Starving Artists, No More

Art Inc. Kentucky Helps Five Artists Gain Acceptance into Kentucky Crafted

Creating a sustainable living through art can be difficult. Thankfully, the Kentucky Arts Council (KAC), a state agency operated by the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, has developed the Kentucky Crafted initiative to help propel Kentucky artists toward success. The prestigious award-winning program offers marketing, promotional opportunities, and business training to artists who create high-quality artworks. The application process is formidable and competitive, making the mantel of ‘Kentucky Crafted’ a distinguished achievement that can open highly coveted doors of opportunity.


Art Inc. Kentucky (Art Inc.), furthered by nonprofit Community Ventures’ initiative to support entrepreneurs, shares KAC’s mission to provide Kentucky creatives with the tools and the educational assistance necessary to achieve financial sustainability. In late 2023, the Art Inc. team assisted five of its member artists—Kim Dixon, Lori Janevicius, Nick Tudor, Rachel Carter, and Aesha Ndao—gain acceptance into Kentucky Crafted, earning the opportunity to showcase their works at the 2024 Kentucky Crafted Market on March 9 and 10 at the Kentucky Horse Park.


Perhaps even more astounding, all five of these creatives were accepted on their first attempt, a feat that, according to the KAC, is incredibly difficult. Since 2018, when Art Inc. opened, the incubator has assisted 21 artists become Kentucky Crafted.


Chris Cathers, Kentucky Arts Council Executive Director, spoke of the impact that the mentorship that Johnson and his team have had on the artists that Art Inc. serves. He stated, “Our relationship with Art Inc. Kentucky is one of the most important partnerships we have forged in recent years. Mark has helped to identify and mentor talented Kentucky artists, giving them the confidence to transition from hobbyist to entrepreneur.”


While the five Art Inc. affiliated artists joining Kentucky Crafted in 2023 come from different backgrounds and work with different materials to create their art, each has benefited from membership at Art Inc.


Like many other creatives, fiber work artist Dixon was drawn to Art Inc. to understand “the business side of the art world” and has appreciated the business courses and education opportunities. After joining, she shared her interest in attracting more commission work, and Johnson urged her to pursue the process of joining Kentucky Crafted.


Dixon spent ten years in D.C. before moving to Kentucky after her husband accepted a professorship at the University of Kentucky. While Kim enjoyed art as a child, especially drawing and painting, she decided to begin a career as an archivist. She worked for the Smithsonian, the Senate, the National Park Service, the Library of Congress, and the National Library of Science for many years.


After moving to Kentucky, Dixon’s second career in art sprang to life through her quilt-making and embroidery. Her fiber work powerfully tackles the uncomfortable subject of racism. Much of her art was inspired by her master’s studies in American history, which focused on the South and slavery, and many of her pieces tell the stories of a dark time in our nation’s past. Many of her thought-provoking works depict the crossing of slave ships, the horrors during the voyage, and the auctioning of the captives upon arrival.


Another piece titled “Strange Fruit” is a “play on a traditional cross-stitch sampler,” Dixon shared. “When the viewer looks closely, they will notice a Black man in the background hanging from a tree. I titled the piece after a Billie Holiday song about lynchings where she sings of ‘strange fruit hanging from a poplar tree’.


“My work is as much about provoking meaningful conversations as it is a reflection of my own thoughts and feelings. I fully accept that my work is not for everyone, but that does not mean it is not a worthwhile endeavor,” said Dixon. “To gain true enlightenment we, as individuals, must often wade through painful and controversial topics. I just wanted people to see and feel, even if they don’t agree with what they are seeing. Moments of disagreement can lead to understanding and consensus.”


Like Dixon, Lori Janevicius also moved to Kentucky but instead of moving for a job, she made Lexington her home at the urging of her childhood best friend. Her favorite subjects are nude figures, rendered in charcoal, but she laughs that those works are not what gained her admission into Kentucky Crafted. Advised by Johnson to choose a more ‘family-friendly’ body of work to submit, the multi-faceted artist settled on her impressionist-style watercolors. Her works display the beauty of nature in landscapes and wildflowers or capture the human figure in a moment in time. She hopes that observers see her work not so much as accurate reproductions but as representations of the beauty that light and shadow can create.


Janevicius does not make her living with art, but she finds making art soothing and creates primarily to express herself. Although she will sell her art and take on the occasional commissioned piece, money is not her motivation. The semi-retired nurse would love to find a part-time nursing job that isn’t as intense as the high-stress, open-heart surgical environment where she worked for years. Although she misses being near the Art Institute of Chicago, where she studied, she appreciates her recent move to Lexington and creating at all hours of the night in her space at Art Inc.’s Artists’ Studios.


“It was a godsend to find the Artists’ Studios,” Janevicius said. “The other Art Inc. members here are wonderful. It’s great to be around other artists, see what they are doing, compare notes, talk about art stuff, and have conversations as opposed to just working by myself. Not being from Kentucky, I had no idea what Kentucky Crafted was,” said Janevicius. Mark and my friend Mel Osborne encouraged me to apply because of all the doors that Kentucky Crafted can open.”

Janevicius isn’t the only artist who finds creating inherently therapeutic. For Kentucky Crafted artist Nick Tudor art has helped him overcome debilitating social anxiety that has plagued him his whole life.


