By Alexandria Ugarte
Jenn Garrett is known for large-scale outdoor sculptures. She talked to the Business Report about the role of public art in the community.
Jenn Garrett is an artist, but she doesn’t paint on a canvas or make figurines to display on a shelf. She creates abstract steel sculptures that are usually so large they can only be displayed outdoors. You might have seen her piece in front of the fire station downtown next to St. Francis House, created in response to a call-to-artists.
Whether it’s sculpting for commissioned projects or selling pieces she dreamed up on her own, she’s making a living doing what she loves most. Here’s what she shared about her creative process and working as an artist in Gainesville.
What are you currently working on?
A lot of the work I’m doing right now is large-scale outdoor sculptures. Since they are exposed to the elements, they are usually constructed out of metal, aluminum, steel or stainless steel. Sometimes they are public art pieces that are purchased by cities or universities, but I also do private commissions.
How do you make most of your pieces?
There are two different ways that I operate. I compare it to residential construction; there are “spec homes” with pre-chosen floor plans and there are custom homes. Sometimes I build a piece just because I want to make it, so I will either sell it or lease it out to cities or universities that are having an outdoor exhibition. Other times I do commissioned work or respond to “call-to-artists.” Many Florida cities have an Art In Public Spaces (ASB) Program that requires a half percent of every building budget to use government funds for public art, so a lot of the call-to-artists are a result of that.
Describe your creative process.
I always start off with sketches. I don’t edit myself; it’s almost like doodling. Then I go back and see what form is coming through. I edit it down a little bit, and then I’ll come up with a form.
Once I feel good about the concept, I’ll move into the engineering phase. When you’re doing something that is outdoors, you have to think about the foundations and how it’s going to be moved and built. Some of my work travels, so it needs to come apart. I had one piece that can ship FedEx.
Lastly, I develop fabrication drawings that are very specific. I call out materials and dimensions, and then after I get all of that done, I can actually start the fabrication.
How did you get started?
I grew up in Chattanooga, Tenn., and they had a really strong museum there, The Hunter Museum. They had some really cool outdoor pieces that I liked when I was little. That was my introduction to it all.
In college, I didn’t want to major in art because there isn’t a clear career path in that. However, I was desperate to take some art classes, which entailed changing my major. I told my parents, “You know, I had to change it to take these classes, but I’m sure I’ll change it back.” My parents were always supportive, and I never changed it back. They were always fans of my work, thankfully, so I stayed in the program.
Do you make a living off of your art?
This is my only job. I am married and have two kids, so my husband, Tim, definitely pays for most stuff. However, you can make a living doing this, and I’m doing that, as are several of my friends. It’s really just about finding your way.
How do you publicize your work?
When we bought this house, which is a really unusual house, I was crazy about it. My husband thought it was too weird, but I loved it. My husband said, “Well I don’t know about the road,” and I said, “It’s fine. It’ll show people my art work.” So, a lot of attention is from people driving by. That was part of the plan from the beginning, showing the people my work.
I am a member of the Mid-South Sculpture Alliance, and I get advertising through them. There is also great word of mouth here in Gainesville. When I do these exhibitions across the Southeast, my name gets out there. I also have a website and I am in a few local organizations, like Art Lab.
How would you describe the Gainesville art scene?
I think it’s got a lot of promise. The fact that we have the Doris Community Center is huge. It’s a great community art center; they have artists and residents with studios, exhibitions and classes. I think that it is so huge to have a home base for artist. I would love for Gainesville to have an annual or semi-annual art exhibition downtown or on campus. A lot of other cities do that, and it’s a great economic boost for the areas that are near the sculptures. It’s a great community event. The artists make money, the city and other entities get a small cut of that, and everyone is happy.