When working for free works in your favor

Put your ass where your heart wants to be. – Steven Pressfield

Since launching Suzu Creative last year I’ve had to crank up my networking game. However, it was a social weekend that made me realize my ideal clients may not be found at business mixers. Artists and creatives are “my people” and spending a day at one of Arizona’s many art festivals reminded me that’s who I love to help and work with.

Which takes me to the day not long after when I received an email offering free lunch and a T-shirt to attend the Scottsdale Arts Festival. Cool! I love free stuff plus acres of art punctuated by live music and a lobster truck!

Oh wait – I had to volunteer to get the free stuff? Before I could make the sad trombone noise and hit delete, I reconsidered. I’d get to meet other art lovers, enjoy a day in the not-too-hot-yet Arizona sun, and maybe get in some networking and research with other creators. I accepted.

I would have volunteered at the bar tent but was either too late or my reputation preceded me. So I decided to work in the community art studio where vendors host hands-on, interactive booths featuring various art projects. It’s no secret this is where parents bring the kids to make something fun and messy when they’re getting bored of stall after stall of “Don’t touch that!” but I was feeling brave.

The volunteer coordinator directed me to the Marble Mountain installation to help a lavender-haired girl named Kayla Newnam who was busy directing her dad on dividing up RIT dye containers. Combined with the cans of shaving cream, I could see right away that this would be the messy portion of the program.

Kayla Newnam in her element.

As I took in the marbled patchwork tent housing numerous stuffed creatures for story time and photo ops, I thought “How cute!” When I saw the basket of little booklets with an endearing plot about the monsters of Marble Mountain that Kayla wrote and illustrated, I thought “How clever!” As she explained the different art projects and objectives of each day, I thought “WOW. This young woman is talented and imaginative!”

Curious about her journey to being tapped to create such an enchanting installation at a major arts festival, I learned Kayla is a Phoenix native with a BFA from the Pratt Institute of Art and Design in NY. An accomplished painter, she was volunteering at Canal Convergence – one of my absolute favorite annual events – when she discovered there were actual paying jobs for what she was doing for fun. She was soon hired as Public Event Coordinator and that position increased her visibility in the arts community, leading to the Scottsdale Arts Festival invitation.

Kayla’s monsters and Magic Mountain were a hit with children of all ages, so it’s not surprising that her art portfolio and mural projects are all vivid and bright celebrations of whimsy. She is fearless in her use of shapes and color, sometimes including elements of surrealism and psychedelic desert themes.

Kayla recently began an exciting new position as Public Art Curator and Artist in Residence with True North Studio but hopes to still be involved with Canal Convergence this fall. She inspires me as she steadfastly continues to put her ass where her heart is – something I wish I’d learned much earlier in my own career(s).

Personally, I know I’ll be pursuing other opportunities to volunteer and participate in activities that feed my soul – not just my business. Because it all ties together if you’re paying attention.

Where does your heart want to be, and is your tush in the right vicinity?

2 Comments on “When working for free works in your favor

  1. What a WONDERFUL review !! Kayla and I also began volunteering for Canal Convergence when she first returned to Arizona from her life changing experience of studying Fine Art in Brooklyn NY at PRATT Institute. You may have guessed by now that this is her Mom!

    Guess what led me to this article though, it was Miss Kayla and a beautiful elegant business card. Kayla called after working with you as her volunteer and told me I MUST meet you! My schedule is starting to open up so here I am creeping around your beautiful website.

    I look forward to meeting you face to face because as Kayla said, “She is just what you need”.

    Thanks again for the wonderful review of Kayla, Canal Convergence and Monster Mountain!!


    • Thank you, Luetta! It’s so great to ‘meet’ you and I look forward to chatting in person. You have a wonderful and talented daughter. Let me know when works for you and what I can do to help. 🙂


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