100 Creatives

Lisa Olson of Practical Art on Finding Inspiration in Phoenix Artists

Every other year, New Times puts the spotlight on Phoenix's creative forces — painters, dancers, designers, and actors. Leading up to the release of Best of Phoenix, we're taking a closer look at 100 more. Welcome to the 2016 edition of 100 Creatives. Up today is 8. Lisa Olson.

Lisa Olson uses art to bring people together. 

"I have the great opportunity to work with local artists and community members everyday," the Valley native and Arizona State University grad says. "I own Practical Art, a local art gallery that sells the work of more than 130 local artists."

She joined the Central Phoenix gallery/shop hybrid when she was looking to transition out of her career in photojournalism. That was in 2008. Olson approached a family friend, Jane Reddin, to talk about how Olson wanted to open a gallery and what that might take. Reddin had just founded Practical Art. 

"After listing off a myriad of overwhelming factors and considerations for opening my own space — most of which I had not yet even considered — she asked whether or not I’d like to figure it out together, with her," the 33-year-old recalls. "I immediately joined the team at Practical Art."

Two and a half years later, Reddin was diagnosed with leukemia, and Olson stepped in to helm the art space.

"Before my great mentor and friend passed away in February of 2011, she entrusted me with Practical Art," Olson says. "Jane’s vision, work ethic, and humor have been a constant guide these past five years. The resulting Practical Art is an amalgamation of Jane’s dreams and my own."

The gallery has grown from carrying the work of eight artists to carrying more than 100. It hosts exhibitions and pie nights, donates more than $10,000 a year to charity, and engages local creators to lead make-and-take classes — something Olson has worked to make a year-round occurrence. 

"We use art as the medium by which we bring people together to improve our community ..." she says. "Jane would love it."

It's in the daily running of her own business and working with the local creative community that Olson feels the most fortunate. "That, in and of itself, is a highlight of my career," she says. "I simply can’t drum it down to one specific moment or one specific day. Rather, it has been the transformative process of watching Practical Art grow and become more successful from year to year."

I was born and raised in Arizona. I grew up in Tempe but recently moved to the historic Phoenix neighborhood, FQ Story. I love living in Phoenix and getting to be a part of the local arts community

I sell art because art improves life. Incorporating art into your everyday makes every day better. I like to enjoy my morning cup of coffee in a handcrafted, one-of-a-kind mug. My friends like to grow basil in their recycled wine bottle planter. My sister likes taking notes using a hand-turned, locally made wooden pen. It’s these little additions that make each day, sometimes each menial task, just a bit more fun— just a bit more worthwhile.

I make art because it allows me to communicate and express myself. Some people are great orators, they reveal themselves through what they say. Others are great writers, demonstrating what they mean through the careful selection of words. I use photographs to tell my story and show the outside world what I see and think and feel.

I'm most productive late at night.

My inspiration wall is full of art from floor to ceiling. Made by local artists — they are my inspiration!

I learn by doing — through trial by fire, so to speak. I’ve learned not to be afraid to put myself out there, even if it means I might fail. Fortunately, my family and friends support me — no matter the outcome!

Good work should always make you feel. It doesn’t necessarily make you happy. Sometimes it might make you angry or frustrated. But good art pulls at your emotions. That is what makes art awesome.

The Phoenix creative scene could use more collaboration. I think there could be better, and more strategic collaboration within the arts communities themselves — across the modes and modalities of arts represented in Phoenix. However, I would love to push that idea even further and see greater collaboration between the Phoenix creative scene and other sectors of the community. Let’s do a better job pulling together the arts and business; the creative scene and the educational community; artists and government officials.

The 2016 Creatives so far:

100. Nicole Olson
99. Andrew Pielage
98. Jessica Rowe
97. Danny Neumann
96. Beth Cato
95. Jessie Balli
94. Ron May
93. Leonor Aispuro
92. Sarah Waite
91. Christina "Xappa" Franco
90. Christian Adame
89. Tara Sharpe
88. Patricia Sannit
87. Brian Klein
86. Dennita Sewell
85. Garth Johnson
84. Charissa Lucille
83. Ryan Downey
82. Samantha Thompson
81. Cherie Buck-Hutchison
80. Freddie Paull
79. Jennifer Campbell
78. Dwayne Hartford
77. Shaliyah Ben
76. Kym Ventola
75. Matthew Watkins
74. Tom Budzak
73. Rachel Egboro
72. Rosemary Close
71. Ally Haynes-Hamblen
70. Alex Ozers
69. Fawn DeViney
68. Laura Dragon
67. Stephanie Neiheisel
66. Michael Lanier
65. Jessica Rajko
64. Velma Kee Craig
63. Oliver Hibert
62. Joya Scott
61. Raji Ganesan
60. Ashlee Molina
59. Myrlin Hepworth
58. Amy Ettinger
57. Sheila Grinell
56. Forrest Solis
55. Mary Meyer
54. Robert Hoekman Jr.
53. Joan Waters
52. Gabriela Muñoz
51. ColorOrgy
50. Liz Magura
49. Anita and Sam Means
48. Liz Ann Hewett
47. Tiffany Fairall
46. Vanessa Davidson
45. Michelle Dock
44. Nia Witherspoon
43. Monique Sandoval
42. Nayon Iovino
41. Daniel Davisson
40. Andrew King
39. Michelle Moyer
38. Jimmy Nguyen
37. Tiffany Lopez
36. Kristin Bauer
35. Donna Isaac
34. Douglas Miles
33. Sierra Joy
32. Francisco Flores
31. Amy Robinson
30. Julio Cesar Morales
29. Duane Daniels
28. Kelsey Pinckney
27. Ben Smith
26. Rembrandt Quiballo
25. Corinne Geertsen
24. Tess Mosko Scherer
23. Slawomir Wozniak
22. Elly Finzer
21. Josh Brizuela
20. Amy K. Nichols
19. Angela Johnson
18. Grant Vetter
17. Michelle and Melanie Craven
16. Erick Biez
15. Leah Marche
14. Lisa Von Hoffner
13. Amada Cruz
12. Amber Robins
11. Xandriss
10. Steven Tepper
9. Bentley Calverley
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Becky Bartkowski is an award-winning journalist and the arts and music editor at New Times, where she writes about art, fashion, and pop culture.
Contact: Becky Bartkowski