Generation X and the Arts: Meet Generation X-pert Sabra Crockett (Part 2)

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Sabra L. Crockett: artist, business owner and totally GenX. Photo by Jolea Brown Anderson, Creative Photography

This week is Part Two of our Generation X-pert conversation with Sabra Crockett, owner of Sabra Lynne Decorative Painting, LLC in Louisville, KY. (You can check out Part One here). Let’s jump right back in.

GenX Manager: You spoke about giving feedback to Millennials and how you have to be mindful of how it might be received. Does it take it up a notch when you are critiquing someone’s art, something that can be so personal?

Sabra Crockett: Excellent point. I know that there are artists from all generations that really take their art so much more personally than I do. And I think it’s because of my background as a scenic artist. My art was never “my art”. It was the designer’s art. It was the director’s art. It was the audience’s art.

So I never had that preciousness with my art, and I have been able to detach myself, to an extent, from my art—and that’s important. I do recall how much more personally Millennials took feedback, and I thought maybe it was just because they were younger. But it also might be because of the encouragement that they had from their parents. “You’re wonderful! What you do is great!”

I never really had that. My parents tried to get me to move away from art, and I put my foot down. I said, “Look I’m going to be an artist. There’s nothing you can do about it. I’m going to school and I’ll figure out a way to make money.” Because they were right to be concerned about that, of course. I know as a parent I’m concerned about that as well too, to a degree.

GXM: There’s that GenX independence. Let me ask you–because I am hearing a lot of GenX influence in your story—what comes to mind for you when you think of Generation X? Did you have an affinity towards that label growing up? Do you have it now?

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“We (GenX) were labeled as slackers, negative, cynical…a little anti-establishment.”–Sabra Crockett 

SC: I do. We were labeled as slackers, negative, cynical…a little anti-establishment. But really we were pragmatic. I do have an affinity for Generation X because the people that I grew up with were so damn smart. They were so politically engaged and aware, and they cared. But it wasn’t “hippy dippy” (really we were so anti-hippy dippy). We were all about love and peace too, just with an edge.

We were very passionate about causes. I remember being in PETA at Arcadia College and getting the college to stop experimenting on mice. I remember writing letters to corporations encouraging them to end those inhumane practices. We really wanted to make a difference. We took a responsibility for our actions and our future because nobody else was going to take care of us. We got that message a lot. I felt that we really had to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and take responsibility for our futures.

GXM: What comes up for you as some of the defining moments of Generation X?

SC: I think of Kurt Cobain’s death as a defining moment. Going back, Nirvana and their influence was a defining moment. I remember it was my first year in college and we all gathered around a stereo to listen to Nirvana’s album, Nevermind and we were like, “This is amazing!” Then it instantly became mainstream, so Kurt Cobain’s death hit a generation of fans pretty hard. I think our connection with media in general; the rise of MTV for example, defines GenX.

It’s so different now—the Internet has given us so much information but it seems harder to find people that you truly connect with. I remember as a kid hanging out with friends, going to their homes. And my kids Skype or text friends. They’re hanging out too—just not in person. It’s wild.

GXM: Generation Z—the true digital natives. It’s very interesting to watch this generation come of age. They are remarkably informed, and more engaged than I remember us as teenagers. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

SC: I think they have greater potential to be more informed, than us as teenagers, because of their access to digital media, and the internet. It’s really encouraging. I feel that my son’s generation is definitely more accepting of difference than our generation was. And it’s not nearly as cliquey as when we were growing up. We kind of defined ourselves by our label. I was labeled different by others at first, and didn’t find self-acceptance until I owned the label. I considered myself a ‘freak’ or a ‘punk’ by the type of music I listened to, and the culture I surrounded myself with. It’s what we called, “Alternative”, back in the day. Even if I don’t look like it now, I still consider myself that way. The alternatives took those labels, which were something negative, and built a kind of persona around that, because we weren’t accepted by mainstream society. Now my teenage son will say, “Yeah, I’m a nerd. I’m definitely a nerd.” I’ll say, “Cool. I’m glad that you’re owning that. It’s not a negative thing.” And it’s not! It’s much more accepted to be a nerd in my son’s generation. It’s also more accepted to be gay, bi, trans… My son had a friend come out in front of his classroom in the 7th grade! That was unheard of when we were kids! I’m just so absolutely encouraged by how our children are perceiving the world, and each other.

