We don’t talk about art enough.

And why not? As a consumer, it makes us happy; as an artist, it makes us proud. Structurally, we’re surrounded by it (just take a look around you!), it invites imagination in all forms and it’s subjective enough that our stories and ideas could go on forever.

It’s in that spirit that today is dedicated to the lack of conversations and accolades that art in our community deserves.

And it’s dedicated to people like Jess Johnson, people who believe in art and those who make it.

Not only is Jess bringing art into the conversation the way we all should be, she is celebrating the possibility of it by building bridges for those seeking their own artistic journey.

Galleries are the stage — the final step for a piece of art — but Jess’ passion is the journey.

Jess Johnson is a beautiful soul with a subtle yet charismatic embrace of the arts. She’s an artist herself — she paints and draws — but somewhere along her way, she felt compelled to reach out beyond her own talents to help others create art.

To be fair, generosity is her main focus in all capacities.

“I’m always trying to help people in need,” she says. “And my relationships are all just trying to make everyone happy.”

With that kind of character, Jess was made to work with people, but it was in building a creative reuse center for fellow artists that she finally felt at home.

Or perhaps, that the artists of Sioux Falls can finally feel at home.

JAM Art & Supplies is a nonprofit thrift shop for artists in Sioux Falls, “getting art and craft supplies into the hands of people who will use them.” More than just a place for people to donate and shop art supplies, it’s a source of information and a community that promotes local art events. A place for artists and crafters alike to begin.

JAM is so much more than a place to buy art and craft supplies. Jess also offers classes and private lessons. Josey Shattuck, 10, recently made glass art with Jess during a lesson at JAM.

“Jess inspires people to make art, and you can make anything with art!” Josey says, who wants to be a painter when she grows up. But she knows JAM is the perfect place to start. “This is a great place for me to get art supplies!”

Jess first opened the doors of JAM in December 2014, in a teeny back room of Exposure Gallery & Studios on Sixth and Phillips. But after renovating space on the south end of the building, JAM has been given a lot more room now, and the store is continuing to grow.

In supplies and in good company.

“I think of JAM in four pillars,” Jess says. “We have our store, our classroom and our website.” Jess developed the site all on her own as a place to list resources for artists. But that fourth pillar? Probably the one closest to her heart.

“Projects. A lot of it revolves around the excess supplies we have and then making projects out of that,” she says. For instance, Raven Industries donated fabric, and her team made giant rugs out of them. “People have heard about our giant rugs, and now they want one, too!”

She says a lot of their projects are just collaboration, “and then just dreams we have. I know we have our space, and we are making rent, but that definitely isn’t the whole picture. We want more space now! We want a bigger, better classroom!”

Her own beginning

She’ll get there. Less than four years ago, Jess and her now husband, Alex, had just met, and she followed him to California for work. “I was like, ‘I have to go! You’re my future husband!’ ” They lived there for a year before moving a little closer to home, to Colorado, but all the while, JAM — and art — was on her mind.

“I didn’t have a lot of clean space to work in, so I was working on small pieces of paper. Before we left Sioux Falls for California, I tore all my nice paper up and fit it into these little books so I could take it with me,” she says. “We really went to California with nothing.”

Nothing but art. And love.

During their time in Colorado, she had a hard time getting into the art scene there, so she found other ways to nourish her dreams. “(Alex and I) were taking a business class together, and it was then I started writing a business plan for a creative reuse center,” she says.

Jess knew the center wasn’t something she could open in California or Colorado. It had be here in Sioux Falls, in a community that was truly home.

“I’ve been connecting with people here my whole life,” she says. “I’ve done networking in the service industry for years. When I worked at Black Sheep Coffee, that just opened up my whole life.

“I didn’t know it back then, but I think about how I met so many people.”

In 2013, Jess and Alex welcomed a baby girl, moved back to Sioux Falls, and got married. A year later, JAM was brought to life.

Exposure Gallery owner, Zach DeBoer, isn’t at all surprised to see how much Jess has accomplished in only a couple years time.

“Jess, like most small business owners, has a tremendous work ethic,” he says. “I’m amazed at the growth that JAM’s had in just one year of existence.

“Her determination and hard work have led to another amazing
avenue for artists and for art education in this city.”

Exposure and JAM have a “symbiotic relationship,” Zach says, one that includes collaboration on workshops, classes and demonstrations in one another’s spaces.

“We have great communication, and she’s always one of the first people I go to when I have an idea I want to pursue,” he says.

Fellow artist Jordan Thornton blogs for JAM on their website, and she, too, rejoices in the success and diversity of Jess’ passion.

“JAM has grown so fast and enthusiastically, I hope that never stops!” she says. “JAM breathes life into the Sioux Falls art community by keeping us informed about what art events are happening, lowering our supply cost through the creative reuse store, letting us know who is creating in our area, and bringing us together with empowering events. Jess has played a wonderful hand in my involvement with the local art community.”

“Jess has played a wonderful hand in my involvement with the local art community.”

The good that Jess is doing for fellow artists makes me feel proud to be in the same community as someone like her. She’s very aware and hopeful of the potential this art community has, but instead of insisting upon it, she just opens her doors to all of us, and she smiles.

“I don’t want to be the person at the cash register every day, but when I am, that’s when I get to meet new people, and I get to help them,” she says. “Not only are we advocates through our website, but we’re advocates for art just by being here.

“Something we tell our volunteers here is that when people walk through the doors, we want to treat them like they are our best friend. They can come here! I think treating people with that kind of compassion, that’s a great way to connect.”

It’s also a great way to run a business. And a great way to get people talking.

About JAM. About Jess.

About art.