Mississippi Artist to Artist

tlybARTMAG interview: the What's Good Project with Jennifer Drinkwater

March 22, 2022 The What's Good Project Episode 47
Mississippi Artist to Artist
tlybARTMAG interview: the What's Good Project with Jennifer Drinkwater
Show Notes Transcript

tlybARTMAG is a visual arts magazine that focuses on Contemporary Artists living or working in Mississippi. The first issue is available to view or download for free at tlybARTMAG.com

You can order one of the limited print copies at thelittleyellowbuilding.com

Find Jennifer and the What's Good Project:
https://whatsgoodproject.com/
https://jenniferdrinkwater.com/
https://www.instagram.com/thewhatsgoodproject/
https://www.instagram.com/jenniferdrinkwater/

Thank you to the Friends of TLYB! Your membership helps fund the transcription of the podcast for the hearing impaired.

If you would like to become a member, visit https://www.thelittleyellowbuilding.com/store/c15/Membership_for_2022.html

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Derek Smith:

Hello and welcome or welcome back to the Mississippi artists to artists podcast where we feature contemporary artists living and working in Mississippi. Today is special today is the release of the TL YV, art mag, the very first issue, it's a visual arts magazine dedicated to the contemporary artists living and working in Mississippi. Three of the articles in the magazine were based on interviews that I hosted over zoom. And we have turned those into special edition TL YB art mag interview, podcast things I don't know, I wanted to to be able to hear all of the words that they said not just the edited bars that made it into the magazine. So we're going to release these back to back starting with Jennifer Drinkwater and the what's good project, you can visit tly V art mag.com To download your issue view online or purchase the limited edition copy. All right on to the interview. In your the podcast, we covered a lot about the you as an artist. And what I want to focus on for the article is really the what's good project. So why don't you go ahead and give us the elevator pitch for the what's good project?

Jennifer Drinkwater:

Sure. So the what's good project basically is, is artwork created and inspired by conversations that I have with community members around the country around the country with an asterick that is primarily just Iowa, Mississippi right now, because that's where I live in Iowa, and I'm from Mississippi. Um, but yeah, that's the that's the elevator pitch. It's I've gotten it down to like a sentence,

Derek Smith:

which is great. And how did all this originate?

Jennifer Drinkwater:

Great question. And I'm actually given a presentation on this in Ames on Wednesday. So this is all perfect timing. So there's two parts to it. Two parts. The first part is and this kind of goes back to the podcast that we did that you so graciously hosted me, but go into art school in the late 90s. As an artist, you're given like two options, you can either get a master's degree, and you can teach or you can try and pray for a gallery representation and earn money, right. So like there's no business, or I did not receive any entrepreneurial business training at all, that was the thing. So then, um, so I got a master's degree and I started teaching. And during that, I started working for Iowa State Extension, which means I drive around Iowa and work with communities for Community Economic Development using art, which is great. And I come back to Mississippi quite a bit. And my favorite thing in the world is road trips and visiting town like little communities and discovering not discovering things, but learning about new places and new people. So I've meet all these great folks doing amazing things in their communities. We're primarily rural communities, and you just don't hear about them. You don't hear about these things, you have these all of these sort of really depressing stereotypes and generalizations that you read about rural America, particularly rural Mississippi, particularly rural Iowa. And that just has not been my experience. So I thought, what can I do, to create, you know, to, to somehow leverage these stories, and I do not have a big platform, but I'm a painter, and I love painting other people's I love painting cultural things like I'm not a self expressive painter. So I thought, as I was doing extension work, I learned about something called asset based community development, which is a framework and a philosophy that when you want to improve community, you need to focus on what's good there, the strengths that already exist. Doing that creates a sense of hope and empowerment with the folks who live there, right? If you just sit there, and you have a community meeting about all of the challenges and strings, which is called deficit based community development, it doesn't go well folks get sad. And I don't know about you, but when I'm sad, like I don't want to do very much. So the key is to focus on the strengths. So that's where the what's good project started is as I just started going into communities, I'm already doing it anyway. And just asking people tell me what's good, which I was kind of already doing anyway, right? You go to a new place you want to hear what is the what's the thing I need to see or know about are the stories I need to hear. And so then I was transcribing those conversations. And I started creating paintings based stone, a lot of that. And it it since they're usually places, right? They're usually like buildings or landscape or they're not really figurative, I didn't really want to focus on the people as much just because that felt more a little bit more intrusive, potentially and more personal. And so those are housed on my website, what's good project.com. And I asked the folks that I interviewed to identify a nonprofit organization and their community said, 20%, of any sales from the art goes to that organization. So it comes kind of a little bit of a reinvestment also, because it's their stories, right, I did that. And I still have issues in my brain of like, am I profiting off other people's stories, I'm totally not trying to do that. But this felt like a good balance, or it feels like a good balance now. So that's kind of how it started. It started in 2019. And it started to it started to grow, which is awesome. It's really fun.

