Art Collective: Taking the Lead by Suzanah Furtick

I moved to Jackson, TN with my husband almost three years ago because my husband’s job transferred him. We did not expect this so soon, but life is circling back again. My husband was recently promoted to manage a larger operation in New Orleans, so in the next few months we will be moving to NOLA.

Friendship: While we are excited to move to the Big Easy, we are sad to move away from our friends in Jackson. My primary motivation for organizing Art Collective meetings was to find friends, and I look forward to continuing the friendships that have grown out of Art Collective. We hope that our Jackson friends will visit New Orleans, so that we can go for beignets and explore the city.

Leadership: A big concern my husband and I discussed about moving was: what will the future of Art Collective be? From its inception, I have tried to communicate that Art Collective is not about me, it is about what we do as a community. My aim has always been to fill a role, not to take on a status. I view my role as having “taken a lead’ instead of being “the leader” of Art Collective. Leadership and service are open to every member of Art Collective.

Mission: My hope for Art Collective is that it will continue to be a democratic, community-oriented artist-driven arts leadership and service network that thrives, grows, changes, and spreads to other cities over time. I hope to build an Art Collective in New Orleans, LA, and connect Jackson, TN Art Collective Members to art opportunities in New Orleans. Let’s take this show on the road.




Movement: I’ve said this before, but it’s important to remember that when we talk of creating and supporting an art scene in Jackson and building Art Collective, we’re talking about starting a movement. Every great art movement has been an effort among artists taking action with a unified vision to change the world and make a mark. Andy Warhol is credited with saying “in the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Today, We live in a time where big, amazing things happen all the time, and we have the power to access to information without much effort. Videos go viral. Memes meme. But without any sense of cohesion, new information and interesting ideas just become noise.

Process: So how do we, as artists, create meaning, beauty, and change the culture of Jackson? I think the answer is in two parts: first, invest our time and energy into connecting with each other as we work together; then, invite others to see and become part of what we have started together.

Sustainability: But how do we sustain it? To build a sustainable art community, it will take thoughtful collaboration, long-term planning, strong partnerships, clear communication, and a big-picture mindset. It’s not just enough to start projects or shows as singular events. As time passes and Art Collective members face challenges and embark on new projects, we will need to continue to support each other in the work that we are doing.

Strength: With so many artist-leaders working together the future of Art Collective Jackson, TN is bright. In the first three months we have opened and closed a group show, three of our members have signed leases and have begun working next door to each other in studio space inside the old City Hall building by the Ned, and our members have pooled the valuable resources of time and effort to make our dreams into reality.

CoArts: The biggest project Art Collective members are working on right now is collaborating to create a Co-op Art Center (“CoArts”) in Bemis, which will become a contemporary art gallery, offer art classes, host performing arts events, and feature a local coffee shop startup. This space was once the site of the historic Bemis general store (i.e. the Bemis Mercantile Company) and still has great bones: large industrial brick walls with original rustic wooden beams on the ceiling. The massive space is lit by large open windows across the front and simple, modern industrial lighting throughout.

Bemis Art Center  Photo by: Wendy Hailey Kim

Bemis Art Center

Photo by: Wendy Hailey Kim

Dreams: For years, Matt Marshall has wanted to see his property at 203 South Missouri Street in south Jackson transform into a creative space. So when Art Collective member Lendon Noe heard other members describing their dream to find a brick-and-mortar haven for making and showcasing art, she decided to invite Matt to come to the next meeting.

Mobilization: Ever since that follow up meeting, Cynthia Sipes and Wendy Hailey Kim have taken the lead with Matt on that initiative; they have begun fundraising and have organized workdays for Art Collective members to transform the space into an art gallery and creative hub. The CoArts team hopes to get the space open for arts events by Spring 2019. And they are also planning the first community event— a juried show with the theme “Identity.”

Unity: Everyone involved in the CoArts initiative is working to build a unified vision for the space. In addition to renovating the space and planning the show, Cynthia and Wendy are enrolling in the winter session of the COstarters at theCO to make plans for the CoArts gallery and classes. And Kasie Smith and Daniel Palmer, who are working on starting the coffee shop startup that will operate in the CoArts space are enrolling in the same COstarters session. They hope that through this program they will create solid a framework and concrete business plans for their organizations together.

Invitation: Art Collective members have made very big moves in a very short amount of time. And there is more to come! At the next Art Collective meeting, Tuesday October 30, 2018 from 5:30-6:30 P.M., we will discuss how we will move forward with Art Collective, and work through the transition ahead. We hope that if you haven’t been able to make a meeting recently or if you have never come to a meeting before, that you will attend and take part in this important conversation. We hope to see you there!

