Opening Doors for Artists: Meet Parrish Monk of INKAA and The Art House

26 Oct 2015 by Jason's Connection

Recently Jason’s Connection spoke with Parrish Monk, Director of the INKAA Education Program, Inc., which runs The Art House in Fort Thomas, an organization that provides art education opportunities and serves as an art business incubator and support system for established, emerging and aspiring independent artists and artisans.

JASON’S CONNECTION: Explain what INKAA is, and what the Art House is.

PARRISH MONK: INKAA is still developing as an organization and social enterprise with the primary goal being the provision of business and developmental support services for established, emerging, and aspiring local artists and artisans – a truly innovative idea. Yes we have a gallery, art classes, and a gift shop however, our vision and mission for the organization is to provide equitable access to the arts and art opportunities to established, emerging, and aspiring artists and artisans.

Consider this: Independent artists and artisans often face genuine obstacles when seeking support, resources, opportunities, and the funding necessary to continue their work, achieve success, and realize their dreams. A lot of artists and artisans struggle with the “business side” of the art world. Most artists and artisans just want to create and not be distracted by other concerns such as building websites, social media, marketing et cetera. Coupled with the human element (e.g. attitudes and perceptions concerning defining art, art quality, aesthetics, emotional impact of art, utilitarian purposes of art, purchasing unnecessary art et cetera) becoming a successful artist or artisan can be challenging even when a measure of individual success has no monetary value attached to it. However, art is all around us all the time on the walls of our personal spaces or even present in the packaging and design of consumer products that we use on a daily basis. Yet, we continue to live in a society that perpetuates myths and misconceptions about art as a profession and artists as professionals. In essence, arts based industries are flourishing and growing and the days of success in the art world coming after one dies or has spent decades in the art world are gone. Creatives can now work towards achieving success without having to hold back or repress their creativity.

Like many human endeavors however, the realities of the ‘business side’ of the art marketplace often places undue strain and barriers that sometimes get in the way of artists and artisans achieving their dreams and successes. The difference between a successful artist and the proverbial ‘starving artist’ is often a combination of factors with access to market opportunities and increased exposure being primary obstacles for many artists. Consider any creative work or person considered to be an artist-whether they are a musician, dancer, clothing designer, architect, culinary artists, athlete or writer, there are always very talented people that never get the chance to realize their dreams or achieve success. Fortunately, the Independent Northern Kentucky Artists and Artisans Business Incubator is seeking to be one conduit to help bridge that gap of success for independent artists and artisans on an individual basis.

JC: How did you become involved with INKAA?

PM: I became a full-time artist on January 1, 2014 after the career and technical college where I taught and was a Department Chair and Dean for the General Education Department and the Business Management program for over six years unexpectedly closed its door in December 2013. After years of doing arts and craft shows part-time I was suddenly a full-time artist. Although, I had my MBA and Ed.D I could not find a full-time job because a lot of schools were closing down in the region. I focused on my artwork and the business of doing art until one day I hit a breaking point during a regular monthly art show and sell that I participated in in OTR near downtown Cincinnati. It wasn’t so much of a breaking point that lead to quitting but more of a moment of clarity. I realized, while it rained all day on us in the middle of Washington Park, that there has to be a better way to become a successful artist. So, I created my own door with the intention of creating a for-profit business that simply provided business support services to artists and artisans. The idea evolved into a not-for-profit art organization that we simply call INKAA. However, the original vison has grown and evolved and INKAA is just one of several organizations that occupy the Art House in Fort Thomas. I created INKAA and the Art House in part out of necessity to control my own time so that I could continue to care for my son who is on the Autism spectrum. Even though INKAA is still growing I could not comfortably work in a traditional setting because I needed to do the important things like get my son on and off of the bus; have family dinners; be available when my son was not having a good day at school or at home. I did not choose this path it chose me and I am doing my best to make INKAA work.

JC: You’re an artist yourself—talk a bit about your work.

PM: I am a self-taught artist with no particular medium or style. While I have always been creative I did what a lot of late blooming artist have done; I suppressed my creative side for decades and bought into the myth of the starving artist and the need to get a real job. However, I am a jewelry maker, painter, sculptor, ceramicist, and wood worker. I enjoy the process of being creative, exploring new ideas, and learning while creating. As a self-taught artist I am less concerned about the rules, fitting into a box, or adhering to one style. I am more concerned with the process of channeling my creative energy into something positive.

JC: What are some of the things that INKAA has have accomplished? What are some things you hope to accomplish?

