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Louisville Professional Chapter: Reshaping the Artist as Entrepreneur

Posted By Nadia Alhashimi, Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Bluegrass State is experiencing an economic boom and our NAWMBA Chapter is sticking close to its’ roots of personalized informality. But don’t let the informality fool you. Louisville’s chapter president, Jill Morzillo, is an excellent example of what our Louisville chapter represents; artistic openness mixed with the detail and creative drive of the 21st century entrepreneur.

Artisan Beginnings

Jill’s background is an interesting one because she started out in art. She began as a crafty child and her parents bought her first set of pliers when she was 12 so that she could make jewelry. Five years later she received a full scholarship to Murray State University where she developed in metalsmithing, graduating with an art degree. She pointed out, “There is that starving artist mentality, but I found that with my jewelry there was a business opportunity.” She started apprenticing with a jeweler immediately after college, but wanted to develop her own line. She began almost immediately and pursued her passion by running her own artisan jewelry business for 8 years while also working full time at another job.  She took additional classes and workshops along the way to develop her skills. She entered into the Kentucky Craft Marketing Program that fosters the development of full time artists living in the Commonwealth. They provide artists with tools to develop their craft into creative ventures selling in shops and stores nationwide. But with the zenith of internet shopping, YouTube tutorials, and big box craft stores carrying jewelry-making supplies, the DIY culture started devaluing artisans and has created a dearth of handcrafted jewelry available to consumers.

“A customer may love an artist’s work, but they can find something similar that is created by a machine, and at a cheaper price. The most money I ever made in a whole year was $11,000. And it was hard much work that when I had my son and had to take a break, I felt like I had all of the time in the world! How many new moms say that?! But I was working so much to create my pieces, travel for craft shows, and market myself. In addition, I was working another job full time that was a stressful work environment. So when I finally had time to reflect while on maternity leave, I thought a lot about the future and the direction I was going. That’s when I decided that I had to do something else. I read the book, 48 Days to the Work You Love, and decided that if I was going to find a job that I loved that I was going to have to make a plan. I researched many job descriptions on the internet, looked at what types of degrees and skill sets they were looking for, and made a spreadsheet centered around the pros and cons of each and what each one would cost. My son was 10 months old when I started back to school. I went to school one class at a time and it took me 3.5 years to get my MBA, but I got it done.”

Build a Network of Support

Just after starting back to school, Jill got involved in the Louisville chapter of NAWMBA. She was a student and saw an ad in Louisville Business First (which she was recently featured in as “People on the Move”) and showed up to a meeting. “I didn’t usually do that sort of thing, but I immediately connected with two other people who are now among my best friends. I received a lot of support from the other members as I was getting through school. I would come to an event and report that I had six classes left, then only 5 classes left, etc. The speakers and discussions focused on topics that were really useful for me. Maybe they were common sense to others, but I needed some of those skills because I had been working in smaller companies with very little career mobility. Our chapter president was Heather Howell and our chapter was huge. A year or two earlier, they had brought the national conference to Louisville. I’ve tried to continue that leadership in an informal atmosphere. Our chapter is very laid back and we talk about all types of things in addition to professional development because women’s work is holistic and everybody is willing to help each other and share advice. This is very helpful for students and new professionals especially. It’s an informal, group mentoring aspect.”

Get Off Track and Forge a New Trail

Jill has made a big move as she transferred her artistic training and running her own business into various jobs including administrative support, human resources, and finally into a job that encompasses her entire skillset. She is now a research coordinator at CBRE Group, Inc. the world’s largest real estate services and investment firm. Jill is leading market research and analysis focused on the real estate market in her home of Louisville -- how market views on office, industrial, and retail space are changing, the trends, and the data behind those trends. This is an especially exciting time to be doing that work because Louisville is experiencing a ‘bourbonism’ that is putting it on the map! There’s over $500 million being spent on the infrastructure and the city has become an influential hub that extends far beyond the racetracks. Jill is especially interested in how this has affected the development of hotels. “I started tracking those [hotel] developments and my colleague and I charted them in an interactive map with supporting data. We found that bourbon distilleries are creating entire bourbon experiences that have helped fuel the tourism industry in the city. Developers are taking many of the historic buildings and turning them into museums, hotels, and tours as a direct result of this ‘bourbonism.’ Maybe it’s not the time for artisan jewelers, but seeing the development inspires me because it is certainly the time for the craft of bourbon. Bourbon takes a long time to age (10-15 years) and it’s an incredibly involved process. The experience isn’t something that you can have on the internet...yet. So the market for personalized experience and appreciation for craft is still there.”

The craft has also taken the economic development of the city by storm. In the last three years Louisville has invested millions into infrastructure and built a stabilized consumer base that has brought the economy out of recession. Our Louisville NAWMBA chapter recently hosted the city’s economic development chief to speak about the impact of leadership of Louisville, a topic upon which our members know intimately as they help shape the future of the city.

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Tags:  Kentucky  leadership  Louisville  NAWMBA  WomeninBusiness  womenMBA 

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