As we approach the centennial celebration of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, the Walls for Women Project is empowering women across Tennessee. A multi-city mural festival, the project honors suffrage history and how far women have come, while also encouraging continuing dialogue about how far we have left to go. With an all-female team of muralists, the month-long undertaking culminates on August 18 with the completion of a mural in Marathon Village. A collaboration between Tennessee artist Cymone Wilder and Florida-based Sarah Painter, the final painting will adorn the exterior of Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery, which, fun fact, was once run by a woman. Walls for Women founder Kristin Luna calls the mural a message of hope, change and inspiration in a dark time. Please welcome one half of the incredible muralist team creating the final mural, and our newest FACE of Nashville, artist Cymone Wilder.
Tell us about yourself — where are you from and how did you arrive in Nashville?
I’m a full-time designer and part-time freelancer — I currently work for SmileDirectClub and freelance on the side. I grew up in Illinois and relocated to Nashville five years ago for my first job. I was studying graphic design at a really small private college, graduated in 2015, and then basically, a week after I graduated, I moved out here for a job.
What inspired you to become an artist?
My family has always been creative. My dad has always been into a lot of music and art and just never really had the opportunity to dip into that as a career because he was providing for our family. I was kind of a dork when I was in junior high and high school, and I was really into jazz. That was a huge influence on me wanting to get into design. Seeing all those album covers was inspiring to me. I was always doodling in sketchbooks and interested in a lot of quirky art growing up, too, so it has always been there.
I started freelancing in college to supplement any money I could make, and also as a way to stretch my skills. I kept doing it because the extra cash never hurts, and it gives me a chance to do what I enjoy rather than just the day-to-day minutia of a full-time job. I mainly do lettering-style work and a little bit of branding. Especially in the past year, it has brought in a lot of really great clients and a little bit of notoriety, so it has been fun.
Where can we check out your work?
Probably the easiest thing to find right now is some work I did for Cosmopolitan that’s in their July-August issue. I lettered quotes of some Black people who are talking about their experiences during this time. I did a merchandise design for Elizabeth Warren’s campaign, and then I have a handful of other things coming up in the next month that I can’t speak on yet. Instagram is probably the most up-to-date work you can view, but Simon and Moose is a good spot if you’re looking to purchase anything. It’s mainly just me, but my younger brother is on there, too. He aids in some of the projects I work on. The site name is the nicknames my brother and I used to go by when we were kids. He hit puberty really hard, so we used to call him “Moose.” And then Cymone is apparently tricky for folks, so I got “Simon” a lot growing up.
How did you get involved in the Walls for Women project?
I got connected with [founder] Kristin Luna last year. One of my old coworkers used to work with her, and she expressed an interest in mural work. That has been a goal of mine — to do more of that type of work. I think Kristin was in the beginning stages of coming up with this project at that point, and she said she would keep me in mind. When the project officially kicked off, she asked if I could be a part of it. I was super pumped about the heart behind it and the topic that’s being addressed. It’s a great location and a great purpose.
Tell us about the location.
The wall that I am sharing with another artist is at Nelson’s Green Brier in Marathon Village. I was pumped when she said Marathon Village; it’s a very popular location. I also love that it’s right next to the Jefferson neighborhood, which is one of the last Black communities in Nashville. For me, it felt like an important place to be.
Can you talk about your mural in particular? When do you start it?
We’re the last mural to be done. We’ll paint that weekend leading up to the celebration. The other painter is Sarah Painter, and she and I are both very passionate about women’s rights. I wanted to do a quote that touched on that but also kind of touched on some of the racial issues going on. One hundred years ago, women got the right to vote, but not all women got the right to vote. [My mural] hits both sides of that issue and points to some generational themes with the imagery as well. It should be cool.
On that topic, we’ve spoken to some women who don’t feel this merits celebration because while it did enfranchise women in America, there were still many states that used practices such as poll taxes, literacy tests and intimidation to deny Black women (and men) of their right until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And, while Black suffragists were instrumental in the 19th Amendment passage, there was a large degree of racism shown by many of the white suffragist leaders. We’ve also had a lot of feedback that this was a huge step in the right direction that directly led to 1965, and from there to today, and that these major steps deserve celebration. It’s complicated. What are your thoughts on that, and how did that outlook affect your art?
I lean more into the camp of “it’s a start.” I think it would be wrong not to celebrate such a milestone accomplishment in a fight that is still being fought today. I don’t want to diminish the fact that that’s where the work started, because that was a very important jumping-off point. But, it’s important to me to have black women represented in our mural almost as an act of celebrating the uncelebrated work of black women in the movement to obtain the right to vote for all people.RELATED: She Fights to Ensure Everyone’s Vote Counts
What social awareness do you hope the wall will offer?
I’m most excited that this is a women’s project in general — that there are women who are doing these murals. I think there’s a lot of really great art in Nashville, and a lot of really great murals, but there are not a lot of women, and not a lot of women of color, being represented in those pieces. To me, that’s the most important thing that’s happening here. It’s like the cherry on top to be able to provide big and bold imagery of Black women with these specific words, in a community that’s kind of in the middle of two different types of people. There’s the Jefferson Street area, where there’s a lot of Black people, and then there’s Marathon Village, where there’s a lot of white people. So, it’s cool to kind of have this mural potentially act as a bridge in the community.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I don’t know if this is the best advice, but I worked a summer job years ago, and it was the first job where I had to have a sense of professionalism every day. There was a group of us teens, and it was essentially our first professional job. Our boss was like, “You’re not special. You’re not irreplaceable, so you need to come to this job and bring everything you can and do your best because this job won’t miss you when you leave. While you’re here, you need to be your best and act your best, because a company will let you go, and they’ll move on and find someone else. There will always be somebody better than you.” It’s not warm and fuzzy advice, but I think it’s valuable to keep in the back of your head when you’re conducting business.
Outside of faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Buffalo wings. I love bonfires, too, because I love an opportunity to gather with friends. So, I guess bonfires for the sake of friends. And then the freedom to be able to continue to create art … the space to do that.
Thank you, Cymone. For a full list of project artists and mural locations, visit the Walls for Women kickoff page.
Read more interviews with our inspirational FACES in our archives HERE!