GXM: It is pretty awesome. Let me ask you this—you’ve been a working artist for nearly two decades. What advice would you give someone just starting out?

SC: I would say if you can find a “Business for Arts” class—take it! In college, they don’t teach you about how to price your work, how to generate a client list to keep in contact with, how to balance your budget or how you do your taxes. These are all things that you need to know, because the thing is, as an artist, you are a business owner. You have to treat your art “career” as a small business. And if you can find a program that can help you market and sell your art, that’s really helpful. Most importantly, if you can find a cause that is bigger than you or your art, and your art feeds into that cause, that is where you will thrive.

It’s important to be organized and to have good planning skills. This is what non-artists may not understand. I don’t go up to a wall and just start painting. There is so much planning and effort involved. I need to have a budget and a timeline. I need to create estimates so I need to understand my fair market value. And that means I have to understand what other artists are creating and selling. I don’t think people understand that you can’t be a flake if you’re going to be a successful artist. I am so appreciative of what I do, but it’s not the fun that people think it is.

Being professional is also really important. It’s important to be on time (that’s advice for Millennials specifically). If you’re given an opportunity, show that you appreciate it by being on time and being professional. Also, communication is key. For me, I like to know that my interns are engaged in the process. So ask questions, be engaged. And listen. Listen to your clients. Listen to their concerns and desires. Be empathic.

GXM: That’s really good advice. I think you’re correct about the perception that non-artists might have about the rules of engagement. They’re really not that different. It’s work, right? Thank you so much for being our first Generation X-pert.

To check out Sabra Crockett’s work, visit www.sabralynne.com.

Are you a Generation X-pert? We’re looking to interview GenX-ers about their career paths, their experience leading employees, and how their specific industry interacts with Boomers, GenX, Millennials and more as part of a series for TheGenXManager.com. Email HeidiMarcin@gmail.com for more information.

 

Generation X and the Arts: Meet Generation X-pert Sabra Crockett

 

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Sabra L. Crockett: artist, business owner and totally GenX. Photo by Jolea Brown Anderson, Creative Photography

In this first post of our Generation X-pert series, I am pleased to introduce you to Sabra L. Crockett. Currently, Sabra is the owner of Sabra Lynne Decorative Painting, LLC in Louisville, KY, but I remember her as one of the most creative and artistic students of the Class of ’91 at Webster High School. She’s totally GenX, and I had the opportunity to pick her brain about how generations interact in the art world, giving constructive feedback to artistic Millennials and raising Gen Z kids. After spending some time reminiscing about our favorite ’80s music, we got down to business. Part One of our conversation follows, edited for clarity.

 

GenX Manager: If anyone told me that after high school I would be video conferencing with you about Generation X stuff I’d think, “Hmm..sounds right. ”. So this is great–thank you.

Let me piece together what I know about 2017 Sabra: you are an artist in Louisville, KY and have two sons?

Sabra Crockett: I do. I have two boys; a 15-year-old and an 11-year-old.

GXM: And I have a daughter that just turned 16.

SC: Teenagers!

GXM: I think what blows my mind is I remember our teen years so vividly. And when I try to explain to my daughter what it was like being a teenager in the 80s, it’s the GenX version of ‘we walked 5 miles to school in the snow uphill’ speech: “We didn’t have Hot Topic. We didn’t have Manic Panic. If you wore a band tee it’s because you were at the show and we dyed our hair with Kool-aid.”

SC: My husband kept all his band tees. I’m going to make a quilt.

GXM: And you’re GenX like me, but your parents weren’t Boomers. They were actually a bit older—the Silent Generation. How did that influence you?

