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Sherry Jenkins - The Perfect Fit

By Christy Howard Womack

Over 60 years ago, in 1955, members of the Knoxville Garden Club, led by Betsey Creekmore, Martha Ashe and Betsy Goodson, along with a group of fellow gardeners began a civic beautification project and established the Dogwood Trails in our community. That forethought has established Knoxville’s reputation as one of the most beautiful areas of the country, particularly in the spring.

A few years later, the First Dogwood Arts Festival was held in 1961, and the union of the garden club’s vision married with the vibrant arts culture of Knoxville was complete. Newly hired Executive Director Sherry Jenkins is proud to be a part of the Dogwood Arts, and as a Knoxville native, she understands the heritage and commitment of our community to the arts. 
“There is a large part of the Knoxville population who are committed to making the arts a part of our culture. Our city and county governments, many great local organizations, and of course, private companies such as our presenting sponsor ORNL FCU to support us. Beyond that, the citizens of our community step up in a huge way and invest both their time as volunteers and their money as patrons to develop the artistic landscape of Knoxville. It’s amazing really. There are members of our community who refuse to have Knoxville exist without it, so they invest. That’s what makes it happen,” she says.

Jenkins grew up on a small farm in west Knoxville. “Growing up, we were a family who worked together,” she explains. “We built things, we grew things, we were people who worked with our hands. My mother is a woman who always had a project. She quilts. She cans vegetables from her garden. She can do just about anything that takes patience and a creative eye and she usually had her kids working alongside her teaching us as well. When I went to college and discovered an interest in graphic design, it seemed like a great fit allowing me to do something creative with a path to a career.”

Jenkins graduated from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor’s degree from the College of Fine Arts. “I had a great experience in the art department at UT,” she said. “I was exposed to so many different mediums and learned so much about how design and arts influence our daily lives. I loved being a part of that scene. The energy around UT was a great way to mold my artistic sensibilities.”

Jenkins began her career as a graphic designer at Plasti-line, Inc., and later served as Art Director at Bacon and Company in the mid 90s before landing at National Services, LLC, (also known as NSA), a privately held nationwide service and project management firm. At NSA she played an integral role in the growth of the business over her 18-year tenure. Jenkins started in graphic design and ended as Vice President of Operations. “I grew up in the company,” said Jenkins. “It really helped me to develop my operations and customer service skills. I had so many different roles while I was there. There were new challenges every few years. It was very hard to leave, I was personally invested.”

Jenkins began serving on the board of directors of Dogwood Arts in 2014 and became an enthusiastic volunteer working diligently on several Dogwood Arts events for years.

“This position came at a time when I was trying to decide whether to do something new and different, or to stay at home at NSA. It seemed as if all of my history was converging on this opportunity, and I was able to marry my artistic background with my love of my community. It was too perfect a fit for me to pass up. I was thrilled when I was selected. It had only been my second interview since I graduated college, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the board was great. The staff has been so welcoming. I’m excited to tackle what’s new for Dogwood Arts.”
“Dogwood Arts is thrilled that Sherry is our new Executive Director. The Dogwood Arts Search Committee interviewed many applicants from across the country and Sherry emerged as the candidate of choice.  We believe she is the perfect fit as we move Dogwood Arts into the future,” says Shanna Browning, president of the Dogwood Arts Board of Directors.

Jenkins’ extensive experience in executive level management and project management along with years of fundraising experience and volunteer leadership across a number of local nonprofit organizations make her perfect for the job. 

“My plan is to leverage the business acumen I’ve developed in the private sector. This organization does so many tremendous events each year – some of the largest events that Knoxville has, and they are virtually all free to the public. I’m hopeful that I can bring some new ideas and energy along with some organizational structure that allows us to be even better at what we currently do and open up opportunities to grow in support of our mission.”

This year marks the 40th anniversary for the House & Garden Show, the largest annual fundraiser for Dogwood Arts which is presented by ORNL Federal Credit Union. Held February 16-18 at the Knoxville Convention Center, it is an entertaining show that provides visitors the chance to shop hundreds of retailers and manufacturers exhibiting products, offering services and advice on interior design, home improvement, gardening and more. DIY Network does a great job putting talent on the How-To Stage and there is lots of interactive education for kids and adults alike.

“March is really our student focused month,” says Jenkins. “Synergy, is a student art and art educator’s exhibition at the Clayton Center for the Arts in Maryville. It’s a beautiful gallery space and has a great community vibe. Then the special needs groups from all the local schools converge on West High School for the Very Special Arts Festival. It’s a big day of music and art and the kids get to do all kinds of art projects. It’s a great event for us.”

April is prime time and the Dogwood Luncheon kicks off the season. This year’s featured trail is the Westmoreland Trail. A new trails guide will be dispersed all over Knoxville highlighting the opportunities to hike, bike or walk the beautiful East Tennessee trails, even noting the most picturesque spots to highlight the beautiful spring foliage. It all culminates in the annual Dogwood Arts Festival held on Market Square, to be held April 27-29, 2018.

“Aside from the trails, the Dogwood Arts Festival is our heritage. We started with the trails and the garden clubs creating the energy around planting and making our streets beautiful, then out of that came the long history of our festival,” says Jenkins. As a juried show, it attracts artists from across the country and is very competitive. “Our goal is to have even more artists this year,” says Jenkins. “We are pushing our footprint out a little this year to expand the show, but the quality will be excellent as always and there will be compelling artwork of all types. It’s really something to behold.”

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