New York City can be a cruel mistress. So says 28 year-old Brittany Schall, an uber talented artist originally from Littleton, Colorado. Schall is in Jackson, part of the newly founded heARTalot designed to create and engage community. How – and why she is in Mississippi’s capital city – is a story you need to hear.
Fresh out of college less than six years ago, Schall hopped a flight to the Big Apple with dreams of making it as an artist. “Who needs a job or a place to live,” she pondered, with no set plan in mind.
With a couple of hundred dollars in her pocket, Schall lived with a friend of a friend from junior high school – in a closet in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn – and worked as a studio assistant while building her own portfolio.
“It didn’t hit me what New York City was,” she remembers. “I thought, ‘I’ll figure it out.’ It was very Pollyanna of me, but I needed a taste of the world before I chose to settle down somewhere.”
Determined, thinking back to her days at Heritage High School and the encouragement of teacher Wade Billeisen (“He always promoted my work,” she says), Schall set about making art. She was able to pay her rent as a self-represented artist without the help of a gallery. In New York City — or anywhere — success can be measured this way.
Fast forward to this past summer and Schall was packing – literally – a pop up space in Manhattan’s Meat Packing District for a limited time exhibit of curated artists. “People waited in line to get in,” she proudly proclaims, noting years of hard work under a seasoned artist who finally allowed Schall the chance to promote her own show.
That’s when she met Mississippi born Josh Hailey at a restaurant. The pair talked passions and plans. But Schall was confused. “He lived in a van and was a photographer?” she questioned. “Okay, I’ll talk to you; this is the most entertainment I’ve had in a while.”
Confusing — and amusing – conversation lead to the knowledge that both Schall and Hailey were running toward the same goals. “We found out our passions were similar and we were acting as one man shows,” she says of her already established Where’s North Arts. “I thought, we can bring so much to the table as a pair.”
When Schall’s show came down a month earlier than expected due to a double booking, she decided to come to Mississippi and help Hailey form heARTalot. He remembers it like this: “I think I said ‘Is there ever a chance in hell you’d move somewhere you didn’t know about and want to teach art and start a non-profit?’ You said, ‘Hell yeah, that sounds like a dream!’ That’s when I said I’m taking you to Jackson, Miss.”
A New Place to Belong
Schall had never been to south before. But she had learned about Mississippi’s creative people from Hailey. “He always told me about the amazing music and arts here and I was blown away by the amount of talent and creativity and skill and just pure untapped potential of this city,” she says. “Coming here, and having the standards like I do — and I don’t mean this in the wrong way at all: New York City is looked at as a world capital. To come from that and see things here at the same level, if not better was a knockout. To have it not be on the map is mind boggling.”
Like heARTalot, Schall has set about in promoting creativity and expanding upon the community that already exists. “I’m letting people know, ‘You’re amazing, you’re wonderful and there’s no reason to hang your head and slump your shoulders when you say, ‘I’m from Jackson, Mississippi.’ You’re so incredible.” In talking to individuals in the local creative community, Schall senses a self esteem that is almost atrophied. “The creative field is difficult financially and emotionally and effects every aspect of your life. I meet all these amazing people who are almost embarrassed, that say ‘I do this as a hobby,’ but what I’ve seen is better than people I know who make a living at it.”
Her advice: create community. “There’s enough for everyone,” she says. “It’s only when we are unwilling to share that we make a small world for ourselves that only a few are let into.” For those creatives who feel like they have been pushed aside, Schall encourages them to band together and support each other. “There’s strength in numbers.”
Friends in New York City are looking at Schall’s opportunities here with envy. “Artists in the city I’ve shown this (5,000 square foot space on State Street) to are like, ‘What? Who? Where?,'” she laughs. “Then it’s all the pictures of the food I’m eating here and the fair: they say, ‘This is a dream!’”
Schall would like to establish a direct connection to New York and says Jackson is perfectly primed for artists-in-residency programs, bringing in creatives and bringing an international economy here. “They could stay for three months, generate work and transfer what they have learned and give it here. Jackson could be a cultural hub.”
And why not, she wonders. “It’s a beautiful city, the weather is amazing and the people are fantastic. “It’s blue skies, smiles and space. Space, space, space. And people are hungry for this sort of thing. There are endless things to offer. That’s what I see when I look at Jackson.”