SC: Yes, they grew up during the Depression. Everything was saved. Everything was an investment. Nothing was ever thrown away or wasted. You used something until you could not use it anymore. And you worked really hard and earned everything. Nothing was ever given to you freely. There always had to be some form of labor or achievement that you had to create or accomplish.

GXM: That’s really interesting. So when you were growing up, and when you were a young adult, did you feel you were different from your peers in that way?

SC. Yeah absolutely. I know a lot of my friends who just automatically got cars when they were young and were helped out a lot more by their parents. And my parents were like, “Nope”. But that sense of autonomy and self-sufficiency that I was able to have really helped me as an artist and as a self-employed person. On the other hand…it can be a hindrance in a way because I am so independent and autonomous, it can sometimes be hard to work in a group and collaborate. And I do find that working with Millennials, they really want to collaborate. But I’m like ‘OK give me a task, let me go do it now and do it right’.

GXM: So very GenX.

Let’s talk about your career—I know you are working in the arts, which is fantastic and totally what I would have expected from one of Webster High School’s Class of ’91 ‘Most Artistic’. What was your path?

SC: After high school, I really wanted to go to school at the Art Institute of Chicago. And I was accepted and I really thought I was going to go and my parents said, “We can’t afford it.” So I had to figure out where I was going to go to school in like, a week. So I went to what was then Beaver College (now Arcadia College) in Pennsylvania to study Fine Arts, but I was only there for one year. Loved Philly, but I came back home and got my Bachelor’s from RIT. Graduating early, I was ready to give up, get a “regular” job and make some money and not do art. Then I got a call from the RIT placement office about a position for a Scenic Artist at a local theater. I said, “What’s a Scenic Artist?” and they said, “We don’t know, go find out”. So I applied and I got the job. That was amazing because that was a time where I was able to use my artistic ability to actually have a job and make money.

I was there for a year. Then I moved down to Montgomery, Alabama to be a Scenic Artist at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. And that was an absolutely incredible experience. I knew nobody in Montgomery. I moved there by myself with my little kitten and my Toyota Corolla full of stuff, but no furniture.

I got there and it was amazing. There were props artisans from all over the country, really talented costume designers. I got to meet August Wilson. It was an incredible experience. Then my husband, who is also from Rochester, got a job in Montgomery and we were there for six years. And I was getting to a point with theatre where I felt like I hit a plateau and couldn’t learn a lot more. And while I was working in the theater on the weekends, I had my own little side business doing murals and faux finishes for restaurants and private homes as well as working with an antique dealer.

So when I had my son–I think it was our first year anniversary–I said ‘I think I’m going to start my own business. I think I’m going to go out and do that because I kind of need more flexibility’. And I couldn’t do theater and a side job and take care of my child. So I decided to go out on my own. And it was terrifying. But I was able to do it for a while and then we moved to Louisville, KY.

I was really lucky–I got in with the top designers. And the thing with Louisville is they love new people. It’s a very interesting city to live in. I have lived here for 14 years now and it is a culturally emerging city.

GXM: That’s my understanding too—it’s something of a hot spot right now.

SC: It’s an incredible city, and there is a lot of support for the arts. All types too– performing arts, visual arts. I’ve established great relationships and made lots of friends. I have found a home in Louisville.

GXM: What has been your experience with working with other generations in the art world—Millennials in particular? You mentioned internship programs you were involved with.

SC: Yes, I started an internship program with a local college here and worked with interns throughout my career as a scenic artist. Giving feedback has been interesting—both as a Northerner and as a GenX-er.

GXM: You’ve got kind of a brutal honesty double whammy there.

SC: Right! I had to really figure out what the Millennial value systems were and what worked well for them. And what I’ve noticed is they need a lot of encouragement, a lot of positive feedback. So if I softened my approach, I questioned if my feedback was going to be effective or taken seriously. With Millennials, I’ve had to be very patient, very encouraging, and above all—be a really good listener. I find that being a really good listener helps in all aspects of dealing with any generation. And communication is absolutely key.