Art Collective by Suzanah Furtick

Helen Keller once said, "Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much."

Like many people who move to a new city where they do not know anyone,  I found it difficult to meet and befriend new people when I moved to Jackson. In the past, I have always been part of a program or school that helped me make new friends with similar interests. After two years, I realized that the calvary was not coming, and I was going to have to do something to change that. So, I decided to take a class.

This past summer, I took a small business incubator course called COstarters at theCO. For nine weeks I learned about the business side of being an artist, and began working toward the goal of being a working artist.

At the first COstarters meeting one of the founders of theCO, William, came to speak to us. During introductions I described my textile artwork, and he gave me contact information for an artist and art professor named Melissa Vandenberg. The next day, I did a little research into Melissa's work online, and quickly understood what William meant when he said that I definitely needed to talk to her.

Later that week, I mustered up the courage to call Melissa. For nearly an hour we talked about quilts, and what I wanted to do with COstarters. She was, and has increasingly been, so generous with knowledge and kindness; her advice has already proven truly powerful in my life. Aside from practical advice about how to achieve my goals, Melissa has taught me how important it is to listen to other peoples' dreams and visions, and the beauty that can grow from a little bit of encouragement and willingness to help.

The major takeaway from my first conversation with Melissa is that the two most important steps to breaking into the art world are: 1. showing artwork and 2. building a network. She said that those things build credibility with galleries and collectors, and give you more opportunities to sell art when starting out.

During the 9 week COstarters program, I got a chance to befriend a handful of other creative people in the program. Without realizing it, working alongside my COstarters cohorts was actually building a network. It wasn't a stuffy, superficial kind of networking-- in the process of discussing problems and developing business solutions together, we were building authentic and mutually beneficial relationships. That network helped me gain confidence and brainstorm goals and ideas, and the whole program was invigorating. As COstarters came to an end, I felt very strongly that I did not want those relationships to end. This was my first very good big problem.

The heart of business is offering goods and services to help people solve a problem. Whether you start a home improvement business, design a product that fixes pool liners, or make art, people choose to buy from you because you offer something that meets a need that they have. So I decided that in addition to making art, I wanted to create a permanent network of artists dedicated to collectively identifying and serving the needs of its members and the Jackson community at large. I called it "Art Collective."

At COstarters pitch night, I presented about my artwork and Art Collective. This was my second very good big problem. I was terrified, visibly shaking. My husband was beaming in the front row. My friends were smiling beside him. My legal pad of bullet points kept me anchored to the main points; and I said what I needed to say. When I was finished people responded enthusiastically and asked for more information. So, what was fear and vulnerability became an opportunity for courage, strength, and victory, and I am glad I took that opportunity. I could not have done that without my husband and friends cheering me onward in the front rows.

art collective logo.jpg

After the excitement of Pitch Night passed, I talked with other CO members about next steps to get it started. The CO agreed to let us use the event space. One CO member, Austin, recommended setting up a Facebook account, so I did that. Then, I designed a lo-fidelity logo and flier for Art Collective, using sharpies, Microsoft Word, the bottom of a mug, and coffee grounds. I made 50 copies, and posted and distributed it to creative-friendly businesses around town; coffee shops, craft stores, boutiques, colleges, and restaurants. In the process, I met some amazing people who would eventually become friends and Art Collective members.

Taking the lead on this project, I had to draw on my experiences from organizations that have lead me throughout my life. I wanted to "think big" about Art Collective, where it is not just a club, but it is a mobilized, strategized, focused, and successful group of people working on goals. I thought back to other programs and leadership training from my past, mainly: Teach for America, I.D.E.A.L.S. (Inspiring and Developing Emerging Artists for Lifelong Success), and the Girl Scouts of America.

Teach for America's framework for closing the achievement gap is empowering people to 1. set a big goal and 2. work backwards to achieve it. So, long before the first meeting, I spent time envisioning the long-term goal of what a permanent network of artists could look like. I researched art movements from Art History like Impressionism and Jean Michel Basquiat's SAMO and Andy Warhol collaborations. I looked at the art community and studio/gallery districts in Asheville, N.C. I traveled with my husband to art crawls and The Arcade in Nashville, T.N. I remembered the improv jazz musicians of Frenchmen Street and the painters, B-Boys, and school-aged tap dancers (with tin can tops on the bottoms of their shoes) performing around the gates of Jackson Square in NOLA. All of these communities inspired the vision of what artists can do when they work together.

In my first two years in Jackson, I taught community art education classes at the Memphis College of Art. The majority of my classes were part of the IDEALS program, which helped to provide income-based scholarships to middle and high school students to develop strong foundational art skills and leadership skills. Every level of the program-- students, teaching assistants, teachers, and the director all worked toward common goals. We taught each other, learned from each other, and made beautiful things together, bridging age stages and life experiences along the way. You can see some of the IDEALS projects on the "Teaching" page of this website.


