This is an appreciation post for an exceptionally talented creative, entrepreneur, and social media extraordinaire. On International Women's Day (IWD) one week ago, many women shared the quote: "Here's to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them." Today, I'd like to introduce you to one more. Here's to Sara Duval.
When it comes to my inspirations, I love to look for passionate people. It isn't hard when you don't have to look too far. Sara Duval and I met in 2014 while studying together at Emory University. She was a year above me, and played a pivotal role in helping me stay true to my passions amidst a lack-luster creative environment. She is intellectually engaging, fiercely stylish, and has an unparalleled eye for design. Not only did Sara graduate Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, but she is the co-founder (with her partner Marina May) of an up-and-coming platform for creatives in the mid-west. Based in St. Louis, Silver Space provides local artists with networking/development opportunities and a channel through which to promote their work. In addition to managing Silver Space, Sara works as a content marketing specialist (You'll understand why when you see her flawless instagram).
The mission statement of Silver Space exemplifies just how meaningful the work these two amazing women produce is. Take a look for yourself: "Our mission is to provide a platform for artists of all backgrounds and disciplines from the Midwest to show and connect with one another. We aim to develop an inclusive, generative community backed by resources like portfolio critiques, local meet ups, and on site representation. Silver Space will become a locus for networking and opportunities, connecting artists and creatives." (Silverspacestl.com)
Connecting artists with opportunities and resources is imperative to the growth and development of individuals and their creative communities. After reading Silver Space's mission statement, I can't help but think back to the quote "empowered women empower women." This melodic chant received an ovation on IWD, and for good reason. On IWD, Sara shed some light on some ongoing biases in the arts industry that make empowering female artists a necessity. Here is an excerpt from her post:
Studies show that women make up 60-75% of students studying art at a university level, however only 30% of gallery exhibitions are shows by women. There is no answer that explains why this occurs, except for blatant sexism in our society.
A part of Marina May's and my mission through creating Silver Space was to give the recognition to female artists in the St. Louis area by featuring their work on our site and Instagram. We are working to continually enrich ourselves and our community with these women's perspectives.
I know there is authenticity behind these words because I have been on the receiving end of Sara's encouragement. When I was contemplating my future career opportunities in 2015, I had what I like to call a "quarter-life-crisis." I was so torn on what to do with my future, that I changed my college major three times in a week and a half. Sara sat down with me at a coffee shop outside of Ponce City Market in Atlanta, and talked with me for over an hour about my career goals and passion for art. She mentored me through the process of becoming an IDS major myself. It was enlightening for me to find a person who's passion for people and visual design paralleled mine. Sara's commitment to my success inspired me to challenge myself and pursue a career in art (despite various other people's advice).
I had the opportunity to interview Sara on her personal inspirations, creative process, and what it was like to create the Silver Space brand. I hope that you enjoy Sara's story as much as I do, and that you, too, find some inspiration in her words. Read the interview below:
What inspires you?
I get inspired when speaking with other people who are creative and think big. I love meeting different people around St. Louis and just throwing out a bunch of big ideas. Through the conversation, we’ve always come up with tons of new things to make, do, and put our efforts toward.
Sometimes we come up with ideas for events we should organize, an art book we should make, a new website we should launch. When I’m speaking with other people who think outside the box, it is so exciting to think of all the things we can create together.
It’s truly inspiring and motivating to speak with other people who think they can change their community (or world!) in a positive way.
What is your story?
I think in life I’ve been incredibly lucky. I grew up with parents who would do anything for me and always made decisions based on what was best for me. I learned how to be a hard worker from my mom and how to take risks and be a dreamer and creative from my dad. I think it’s a good combination. If you have too much of one and not enough of the other, it doesn’t work because you either are lazy and have dreams that go nowhere, or you work too hard and don’t pursue what you’re passionate about.
When I was a toddler my mom called me “strong willed” because I always did what I wanted, and I think that’s something that has really shaped my story.
How did you begin your career as a creative?
I would say my career as a creative really began in college when I was working on my senior honors thesis. It was then that I started to really form ideas about what it meant to me to be a creative person and how important it is to me to work in a creative field, where I can make things and be passionate about what I’m doing every day.
My thesis had a ton to do with why people don’t pursue creative careers and why they should. AKA intrinsic reward is more motivating than extrinsic reward, so pursue a career you like and you’ll probably do better at it in the long run. So, I kind of see my creative life I live as me proving my own thesis right. I made the decision I wanted to pursue a creative life then and there and I don’t think I could ever turn back now.
How did the idea for Silver Space come to be?
I had a crazy idea, then I ran it by my friend (and now business partner) and she thought it was an awesome idea, and so it began. Originally, we wanted to create a co-working space for artists. The idea was that you wouldn’t need to rent a studio space, you would just need to pay your “membership fee” and contribute to Silver Space in some way (giving a talk, teaching a master class, etc.) to be a member and use the space. We wanted to host shows, events, and maybe even have a coffee shop! The real goal was to create a community for creatives and bring more awareness to the art scene in St. Louis. We quickly realized that maintaining and paying for a space was going to be a huge undertaking, so we decided to build the community without the space.
