ArtsMemphis, the name of our local fundraising organization that supports the region’s cultural community, is always written as one-word. That’s because the arts are indigenous to Memphis, and the two words are therefore inseparable. This innovation was one of the first under Susan Schadt’s leadership when she joined the non-profit as president and CEO 13 years ago. From rebranding and relocating to conducting monumental fundraising campaigns to forming creative partnerships, Susan and the ArtsMemphis team have reinvented this organization over the past decade with passion and creativity comparable to that of the artists they support.
In December 2014, Susan is retiring from ArtsMemphis to take over ownership of Wild Abundance Publishing, the publishing division of ArtsMemphis. Find out what’s next for Susan, ArtsMemphis and the award-winning independent publishing company she’ll soon be steering.
Have you always called Memphis “home”?
I was born and raised in Memphis and lived here until my early 30s when my family and I moved away for 17 years—our NYC/Southern California adventure. I love that my three daughters (Morgan, Lela and Canby) were exposed to these different parts of the country during that time. We moved back to Memphis in 2001 when my husband, Chuck Schadt, and I decided it was time to come back to Memphis for his family real estate business.
Highlight your most memorable professional experience pre-ArtsMemphis.
ArtsMemphis has been a place where I could exercise my passion for coming up with new business ideas. I sometimes wish I could turn my mind off and stop thinking of things to do! For example, while we were in California, I wanted to start a new business. There’s a lot of beeswax in California, so I decided to start a candle-making business, Susan Schadt Designs. We started producing candles in our garage and grew to be a successful candle company featured in national publications like Elle Décor, InStyle and Architectural Digest plus high-end stores such as Bergdorf Goodman and Takashimaya New York. We even developed a candle-making kit for Martha Stewart!
What is key to a successful day in the professional life of Susan Schadt?
Open dialogue and checking in with team members! The walls in our office do not go to the ceiling, so any conversation is an open one. This creates a lot of energy and a wealth of ideas. All that has happened at ArtsMemphis is the result of wonderful board members, talented staff members and generous volunteers. One key member of our team is my successor, Elizabeth Rouse. She has been with ArtsMemphis for eight years as an indispensable staff member and has served in many roles since her arrival. She is totally ready to take my place when I retire in December.
As mentioned, your time with ArtsMemphis is coming to an end soon. What’s next?
Yes! I am retiring from ArtsMemphis December 31, 2014, to become the owner of Wild Abundance Publishing. (This award-winning independent publishing company was founded in 2008 and produces books that celebrate the best of the sporting South with proceeds benefitting the arts, conservation and environmental education.)
To date, Wild Abundance Publishing has produced three books, and the big news is that we are launching MEMPHIS: Sweet, Spicy & A Little Greasy, a new culinary arts and lifestyle guide surrounding the 2013 ArtsMemphis Culinary Series this week! The announcement party is on Sunday, October 26 — we will be at the Garden District from 5 to 7 p.m.!
You have brought entrepreneurial spirit to a wide range of both non-profit and for-profit businesses. Looking back what is the common thread connecting them all?
It is all about relationships. I always listen to the customer who is in front of me at the time, and it is especially rewarding to identify the emotional side of people through their stories. Even the candles were customized to what each designer, retail business or bride-to-be needed from us.
When I arrived, ArtsMemphis needed to send a broader, more welcoming message to the community. We rebranded under the current name and relocated to a more accessible building with a goal to be more approachable. Many of our fundraising campaigns have been achieved through mutually beneficial relationships in the community, such as our unlikely but highly successful partnership with Ducks Unlimited to create the Conservation Through Art initiative,which has generated $4 million to support the arts and wildlife conservation since inception. The ArtsMemphis Culinary Series also connects people through relationships, and the current ArtsMemphis office policy is to always have an approachable, open door to the community.
Telling stories and building relationships through Wild Abundance Publishing is a perfect next step for me.
Describe yourself in three adjectives.
Adventuresome, positive and adaptable.
What activities do you enjoy away from work?
Swimming! Since last December, I have been swimming a mile, four days a week, 45 minutes, nonstop. It is simultaneously challenging and relaxing. My husband introduced me to swimming, and now I can’t imagine not having this activity on my schedule. I am also an avid golfer.
Do you have a specific mentor? How has that person influenced you?
My father, Charlie McCrory. He was a self-made man. When my father was just 21, his father died. As the oldest, he was called on to raise the family and support his mother. In turn, he had to give up the opportunity to go to college. He became a builder and land developer and was known as a highly ethical businessman. He was the first entrepreneur I ever knew.
What is your number one vacation escape and why?
We have a home in New Orleans and love the Big Easy because of the energy, food and close proximity to Memphis.
Name three lighthearted things you could not live without.
Sazeracs, touted to be the first cocktail. The best Sazerac is, of course, the one my husband makes, but Herbsaint in New Orleans also has one of the best. (I even have a travel shaker for my Sazeracs!) I also love anything Apple, even an Apple box because their packaging design is wonderful. A third item would have to be my motorcycle boots. I wear them almost every day in the wintertime.
Do you have an indispensable fashion item in your wardrobe?
I have a necklace made with authentic fishing lures that is always a conversation piece. It was made by New Orleans-based artisan Nancy Eaves and given to me by my friend Marcia Bryan. I am going to wear my fishing lure necklace often over the next several months as photojournalist Lisa Buser and I travel around the South (think Thelma and Louise!) working on our next Wild Abundance book, which has a fishing theme. This next release will feature favorite local waters around the South as well as recipes from famous Southern chefs like Kelly English of Memphis, Donald Link from New Orleans, Jeremiah Bacon in Charleston, Kevin Willmann in St. Louis, Chris Hastings of Birmingham and others. It’s scheduled to launch in October of 2015.
Thank you, Susan! Good luck on your next adventure with Wild Abundance Publishing!
Make plans to join Susan and the ArtsMemphis team at the Garden District this Sunday to celebrate the launch of MEMPHIS: Sweet, Spicy & A Little Greasy!
Meet more inspiring Memphis women. Click here to check out the FACES archives.
Today’s photos at ArtsMemphis were taken by Micki Martin.