For Dr. Jennifer B. Rhodes, the family business wasn’t just in art education. After years of watching negotiations, arguments, and entitled “Donald Trumpesque” behaviors of the men running her family business, she was prompted to return to her own personal values. After a long and challenging professional, familial, and personal journey, she is ready to empower a new generation of artists to manifest their dreams with the emotional support she wished she had received at a younger age.
Visual Arts Reimagined (VAR) is a new entrepreneurial consultation service designed specifically for young artists who wish to start a less than ordinary art career. The program is defined by its cutting edge and forward thinking nature, which results from founder Dr. Jennifer B. Rhodes’ experience in dealing with the men running her family business her entire life. While she had a great relationship with her grandfather, Silas Rhodes, the rest of her family struggled with embracing the spirit of collaboration, positivity, inclusiveness and love. The mismatch between these core values and SVA’s administrative values prompted Dr. Rhodes to move past her family business and create a service that embraced a commitment to healthy relationships and the spirit of innovation that her grandfather, Silas Rhodes, was known for. This spirit that her grandfather embraced– a spirit of working with and uplifting other people– closely parallels what we consider an entrepreneurial spirit these days. Silas Rhodes was ahead of his time– he established a nurturing environment that allowed creatives to flourish.
Because she was the first girl born into the family, she immediately had a special bond with her grandparents, especially her grandfather. Dr. Rhodes’ mother made sure that consistency in their family life was a priority given that her father had been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder just a few years prior. Everyone in the family struggled to make sense of how best to support him during a time of limited understanding of such illnesses. “Ever since I was young I’ve had a really close relationship with my grandfather,” Rhodes explains, “In my very early childhood years, I have very fond memories of going to my grandparents house every Sunday, and my grandparents were really good at keeping us in a routine, making sure we had a really great relationship with them. But things were definitely a little chaotic– because with my dad, things would be really good for a couple of years and then get bad again. So at the time, the consistency of going to Sunday night dinners at my grandparents house was really good for me as a child.”
As Dr. Rhodes grew, family discord became an unfortunate regular routine. It would take her years to realize that emotional communication was a family weakness and there was not much motivation to truly learn how to be compassionate with each other. During her childhood, Dr. Rhodes found solace and support from her teachers and mentors all the way through school. “School was always a safe place for me,” Dr. Rhodes explains, “No matter what was going on at home, I could receive support from my teachers.” Due to her empathic and quiet nature, Dr. Rhodes excelled all the way through school until the death of her father at the age of 15. During this time, anxiety really took its toll and affected her scores on her SATs. With persistence and drive, she eventually found herself at Sarah Lawrence College where a major corrective life experience took place. SLC nurtured and incubated Dr. Rhodes and gave her the support she needed to begin her healing journey. It was the first time that her creativity was valued.
During one summer in between years at SLC, Dr. Rhodes asked to work at SVA. She was tasked with conducting research for the admissions department, which was then led by Rick Longo. Mr. Longo tasked Dr. Rhodes to solve the diversity gap by conducting research into why there was an underrepresentation of people of color applying to art school. Her research uncovered a simple fact – that the mere request for an essay deterred many students from applying. Her research was then applied to the admissions process, benefiting SVA and students alike. It was a time where her innovation in visual arts education reform was first valued and seen by a major institution, and predicted her future innovations in the field.
Dr. Rhodes continued her academic journey and went on to complete her Psy.D. She graduated with an APA-accredited internship from Tulane University Medical School in 2008. Dr. Rhodes’ experience of being a pioneer was birthed in New Orleans when she was a part of the first group of trainees allowed back into the city post-Katrina. However, her experience was clouded by the death of her grandfather the day before she left to start her internship. She was devastated by his loss. “I really struggled to finish my dissertation that year– I did graduate and finish everything on time, but I did not enjoy the process. Things in my family changed and got really stressful after that.” Tulane, however, was a warm nurturing environment that pushed Dr. Rhodes to learn humility, communication skills, and ultimately what she really wanted out of her career.
After finishing her PsyD, she lost the job offer she had initially received due to budget cuts during the economic recession in 2008. She was devastated. The job was what she thought was her dream job, an opportunity to replicate an early intervention program in the family court system, had been withdrawn. She was told that the only way the position could be saved was if she left her post-doctoral program six months early. With the support of Tulane she said no– which ended up being her first entrepreneurial decision– and decided to take a second fellowship in San Diego. She eventually made her way to San Francisco but was suffering the consequences of burnout. During this time, she surrendered to the fact that her career did not seem fully on track. Eventually, she came to realized that San Francisco was a creative and supportive environment. “During that time I, for the first time, gave myself the permission to just explore and figure out what it is I really wanted to do.” She realized that traditional psychology was not her calling and she was encouraged to embrace her new title of “entrepreneur.”
Dr. Rhodes eventually started a relationship consultation firm that, over time, began working with creative professionals in unique ways. It wasn’t long after that she found herself thinking back to her family business. While SVA was the best at what it did before, Dr. Rhodes quickly realized that they were falling behind many liberal arts schools with strong visual arts programs. She also realized that what she found to be working in her relationship practice was something that students were not receiving from their institutions of higher education. “We need to start over again and create a program that gives artists what they used to have in the 1940s,” Dr. Rhodes explains, “when my grandfather first started the school, he went and bought many of the students their first suit to go interview afterwards.” At the start of SVA, students got the relational and emotional support they needed without the bureaucracy.
Rhodes claims that few institutes of higher education are giving students this type of support, and consequently established Visual Arts Reimagined (VAR) — a modern, entrepreneurial consultation service for young artists and other creatives based in relationship science. Rhodes understands that the art education industry needs to move towards interdisciplinary, innovative, and entrepreneurial teaching philosophies in order to prepare students for the modern work world. Like her grandfather did with SVA, Dr. Rhodes is pioneering a new educational paradigm for artists that is original and groundbreaking. What artists need in this day and age is to be prepared for the entrepreneurial world, but with the support and advice from psychology and business professionals. What is holding visual artists from being seen and remarked in the professional world is not their lack of innovation and talent, but rather their need for the knowledge of how to communicate their ideas with non creatives and effectively market their work to the public. VAR serves to encompass all of the crucial elements that a career in art requires, but were not taught in art school. Ultimately, Rhodes acknowledges the influence that her family, and especially her grandfather, had on her career. “Not only is it my story,” she says, “but it is my right to own that story and it is my right to say that I want to work with artists, but in a different way.”
She dedicates the development of her program to her father, a greatly misunderstood creative, who was not giving the right support to thrive and bring his unique gifts to the world and to her mother who tirelessly supported both of her children, at the expense of her own development, to give them what they needed most. She also dedicates the development of VAR to her grandmother, Beatrice, who made her promise that she would never rely on a man for money and that she would complete her education.