Another big influence for the vision of Art Collective, is the Girl Scouts. One of my first art projects that I remember was when I was a Brownie Girl Scout. I can remember a volunteer helping me stamp my little thumb on an ink pad, and gently lifting it to delicately make an impression on a clean sheet of white paper. We made "thumbkin thumprint animals," and you can see it here. It still hangs in my house. As a lifetime member of the Girl Scouts, service has been a driving and connecting part of my life. The principle of service is the driving force behind Art Collective, because if we serve each other and serve the community we will have more fun, positively influence others' lives, and make our community better.

Art Collective will have it's fifth meeting next Tuesday night. The first Tuesday of every month is dedicating to community building within Art Collective with a potluck dinner and no formal agenda. The other Art Collective meetings have been centered around establishing culture within our organization, brainstorming essential questions together, and planning initiatives in the community.

Out of the gate many of the members of Art Collective expressed a desire to have shared studio and gallery space, and I am delighted to report that we are making this happen together. Cynthia Sipes, Wendy Hailey Kim, and Amy Only have partnered with Matt Marshall to create two gallery spaces on two properties that he owns. They plan to have group shows as early as this fall, so watch out for that.

Last week, after having lunch with artist Lendon Noe (who I mentioned in the Blog post "Mending the Broken Parts") at Community Cafe, downtown, we walked down the street to see her show at "the Ned" gallery. On our way to see her work in the gallery, she took me along to meet a friend of hers, Diann Robinson, who is the Administrator of Cultural Arts ad the Ned R. McWherter West TN Cultural Arts Center. Lendon mentioned the Art Collective, and our interest in finding studio space. Diann told me that she had studio space that had just recently become available, and took me upstairs to see it. I immediately called my husband, and without hesitation he told me to go for it. I asked her to send me a lease for the space, and I reached out to Cynthia, Wendy (by proxy), and Amy so that they could reserve studios next door to mine. 

Yesterday, I signed the lease and started moving into my studio. This never would have happened without:

1. My husband believing in and supporting this dream to be an artist.

2. William telling me to call Melissa.

3. Melissa telling me to show art work and meet people.

4. Lisa leading me through my COstarters journey.

5. Felicia, Brittany, and Trista helping me think through and smile through my pitch.

6. Cynthia, Wendy, and Amy showing up to Art Collective with enthusiasm and ready to work.

7. And most certainly, Lendon joining Art Collective, showing her artwork at the Ned, inviting me to lunch, telling me about her show and walking over to the Ned with me, and introducing me to Diann.

Every good story, like every good business, begins with a problem to be solved. The very good big problems at the beginning of my story were unpleasant, uncomfortable, and uncertain. But so far, the solution to those problems has been simple, straightforward, and much easier. For me, the solution has been community and collaboration. Whales do that. Ants do that. And the world looks more beautiful to me and I feel more alive the more I do that.

My hope is that every member of Art Collective sees the world changing power of working together. Every artist, composer, and writer is a visionary. They all have the ability to see something that does not exist yet, and turn it into reality. We call that art. And for most people, making art is not magic, it is a skill that is developed over time.

Before Art Collective, I viewed movements in Art and History as magical events of superhero-geniuses who singlehandedly changed the world. Reading, research, and experience working with Art Collective is showing me overwhelming evidence that this is not the case. Every movement begins with a problem, an uncomfortable catalyst, one person talking to another person, setting up a meeting, inviting more people, pushing past the fear of failure, seizing opportunities for courage, resolving that they cannot be stopped, and helping each other make ideas into something real.

Art Collective is showing me that any dream or vision can be real, if you get the artists working together on the project.

Mending the Broken Parts by Suzanah Furtick

The Project: This week, I've been making a textile collage miniature of the Frida Quilt. 

Suzanah Furtick 2018

Suzanah Furtick 2018

Image Research: I've always loved this picture of Frida, The Eyebrows, the regal tranquilty of her expression. I researched the photographer, Nickloas Muray, and discovered that he was a immigrant to Ellis island in 1913. The story of his rise to fame is inspiring, as he arrived to America with just $25 and a determination to work hard and make something of his life. It's particularly interesting that to save money in the beginning, he used only one light bulb in his apartment, and only used additional lights when he had guests. Light is so important in photography, so that says something of his sacrifice and resourcefulness. 


Suzanah Furtick 2018

Suzanah Furtick 2018

Studio Visit: This Wednesday, I had the honor of visiting an artist's (and new friend's) studio. Her name is Lendon Noe, and she is wonderful. Her studio sits on the bottom floor of an old funeral home that a family converted to a house of small apartments, art studios, and a used bookstore. Light pours in windows, some of which are stained glass. 

