If you were to graph the directions husband and wife Jody Harris and Keelah Jackson-Harris have taken to open their art gallery/event venue on M.L. King Boulevard, his line would be fairly straight and forward-moving, while hers would incorporate curves, circles, cutbacks and redirections.
"Jody is the educated/trained artist who has undergrad and graduate degrees in art," Jackson-Harris said. "With me, I've done a little bit of everything. I got my formal degree in education and was a teacher and an administrator in Gwinnett and Fulton counties [in Georgia] and wrote a column for a magazine."
After moving to Chattanooga, she was a part-time teacher at the Chambliss Center for Children, a motivational speaker and a singer/songwriter in local music advocate SoundCorps' Sidewalk Stages busking program. She is currently an artist-in-residence at the Baylor School, teaching middle-school students.
"I've always believed if obstacles happen, you use every gift you've been given and find a new way," she said.
Their varied skill sets inspired the couple to open Keeody Gallery as a space dedicated to all creatives. (The name is a creative mash-up of their first names.) They've hosted dance, spoken word, live music, visual arts and just about any other art form anyone can think of in the 2,000-square-foot space.
Plans include a podcast where they will share their many stories and observations with guests, a website and newsletter, a marketing campaign called #thekeeodypencil campaign, featuring a print of the month and virtual live art performances.
"Virtual has been our saving grace," Jackson-Harris said.
The idea for the podcast came from friends, family and gallery patrons who suggested they share their stories, she said.
"With Jody and me, we have a wealth of stories," she said. "He knows a lot of people because he's been in the art game a long time. With me, I've lived so many lives, it's ridiculous."
She sang regularly at high school events at Knoxville Catholic High School and later with her family. On top of that, "I have all these stories from when I was a teacher," she said. "We just want to be authentic and we wanted to create a space where arts, soul and love reside."
The couple were also commissioned by Lil Mama's Chicago Style Hoagy to create furniture pieces and an exhibit on display at Proof Incubator/Bar just down the street from their studio.
Jackson-Harris was also one of nine local artists chosen for a mural-painting project sponsored by EPB called "Dr. King's 9th Street Reverie." She will be painting one of nine panels along the power provider's substation fence at 10th and Foster streets. Her work is titled "The Soul of MLK."
Jackson-Harris attended high school in Knoxville and college at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga two decades ago and has always had an interest in the history and stories surrounding "The Big 9," as the area of town was known before Ninth Street was renamed to honor the slain civil-rights leader.
"Things look different even than when I went to UTC, but I want people to understand the history of the area," she said. "It was the center of Black businesses but also Black excellence in the area. In my submission, I wrote that I wanted to honor that history."
Work on the panels will begin in the spring, and she hopes to have hers done by June or July, she said.
Currently, the Keeody Gallery has an exhibit by Andrew Travis titled "Leyeon's Share Case" that will run through March 6, when a new exhibit called "I Am Free" by La-tseia Poole will move in.
Contact Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.