Interview with Karen Blessen, Arts Entrepreneur

Karen Blessen is an award winning freelance artist and writer based in Dallas, Texas.  Blessen, a Pulitzer Prize winning graphic designer, has worked for the Dallas Morning News.  As both an artist and a writer, she has illustrated and written various newspaper articles, collaborated on a book, started a non-profit organization, and worked with numerous clients such as Adobe Software, DART, Microsoft, Texas Instruments and Niemen Marcus.

In addition to her non profit 29 Pieces, Blessen has create a series of artworks, commissioned by Absolut Vodka, benefitting the Design Industries Foundation for AIDS. She has also traveled to Africa as a member of the HIV/AIDS Advisory Committee for Save the Children. Her piece for the DMN, Faces of A Plague, was adapted into a theatrical production, which raised over $40,000 to “adopt” two villages in Malawi.

What is MasterPeace?

MasterPEACE is a series of 14 lessons that uses art to teach conflict resolution, teamwork, analytical thinking and problem solving. We craft the classes to work with the schedules at various schools. In some schools, we work with art teachers. In others – with engineering, social studies, science teachers.

Why did you start MasterPeace and why as arts non-profit?

The organization is 29 Pieces, which was started in 2005. The MasterPEACE program was started in 2007. We are a non-profit so that we can be eligible for foundation funding.

What role, if any, does a business plan play in building and launching an arts company (as a business pursuit)?

It plays just as big a role as it does in a for-profit business. It is important to have the business framework in place so that the work will sustain and grow.

What three pieces of advice would you give aspiring artist entrepreneurs about planning?

1. Study the work and lives of other artist/entrepreneurs whose work and/or methods you admire or find helpful.

2. Remember – always – why you are doing what you do. It helps to have a clear handle on the purpose of your work. There will be times when the obstacles feel huge. It helps to remember why you are doing the work.

3. You may not have all the skill sets required to build and sustain an art non-profit. Find people who fill in the gaps, and surround yourself with them.

What do you believe are necessary qualities, if there are any, for artist entrepreneurs to possess or develop?

Tenacity, desire, love, humor

What is the Dallas LOVE project?

The project is sponsored by the non-profit organization 29 Pieces. The pieces, containing a quote from peacemakers, poets, musicians and artists, are tributes to President Kennedy in order to react to the “City of Hate” reputation that Dallas received after the assassination. 

About how many pieces are there and where did they come from?

The organization originally expected 10,000 pieces, but received more than 20,000 from the community and an additional 10,000 pieces from students at DISD.

When did it get started?

The project started formulating in late February 2013. The installation of the art began on Sept. 21, International Peace Day.

Who all is involved?

This is a collective effort of more than 120 community partners, 29 Pieces and volunteers. The people range from kindergarten aged children to senior citizens. Refugee children, schools, engineers, the women’s prison, prostitutes getting off of the street, Willie Baronet’s class, Rick Halperin, to corporations participated.

Where and how will it be displayed?

            The art will continue to be installed over the next few weeks and will be on display through Nov. 30. Volunteers will be installing the pieces through out Dallas in 120 venues everywhere from the South Lamar, the Sixth Floor Museum to the route that JFK’s motorcade took in 1963. Certain venues have even asked that the art will be displayed through the holidays.

How did it begin?

The citywide project stems from the 29 Pieces’ MasterPeace program.  MasterPeace is a series of 14 lessons that uses art to teach conflict resolution, teamwork and problem solving. The lessons are crafted to fit schools schedules in DISD and across the city.

What do you hope to do with the Dallas LOVE Project?

The Dallas LOVE project’s objective is to overturn the idea that Dallas is a “City of Hate” through love art. The city was labeled as a “City of Hate” after the JFK assassination. I wanted to respond to the label. There is a lot of violence in this world and this is a way to stand and push back against the violence with a grassroots expression of unconditional love. I hope to change the conscience of people from the art and the great words from wise people.

Interview by Jehadu Abshiro, B.A Journalism, B.A. Advertising.


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1 Response to Interview with Karen Blessen, Arts Entrepreneur

  1. Well done Jehadu! Great interview, great subject, great cause!

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