The 25-year-old Central Kentucky native is self-taught and was encouraged by his parents to draw from a very young age. Starting with stick figures and comic characters from when he could hold a crayon, today, Tudor’s favorite subjects are the dinosaurs and reptiles he renders in almost photographic detail.

Tudor’s work can be found at the ArtHouse Kentucky gallery, where it caught the eye of University of Kentucky Arts in Healthcare buyer who purchased several pieces to hang in Kentucky Children’s Hospital. The sales bolstered Tudor’s confidence that he was on his way to becoming a full-time artist. Visibly moved by the thought of his art bringing comfort to children facing scary diagnoses or procedures, Tudor was encouraged that his works could also help others heal.


“The thought of my art bringing comfort or joy to others—especially kids—makes me emotional, but in a good way,” Tudor explained. “It makes me feel like maybe I am finding my purpose in life, and that is something that I’ve struggled with.


“It’s been hard to support myself financially with my art, because it’s not like I get a paycheck at the end of the week like I would if I was working for someone else. I’m trying to get to a point where I am earning enough to support myself and be fully independent. That’s the direction I need to go, because I can’t hold a regular job like other people can.”


To that end, Tudor said he was encouraged by Johnson to concentrate on getting accepted to Kentucky Crafted—specifically to be able to show at the annual market—from the moment he became an Art Inc. member.


“So many artists had told me how prestigious Kentucky Crafted is and that it’s almost impossible to get in,” Tudor said. “I thought, how am I, on my first attempt, going to get in?”


With a shy smile, the young artist remembers, “I didn’t know what to do with myself when I got the acceptance email. I was like a deer in the headlights. I read it over and over and thought, ‘Is that right? I don’t really know if that’s right.’”


Tudor isn’t the only self-taught artist to be juried into Kentucky Crafted. Jewelry creative Rachel Carter is also mostly self-taught and credits books and YouTube for helping her hone her craft. Originally from Meade County, Carter attended Eastern Kentucky University on a full academic scholarship to pursue a degree in art. She began with some entry-level art courses but abruptly changed when her parents urged her to pursue a degree that would offer greater financial security. Leaving college with her nursing degree, Carter worked for ten years at Lexington’s Veterans Affairs Hospital. Although she dearly loved her job, the emotional toll of providing end-of-life comfort and care to “my precious little old men” made Carter ponder a career change.


While working as a nurse, Carter took up wire wrapping and jewelry-making as a hobby.  She is now a full-time, skilled metal worker utilizing texturized sterling silver, gold, and brass combined with “imperfect” gemstones to make a societal statement with her bold, one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces.

A self-described “recovering perfectionist,” Carter explains, “I think that the world’s message is that once one arrives at a place of perfection, then, and only then, will their worth be known. We spend so much of our time trying to polish away or hide our flaws or to entirely rid ourselves of them. That’s a lot of time and energy sucked out of our precious lives trying to attain perfection and flawlessness.


“If we step back and look at how short life is, at how much time we spend trying to rid ourselves of qualities that aren’t considered perfect or polished, it’s astounding. The daily messages that we aren’t good enough—I really want to resist and object to those. That’s what my jewelry, purposefully made with stones that have inclusions and unpolished metal texture that I think make it even more beautiful, is—an objection to that ‘perfectionist’ message.”


Like Carter’s jewelry, Louisville entrepreneur Aesha Ndao’s work combines both beauty and function. Through her business, Aesha’s African Baskets, she shares her native Senegalese culture with her growing U.S. customer base.


Ndao came to the United States to attend Sullivan University, where she studied supply chain management. She married, started a family, and eventually became a hairdresser. As her children grew up, she realized she wanted to do something different—more meaningful—with her life.

During a visit to Senegal, Ndao came across some sweetgrass baskets, and childhood memories of weaving with her mother and grandmother flooded her mind.

“Growing up in Senegal, it is a woman thing to learn how to weave when young,” Ndao explained. “We learn from our grandparents and our moms while they sit and weave baskets every day. After they finish weaving those baskets, they take them to the market every Monday to sell—that is their way of earning a living. It’s an honor for a woman to know how to weave.”


When Ndao returned to the U.S., she resumed the craft and received overwhelmingly positive feedback—people were snapping up her baskets for laundry, blanket storage, and home décor.


“Being juried into Kentucky Crafted is an honor for me because I get to share my culture with even more people,” said Ndao. “As I always say, when tradition becomes modern décor, it’s amazing.”


Johnson notes that funding from sources like the U.S. Small Business Administration, PNC, U.S. Bank Foundation, and other organizations fuels Art Inc.’s mission of helping artists while supporting economic growth and revitalization in the historic East End neighborhood the incubator calls home.


“Art Inc. exists to help creatives build the life they dream of through business education, technical assistance, cost-effective space to create and sell, affordable loans to grow their businesses, and even the potential to own live/work space in a neighborhood of fellow creatives,” explained Johnson. “All of which is made possible by the support of our funders and our affiliations with organizations like the KAC.”


To learn more about Kentucky Crafted, visit Kentucky Arts Council – Kentucky Crafted Program.


To learn more about Art Inc., click here.