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Staying afloat in an artistic sort of way

Artists across the state are finding ways to cope with the sweeping hardships brought about by the novel coronavirus. One of these artists, a Harlan County native, recently received a career-saving grant from the Artist Relief Trust to help keep her creative ideas flowing without competing with the necessities of everyday life. 

Kristie Rodgers, a 48-year-old visual artist, found herself in a whirlwind of issues threatening her survival as a lifestyle artist when COVID-19 caused many of the conventions and exhibitions she would attend to shut down until further notice. Rodgers has since struggled to make ends meet without the sale of her artwork and the reduction in hours of her day job. 

Usually, Rodgers would set up at exhibitions in galleries, like the ones in Seattle or Boston, during the spring and fall. With a great amount of generosity, Rodgers has been able to donate 100 percent of her profits to different charities at the close of each fall show, adding it has been a “conduit for me to give back in a significant way.”

“My choice has been to purchase a tube of paint and canvases or buy food. Should I purchase that bag of apples or buy white paint? That was a question I’d hoped I wouldn’t have to consider,” she said. 

Rodgers said she knows the “starving artist” stereotypes are real and she is experiencing it now more than ever. 

In 2017, Rodgers was chosen to participate in the Kentucky Rural-Urban Exchange Program, which allows people from rural areas who are entrepreneurs, artists and others who are driven toward positive economic growth and development to connect with those in urban areas with similar interests who may have better access to funding and resources. 

“We traveled all over the state in quarterly gatherings to develop community  projects and brainstorm ways to improve and impact our communities in a positive way by connecting our resources and utilizing our unique skill sets,” she said. 

Rodgers said she received an email from the founder of RUX that entailed a link to apply for the ART grant. 

“The email came at the perfect moment. I was really struggling with how to make ends meet and simultaneously stay afloat as an artist,” she said. 

Through a rigorous application process, Rodgers was awarded two monthly grants of $500 each to assist with her art expenses. 

“I can’t begin to explain how grateful I have been for the support. Art is something that cannot always be defined and art is subject to taste, so thankfully, I was judged on need as a professional rather than juried on content,” she said. 

“I try to explain my art by saying that God has blessed me with the ability to see things in a unique way. I want  to be able to express that God-given vision to others, so that they might, perhaps, see his beauty in a way that takes them out of their comfort zone. I’m thrilled to be able to continue sharing this gift through the uncertainty of the pandemic.”

Rodgers creates her artwork by painting imagery of what she feels instead of what she physically sees, giving her pieces an abstract look with various textures and colors. She said she relies heavily on chemical reactions to obtain many of her textures and uses her hands to work with the paint as opposed to the traditional paintbrush and easel. 

Rodgers was featured in the catalog of Pacific Northwest Artists during her 10-year residency in Seattle, Washington, before returning to Harlan in 2015 to live permanently. 

She was awarded an Appalachian Economic Transitional Fellowship from the Highlander Research and Education Center in 2017 to conduct a land study of Harlan County to promote sustainable economic growth and development in Harlan and throughout the region. 

In 2016, Rodgers took first place in the Poke Sallet Festival’s professional artist division, “which was extremely gratifying, as the competition hasn’t been held since.”

She has also participated in multiple performances of Higher Ground under the direction of Robert Gipe and in the yearly ministerial drama “Judgement Night” at Harvest Worship Center. 

Rodgers teaches a class called “Overcoming Depression Through Christ” at the Hope Center, where she shares her testimony and the gospel. 

“Sharing my testimony around Harlan County is my highest priority and my greatest love. I’d like to give God all the glory for his many blessings and unfathomable mercy on my life. He is the reason I am able to do what I love as an artist,” she said.

Rodgers art can be viewed on the “Kristie Rodgers Art” Facebook page. A website is currently being built to support the online sale of her artwork, as well.