"The World of Jeannine La Bate!"
Can you tell us a little bit about when you realized you were an artist? I realized that I have an eye for fashion in middle school when my mother and older sister, who are both very stylish women, would seek my advice on what shoes, scarf, or other accessories they should coordinate with their outfits before leaving the house for work or school.
How did you learn your necessary skills?
I learned my sewing and clothing construction skills from my grandmother, Penny Williams, my undergraduate professor, and KB Rust and Anna Hill during my graduate studies. I learned skills in fine arts throughout my education as well as frequenting art museums and exposure to as many cultural experiences as I could.
Are there specific challenges or opportunities that focused your career?
An opportunity that focused my career was launching the Fashion Design Certificate program at Memphis College of Art in collaboration with Memphis Fashion Week in 2017. Designing the program and writing the curriculum demonstrated my role as a professional in the field of fashion education.
Who do you consider to be your most influential mentor? I have been fortunate to have many mentors who I mentioned in question 1. More recently, Cece Palazola – formally the Executive Director of Community Education at Memphis College of Art and now the Executive Director of Concord Academy, continues to lead by example. I learned so much by watching her interact with teaching-artists, faculty, staff, community members, and parents to serve the highest good for students and youth participating in arts programming.
Artists are extremely resourceful and often create multiple streams of income. How do you generate income to support yourself and your artists practice ?
I teach fashion design full time, currently for Shelby County Schools and the University of Memphis to support myself and afford materials to sustain a studio practice. Acquiring expensive sewing supplies on an educator budget is not easy, however I am very fortunate to teach what I love!
How do you measure success in your work?
I measure success in my work by the reactions of the models and clients who wear my designs. If they light up and express joy, then I know I did my job well.
What artist or designer inspires you the most?
The designers that inspire me the most are currently Anna Sui, a New York City designer who has a touring exhibition “The World of Anna Sui” that I hope to be able to see. Also, Unlogical Poem, a brand that finds inspiration from poets and uses limited vintage embroidery mixed with colorful fabric.
Do you have a creative hour/time/place that inspires you?
Activities that inspire me the most are reading poetry and going on nature hikes.
Do you have a ritual or do you set specific assignments for yourself?
A ritual that I have to begin my design process is creating a mood board. I gather images from fashion magazines and online image searches. I love the hands on process of cutting, gluing and arranging images to convey my fashion design ideas.
As a kid, what did you see yourself doing as a career?
As a kid, I dreamed of becoming a film actress because I love storytelling and dressing up!
What told you this is the life for me?
Two years ago, I began volunteering for The Social Justice Sewing Academy (SJSA), a nonprofit organization that is piecing together youth voices, textile art, and community in a 21st century sewing circle. Even though I’ve been a fulltime educator for more than five years, it was during a SJSA workshop that told me “this is the life for me.” Encouraging youth to express opinions about a variety of social justice issues using textiles as the medium was a transformative experience.
What compromises have you had to make in order to succeed?
To be honest, I have compromised areas of my personal life, for example putting off starting a family of my own in order to achieve an undergraduate education and go on to earn a master’s degree. It has been worth the effort because I don’t take my work for granted. I am passionate and I have the space in my life to nurture and fully invest in my students. Teaching can be a lot like parenting.
What do you love most about being a creative in Memphis?
What I love about being a creative in Memphis is the community. For the most part, there is an honest interest in collaborating and encouraging one another that is very special.
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