Photo by Hidden Productions
Meet the Artist is a brand new blog series where we will be interviewing local artists that are transforming our area. With the mission to nurture a vibrant regional arts culture through support, promotion and education, we think it would be a great delight for the 318 to get to know our hometown artists’ stories and learn what amazing feats they are accomplishing to help our area flourish!
With the Downtown Gallery Crawl having celebrated its 10th Anniversary on June 7, we thought it would be perfect for the community to get to know the current President of the Downtown Arts Alliance, Kelsea McCrary.
Q: What are you currently involved with in the area?
A: I’m currently involved with or on the board of: the Downtown Arts Alliance, Twin City Arts Foundation, Downtown West Monroe Revitalization Group, Ouachita Business Alliance, ARROW Public Art, Monroe Renaissance, the Louisiana Trust for Historical Preservation, L Club for ULM, and maybe a few others. I am also actively involved with the Northeast Louisiana branding initiative and North Monroe Baptist Church.
Q: Tell me some more about your background; what was your childhood like, when did your interest in art begin, what made you decide to major in art?
A: I’m from a musical family; growing up (and still to this day), I was in studio dance classes. Dance was a main impetus for choosing ULM. I always asked for sketchbooks and art supplies; I read a ton, loved the library, and had an educator and pianist for a mom, so my life was pretty centered around learning of all types of subjects, especially the arts. I don’t really think I thought of it as more than a hobby until I arrived at university, and took my first “basic design” class. I remember walking out, calling my parents, and saying “that syllabus just explained my brain to me.” I changed my major and didn’t look back.
Q: How did you become affiliated with the Downtown Arts Alliance, and what do you plan on doing as its President?
A: I first came on board about 4-5 years ago as a curator of one of the galleries. Then, I became Vice President. I was then voted in as President about three years ago. My term actually comes to a close this summer, but within my term we have totally re-branded: new logo, new look, new website, new videos, new everything. We’ve expanded our board, adjusted our sponsorship focus to include micro-funding and a “friends” program. We have also really focused on arts awareness, education, accessibility, and public projects on both sides of the river while really pushing forward into a more robust digital presence with a heavy emphasis on social media.
Q: After Thursday, what does it mean to you to have the 10th season of the Downtown Gallery Crawl in the books?
A: It means our next chapter begins; we continue to reinvent ourselves while keeping our mission statement in mind of education, awareness, exposure, and connectivity. This event is such a beautiful example of a labor of love from the many wonderful volunteers that comprise our board, and we absolutely love the six times per year that we get to work to make this happen.
Q: To you, what is the biggest highlight regarding the Art Crawls, and what is a change you would like to make for the future?
A: The Crawl has become one of the most diverse events in our parish. Crawlers of all income levels, backgrounds, races, and experiences attend our events. The arts tend to be a uniting force that bring people together who wouldn’t normally be in the same crowd. We love being a part of that. One thing we want to focus on for the future are more of these underserved populations, while continuing to nurture the creative community we already have here in the 318.
Q: Where do you go or what do you do to get inspired?
A: I go outside. I love living in Louisiana – even in the middle of the summer. I spend time around my nieces, and I usually call my grandparents as much as I can. It’s not so much inspiration as it is a reminder of what’s important and who matters.
Q: Other than art, what are some things most people do not know you are passionate about?
A: I totally geek out about Greek mythology and the Tudor dynasty. I also really enjoy experimenting with cooking and trying to find healthy alternatives to meals
Q: What is the most touching or rewarding moment you have experienced in your art career?
A: Every time I stand on Art Alley, South Grand, DeSiard, or Antique Alley during a Downtown Gallery Crawl, I see families, young people, longtime patrons, college students, and groups of Crawlers of every type interacting with the artists, talking with our Gallery Directors or Curators, or just walking around both downtowns having a good time. I am reminded of the depth of the work that we do, and the privilege that it is to be part of such an effort. When I made that decision as an 18 year old to pursue the Fine Arts, you can bet that I didn’t think it would lead to this.
Q: What is one piece of advice you would give to all of the artists out there?
A: Find out what your weaknesses are as early on as you can and work on those. I had a professor tell me once to “paint the hands first,” meaning, do the hard things as quickly as you can. At the same time, speak out about your strengths and capitalize on them. Don’t be afraid to say what you enjoy and what you are good at doing. Lastly, take a business class. I mean it.
Q: What is your dream project for the future?
A: I have several, and I’ll keep them under wraps for now, but an absolute dream would be to see a perception shift for our area. To see our citizens realize the opportunity they have to capitalize on what is already here in Ouachita Parish and the surrounding cities and towns and to be extremely proud of it. I’d also like to continue helping our future generations of creatives and artists recognize the network that exists and help enrich their ability to put down roots and contribute to our growing arts and culture community.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to mention that I did not ask?
A: The best way to improve where you live, no matter where it is, is to do something about it. That sounds cliche, but we know it to be true and of value. To change something, to contribute to a place, to make it better- those are enduring legacies. And honestly, it is really fun to work on these plans with people you like and happen to get along with. Arts and culture are a wonderful area of life to plug into, and we always have room for more.
The Northeast Louisiana Arts Council is extremely thankful for what Kelsea is doing for our area, and we admire her dedication to what she is so passionate about.
– Joanna Calhoun