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creating a common vision
Story by Audrey Watkins; Photo by Dero Sanford

Their techniques and subject matter may vary greatly but Jonesboro artists
Sean Shrum and Sam Jones IV share a common vision when it comes to downtown Jonesboro.

Shrum, 25, opened his signature gallery at 223A South Main Street in March 2009. A native of Poplar Bluff, Mo., Shrum moved to Jonesboro at an early age. His earliest memories of hunting in Missouri and living on an Arkansas horse farm gave him a respect for nature and wildlife that is still represented in his work today. A 2003 graduate of Jonesboro High School, Shrum’s artistic journey took a different path while attending the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where he earned a degree in landscape architecture allowing him to study art and use his creative abilities on a different scale.

After studying with impressionist artist Barry Thomas of Little Rock, Shrum realized he could make a living with his art.

“I thought I’m possibly making more money than I would as a landscape architect and this is my true passion so … why not paint?”

In 2008, Shrum and Thomas held a show in Jonesboro that was a success for the budding artist. “I sold nearly all my work at that show,” he said.

He credits downtown developer Clay Young for encouraging him to open a gallery in Jonesboro. Shrum is already planning to expand his business by moving into an adjacent building now under renovation.

“It’s been really successful,” Shrum said. “It’s really been nice to have the support of your hometown to get you started.”

Unlike Shrum, Sam Jones IV is new to the city. But just months following his recent move to Jonesboro and the opening of his studio and signature art gallery at 304 S. Main Street, the 39-year-old Houston, Texas native is teaming up with Shrum and others to bring more people downtown.

A contemporary artist, Jones expresses himself in a variety of media vividly depicting his passion for dance and music in his pieces, which range from canvasses to vintage wine barrels.

Jones and his wife, Shelli Wood, relocated from Austin, Texas, in mid-January. A native of Arkansas, Shelli has family who resides in Jonesboro so the couple had visited on occasion and liked what they saw.

“It just has a cool vibe,” Jones said. “It’s a town that’s growing. To be able to be downtown in the historic area … you just couldn’t have that in Austin. It was cost prohibitive and space prohibitive.”

The couple had put their Austin home on the market last year and began looking at places to relocate. “Jonesboro just kept coming back to the top of the list,” Jones said. “It was close to the Midwest – Chicago and St. Louis – places where I want to show art.”

When the couple’s house sold during the holidays, Jonesboro became their destination of choice. As they were unloading their belongings on Main Street their first night in Jonesboro, Shrum stopped by to greet them. Since then, the artists have exchanged ideas about how to grow their businesses downtown.

Now with the April opening of The Sam Jones IV Gallery behind them, Jones and Wood are ready for the next challenge: helping to breathe new life into the downtown district. Inspired by a monthly event that they witnessed transform the South Congress Avenue area of Austin, the couple has teamed up with Shrum and other business owners to duplicate Austin’s First Thursday event in downtown Jonesboro.

On the first Thursday of each month, merchants of Jonesboro’s historic downtown district will keep their doors open until 9 p.m. (and later in some cases), playing host to an array of events and activities. May 6 is the date of the initial First Thursday planned for downtown Jonesboro. Businesses located throughout the downtown district, not just Main Street, are expected to participate.

“The first one in Austin wasn’t much other than businesses staying open later,” Jones said. “But eventually, it grew and the streets were shut down around the area because of all the people. That’s our thought of where it could go.”

Wood, who will share studio and gallery space with her husband at The Sam Jones IV Gallery where she will create and display her custom-made jewelry, has approached many of the downtown business owners about participating in First Thursday.

“Everybody looks at this as an opportunity to work together,” Wood said.
Shrum believes First Thursday will help him expose his art, as well as the work of other artists displayed in his gallery, to a new group of people.

“I want this to just be a casual environment,” he said. “I want people to drop in, browse, have a drink, meet some people. Shows can be intimidating to some people. I want everybody to have the opportunity to buy an original piece of art at an affordable price and see the beauty in originals rather than prints.”

Shrum said he believes now is the time for downtown business owners to concentrate their efforts to bring more people to the historic district. “We’ve got the ability, we’ve got the space, we’ve got the feel. Why can’t we make it happen? Downtown is booming. I think it’s the perfect time to get it going.”
Jones believes First Thursday can be a grassroots effort with the potential to transform downtown Jonesboro.

“The first one will be the first one,” Jones said. “It will figure itself out. When people see the foot traffic and realize that downtown is a destination they will want to be a part of downtown.”