Lendon and I sat together at her long white table as she carefully taped together wads of newspaper into the shape of a bird that she'll wrap in plaster. After the plaster dries Lendon plans to paint them to glow in the dark for a community event she's planning to commemorate Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "Four Freedom's Speech." 

Suzanah Furtick 2018

Suzanah Furtick 2018

An Artist's Patchwork Life: The overarching point of what Lendon told me was that making a life as an artist in a small town far from the boroughs of New York City is possible, doable, and wonderful. Lendon told me of her journey through different types of loss and she told me about the process of self-discovery that has accompanied hardship. Her journey is a patchwork lifestyle-- a long process of stitching colorful experiences together, finding opportunities to work here and there, and creating things of beauty from the pieces you pick up. 

Mending the Broken Parts: A mentor of mine recently asked me if I thought my love of quilting comes from a desire to make peace with the world and mend brokenness. That's exactly it. I would hope that anyone who knows my true strengths and vulnerabilities, my triumphs and my epic failures, knows that my patchwork is not perfect, but it is love.

Suzanah Furtick 2018

Suzanah Furtick 2018

Choosing Fabric: Color and Texture by Suzanah Furtick

Suzanah Furtick 2018

Suzanah Furtick 2018

Shopping for cloth takes me back to the feeling of childhood, where everything was new, to be discovered. I love the sensation of walking down the rows of fabric, running my fingers across the bolts. It reminds me of how it felt as a child to run my arm around the circular racks of soft chiffon blouses hanging in department stores or climbing quietly between slippery organza dresses into the center of racks while my mother shopped. 

One early memory from my life is reading a book called "The Touch Me Book." On the cover it had a dog, with a fuzzy cut-out of fabric on its stomach. I can still remember how it felt to snap the red rubber band inside and the sound it made. Every page had a different texture to touch and feel: soft, spongy, rough, sticky, bumpy, and springy.

In my opinion, art, whatever the form, should not just look good, it should feel good. There should be mystery, curiosity, and longing that goes beyond color and shape. The texture of the surface of a painting, sculpture, or a quilt should awaken something childlike in the viewer that triggers an urge  to reach out and touch it. So when I look for fabric, I am looking for colors and textures that evoke feelings, memories, and desire.

When it comes to color, I can spend hours clipping swatches and comparing colors. The search for hues and shades of fabrics reminds me of what it feels like to gather leaves in the park during autumn. Every project like every autumn feels brighter and somehow, always new.

Here are two photographs I took, years apart: one is the shopping cart of fabric for the Frida Quilt, and the other is a photograph I took of leaves in a gutter that stopped me in my tracks during a jog. Color is a big part of my memories, artistic visions, and dreams- and when I create art in any form, I am flipping through the color memory index in my mind. My hope is that  viewers will feel something-- even if they don't know why. I want to create an experience where they cannot help but feel.


Suzanah Furtick 2013

Suzanah Furtick 2013

Frida Quilt Sketch by Suzanah Furtick

This is a sketch of Frida Kahlo. My plan for the next year is to create a series of textile collages to honor famous women from history.

When I first dreamed up the idea for this series, Frida was the first woman who came to mind. Frida's sense of color, love of bright textiles, bold geometric jewelry, delicate floral headpieces, pride in natural beauty, and struggle to create despite pain resonate with me.

When I created LHOOQ, I started with a full scale collage, building as I went along. With this piece I decided to do a sketch first with pencil and sharpie. Then I added watercolor and gouache to plan the color.

When I think of Frida I imagine bright magenta flowers in her hair, and waxy emerald leaves in the background like she included in her painting: Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird. My hope is that the richness of the colors in this piece reflects the brilliance of her style. The complementary colors of red and green should shine beautifully next to each other.

When I initially painted this, I started with a pale yellow base on her skin. As I added the magenta and green, I realized that there was too much going on with the palette of this piece. So, I kept going and added an array of light pinks to cover those yellow highlights. In my opinion, editing out the yellow to emphasize the reds and greens simplifies the look. Like writing, sometimes what you leave out is as important as the things you choose to include.

I painted this in my sketchbook. As an artist I have a lot of ideas that rise quickly out of the darkness and burst into my mind like bright fireworks. The ideas and images flash into my imagination quickly and hang in my mind like a flare. During the brightness of the imaginative flare, I like to document it in my sketchbooks.

Sketchbooks are a big part of my creative process. As I share more of my process with new work, I hope to share my sketchbooks past and present here on my blog. I hope you enjoy!


Image by Suzanah Furtick

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