One Minute with Oakland County’s Arts, Culture & Film Coordinator Kristie Everett Zamora- Spinal Column

by Mark H. Stowers

Michigan is quite an “artsy” place to be and Oakland County has been in the forefront for the past four years, helping to foster even more art.

The MI Great Artist contest begins on September 17 and is open to artists 18 years of age or older across eight counties in Southeast Michigan.

Kristie Everett Zamora has been part of the event each year and is working as a judge again this year. Through the contest, winners receive cash prizes up to $3,000 and winning artwork will be featured in promotional material for Oakland County.

The Spinal Column caught up with her to learn more about the contest and other artsy parts of Oakland County government.

Where are you from originally?

“I am from Flint and went to Kalamazoo College where I received a degree in art history and political science. I also took some graduate classes from the University of Michigan-Flint campus in American studies.”

What was your path to becoming part of the Oakland County government and the MI Great Artist contest?

“Prior to Oakland County – and I’ve been here for 13 years – I was the curator of the Flint Institute of Arts. I’ve always been interested in the arts and enjoyed creating things but I’m more of a historian – an appreciator of art.”

I guess you guys have been doing a lot of things over the years to promote art?

“Yes, we have. We host exhibitions and … for several years we partnered with the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and managed a re-granting program for the state. We still partner with them to help with other grant programs. We’ve partnered with other organizations that are here that support our local arts and culture organizations – art councils, art centers, musical groups and theatre. We’ve worked with Art Serve Michigan, which is now Creative Many, and I have worked with Culture Source in Detroit.”

“The biggest role I play is to connect art organizations and promote and market what they do.”

That has to be a fun job.

“It is! I’m also the editor of Prosper, our Oakland County newsletter, and I also work on Oakland County’s Elite “40 under 40” program and of course, this contest, the MI Great Artist.”

“The competition has been going strong the past four years. The competition is open to an eight county region and we’re excited because this year Wayne County is included. The counties include Genesee, Lapeer, Livingston, Macomb, Oakland, Shiawassee, St. Clair and Wayne. It’s open to visual artists who are 18 years of age or older and who work, live or attend school in any of those eight counties. So it’s pretty broad.”

“We’re hoping to promote all of these creative individuals. There’s no fee to enter. Our region is known for creativity and innovation and this is a great way to showcase that. The artists submit up to five images and then they are put up for public vote. So we get to use social media and encourage artists who use social media to publicize their entries.”

“There are cash prizes for this and the group of the top five will receive framing of their artwork. They will also receive several exhibitions as part of the prize package and … they will have the opportunity to take advantage of entrepreneurial training through our Oakland County One Stop Shop Business Training Center. That training could be something such as how to write a business plan, how to market yourself, how to market your business … It’s aimed at helping the artist as an entrepreneur, which is a different spin from other art contests out there. Oakland County is known for supporting businesses and entrepreneurs, so we’re doing it with the creative community too.”

This is the fourth year of the contest. Have artists gone on to bigger and better things using this asa launching pad for their art career?

“All of the stories are different that are coming in. This being the fourth year, we are starting to get feedback. One of our first winners, one of her quilts was featured on the cover of a quilt magazine, which is fantastic. Another artisthas received gallery representation, which can be a life-changing opportunity. Last year’s winner was able to open a studio and she’s doing well with her business.”

Are there contests for writers?

“For now, this is the first of its kind for Oakland County to support. It’s quite a learning curve to create an online competition with online voting. We do have a component for panel judging, too. Our judges are Elliot Broom with the Detroit Institute of Arts, Dominic Pangborn who is an artist and has created his own fashion label, I am one of the judges and so is Albert Scaglione of Park West Galleries and Don Tocco. He’s best known for his sculpture and he has a marketing company in Troy.”

Has the competition grown over the four years?

“Yes, it has and we’re really excited about the changes. We’re excited about the addition of Wayne County because of the colleges that are located there. We’ve had a strong Oakland County presence, but the other counties are becoming very involved and the artwork being submitted is very high quality and has been improving.”

And what do you do when you’re not judging art and supporting artists?

“Oh, goodness – a lot of reading and hanging out with my family.”

Do you go boating or fishing or dancing?

“I have two young sons so we enjoy taking ceramic classes together. They are getting older so we are exploring other things. One is still into ceramics and the other is getting really excited about robotics. My husband works for GM at the Orion Assembly Plant.”

To learn more about the MI Great Artist contest, log onto Entry deadline is October 9 with public voting from October 21 through October 30. Panel judging will take place from November 2 through November 12. Finalists will be announced on November 13 and an awards reception will be held on December 8.