I have noticed that Millennials like to text more, and I have no problem with that. I like that. In my role as gallery director for a nonprofit organization, I deal with all kinds of generations. I was working with a gentleman from the Greatest Generation who was very clear: “I don’t do email. You can either call me or you can write me a letter.” The Boomers I deal with seem to like email more.

GXM: What kind of generational issues have you observed in the art world, and as an artist yourself? Are there keen differences?

SC: Boomers seem to equate art with status. For a lot of Boomers working to establish themselves, having a big house and a fancy car, was very important. And most of my clients that I work with in private homes–doing murals and finishes—tend to be from that generation. So for them, it’s a status symbol—a beautiful work of art they can show off to friends.

Millennials, not so much. For them, I think it’s more about individuality. And I can appreciate that as a GenX-er, because we value our individuality as well.

Tune in next week for Part 2 of my conversation with Sabra and get her take on GenX’s defining moments, what it’s like to be a GenX artist, business owner and mother, and what advice she has for people who want to have a career in art. Catch the exciting conclusion right here!

Two for one: Matching Millennial Workers with GenX Mentors

An earlier post on TheGenXManager.com mentioned mentoring as a way to further engage Generation X employees. For organizations looking to cultivate a leadership mindset in mid-level GenX managers—and pass on valuable skills to younger and newer employees—pairing Millennial employees with GenX mentors is a way to accomplish both in one fell swoop.

Piece of cake, right? Not so fast. Though GenX and Millennials may be generation-adjacent, they are in fact very different when it comes to their approach to work. But that’s the idea. Pairing GenX mentors with Millennials matches the complementary skill sets of both generations so that each benefits.

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GenX employees have decades of career experience in a corporate culture that has undergone massive transformation in a relatively short amount of time. They’ve seen things. This experience, combined with GenX attributes like pragmatism, loyalty, and independence are strengths that younger generations can benefit from. Here are just a few things Millennial employees can learn from GenX mentors:

  • Pragmatism. One of the traits that GenX-ers are most known for is their ability to realistically accomplish goals. They understand that compromise is often necessary to move things forward, and thus many GenXers seek middle ground willingly in the name of progress. Millennials, who are more idealistic (much like their Boomer parents), may be more hesitant to move toward a goal if conditions don’t seem favorable. GenX mentors can teach their mentees how to analyze existing systems and frameworks, negotiate with stakeholders and get things done.
  • Self Reliance. Often called the least-protected generation, GenX knew early on they’d have to figure out a lot for themselves. This trait has served GenX employees well. They are known for working well independently and seeking to expand their skill sets. For Millennials accustomed to group work and collaboration, they can learn from their GenX mentors how to be more self-starting and confident in their solo work.
  • Workplace culture. For employees in their early careers, getting a sense of organizational culture and politics can be a steep learning curve. A mentor who has a strong sense of culture can guide their mentee and shorten the learning process.

What a GenX Mentor Can Learn

Mentoring is viewed as a strong engagement tool because in an ideal arrangement, everyone benefits. As trust is built on both sides of the mentoring relationship, it can evolve into more of a mutual coaching model. GenX mentors stand to learn a lot from their Millennial mentees, such as:

  • Optimism. Negative and cynical are two terms often associated with Generation X. Yet Millennials—the same generation that’s facing down crushing student loan debt and shaky job prospects– are the most optimistic of the generations and they take that with them into the workplace. They believe in positive change, and that they can have a direct impact on bringing it about.
  • Self-advocacy. Millennials are quite known for their ability to advocate for themselves, and they can show GenX a thing or two in this regard. Studies show that GenX values recognition just as much as other Millennials, but they may not be actively seeking it.
  • Good ideas can come from anyone. Hierarchy is not important to Millennials. (That can be a sword that cuts both ways.) Raised to value collaboration and teamwork, Millennials believe that ideas are equal regardless of the source and that everyone is a major stakeholder.

Each generation has unique strengths and skills. Mentoring can facilitate the sharing of these in a way that rewards all involved, including the organization that supports it.

Readers: Does your organization have a mentoring program? What has been your experience with mentoring in your career? Share in the comments below.