In Her Own Words. In Her Own Art.

I met Tori Tinsley through Kamal Sinclair. Tori is a former participant of Kamal’s Entrepreneurship in the Arts seminar. When Kamal told me Tori’s story, I was so touched that I had to reach out to her. I asked her if she would write a little about her experience in the course. More importantly, I wanted her story to demonstrate that art is communication. It is how we have captured moments in this life. Brief. Beautiful. Moments.

This is Tori’s story…

Last year in March, my mother was diagnosed with fronto-temporal dementia (FTD), a progressive disease that shrinks the frontal temporal lobes of the brain and causes changes in personality, loss of memory, and eventually death. As my family and I struggled with this prognosis and looked ahead to what the future might bring, I continued to work in a highly stressful job as an art teacher at a residential treatment facility for youth with behavioral and emotional challenges. As my summer break approached, I spent hours online looking at summer programs, continuing education courses, and any other outlet I could find that would allow me to escape the anxiety, anger and fear that followed me day to day. While looking at Savannah College of Art’s continuing education courses, I saw a class for Arts and Entrepreneurship and signed up immediately. I had always been mad at myself for not taking a business course as an undergraduate painting major or as an art therapy graduate student. This class appeared to have enough sustenance to keep me busy over the break and might lead to the creation of a successful art business.

After the first class, I realized how little I knew about the importance of focusing my intention and market research. I knew it was going to be a lot of work over the next 8 weeks, but I was excited to learn more and the class fed my need for a creative outlet. Kamal Sinclair, our gifted and inspiring instructor, led us step-by-step through each phase of business planning. Because she’s done it herself, Kamal understands how an arts-based business is created and run.

During the second or third class, Kamal introduced us to the concept of a Blue Ocean, or a business idea that is not being developed by many others in the same market. During a discussion about Blue Oceans, our class watched a video about the artist and theoretical biologist Sala and his project One Thousand Paintings. Sala’s series takes a look at the value of art by providing a finite amount of paintings, each having a painted number from 1 to 1000 on canvas. As the number of sold paintings in the series increases, the price of the existing artworks also increases, thus following the laws of supply and demand (you can learn more about the process at I was so amazed that this biologist had cracked into theories behind the value of art without having an art background, that I was inspired that I might be able to investigate an important theory of my own through art as well.

As the pressures from my mother’s progressive illness   increased, I began to be consumed by it and looked for answers online. After having difficulty finding information about the disease and not having any FTD local support groups to turn to, my sister and I started talking about creating a website about FTD to help others find information and support. We wanted to call it Mom’s Laugh in order to pay homage to my mother, whose laugh was always the hallmark of her personality, and to highlight the effect FTD has on personality. One day around the same, the idea of the Mom’s Laugh Project surfaced. The bare bones of the project came first; basically, what if I created paintings and donated money from the proceeds to FTD research, but destroyed ones that were not sold in order to raise awareness of the disease. The more I thought about it, the more details developed and a stronger sense of purpose grew within me.

I remember running the idea by my husband and him saying, “Did you think of that by yourself?” I knew at that point that I had something and took it back to my class to get feedback and see how it could be developed further.

In class, Kamal and my classmates agreed that there was something special about the idea. In each subsequent lesson, they gave me feedback on how I could market my idea, who I should contact, and what directions I could take my business. By the end of the class, the Mom’s Laugh Project had a website, a board of advisors, and a small series of paintings started.

A few months after the class was over and I was back in my 9 to 5 job, I continued thinking about the Mom’s Laugh Project and working on it little by little. In March of 2010, one year after my mom’s diagnosis, I collaborated with my friend Jenny Henley to show the work in her gallery space. I had also contacted The Association of Fronto-temporal Dementias (AFTD) and they were delighted to assist in spreading the word about the project and exhibit. To date, 19 paintings have been sold and we have helped raise close to $1500 for the AFTD.

This past spring, I left a full-time job to focus on the Mom’s Laugh Project, spend time with my mother, and work as a contract art therapist with two organizations. In addition to the Association of Fronto-temporal Dementias, the project has also led to collaborations with the Alzheimer’s Association, Emory University’s Neurology Department, where my mother receives treatment, and Atria Buckhead, where my mother now lives. I do not believe I would have been able to channel my grief in such a positive and constructive way had I not taken the business class with Kamal last year. I highly recommend this class and ones similar to it to anyone looking to start an arts-based business, or any business for that matter.  

I want to wrap up with a favorite quote from Archbishop Desmond Tutu that I often say to myself when overwhelmed with challenges stemming from taking care of my mother and her affairs: “Nothing is too much trouble for love.” It gets me through the most difficult of situations and always leaves me with a smile on my face. I encourage you to also state this affirmation when thinking about the kind of life you want to lead. If you want to love what you do and channel your creative spirit, then I say take the plunge and invest in yourself by allowing yourself to follow your dreams. It is one of the surest ways of leading a contented life that will benefit both you and the community in which you live.

To learn more about Tori Tinsley and her artwork, visit her website

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