Derek Smith:

What's the process? You went in, and you found your origin? So then you had to develop a process. And I know, as well as anybody that when you start some new project, like you stumble a couple of times? How did you go about starting it? And how did that develop?

Jennifer Drinkwater:

Um, the way that you just described how you work is kind of how I work. So I was like, lightbulb moment, you know, I'm gonna do this. And so then I, I, I don't force is a strong word. But I really I asked my husband Aaron to be my guinea pig. And so he took me to a play grew up in Southern Iowa took me to a lake, where he grew up, and, and we did have a conversation, I interviewed him, I learned new things about him, which we've been together for almost a decade. So that was great. And then created at the time I started doing drawings, I was like, I'm gonna just do little drawings and one painting. And I don't really like drawing. So I'm not sure why that was a great idea, probably because I thought it would be quick. So, so that was stumbled number one, I just scrapped the drawing thing after a while. And then I applied for a grant on campus here at Iowa State, we're fortunate we have faculty funds to do that. And I decided I was like, I'm just gonna see if I can get a grant to go down to the Delta. Because that's, to me, that's where I was born. I love We got married in the Delta. Like, we go back all the time. I love it. And I thought there are stories in the Delta, you know, because I had spent time there recently. And so I got the grant. So getting the money, you're like, Well, I'm doing this now. So then, that was the summer of 2019. And I went down and I spent, I think I made three separate trips, like summer, three fall, and I had a show lined up at Jackson State University in Jackson. And so and I wanted to have paintings done for that, which was a great deadline, you know, so I had no pressure, right. No pressure. And then the other thing was a really cool initiative that the I Will Arts Council did with the Iowa Department of Natural department of my gosh, the DNC, no, not the DNC, DNR Department of Natural Resources, they created a project called 20 artists and 20 parks. So they put one artist in a state park and we had to create art based on our experiences in that park. So I just interviewed park ranger, and I was like, Oh, look at all these weird times. So all of these things were happening at once. So it was like, to me it was like it was a sign from the universe. I'm just gonna go for this. Um, so then so I went to the delta that summer fall and I did six interviews and six different counties. And Derek I'm still catching up with I mean, I'm so I'm not a slow painter, but my, you know, your job, like a full time job kind of gets in the way and then the pandemic and so, um, so I have, if I could do it all over again, I would have been probably more honest with myself about my timeline, and everybody's been so gracious. Like, I've emailed folks in the Delta that I interviewed and I'm like, Look, I'm real slow. I'm, you know, these this project is still moving forward, whatever and they've been like no problem because it's not like it's anything on their, you know, their there's no deadline for them. So, um, so I'm still like, I have not really done any new interviews, because I'm still working on I'm working on Tallahatchie County, which should be done hopefully in a couple of weeks, and then I'm going to do Sharky County, and low floor and coma. Um, and then I've got I was invited by community here in Iowa to go to their town and start doing what's good there. So I just had my first interview with one of the an artist in Oskaloosa. And so that will be at the end of the year. So I'm kind of holding off on interviews just because I've got a backlog. Yeah. But I do you have actually, I'll be down in Mississippi in the fall for a couple weeks at Jack's farms. So I'm gonna come visit you and meet you in person at some point, but I want to like, do I would love to interview like, you know, there's what, like, eight more counties I need to do in the Delta. And it My dream is like, I want to do every county in the state, but that will take me decades, or

