Christie Snelson’s appreciation for art’s ability to reach a community has inspired a career that has bettered the Springfield creative scene.
Snelson’s positions as an exhibitions manager with Springfield Regional Arts Council and First Friday Art Walk communications director promote art viewing all over the city. With Springfield Regional Arts Council (SRAC), Snelson manages exhibitions with the Corporate Art Program through collaborative exhibitions with Springfield-Greene County Libraries, Sky Gallery at Springfield-Branson National Airport, and other local businesses. As communications director for First Friday Art Walk, Snelson markets the events each month and manages the First Friday Art Walk memberships held by downtown Springfield businesses, organizations, and galleries.
“The bulk of my day is communicating and organizing,” Snelson explains. Her job titles require her to juggle several responsibilities on any given day, such as sourcing and scheduling artists for exhibitions and leases, working with organizations and businesses to put on exhibitions, communicating with artists about calls for art, receiving artist submissions, arranging for jurying, marketing exhibitions through online platforms such as newsletters and social media, and installing exhibitions.
“I love being a part of making opportunities available to share the talent and passion for art in this area,” Snelson adds.
Though Snelson has found a career that aligns with her passion for sharing art, working with community arts organizations was not always her original intention. As a student with the Art + Design department from 2008-2013, Snelson made a few adjustments before finding the program that was the best fit. She changed majors from Graphic Design to Art Education after her first semester to pursue a new-found love for painting. Despite the idea of stable employment that was associated with a degree in education, Snelson ultimately decided to follow her heart, “After visiting classrooms for my practicum and continuing to paint more and more, I just didn’t feel like I fit in the structure of a K-12 classroom and changed my major a third time to fine arts emphasizing in painting. I wasn’t quite sure what I would do with the degree; I just knew that all I wanted to do with my day was paint and lean into this new-found challenge and passion.”
Snelson recalls several professors whose lessons shaped her into the artist she is today. She mentions her Painting I professor, Elizabeth Snipes, as someone with a contagious enthusiasm for painting and color. “I will never forget the way she showed me how to paint the light reflection of a clamp light with several harmonious colors that I had otherwise just tried painting white. She really changed the way I see,” Snelson adds. Duat Vu, Snelson’s advisor and advanced painting instructor, is someone whom she says pushed her to consistently advance her concepts and work. Snelson also mentions Sharon Harper for helping her understand the value of connecting to your work or creating a narrative with it beyond the technical aspect of a painting, and Sean Lyman for encouraging her to keep going when times got tough. “I loved every bit of my experience in the Missouri State art program including my professors and fellow classmates,” Snelson shares.
Post graduation, Snelson continued to seek out new ways to be involved in the tight-knit arts community of Springfield and gained unique experiences through each position that has brought her to where she is now. Until 2016, Snelson worked for a paint-and-sip business in downtown Springfield where she hosted painting classes and parties and designed paintings used in the classes. “I also was given the opportunity from the owner to create a gallery for First Friday Art Walk in the additional space we had. I was provided a studio where I could paint—I painted a lot of custom portraits and pet portraits during this time, but I was pushing some concepts of my own as well,” Snelson shares.
An increased demand for commissioned work led Snelson to take a chance on freelance art as a full-time job. During her time working freelance, Snelson leaned into Springfield’s local community of artists and actively participated in SRAC programming. Her risk was met with success in the form of opportunities to paint live at events, ship her work all over the U.S. (and even send some pet portrait commissions to Scotland), and practice all the other skills necessary for running a business. But painting commissioned portraits was not as creatively fulfilling as Snelson had hoped. “They just were not feeding my desire to create, and I really wanted to paint works that were more creative and challenging. I didn’t want painting to carry the burden of paying my bills, so I sought out other work hoping I could find something art related,” Snelson explains.
Not long after deciding to leave freelance work behind, Snelson interviewed for a position at Obelisk Home as the retail store assistant. “I had been an artist with them for several years, and I liked that one of the bullet points of my listed responsibilities was scheduling the First Friday Art Walk shows,” Snelson shares. She worked with Obelisk to build a gallery that would meet the needs and expectations of artists and visitors. “Because the gallery grew and responsibilities increased, Obelisk created a gallery director position so that I could dedicate my time to the gallery full time. In addition to openings and managing the galleries, I helped place artwork throughout the retail store, assisted clients with art needs, marketed the gallery, and helped the Obelisk Home team where I could.”
Even though Snelson had found a good position at Obelisk, she explains how another opportunity came up that hard to ignore:
While I absolutely loved working closely with the Obelisk Home team, designers, and artists, when the Springfield Regional Arts Council position opened up last year, the opportunity to work for a nonprofit and an organization that had a profound impact on my artistic journey was impossible to pass up. In my professional experience at Obelisk, I realized my love for art is in what the process and community provide, not just the opportunity to sell the art, so this position was more in line with my passion for art.
New chapters are still being added to Snelson’s professional journey. With family as a main priority, she plans to move to Colorado where she will work with a local gallery, assist with an art-focused magazine, apply to graduate school, and spend plenty of time painting. Her plans for the future illustrate how careers in the arts are not defined by geographical location, because art is valuable to all communities. “In this transition, I’ve further realized that the best thing I can do is lean into my passions, work hard, keep my eyes and ears open, and opportunities have always followed,” Snelson adds.
As a reflection on her own experiences finding her way, Snelson offers the following advice for current Art + Design students and recent graduates:
My advice would be to take one step at a time. There are a lot of different directions one can go in the art profession, and while we can make plans for the future as best as we can, we are continually learning about ourselves and evolving, and opportunities will come and go at times we cannot control. I would not have expected to be working for the SRAC today and am not sure what tomorrow holds, but I know my passion for art will remain and will always be at the core of who I am.
Taylor Ladd is a graduate assistant for the Department of Art + Design. She is working towards her master’s degree in writing at Missouri State University with professional interests in writing about art, culture, and food.