Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Greatness: Sarah Jane Semrad

One of North Texas' preeminent social entrepreneurs, Sarah Jane Semrad, seems to have her hands in just about everything cool going on around here. She sat down for a hard-hitting interview with WeShotJr for this week's edition of Greatness.

Richardson Heights: What do you do all day long?

Sarah Jane Semrad: I don't have one steady job. Some days I literally fantasize about having insurance and benefits and steady income. Basically I freelance it all day every day. I hope that someday very soon La Reunion will be my full time job and I can start picking and choosing the indie work. The best part about my life is that I can travel when I want and basically do anything I want without the constraints of 'the man'. Luckily, I'm disciplined enough to do this. In fact, I have an uncanny ability to complete projects.

RH: I'd never heard the term "social entrepreneur" before hearing it in reference to you. What does it mean?

SJS: Seeing solutions to social problems. Doing something about it. Measuring success by the social impact. Applying business planning to create a self-sustaining non-profit. Something along those lines. I firmly believe that when you nurture creativity in people and organizations you have the possibility to create social change. Your brain starts to fire differently and new solutions appear. Allowing that theory to cook in a residency with artists, musicians and creatives locally and from around the globe serves as amplification to the world. With our environment and financial system going to shit, I don't see a better way than to start thinking creatively. La Reunion is this magical vision that has reveled itself - trust me, I'm not smart enough to have thought this up by myself... it's as much an arts org as it is an environmental org. It's as much a collaborative think tank as it is time and space for creativity for the individual artist. It's shocking and humbling who is coming forward to help and manifest this vision. I'm a serial entrepreneur with a laundry list of businesses and organizations under my belt. (some have even been glorious failures!) La Reunion has revealed the social entrepreneur in me.

RH: You recently returned from Kazakhstan. Just how offensive is the country's depiction in the Borat movie?

SJS: The poverty was accurate in the movie. Poor like we can't fathom here. It's shocking that we piss on our drinking water and they don't have any. They have a simpler life - growing their own food out back, using an outhouse, walking everywhere.... Kazaks are outrageously friendly and generous when you get to know them. On the surface though, they are very shut down and I suspect it is left over Soviet mentality. Kazakhstan is a hard place to visit if you're from the West. Visas are hard to get and like most places these days, Americans aren't well-liked. Despite all that, I had a marvelous time and I'm already scheming on how to get back over there. The area I visited is up near Mongolia - China - Russia, where all the nuclear testing was done for 40 some odd years. Crazy remote - in fact it's one of the most land locked places in the world. Everyone there just wants to "see the ocean" someday. Interesting fact about the town I stayed in - Semipalatinsk - it's where the Russians used to send its unruly artists and musicians to be in exile. It's most famous resident was Dostoevsky.

RH: How often does your chemistry degree come in handy these days?

SJS: More than you think. The tedious nature of so much of my record keeping with running a non-profit is a snap due to my math-physics-chemistry training. I did use the degree once upon a time. My first job out of college was at the Frito Lay factory up in Plano. I worked in the Cheese Puff lab (which was across the hall from the Rold Gold Pretzel lab). We were working on top-secret puffs made with Olestra (remember the oily anal discharge?) for the Spanish market. After three weeks of poking, measuring and testing cheese puffs I walked out and never looked back. Falling into what I'm ultimately doing now happened purely by accident.

RH: Can you tell us about the location of this year's Art Conspiracy?

SJS: Now in our 4th year, this is the second year of Art Con that I've taken a giant step back. Kudos to the ladies pulling this shit off. Location this year? A 40,000 sq foot warehouse just west of downtown. 150 artists. Some bands and dj's. Dec 6. for all the deets. My favorite part about Art Con is the street level philanthropy. Regular income people conspiring to be a part of something greater than him/herself. I adore the collaborative relationships that naturally occur! I can think of several instances of people who are now dear, close friends as a result of this org. Others who are now working and selling their artwork after having given up on it....

RH: Holy crap! The winning design for La Reunion looks so amazing. Is this really going to happen?

SJS: Hells yes. I have faith in very little, but the series of serendipitous events and coincidences have given me faith in this project. La Reunion is trying to birth itself. I'm just the midwife. Disclaimer about the winning design - it won an ideas competition. Who knows what we'll actually build out on the 35 acres of donated land. But we have 68 entires from 19 countries of cutting edge green ideas of what we could build!

RH: Like for real?

SJS: Sure. Got 3 mil? Know anyone who does?

The fourth annual Art Conspiracy is coming up on December 6. Check out the web site if you want to get involved as a volunteer. Photo (train trestle at La Reunion) courtesy of Sarah Jane Semrad.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

sarah jane is the shit.

11:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

true that

3:24 AM  
Anonymous billh said...

The sight of La Reunion is really cool, sits on top of the Escarpment, running water, trees. It's beautiful. I know they have a work day tomorrow, which would be a fun thing to do. It's cool to watch someone tackle a huge dream, and go forward with it. Very cool lady, proud to know her

8:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

how inspiring!

9:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Max Stalling also walked out of the Frito Lay lab to play country music. Not my thing, but his is also an inspirational story about giving up health insurance and income.

9:52 AM  
Anonymous richardson heights said...

Someone better make an asshole comment or I think she's going to be disappointed. She told me she's braced for the worst from "anonymous"...

9:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We'll than we don't want her to be disappointed now huh? ...

10:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sarah is rad, glad to see this on here.

10:57 AM  
Anonymous Leah said...

Hooray SJ!

11:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

your questions are arbitrary... there ya go.

1:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

RH: can you tell us about the location of this year's art conspiracy?

RH: like, for real?


1:23 PM  
Anonymous richardson heights said...

Damn it, you're supposed to upset Sarah Jane, not me.

3:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like everyones disappointing her.

3:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it is i, ..., and i'd just like to say how disappointed i am at all the slavishly unoriginal fags who attempt, on a somewhat regular basis, to fill in for me when i am away. you fags should be flogged unmercilessly for that alone. fags.

did i already mention how you guys are fags?

oh, and fuck wanz.
and sarah jane...

3:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

saying the word "fags" is so post po-mo. how controversial! ooh.

4:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

is it? i mean is it really???

4:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Social entrepreneurship sucks.

5:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

id vote for sarah jane over obama and mccain. over both of them put together.

6:33 PM  
Anonymous mofreak! said...

damn! i was watching this play out all day! all she's gotten is a "fuck sarah jane," and that wasn't even really directed towards her, but at wanz!

nice. real nice. its good to know that people like sarah jane exist. the biggest group of anonymous "assholes" in town can't even burn her.

she rules.

7:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

id vote for sarah jane over obama and mccain. over both of them put together.

7:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

id vote for sarah jane over obama and mccain. over both of them together.

7:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

we're sure..

7:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

mother teresa called (yeah, from heaven) she wants to congratulate sj on her 'indie work' and suggested she get a dollar from the three million people who otherwise would spend it on frito-lay. you know why they're called that, right? well, one day everybody in dallas was walking down this one alley and they looked over the fence, and sj's mom was there with a sign that said lay's for a dollar.


8:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you fucked up that punchline, loser.

Q: why is your mom's nickname doritos?
A: because that bitch is "free-to-lay"(frito lay).

8:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

there should be a pic of her up. she's pretty hot.

9:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

not so much. that's applicable to both prior comments. erm...

10:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

course of empire rules

6:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

do they? i mean, do they REALLY?

11:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

7:07 : definitely hot

1:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

she is and they do...really!

8:11 AM  
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1:48 PM  

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