The Arts & Business Council of Greater Nashville (ABC) is all about creating a thriving, sustainable creative culture in Nashville. Based on the belief that artists play a critical role in our city, ABC designs programs that empower artists to make a living from their creative endeavors, as well as shows businesses how they can engage first-hand with the arts and build mutually beneficial partnerships. At this helm of this organization is a dynamic young women, Executive Director Casey Summar. We are thrilled to introduce her as this week’s FACE of Nashville!
Where did you grow up? How did you wind up in Nashville?
It’s a very Nashville story. My family moved from Monterey, CA, to Ashland City, TN, when I was a little girl so my father could pursue songwriting. I always thought I would move back to California, but Nashville has grown up right around me and now I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
Tell us a little about your background and the mission of the Arts & Business Council of Greater Nashville.
I joined the ABC through our Volunteer Lawyers & Professionals for the Arts (VLPA) program which provides free legal help to artists in need. I learned about this organization when I was in law school at Vanderbilt and couldn’t believe such a thing existed! It was the perfect marriage of my passion for art, law and community service. There wasn’t an organization like this in Nashville yet, so I found my inner entrepreneur and a great co-founder in our incoming Board Chair, Bo Spessard, and we opened the Tennessee Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts in 2006.
A couple of years later, Martha Ingram brought together an incredible group of business leaders to found the Arts & Business Council with the goal of ensuring that our arts community would continue to grow and thrive for generations. We saw a natural partnership and merged the two organizations in 2009. It’s been an honor to be entrusted with our future vision, and we’ve made some incredible strides during this time. Being the Executive Director involves wearing a lot of hats–which I love!
You are also an adjunct professor at VU and teach a class on establishing and managing nonprofits. You seem quite young to be a law professor — how is it interacting with the students?
Ha. True! The dean at the time knew I had founded this organization during my third year of law school and that we worked with hundreds of arts nonprofits through VLPA, so he thought I would have an interesting perspective to share with students and asked me to develop a course. Talk about a steep learning curve! But I threw myself into it and built something that I’m proud of. I’ll be teaching it for the sixth year this spring (and have also developed similar courses in recent years that I teach in the fall semesters at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College and Belmont’s new College of Law). I enjoy it because the students push me to keep the content timely and interesting. And no, I don’t mind a bit if they call me “Casey” instead of “Professor Summar.”
In addition to your law degree, you also have a BFA in photography. What led you to this medium?
I grew up in a very artsy family and I got into photography at Belmont thanks to a wonderful professor who introduced me to large format photography (i.e. the cameras where you place a hood over your head). It completely changed how I worked because the process forces you to slow way down and really think out your images in advance. I had also just started working at Hatch Show Print, so I was learning printmaking at the same time which informed my work a lot as well. Both my sisters and I ended up working at Hatch for 7+ years—a really amazing formative time that helped me build deep roots in the arts world in Nashville.
BFA and JD sound like degrees that are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Does having a broad range of education and experience help you in your current role?
I like to challenge myself both intellectually and creatively and this job provides ample opportunity for both! It really is a dream job and I absolutely love it.
What’s the most important advice you can give artists working to establish themselves professionally?
One of my favorite sayings about this is “no one is coming.” Meaning no one is suddenly going to knock on your door, discover your artistic greatness and bring you success. You have to create it yourself because no one else will ever care as much about your artwork as you do. And while that sounds intimidating, the truth is that each artist can do this if they apply the same passion and creativity to the business of art that they apply to their creative work. You can’t teach someone to be a great artist, but you can teach a great artist how to run their business more effectively.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Break your goals down into very small, manageable steps. Do one thing every day toward your dream and you’ll get there.
What event are you most looking forward to this fall?
The new season at OZ! I’m so proud of the way OZ has brought in very high-level challenging work (brave new art indeed!) and equally proud that Nashville has embraced it.
What’s something you can share about yourself that would be surprising to know?
I’m an avid fantasy football player. I love sports (which some people are surprised about, but there’s some great research that shows that people who attend arts events are equally likely to attend sporting events). My gracious bro-in-law invited me to join this hilariously competitive fantasy league called the Music City Gentlemen. They’re rather intense, but a great group of guys. We do a live draft, they make their own trophies, the team names are absurd, lots of trash talking year-round. It’s a good time!
Favorite vacation spot?
I’ve always been an ocean person, but my husband Trent is an 8th generation Tennessee boy and he’s taught me how lovely the mountains can be as well. If we just have a long weekend, we’ll go to Hot Springs, NC, or Sewanee, TN, for some hiking and fishing.
Favorite fashion item?
My aforementioned sister, Jenny, lives in New York so I love to make her act as my personal shopper! She introduced me to a brand called Uniqlo a couple of years ago and almost everything I wear is from there.
Favorite beauty product?
I’m a pretty no frills gal, but I do enjoy lipgloss. I’m rarely without it.
How do you recharge your battery when you need to relax or unwind?
Trent and I bought a sailboat with some friends last year and it has changed our lives! We’re out there most weekends any time of year or evenings in the summer.
Describe your most recent favorite meal.
We enjoy cooking a lot, so definitely something at home. We’ve been making ratatouille lately with garden veggies (so much zucchini to use up!), then turning that into a tart with goat cheese. Yum!
What book(s) are you reading?
I gobble books (seriously 2-3 a week), and I really enjoy all kinds. I’ve particularly enjoyed Eleanor & Park (yes, it’s YA, but so so good!), and I bawled my eyes out and then gave it to Trent to read and he did the same, the Woman in White (an older book, but still so relevant and a page turner!), the new David Sedaris book, and I’m about to start the The Goldfinch.
List three lighthearted things you can’t live without, besides family, friends and faith.
Pets are family, so fresh herbs from the garden, a hot shower in the morning, and super dark chocolate.
Thanks, Casey! Learn more the Arts & Business Council of Greater Nashville at their website: www.abcnashville.org.
And thank you, Ashley Hylbert, for today’s beautiful photos! See more of Ashley’s work here: www.ashleyhylbert.com.