In this special guest editorial, Charlotte creative Meredith Connelly shares the story her ups and downs and lessons learned building her career as an artist in the Queen City.
Asking me what it’s like to be a creative in Charlotte caused me to hit rewind and reflect on my journey. I have been a working artist in the Charlotte area for over a decade and have watched the cultural landscape shift and morph as time has passed.
Overall, it has been an invigorating experience, but it has also been a long road with speed bumps, detours and a few fender benders.
When I relocated to the Charlotte area after graduating from college, many galleries had closed as a result of the recession. The arts community was struggling. I had made the decision to leave my creative ecosystem in Wilmington, N.C. to move and find a job in my field, expand my work as an artist and be closer to my now-husband. I worked multiple jobs through college while raising a child, but also had the comfort of a very supportive academic environment and professors willing to provide me with opportunities to push my artistic process and do independent study work my senior year.
Even then, using light as a material was at the core element of my work, and I wanted to investigate it further. While studying, I had also settled in my first studio space at ACME artist studios, a warehouse in downtown Wilmington. There, I worked alongside 20 other artists. They were my community.
A Difficult, But Necessary Leap
Moving to Charlotte – taking the next step and leaving a comfortable space – was hard. –
But moving here was a necessary leap. It was a “rip the Band-Aid” moment in my life. I shifted from working in a community environment to working out of our garage, alone and next to the lawnmower on nights and weekends.
Don’t get me wrong; I was happy to have the space (and oddly came to love the smell of fresh-cut grass and gasoline), but it was a hard transition. It took some time to adjust to the area and, at first glance, the arts community at large was very different from where I had been living.
First Impressions of the Charlotte Art Scene
My first impressions were that the Charlotte art scene was impenetrable, that you had to know someone or have a large bank account to be successful. I had neither. At times I felt like my work and skills were invisible.
I was lonely in my creative space, slightly lost and disconnected. There were times during those early years here when I would question my validity as an artist and wonder if I would ever work hard enough or have a potential opportunity to pursue my work full-time.
I remember even crying a few times because I wanted so badly to create all day, every day. It felt like there was a giant brick wall in front of me that I had to break through, but all I had was a rusty chisel and a tiny hammer to use as tools. Can a homegirl get some dynamite, please?
Looking Back with Experienced Eyes
Though untrue, looking back, it felt like I had put my art on the back burner in order for me to survive and that I was moving backward. Through my 20-something eyes, I wasn’t creating enough. I wasn’t breaking through that artistic wall fast enough. I wasn’t being validated by curators or galleries. And I wasn’t a “successful” artist because I was unknown and not making a living doing it.
But, let’s call it what it really was: I didn’t think I was enough.
If I could sit across from my past self, I would just give her a hug and tell her, “Patience, child. Patience.”
Because, my feelings of inadequacy was a “me thing,” not an “art thing.”I had to face the self-doubt head-on. Through the depths of internal questioning, I recalibrated and decided to push past the discomfort, commit to my work, stand firm in my calling and grow.
I stopped making excuses, and I started making. Not for recognition or to gain a profit, but because it was what I was called to do from the inside out. I had a vision for my works. I chose to trust and accept myself, which took years and is ongoing.
Through that process, I continuously discovered more of my creative process and voice. So, I honed in on my juggling skills and spread myself thin (probably too thin) among my roles as a museum professional, an independent contractor, a working artist, a mom of a teen and an infant and a wife.
Seeing The Bigger Picture in the Queen City
With time and through work and commitment, I began sharing my work at art centers and museums, through emerging artist programs by the Arts and Science Council and was contracted to create a large public outdoor program.
It was then that the dots all connected. I could see the bigger picture. All of the growing pains and all that time was needed to mold me, to sharpen me for the next phase of art-making, and to immeasurably grow the skills I needed to operate as a business.
Now after working as a creative in Charlotte for 12 years, I am firmly grounded in my goal to contribute to our community and beyond through creating publicly accessible art. I do not take the gift to share and express myself for granted.
Charlotte has been around since the 1700s but it is a young “big city” and is growing, evolving and changing daily. There are countless buildings going up, numerous art groups, residencies and a diverse creative community. Art is being activated, and more and more companies, developers and organizations are ready to support expression while simultaneously supporting local.
Building a Creative Career Here
It’s wonderful to have the opportunity for my career and practice to parallel this path and be in a place where I can support other underfunded and underrepresented artists along the way through mentorship, contracted work and through Ash & Ochre, a business I co-founded with my best friend, Katie Causey-Miller, that supports local makers.
I am also incredibly grateful to have creative friends that understand the sacred obsession with making and who are into collaboration over competition, allowing for more wonderful work and relationships to come to fruition.
But, it’s not all glowing mushroom tops and “Fairy Rings” (my first permanent installation in Charlotte) in my world, though there are many experiences for which I’m grateful and excited.
I work wild and long hours, and working in a creative profession is vulnerable, especially in this new phase of my creative career growth. I am making and designing more than I have in my entire life, which is simultaneously inspiring, challenging, and at times, beautifully overwhelming.
I have to actively re-center myself to combat workaholic patterns and perfectionist tendencies. I do this intuitively by saying no/not overcommitting, charging accordingly for my work, standing firm in my creative integrity, advocating for my creative rights and, most importantly, through the process of connecting through art.
Embrace the Process
There are days or weeks where I am better at it than others, but like art-making, it’s a process that I fully embrace. I am humbled to create, grateful to connect and in awe that I am able to live my expressive life in Charlotte. While I look forward to what the future holds, I am also doing my best to enjoy the present, because time flies when you are making giant glowing sculptures.
I hope my story hits home for other creatives and is a reminder that the very act of creating is your magic.
- Use it.
- Be proud of it
- And, keep going.
The world needs artists, and your work is important.
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