Jennifer Chenoweth

Alumna Jennifer Chenoweth created her online art gallery, Generous Art, to give artists the autonomy to fund nonprofits

Photo Credit: Mike McGraw | Daily Texan Staff

The holiday season may evoke generosity from some individuals, but Jennifer Chenoweth carries this sentiment all year round.

In 1999, Chenoweth graduated from UT with a Master of Fine Arts in Painting and worked as an artist in galleries for several years before creating her online gallery, Generous Art, in 2011. 

“Be Generous. Buy Art,” is the slogan for the nonprofit, which was established as an online gallery. When individuals purchase art through the site, artists receive 50 percent of the income and another 30 percent goes towards a nonprofit of the buyer’s choice. Chenoweth built this gallery model after spending years in the traditional gallery industry, where, she said, most of the profits went to galleries instead of artists.

“I realized how totally broken all of the models were out in the art world,” Chenoweth said. “I’m pretty good at doing business. You show up, say what you’re going to do and fill a need, do a good job and get paid. The art world just doesn’t work like that.”

Chenoweth was frustrated by the disparity, as were many of her friends, but they didn’t communicate their frustrations. 

“If we were all talking, we would be much more powerful than if we were just separately starving,” Chenoweth said. 

According to Chenoweth, many schools teach how to make art but not how to be an artist. She offers professional development workshops for professional and aspiring artists. 

Last year, the online gallery became an official nonprofit, relying on events for marketing to raise awareness for the gallery, recruit artists and new nonprofits. 

“We don’t sit around in a gallery space and hope people show up,” Chenoweth said. “We have businesses host our events, so we go get our art in front of new audiences. We take our art to business people, who are busy with their lives and just don’t have time to go learn how the whole [scene] works, but they love art.”

Chenoweth hopes the idea of purchasing art is less intimidating in an online gallery form. She also said individuals are more likely to buy art knowing that some of the money will support a cause of their choice. 

According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are at least 1,000 registered nonprofit organizations in Travis County. Buyers can choose from more than 70 of these local charities with Generous Art. Since its creation, Generous Art has sold more than $60,000 worth of art and donated more than $23,000 to local nonprofits. 

Generous Art represents more than 30 artists currently and is accepting new submissions. A curatorial board reviews artist submissions and accepts new artists on a quality basis. 

“We really want it to be high quality art and not eBay,” Chenoweth said. “We are looking for lots of artists who do good and diverse work.”

The cost of art on the website ranges from $50 for drawings to $15,000 for a sculpture. According to Chenoweth, most artists operate on a thin income, but this project allows artists to also be philanthropists. 

“It’s pretty powerful to hand a charity a check,” Chenoweth said. “They can feel powerful because of their creativity.”

Jade Walker, the director of the Visual Arts Center in the Department of Art and Art History at UT, has been an artist for Generous Art since its inception. 

“Generous Art is a model I believe in strongly,” Walker said. “As an artist, it is a unique experience to know that your work is not only providing funds for yourself and your practice but for a nonprofit.”

Jennifer Chenoweth stands next to her artwork, “Hedonic Map of Austin,” in the Seay Building on Monday evening. Inspired by Robert Plutchik’s wheel of emotions, Chenoweth’s numerous works engage viewers by incorporating their responses to questions about where they experienced different emotions into interactive maps.

Photo Credit: Jarrid Denman | Daily Texan Staff

Plenty of people have made maps of Austin, but local artist and UT alum Jennifer Chenoweth made a map that takes personal experience into account.

After graduating in 1999 with a Master of Fine Arts, Chenoweth started thinking about her intense attachment to the place she had called home for the past 18 years. What began as self-reflection soon lead to a 13-year artistic journey into the psychology of emotion. 

“The project started with thinking about how we find an attachment to place,” Chenoweth said. “We love Austin. People are always like, ‘Don’t ever say anything bad about my town.’ And what is it about here that gives us such a strong emotional attachment?”

Chenoweth’s collaborative project, “Hedonic Map of Austin,” is a 3-D interactive display that maps emotional experiences throughout Austin. The theory behind the map is based off psychologist Robert Plutchik’s psychoevolutionary theory of emotion and his color wheel. Through a 20-question survey, which 115 people answered, Chenoweth was able to identify specific locations where Austinites felt their highest highs and lowest lows and worked with data imagists to create the map. 

“There are a lot of places where people get really, really intent upon having had an emotional experience, and they get really into that location, and that forms an emotional bonding over place,” Chenoweth said.

Ranging from mortality and vitality to love and loss, the survey is a series of 10 positive questions and 10 negative questions. Examples vary from “Where did you fall in love?” to “Where did you feel deep sadness?” 

According to Chenoweth, patterns emerged from the data suggesting where Austinites experience the most and the least joy. Not surprisingly, residents confirmed their love for Barton Springs and asserted their negativity toward I-35. 

“Some people only answered the positive questions or only answered the negative questions, which I thought was kind of accurate for humans,” Chenoweth said. “Reflection caused kind of a road block in getting answers.”

The installment is being displayed in the southeast entrance of the Seay Building from now until August. Tamara Kowalski, communications coordinator for the psychology department, said the project was especially fitting for the field because the study reaches out to encourage students to participate.  

“We are really excited to have her art work in our department, and we felt the need to be a part of her project that has to do with interviewing people and asking how they feel about things,” Kowalski said.

James Pennebaker, psychology professor and department chair, said Chenoweth is one of a handful of people integrating an element of art into psychology research.

“The nature of art is to challenge it,” Pennebaker said. “[Chenoweth’s] work brings together basic research of people’s experiences, moods and perceptions, and ties them to geographical locations. By doing this, she brings together really interesting science with a visual display.”

Chenoweth is also the founder of Generous Art, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting visual artists and its communities, and the primary hostess for the East Austin Studio Tour. When Chenoweth completed her own survey, she was surprised at how her emotional experiences formed within such a short radius of space.

“[It showed] how I am really attracted to my immediate world and that my significant memories surround me in such a densely populated area,” Chenoweth said. “Home is an adventure for me, and that’s what I feel about Austin.”