came to Urban ArtWorks as an intern when she was 17 and similar to me, never left. Her wise-beyond-her-years thoughts, contagious silliness, unwavering loyalty, and care for everyone around her has made my day to day here more inspired and full.
If you follow any sort of schedule, what are the rituals? What is essential in the Urban ArtWorks studio?
I love slow, early and quiet mornings before anyone arrives. I love the smell and sound of coffee brewing, and finding the right music to set the tone for the day.
I also tend to spend the last 30 minutes after everyone leaves puttering around, organizing something that needs tending to, or that doesn’t. Working in a studio with 12 teenagers and lots of creatives in and out all day can mean a lot of mess, so setting the scene for our arrival the next day helps me sleep a little better at night and be more productive in the morning.
It brings me peace to make a space feel and smell good, and it’s not an easy task in this old basement studio of ours! If left alone in anyone’s space I will straighten it up, adjust the lighting, move objects and clear the air. It’s a compulsion, mostly.
In your opinion, what are some ways that public art helps create a sense of community?
Oh boy, the ways are countless!
Big picture: it can give a voice to those in the community who might be marginalized or voiceless – it can change perceptions.
Smaller picture: it takes a lot of bodies behind the scenes to make public art. It is usually more than just the artist; there are patrons, there are site surveyors, there are inspired community members, and a whole lot of folks who hack their way through red tape, pushback, opinions and laws that seem to come out of nowhere (HIYAH!) … this process inevitably forms a community with a collective vision and passion for the execution of these large scale works. If we are lucky enough to have community hands participating in the actual painting of a mural, those days instill pride in each individual who contributes, and form lasting community relationships and friendships between those who are creating shoulder to shoulder.
As many ways as there are to build community through art, there are equally ways to create art without thought or care for community. Some great art happens that way, but it’s not the Urban ArtWorks way.
What projects are you working on these days? What are you most excited about?
As I’m writing this I’m sitting a table full of teenagers who are waiting to interview for paid internships, so I’m currently excited about having this energy back in the studio! One of the young men we are interviewing got into trouble for graffiti and said that because he no longer can write, out of fear of trouble again, that he’s stoked to have a job where he can get paid to paint and maintain his creative outlet. So… that makes me excited for him, and us!
I think the projects I’m most invigorated by are the ones that we haven’t yet secured. Some out of the box ideas that need to get out of my brain and onto paper. Want to hear about them? Let’s chat over a jar of guacamole at Casco Antiguo!
If logistics and money were not an issue, what is your dream project?
I’m actually struggling to answer that, because my current project goals are for surfaces I can see in front of me, tangible and logical ones… I’m not accustomed to dreaming without boundaries. It’s sort of like parallel parking for me, I can slay with a quarter inch to spare between two cars, but if there are no cars, I’ll straight up back into a store window.
But I do have a couple large surfaces in Seattle that I’m lusting over right now, and I really like to work with illustrators, so I’m dreaming of things that feel sketchy, pencily, charcoaly, watercolory… on surfaces larger than people think those things can or should be.
Of course if I had an ATM with no limit, I’d make it rain for the teenagers! We just started a fund in honor of our late founder Mike, to provide wages to young people who aren’t eligible for city/county wages — consider donating to it, a little goes a long way in these young lives to help break negative systematic cycles. You will never know joy until you hand a 16 year old their first paycheck!
What’s your favorite color combo?
Currently gray and rich but muted peach tones. I’m a fan of a lot of Jesse Brown’s combos from the past few years – maybe because our office tends to feel like a shrine to his legacy when he’s working from here.
Are the challenges similar when it comes to creating for clients versus your solo visions? How do you juggle pleasing the client as well as the artist?
After 10 years at Urban ArtWorks I still can’t achieve this all of the time! Can anyone!? At first I THOUGHT most artists would want the “do whatever you want” client. Turns out that like me, a lot of artists like at least some direction and information to anchor their creative thought. That surprised me, but I totally get it.
I think the best you can do is listen to what clients are saying, and try to learn as much about what they don’t like as you learn about what they do. And then use that information to provide the artist with as much relevant information as they need in order to decide if they want the job. For years I was overly sensitive or scared to approach an artist if a budget felt low or design direction wasn’t ideal, but as a good friend told me recently “there is no shame in offering someone your hard earned money!”
It can be toxic to be the middleman sometimes, absorbing feedback or frustrations and regurgitating it to the other party in a sensitive way. I’ve learned to stand up for artists in a way that clients can understand – and this developed skill has earned me project management jobs where I’m literally there to be this “bilingual” mediator. I like to think it’s one of the many good things that came from growing up with divorced parents? But I can be annoyingly Pollyanna about life circumstances beyond your control. We are each made up of every moment and circumstance of our lives, and I am filled with anticipation for the unknown magical moments and circumstantial life lessons ahead.