In 2011, Smyrna served as a homecoming of sorts to Georgia-native but then Michigan resident Kristen Ramsey. A graphic designer by trade, this mother of three daughters found Smyrna thanks to its quality school districts. Little did she know Smyrna would help her find her most authentic self. “I needed an outlet, so I started painting. I was an artist already, but I started making stuff just because I wanted to make it.” Looking to build community, she initiated artist meet-ups at Rev Coffee. “For a while, it was just me and then me and a couple of other people,” but eventually, she met Allison Schorr, another artist and mom. “Kristen became an instrumental support person for my creative life,” says Allison, owner of Smyrna’s Secret Gallery, a short-term rental filled with local art. The two friends took a welding class at the Old Smyrna Firehouse, met Robert Harrison, and “Indie Arts Alliance just kind of - flamed out of there.”
“We have created this little family where we all cheer each other on. And that’s exactly what I needed as an artist. My work is an expression of my soul, and also the messages that I most need to hear. And I’ve noticed that when I’m the most authentic in my work it resonates the most.” Smyrna has served as a safe haven for Kristen to move through the sometimes-messy pursuit of authenticity, continually anchored by her artist friends. “That’s what’s kept me here, this group - people that want to make things happen.” “Kristen is a force of goodness that has founded community and connection for so many artists in Smyrna,” says Chelsea Darling, Smyrna-based owner of Darling Metals. “It's not something she'd ever brag about, but much of the art and creativity that has flourished in this city is a direct result of her many years of hard work and vision.”
That vision included creating the infrastructure to support the artists who live here. “I had friends in my life who liked to use the phrase ‘Create the things you wish existed,’ and so I was like, ‘I want to make something happen’.” The creation of the Indie Arts Alliance in 2017 has facilitated art openings, group shows, and opportunities for artists to sell their work without having to leave Smyrna. But vitally, it also provides the support artists need “because we all have this self-doubt thing that we do.” In February of 2018, Indie Arts Alliance supported Kristen in her largest painting project to date and provided the city with its public art centerpiece. Located at Vickery Ace Hardware on Concord Road is Kristen’s now ubiquitous Smyrna: The Jonquil City mural. “It meant so much to us to have the first Smyrna mural on our building,” says Susan Harlan, owner of Vickery Ace Hardware. “Kristen was a dream to work with and it has received such a positive reaction from our customers and the community at large.” Indie Arts Alliance continues to evolve and thrive, with Kristen and other members committed to “seeing how things go with each season of life.”
What does Kristen hope to see in Smyrna’s growing arts scene? “Definitely more public art,” says Kristen. “Placemaking matters. People want to be proud of where they live, where they can show off the places that are cool to them - and I really think that public art helps create that.”
For everything Smyrna has given Kristen Ramsey, she has given back to the community tenfold. Kristen’s artistic marks are all over the city, from the “Welcome to Smyrna” sign by the train tracks, to the jonquils on the Smyrna Little League jerseys, to the Little Free Library in Riverview, and so much more. Ever since moving to Smyrna motivated Kristen Ramsey to pick up a paintbrush, she has been our arts ambassador. And that’s something we can all be proud of.
“When I’m the most authentic in my work it resonates the most.”
“Create the things you wish existed.”