After careers in interior design, arts management, and many years of urban living, Cindi Spillman has come home to Brevard—her roots in Appalachia—to open ArtLab in the midst of a community rich in creative expression. Cindi brings together a desire to return to Western North Carolina, her experience as an artist, her enthusiasm for collaboration, and a fierce determination to remove the phrase “I’m not creative” from the English language.
Cindi’s work is informed by being raised in Chicago (#GoCubsGo) and on the folk art and music of the mountains (Mom was from Pisgah Forest, NC, Dad, from Pikeville, KY). She’s a huge fan of the Steep Canyon Rangers, Bela Fleck, and Abigail Washburn, to name just a few. She credits this dichotomy for her fascination with how one compelling form of art connects to another:
“As I listened to Bela perform his banjo concerto, ‘The Imposter,’ at the Brevard Music Center in 2016, I realized the impact of the musical on the visual. As Bela played, the music conjured images in my head. When I went by the merchandise table, much to my surprise, the images I envisioned were reflected on the cover art of Bela’s album.”
What occurred at that concert reflects Cindi’s talent for making natural connections as she curates events and classes. ArtLab will blend such forms as photography and music, puppet making and drama, and yoga and art. Likewise, connections that go back in time appeal to Cindi. Tracing the mountain banjo to its ancestor in Africa is one relational note that speaks to Cindi’s aesthetic, reflects the bend of her curiosities, and underscores the philosophy from which her work at ArtLab stems—all enabled by a good camera and “planes, trains, and automobiles.” (Yes, we went there. Steve Martin has been an inspiration for Cindi since she was 10 years old.)
Photography has long been Cindi’s primary art form. As a young girl, she received a toy camera and started snapping. It didn't take long before she graduated to the real thing, thanks to a gift from her dad (who also turned her on to bluegrass). It became clear her love of photography was matched only by her desire to travel.
Shortly after graduating from college, she lived in Kenya as part of World Teach and subsequently travelled to several countries in East and Southern Africa. Her other travels took her and her camera to Australia, Cuba, Hong Kong, Mexico, India, Israel, Egypt, Japan, New Zealand, Thailand, a handful of countries in western Europe, and much of the United States.
With each stamp in her passport, Cindi’s interest in the traditions, cuisines, languages, music, and artwork of the world grew. And yet, she experienced a more profound realization:
“No matter how different we are, or what language we speak, we have so much in common. We raise children. We love our pets. We cook. We do laundry. We get a haircut.”
It is this commonality Cindi seeks to capture through the lens, transmit in her classes, and practice in conversation with other artists and art lovers—and among common experiences, overriding the voices and challenges that block creativity. Simply put,
“What do we do when faced with a ‘No’ that stops us, sometimes for almost a lifetime?”
“How do we refill our energy in such bustling times as these?”
“How important is it to go to a gallery or concert, or head to art camp for a few hours?”
“How do we use art to stay connected with others?”
No matter what the artful case may be, Cindi has come to ditch all rules except these:
1. Tell your inner critic to take a hike.
2. Try it—even if someone once told you that you weren’t good at it.
3. Have fun!