From there, we’ve established relationships with so many different artists and local creative businesses around St. Louis and Silver Space has become a platform for promoting all these different people and creative ventures.
What was your greatest challenge with starting Silver Space, and how did you overcome it?
Intimidation. When we were starting out, we were so scared to reach out to different artists, because we were afraid they wouldn’t want to speak with us, or that we weren’t qualified to speak with them. But, we just had to go through with it or fail, and at first it was scary and uncomfortable and there were some mini panic attacks along the way, but we’ve overcome the fear, built up our confidence, and things are rolling along now.
Art has a way of telling a complicated story in a way that is unlike anything else in the world. All the artists we speak with are able to make a statement through their work without using any actual language, and that to me is just such a powerful form of expression to be able to master.
Do you have a favorite quote? If so, what is it and why?
Do one thing every day that scares you. When I was little, my mom had a mug with this quote on it, and it just really stuck with me. Eleanor Roosevelt said this, and as a history nerd and feminist she’s one of my favorite people ever. I think that if I’m not doing anything that scares me each day, I’m probably not doing anything worthwhile. I really am a believer in getting outside my comfort zone, whether it is a career move where I present an idea that’s a little out there, or I request a meeting with someone who’s much more important than me, or I book a trip abroad on a whim with no idea what I’ll even do there, there’s some joy in doing things that are scary and just seeing how it goes. I’ve found that its life and everything kind of has to work out in one way or another.
I recently read something that said you shouldn’t make decisions out of fear of what could happen, you should make decisions and think, what’s the worst that could happen? And usually, you realize you can recover from anything. What you can’t recover from is not taking risks and missing out on important opportunities, and I think that is what would be the absolute worst thing for me.
How does running a small business impact your life?
It makes me a little stressed at times, but mostly it just adds more excitement! It gives me the ability to connect and work with so many different people around the city and I’ve met some awesome friends through the process!
How do you find the artists you feature?
We find them in all different ways. Sometimes, we’ll go to a group show and see a new artist and say, we have to talk to that person. Sometimes, artists will tell us about a show or say they like what we’re doing and that they want to talk to us. Sometimes, we’ll interview an artist and they’ll tell us that we have to talk to one of their friends. They come from all over.
What is your process for content creation?
We have things pretty much down to a science at this point. We’ll set up an interview with an artist and usually that interview happens at their studio. My business partner, Marina, and I will go to the studio with some prepared questions, but we usually just end up having a conversation, usually about art, but since art is so intersectional, it always goes in at least a couple of different directions.
While we’re there I pretty much just listen while Marina does the interview, but I usually ask a couple of questions that come up during the interview. My role is to take photos of the studio and the artist, which is fun.
Then after the interview, Marina takes all of the recorded interview content and does a write-up of what we talked about. I edit the photos I took and use them on our site and Instagram. Then we promote the content on the site through the Instagram.
What inspired your brand?
The Silver Space branding is my personal “baby,” if you will. My role in Silver Space mostly involves keeping consistent branding visually, maintaining the Insta, and keeping everything smooth on the website. I wanted the brand to look professional and clean, kind of like a cross between what you’d expect to see in a gallery and a museum, but a little more chic. I wanted clean and elegant, and I’d like to think that’s what we’ve achieved.
What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
Our society has taught us to think that other women are our competitors. I feel this is a huge barrier to collaboration with other female business owners and leaders in the community. I do feel, however, that through our work, we’re finding more and more like-minded female entrepreneurs who have the same idea about female leadership that we do: basically, that rising tides lift all ships and it is better to be collaborators and teammates than competitors.
What brings you fulfillment? and/or Who or what brings you joy? Why?
Sooooooo many things. I think that I’m obsessed with finding beauty in life and the world. I’ve recently realized that everything I do is about finding something beautiful. I’ll always say that when I pick a spot to go out to eat, I’m much more concerned with the atmosphere than how good the food is. Or, when planning a place to travel, I look at the beautiful things I can see there, then that motivates me to go there. I think it just comes back to wanting to find beauty in things around me.
What do you love to do? What do you feel when you are doing it?
I love connecting people to other people and new opportunities. I really enjoy connecting two people who I feel have similar interests and would have many things in common. I also really enjoy connecting people to opportunities I think would be beneficial for them. If I see a job or something, I oftentimes think of a friend who would be interested and refer them to the opportunity. It just makes me feel good to try and help people find something that will make them happy.
If you love Sara's story as much as I do, check out the following links to get connected:
Silver Space Website: www.silverspacestl.com,
Silver Space Instagram @silverspace_stl
Personal Instagram @sara_duval
Personal Portfolio Site https://saraduval.myportfolio.com/