Redux Contemporary Arts Center 

She, Robot: Jessie Bower understands her understated role in the arts

Redux Contemporary Arts Center
136 St. Philip St.
Charleston, S.C. 29403
(843) 722-0697
www.reduxstudios.org

What it is:
A grassroots organization that supports arts education, advocacy, and local artists. With galleries and studios, the center encourages all forms of expression, offers art classes for all skill levels, and presents free art exhibits throughout the year.

What $25 would do
• Buy supplies for children's drawing workshop
• Allow 10 students to have a gallery and studio tour
• Pay power bill for a film screening
• Fund a day of the Artist-in-Residence Program

Redux Wish List:
• New technology (computers, software, digital cameras, etc.) to begin a Technological Arts Initiative
• Gallery on wheels to bring exhibitions into the public realm
• 25-foot billboard for the outside of building to advertise current exhibitions and activities

Jessie Bower likes robots. She's been drawing them since enrolling at the College of Charleston. When she was happy, she drew robots. When she was sad, robots. When her emotions were in that multifarious spectrum in-between, for Bower, it was robots all the way.

The impulse is still with her. And it's growing. As the education coordinator of Redux Contemporary Arts Center, a nonprofit grassroots organization that supports arts education, advocacy, and local artists, she can do more than draw robots: Now she's painting them, printing them, and will presumably one day sculpt an elegant, angular humanoid figure out of marble.

She doesn't understand the reason for creating her whimsical automatons or why she puts them in comical settings. On the day I interviewed Bower, she showed me a robot painted in purple on a piece of cardboard. It was holding flowers and walking up to a house, as if he (if it is, indeed, a he) were about to pick up his date.

Impulses are a hard thing to articulate. By their nature, they don't make sense. What she does understand, as someone who decided early on to devote herself to the arts, is that the urge to create, that ineffable longing. She doesn't identify herself as an artist, per se. That profession is for others to pursue, she says. Her calling is something equally important: spokeswoman for the arts.

"She goes for it," says Nathan Koci, a friend and member of the New Music Collective, an experimental music group that Bower has written grants for. "She has an infectious kind of positive energy."

Her curiosity and passion, Koci continues, are hallmarks of a professional arts administrator in the making.

"She's finding out what it means to do meaningful arts management," Koci says. "She wants to find out what makes the arts tick and what makes the arts community tick."

Bower, 22, is in charge of planning all educational programming at Redux. She helped expand classes and workshops from a few each quarter to over 40 classes set for next year. After area teachers propose class curricula, Bower sorts through them all, classifies them according to difficulty level and experience, and finalizes them.

"At this point, paid classes and workshops make up about a fifth of our operating budget," says Executive Director Seth Curcio. "It's a major part of the process."

He adds, via e-mail: "Her time and dedication to the nonprofit arts not only shows in the work that she is doing for Redux, but also through her continued support of other local arts organizations. Charleston will certainly benefit from her continued efforts."

"Working here has been a dream for me," Bower says. "I'm working more than I could ask to be paid for, but the job gratification can't be compared to a paycheck.

"This is the role I planned from the beginning."

She understood that role early on. Growing up in small-town Alabama, she spent a lot of time in her aunt's studio, witnessing firsthand the influence one person can have in providing leadership, advocacy, promotion, and management. It was more than indoctrination, though. Arts advocacy was in her blood.

She graduated from high school in three years. She knew a college with a strong arts administration program was in her future. Her choice was CofC. Bower is a senior, but hasn't wasted time. She has numerous internships under her belt: at K Records in Olympia, Wash., the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, and Theatre 99, home of the improv comedy troupe The Have Nots!

Bower has helped out with The Have Nots! and City Paper's annual Comedy Festival. She works part-time as Theatre 99's house manager. She also writes grant proposals for individual artists and for underprivileged students looking for scholarship money to take art classes.

"She gets it," says Brandy Sullivan, co-founder of Theatre 99. "And she gets the importance of the arts at such a young age. We trust her as the face of Theatre 99, a role that we take seriously."

More than schooling is needed, Sullivan says, when pursuing a life in the arts. Knowledge and skill are critical, but a person, in order to weather the ups and downs, needs passion — lots of it.

"She has that innate enthusiasm," Sullivan says. "It all starts with drive, with liking the arts, then comes knowledge and experience."

Bower plans to pursue graduate school in New York City in a few years. Until then, she's content to keep growing in Charleston, where her obsession with robots might become contagious.

"Whenever she's done cashing out the drawer," Sullivan says. "There's always a little robot in there."

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