Derek Smith:

one of those old wooden Mississippi maps that have counties all in blocks, and you

Jennifer Drinkwater:

say exactly what is. Right. Exactly. Yeah. So it's been, um, it's been interesting. And I guess throughout all of that, I've just tried to I've started doing limited edition prints is like another way to kind of keep, have a lower price point for folks and also create more income stream for those nonprofits potentially. So a cool thing that's happened just naturally, Velma Wilson, who I interviewed from quipment County, she's and we've developed a great kind of working relationship friendship over the past few years. And she is the Quitman County tourism and economic director now and so they have a welcome center. And there were, I sent her probably 50 prints in the fall and a bunch of greeting cards with the paintings I'd done. And so we're splitting the proceeds 5050 So whatever they you know, paid for the product and then the it's just easy income for them. You know, it's been closed, but they still I mean, I think they still have been getting some sales, which is kind of cool.

Derek Smith:

That's awesome. I do the the historical society here in Brookhaven since I moved back, they got me to do a landmark each year. ornament. Yeah. So that for it's just, it's not only nice to get that circulated, but they're so grateful. Right? They're so grateful.

Jennifer Drinkwater:

Yeah. Right. And it's, it's cool to have something that's a visual. I think, as artists, we don't realize, like, what we can how we can contribute, we just think, Oh, well, yeah, that's what I do is I make art, but other people are like, Oh my gosh, that's so cool, that it's up our town, you know, of our community that this exists or whatever, um, and Quitman. County, their website, they've used all of the paintings that I've done for them. It's like their images on there, which is I'm super flattered by that. You know, so you get on Discover qc.org. And it's like, Jennifer drink water.

Derek Smith:

But how exciting. Does that make the town look? Yeah, yeah. Because I mean, your paintings are super exciting. Like, they're, I could see if a town went and use that that would be a nice pool.

Jennifer Drinkwater:

Yeah. Well, and I had no, you know, you can't predict that sort of stuff like your podcast, right? It's like, you just have no idea how it's gonna unfold. But it's just being flexible and open to how you can best serve and go with the people. You're partnered with, you know, your partners and your communities and all that. So it's been, it's awesome.

Derek Smith:

So what's the dream? What would be the simulus develop in the future? What would be like your ultimate vision?

Jennifer Drinkwater:

Um, to quit my job? I mean, I don't know if I should probably put that in the magazine. But um, yeah, I would love to be a full time artists like, love it, I would love to be able to have more of a presence in Mississippi, whether it's like spinning half a year or moving back, you know, like, it's hard to do if you can't, if you don't have, you know, some income, right. I would love that. I think it would be great to I've had a couple of people that I've met from other communities up in the Midwest asked me what would it look like for me to come and like, be an artist in residence in their place for like a month and do a what's good project and that would be awesome. If I had the, you know, if I could just leave for a month or whatever. So the self employment thing is like, really the dream and then I think it'd be really cool to do a book or do like, some kind of little Docu series or something, you know, to be able to really get some of these stories out there and get well no, I just feel like all these communities are doing such great stuff and to get some accolades or whatever I I think I see what I do is I like making connections between places and people I'm like, I'm a character feels like you're a connector to and like that's a big role that we can play and just be like, Hey, this is awesome. You need to know about what's happening over here, you know, and then like, support it, whether you can go visit or send money or whatever, um, how can we just draw more attention to all the good things that are already happening? You know, so that could be through lots of different ways, I guess.

Derek Smith:

Thank you as always, to our members, the friends of little yellow building, Beth Breeland, Mary Hardy, Jenny Moke, Evelyn Peavy Jennifer Drinkwater, the Smith family Gwen fury, Mary Adams, the Evans Family, Janet Smith, Jenny Howard, Buffy Jordan and Bob Ruzek.