PM: As a still developing arts organization and social enterprise our goal is to provide free business and developmental support services for established, emerging, and aspiring local artists and artisans. This endeavor, directly helping support artists and artisans, makes us innovative in the art world. Since beginning this journey in November 2014:

  • We helped create the first annual Art Around Towne art walk in Fort Thomas which has between 11 and 15 participating Fort Thomas businesses; over 30 artists and artisans as vendors; and over 1,500 attendees coming to the event every Third Friday from 6-9pm;
  • We have created a unique, inclusive arts program for individuals with special needs called Artism;
  • We have an active community arts and outreach program called “KY-mmunity” Arts;
  • We have connected emerging and aspiring artists with opportunities and mentors from the cadre of established and successful artists from Fort Thomas and the surrounding area;
  • We have provided a centralized hub and networking place for local artists and artisans;
  • We have provided free support services for artists including free websites, business education seminars, marketing support, meeting space, free studio space for emerging artists, funding research , and regular opportunities to display and sell their artwork;
  • We have allowed members from the community to regularly host meetings, parties, fundraisers, and networking events at the Art House;
  • We have donated, and continue to donate, art and services to a lot of local organizations and worthy causes for their fundraisers;
  • We have hosted regular family friendly monthly art shows every third Friday that are curated by local artists, featuring all local artists;
  • We regularly host art classes and fun arts activities for children and adults each week.

Our goals for the remainder of this year include:

  • Expanding our free business classes and support services to more local artists and artisans;
  • Renovating our basement and third floor to become a pottery, metalworking, sewing, fiber arts, and woodworking studio and classroom;
  • Creating better outdoor signage and sustaining a better marketing campaign;
  • Accessing more wholesale and corporate art sales opportunities and markets for our members;
  • Acquiring our 501c-3 (Federal non-profit) designation in order to acquire more grant-based funding but moving towards financial self-sufficiency;
  • And finally, growing our cooperative into Northern Kentucky’s premier arts organization.

While we strive to achieve our goals and accomplish our mission it is extremely important to us to continue to connect with organizations and members of the Fort Thomas community to share our vision and our core mission of helping to empower hardworking, independent local artists and artisans as creative entrepreneurs.

JC: Explain what your Artism program is.

PM: Artism is an inclusive art program for youth and adults with special needs. The focus of Artism is to help parents, caregivers, teacher, and individuals learn and explore new and effective creative ways to engage those with special needs. While the term “special needs” is vague and generic, what our intentions are really based on is providing a safe, welcoming, and inclusive environment for individuals that may not always be welcome or feel welcome in other art programs.

JC: What is the goal for people who complete the Artism program?

PM: The goal of Artism is three-fold: Learn new creative skills to enhance learning; enhance existing creative abilities and knowledge to establish a sense of independence; and to help empower individuals to help others more effectively while using their creativity.

JC: Is one of the goals of Artism to help people with disabilities become independent artists and be more integrated in the NKY arts community?

PM: Yes. We want to ensure that artist with disabilities are empowered and have an opportunity to become independent artists.

JC: Art education in schools seems to be in danger or in decline–how are you helping educate children in your community about art? Why is this so important?

PM: At the Art House we have regularly scheduled art programs for children during the day and after school. During the day time, during normal school hours we serve two populations. We provide a free art space for a large population of stay at home moms. This is done through our “Mommy and me” program. This program is really about allowing stay at home parents with young children to be in a safe environment where they can socialize and be creative with their children. Secondly, starting this Fall we will host weekly art classes for the homeschooled children population that they can utilize for their art credits for school.

Our afterschool programs also include inexpensive and sometimes free art lessons with a master artist from the Art House in our Creative Kids Corner program or short art programs from one of our partnering. We also partner with Young Rembrandts, a nationally recognized arts organization, to provide after school art programs for youth centered on learning drawing techniques. Another artists and partner of ours, Annie Brown, teachers a creative learning and creative thinking class for our kids where they explore and learn about creativity in a bunch of unique ways such as using all of their senses to make a creative work.

Finally, we include our youth in our monthly art shows and also provide mentoring opportunities and business seminars to high school art students.

JC: How do you help those who don’t have an art background but who are interested in it become involved with it?

PM: The bulk of our visitors may appreciate art but do not believe that they are creative or artistic or they use to be creative when they were younger. However, we do our best to help people connect with their creative side by offering a number of fun activities from painting rocks with master artist William Brown during one of our arts events or our twice an month, Dine and Design events where we eat great food while learning to create something awesome. The biggest thing that we can do is to make everyone feel welcome and feel open to explore their creativity no matter what their artistic background is.

JC: How can people get involved with your programs?

PM: There are a number of different doorways to get involved with the Art House. There are volunteer opportunities, classes, opportunities to participate in art shows et cetera. I would suggest that people either stop by, call us, or visit our website. Our contact information is:

The Art House
19 N. Fort Thomas Avenue
Fort Thomas, KY 41075
(859) 279-3431

JC: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

PM: We are a truly unique organization in the world of art. At the Art House you will find established artists and emerging artists with artwork right next to each other. Our inclusive and welcoming environment is now home to over 50 independent artists and artisans, 18 small businesses, and over 4 organizations. The Art House is evolving into a community arts center and artists collaborative from which an ever expanding culture of creative enterprises can emerge. As our logo states we are part business incubator, part art gallery, part artisan retail shop, part art education program, and part art cooperative.

We often provide free support services for established, emerging, and aspiring artist who are members or guest of the Art House. Our support can be the difference between being a successful artist and a starving artist. Moreover, we are designed to be a self-sustaining and self-efficient arts organization once we are financially stable. Our efforts to become financially stable are because we want to ensure that our important mission is accomplished.