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.
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!