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MINT and Young Blood: A Conversation with Erica Jamison

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Late last year, it was announced that long-standing Atlanta art galleries Young Blood and MINT were embarking on some sort of joint venture. Immediately, there were more questions than information about what this would mean for each group – is it a merger, partnership, some other unnamed category? The truth is both more and less confusing than conjecture. A quick synopsis is that Young Blood founders Kelly Teasley and Maggie White decided to sell Young Blood Boutique to MINT founder Erica Jamison and partners Rebecca Hanna and Jessie White, while retaining the name and vision of Young Blood Gallery in order to organize future exhibitions and independent curatorial activities in alternative locations. In the meantime, MINT will take over the former Young Blood gallery space at 636 N Highland Ave, but remain its individual vision as a self-described “conduit of creativity” dedicated to cultivating a stronger creative community in Atlanta. Got it so far? I spoke with Erica Jamison over email recently to briefly elucidate what the announcement will mean for the organization, what she plans for the new space, and how this all came about.

James McAnally: For those who don’t know, could you give a quick history of MNT? How long have you been around? What led you to start the space? What is your general mission?

Erica Jamison: I founded MINT in 2006 as part of a community based media class I was taking at Georgia State University. One of our assignments was to work with an underserved community to provide them with a voice. I’d been very interested in the arts community and thought it was a good opportunity to begin something more long term. Our first year we spent “gallery hopping” – having exhibits in different spaces around town. In August of 2007, we moved into our first permanent location and began hosting monthly exhibits. Our general mission is to support emerging artists by providing exhibition space, workshops and classes, and other opportunities for development.

JM: More arts organizations around the country have been open to experimenting with partnerships – whether it is museums merging or commercial and nonprofit spaces collaborating. Did you look at other partnerships around the country, or was this driven out of more individual conversations and practical needs? Could you give a bit of a back story on what brought you together?

EJ: For me, this partnership was driven more by practical needs. I was interested in purchasing Young Blood as a whole (both the boutique and the gallery) with my partners Rebecca Hanna and Jessie White, but also felt overwhelmed by the possibility of having two different exhibit based projects. At the same, MINT was looking for a new location. When Kelly and Maggie decided they wanted to retain the rights to the Gallery side of Young Blood, it seemed like a natural fit to have MINT move into the gallery space so I could run both the boutique and MINT from the same location. For us it’s definitely a win-win. We get to be open 7 days a week by default (before we were only open 3), and we get to share resources with the boutique. Additionally, we both benefit from lower overhead and from the foot traffic that we will both generate. I’m also very excited about the potential for partnerships and growth that this will provide.

JM: How will Young Blood Gallery and the Young Blood Boutique be tied together? Are they different initiatives or still part of the same fundamental vision? How does the partnership with MINT change the gallery’s operations?

EJ: The agreement that we’ve all come to is that the Young Blood and Young Blood Gallery are now wholly separate but will continue to support and promote each other. Kelly and Maggie have retained the rights to the gallery and we now own the boutique. There is certainly potential for collaboration and we’ve discussed Kelly and Maggie curating exhibits at MINT but nothing has been fleshed out. MINT is totally separate from both the gallery and the boutique as well, but there are ideas and opportunities for collaboration.

JM: As for MINT, your vision as a nonprofit seems to be focused around advocacy and providing a range of opportunities such as mentorships beyond just being a gallery. How will that change or expand in this new location?

EJ: If anything, we’ll be able to provide more for our artists. When we had our own, self contained space, I was so consumed with the day to day of running the organization that I had no time to focus on new ideas and initiatives. It’s such a thrill to to move forward with programs related to art collecting, commissioning artwork, and giving artists more meaningful feedback about their work.

JM: What are the first steps with the transition? Are there any other plans in the works?

EJ: Honestly, we’ve been so consumed with the move and the transition in ownership that we haven’t had much time to talk about collaboration. Once we reopen and the dust settles, I look forward to conversations about how we can all work together.

JM: Both spaces have a relatively long-standing presence in the Atlanta art community. How has the art community in the area changed over the time you’ve been working?

EJ: The community has really been an incubator for young arts organizations. I’ve always said is one of the few places that a young person can decide they want to start something new and be able to afford to do it. The energy surrounding the arts community has been astounding. We’ve seen it grow and provide so much space for arts organizations to thrive and succeed. We’ve seen many groups like WonderRoot, Dashboard Co-op, Dance Truck, and Living Walls become incredibly vital parts of the arts ecosystem in just a few short years.

JM: Where do you think it is headed now?

EJ: I think we’ll continue to see all parts of the arts community flourish, but the literary scene has been growing by leaps and bounds. Many reading/writing groups and events are being organized and the participants are garnering a ton of praise. There are some incredible writers in Atlanta and I feel lucky to witness their success.

JM: Anything else you would like to add or talk about regarding these changes or what is next for this pending move?

EJ: This…I’m still thinking about. The transition has been such a time consuming process that many of our future plans are on the back burner. However, I do very much look forward to zeroing in on what MINT can offer the community now that we have this beautiful new space and many more resources.

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