Why We Support the Arts – Chelsea Steverson, C4 Atlanta Operations Manager

Each of us in the Atlanta arts community has a unique and inspiring story about our relationship with arts and culture. C4 Atlanta would like to share our own personal accounts of what the arts means to us at and what brought us here:

Chelsea’s Story —

Chelseas first summer in Atlanta.
Chelsea and her best friend, Rachel, hanging out during her first summer in Atlanta.

If you had told me 6 years ago that I would one day be the Operations Manage for an arts service organization, I would have laughed in your face. 6 years ago I was simply trying to graduate with my BFA in Media and Performing Arts from the Savannah College of Art and Design and figure out what my next acting gig was. In no way was “non-profit administration work” part of my vocabulary as I was dedicated to the idea of being a professional Shakespearean actress or nothing at all. Of course, things change, priorities shift, and you simply can’t deny “your calling”.

Of course, all stories have a beginning and I would be doing both myself and you a disservice if I didn’t divulge a little history into how art shaped me into the lady I am today.

You can take the girl out of the South, but not the South out of the girl.
You can take the girl out of the South, but not the South out of the girl.

I would like to say that I lived a normal, small-town childhood, but that would be a lie. Coming from a military family the world I existed in was always black and white, and because I grew up in the small farming community of Blackshear, Georgia this was easy to do. No one thought outside of the box, everyone attended church on Sunday, and your personal business was never kept secret for long. This was all I knew until a few weeks prior to my 7th birthday when my whole life changed. I was diagnosed with Burkits Lymphoma, a type of Nonhodgkins Lymphoma…. in layman’s terms…cancer.

For the next year of my life I was poked, prodded, and tested only to be pulled from the 1st grade early. Chemotherapy was the only answer, and within weeks of beginning treatment I had lost every speck of hair on my body.

I mention this not because of what I learned during my time in and out of the hospitals, but what I learned when I came back and had to begin 2nd grade. As one can imagine, I was ostracized immediately on my first day back. No one understand why I was the only one kid who got to wear a hat; why I couldn’t participate in recess; and why the “girl” from last year now looked like a “boy”. Needless to say, I learned the hard way how to be my own best friend.

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Chelsea Steverson, 7 years old, wearing her new hat with the bow.

As a young girl, my self-esteem was quickly smashed and socializing was a thing of my past. My nights were plagued with nightmares of humiliation and my days were lonely. Therefore, I looked to my education and reading a way to entertain myself. Unfortunately, my quickly rising grades and high academic level was more fuel for my peers to make fun of me.

At the beginning of my 3rd grade year I was encouraged to audition for the school chorus by my church youth leader. After mustering up the courage and buying a new hat with a bow to cover my peach fuzz of a haircut, I  went out for the auditions. To my surprise I was accepted, but what I didn’t realize is that moment would change my life forever. Chorus rehearsal were filled with an energy and friendliness that I had never found before, and the people accepted me regardless of my hair. This was my first step in finding performance as a outlet for expression and rebuilding my damaged self-worth.

Because all Storm Troopers look better in a sundress.
Because all Storm Troopers look better in a sundress.

As one can imagine, being diagnosed with cancer caused me grow up very early. I was faced the concept of death early on and had to deal with many problems and situation that an average 7 year old should never have to face, but I found an outlet in art. Performance was the first, and from there I found painting, writing, and acting. If you had told 7 year old Chelsea sitting in the bathroom crying during recess that 10 years down the road that I would graduate from high school at the top of my class with a scholarship to a private arts school for acting I would never have believed you. Truth is, those experiences of misunderstanding from my peers taught me to value each and every person for their uniqueness while art taught me that being unique is perfectly okay.

I have spilled this story forth not to induce pity, but to express a sense of pride I have in myself and the art that I make. All of my priorities stem from these early life experiences and how they have shaped me into the person I am today. It led me to college and helped me find a life purpose in the arts.

In 2007, I begin my journey through the Savannah College of Art and Design. There are no words to prepare a small-town southern girl for the experience of private art school. It was single-handedly the best 4 years of my life. The education was great but the opportunities and the people I met left the most important impressions on my young adult life. Where else could I share a beer and have a single conversation that encompasses both Star Wars, Buddhism, and gender equality? This was a truly revolutionary time for me.

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Backstage fun time at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. Chelsea (left) as one of the witches in Macbeth.

I spent my summers in undergrad acting for Shakespeare companies across the US including the Utah Shakespeare Festival and the Shakespeare Theatre of NJ. Upon graduation I moved to Atlanta to fulfill an internship with the local theatre Actor’s Express. As many free-lance artists, I found a day job in corporate retail and was quickly moving up the internal managerial ranks. By 2012 I was managing the number one store for Paper Source in the nation. Sounds perfect right? Unfortunately I was deliriously unhappy, and not just with my day job. I was finding myself unfulfilled by acting both on stage and on screen. After much soul searching and the normal mid-20’s breakdown I realized that I loved art but I loved the ARTIST more.

Its the people and the minds behind the work that were really inspiring to me. I found that more and more artists in my life (myself included) felt like they had no control of their artistic careers and were wondering around a diluted and often unfriendly market. I had found a new calling…. the artists and their needs. There was untapped inspiration in the idea that my efforts weren’t specifically focused on just the product of art, but instead supporting the people and their process of making it.

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Chelsea Steverson as young Lara Croft, DragonCon 2015

In 2014 I took myself back to grad school to answer for this hole in my life. SCAD welcomed me back with open arms, and I found a new home in the Arts Administration field. Here I was able to use my innate skills in business while also being more active than ever in the arts. Thanks to my graduate degree I’ve had the chance to work for organizations like The Atlanta History Center, Arts for Learning at the Woodruff, Actor’s Express, and the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta.

When I’m not busy wearing my administrator hat I run a small arts collective, Catalyst Arts Atlanta, perform with theatres around Atlanta, paint in the comfort of my own apartment, spend my summers at arts/music festivals, and let my nerd flag fly actively cosplaying at DragonCon each year. Additionally, I’m honored to serve as the inaugural chair of the Ambassador program at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia.

Chelsea advocates for arts funding at a local Commissioners Meeting.
Chelsea advocates for arts funding at a local Commissioners Meeting.

I am a very blessed and lucky woman. I’m educated, have the best friends and family in the world, and have been in remission for almost 20 years. I have many people to thank for where I am today, but mostly I want to say thank you to each and every person that loves and supports an artist. I am who I am because of the arts, and so I dream of being an ambassador for the arts. Thanks to C4 Atlanta I get to actively work towards that goal everyday.

 

 

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