As you may know, March is National Women’s History Month. Last year, C4 Atlanta shared the stories of women arts administrators in our city as part of a project with the National Women’s History Project called “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives”.
C4 Atlanta is excited to curate this blog series for the second year in a row! We will be highlighting women’s stories on our blog and on our social media throughout the month of March and into April. This year we have expanded the project to include
the stories of more women and to share a diverse range of experiences, including women nationally as well as locally. Sharing women’s triumphs challenges stereotypes within today’s society and overturns social assumptions about who women are and what women can accomplish.
With that being said, we’d love to introduce our next leading lady, Elizabeth Jarrett.
Where do you work and what do you do?
I am on staff (our roles are changing- exciting announcements soon) at Deer Bear Wolf. For the past couple of years, we have been a multifaceted platform for Atlanta artists with a small record label, printing press, and quarterly arts magazine. We also host regular events, including our reading series, Transgression, and the annualPhoenix Festival. I also recently opened a performance arts-based community center called the Downtown Players Club with artist Kris Pilcher. We are a space for avant-guard performance, experimentation, and incubation in Atlanta’s South Downtown neighborhood.
I think it’s important to note that I consider myself an artist first and foremost. I still freelance set design, paint, and write, but it’s also fulfilling to help other people with their creative endeavors.
What did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a writer. I used to bind my own books with original illustrations and I’ve always carried a notebook with me to jot down ideas or experiences. I also was interested in archeology, but eventually had to come to terms with the fact that all archeologists didn’t lead a life like Indiana Jones. Once I got a taste of the limelight though, I wanted to be a movie star. I still haven’t given that up.
Who was your favorite artist/writer/performer growing up?
My Dad was a professional photographer and prolific artist, so I was exposed to a lot of interesting people at an early age. Some family friends of ours had a personal relationship with folk artist Howard Finster, and I remember him being the first visual artist I really connected with. I was also inspired heavily by Judy Garland, Alfred Hitchcock (yes, even as a child), and later the writings of Zora Neale Hurston.
Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did that person teach you?
I’m going to bring this question back to my Dad. He passed away when I was 21, but the lessons he instilled in me regarding creative process are still very much a part of my life today. My Dad was always pushing us to express ourselves in whatever way we felt compelled to. My parents created an atmosphere we could flourish in- even building my sister and I our own studio spaces at age 7. I tell this often, but I remember once he took me into the woods behind our house and told me to explore barefoot because “it would strengthen my souls.” When I was about 10, he started a new photography company and asked me to name it and draw the logo… which he made the name and logo for the business. He showed me the importance of taking creative risks and always encouraged me to do exactly what I wanted to. Both of my parents were supportive in that way, and with Dad- everything was an adventure. I really wish he could participate in what I’m doing now because I know he would be there for every moment of it.
When and how did you first become interested in the arts? How long have you been in your line of work?
I have only been interested in the arts since I can remember. I think I started taking an active role in my artistic community around 5th grade, when I started performing publicly. The first production I did was “The Wizard of Oz.” The next year, my school did a very impressive staging of “Mary Poppins,” where I landed the title role. I would say I was officially hooked after that. I worked mostly in theater all the way through college and after- and entered the world of arts administration and curation out of necessity after my friends and I started a theater company. I’ve been pretty focused on that for the past 6 years.
How is art a passion for you?
I think art is the solution to all of the problems of the universe. That’s a little exaggerated, but I think that the power of creative thought and the importance of art in culture are undervalued by society as a whole. My life is constantly encompassed in art and by creative people, so for me there is little else that has the power to unite people, positively impact a community, and share modern culture with future generations.
What are your thoughts on equality and representation of women in the arts?
There have always been strong, influential women artists in the world. As with any other industry though, women are often underrepresented and not given credit for their work, especially when shared with a male counterpart. We have come a long way from women painters using a male pen name so their pieces would sell, but we still have a long way to go until we reach true equality. I think one of the keys to stronger female representation is having women in roles of power. The music industry is especially male dominated, but more female producers, studio engineers, musicians- that could inspire an entirely new age of young women to rise up within the industry. Women are powerful and have continued to demand recognition and representation- and it’s a slow change- but we have to continue to make noise if we want to see that change. The female artist is romanticized and fetishized, but I think a lot of women are inspired by their experiences to create compelling and moving work.
I yearn for the day that Yoko Ono is commended for her performance art work- work that sparked a movement- and not known as “the one who broke up the Beatles.” Everything we do, we have to work 10 times harder for to be taken seriously. I experience it daily- but I’m inspired by the women around me who refuse to let that stop them.. and there are a lot of them.
What in your profession has given you the greatest satisfaction or fulfillment? Looking back, what would you have done differently? What would you do again?
Curating events and experiences has been extremely fulfilling for me I think the tipping point was the very first Natural Selection I did at Deer Bear Wolf. Natural Selection is a variety show that I curate- there are no limitations or themes, I just give the performers ten minutes to do anything they want. I wanted to push performers to do something they might not have the opportunity to do in under more formal circumstances. I was delighted to see an audience witness an very experimental performance art piece, paired with a stand-up comedian, paired with a musician, topped off with Jungol’s visceral performance “Fooferaw.”
I think if I were to go back and do things again, I would make sure to manicure my own artistic craft and perhaps collaborate a little more. It’s not too late for that, though. I’ve had to build a lot out of nothing for myself and everything takes time. I would do any of it again.
What most excites you about the arts in Atlanta?
I’ve lived in Atlanta all of my life and watched the city grow and change. I’m most excited about the rise of a new generation of arts leaders who place an emphasis on political issues and community. Atlanta has been going through a sort of renaissance in the past couple of years, and I think the city’s creative class has made a point to maintain Atlanta culture and character in a way that should be recognized by the city. My hope is that our artists can gain national recognition for the important work happening here and that we can attract more creatives to the city- but first, we’ve got a lot of infrastructure issues to sort out.
What do you hope to contribute to the Atlanta arts community?
I hope to give artists in my community opportunity. Everything I do these days is to present people with the the tools they need (to the best of my ability) to create, whether it’s space or through an experience. It’s taking me years to figure out how to best use the resources I have to help others, but in the meantime I’m just trying to be a positive voice in Atlanta. I’m working towards a big picture goal, and every project is a catapult towards the Atlanta I hope for. Atlanta deserves an internationally recognized arts community, but it’s important that we start here at home, first. Currently, a lot of my time is spent helping to cultivate an arts district in South Downtown that celebrates all that the Atlanta arts community has to offer.
Where can I learn more about your organizations and work (websites, social media, etc.)?
- Deer Bear Wolf:
- Downtown Players Club:
Elizabeth Jarrett is a curator, artist, and designer born and raised in Atlanta, GA. She was a founding member of The Collective Project, Inc, the first resident theater company at The Goat Farm Arts Center and was a participant of The Millennial Trains Project in 2014, where she traveled via rail around the country researching public art in various cities. She graduated with a BA in Theater and Performance Studies from Kennesaw State University and continues to design and produce work around town. Elizabeth now works as Executive Director for Deer Bear Wolf and co-founded The Downtown Players Club, a performance-based community center. Her passion for building community has led her to working in various neighborhoods throughout Atlanta.