Muncie is lucky that Braydee Euliss, ’11, hung around.
Not only is she smart, passionate and possesses a knack for welcoming people into the arts, but she understands on a subterranean level how contributing to your community is transformative.
A good friend who’s also a School of Art grad capsulized it for her during a 2015 talk at David Owsley Museum of Art. Corey Hagelberg, ’06 MA ’11, moved back to Gary, Indiana, to work and create the Calumet Artist Residency after graduation.
She quotes him: “‘Cities like Muncie and cities like Gary need you. Cities like Austin and Brooklyn and Portland don’t need you.’
“I got chills,” said Euliss. “If you want to be connected to meaningful work, if you want to know that your contributions are making the world around you a little bit better for even just a few people, cities like Muncie, that’s where you do that work. It’s the most emotional return on investment.”
It’s a return that the city appreciates and the Muncie Arts & Culture Council (MACC) is enjoying with Euliss, its new executive director.
“She understands the significance that arts and culture play in a strong and healthy community. That’s terrific,” said Betty Brewer, MACC board president who’s also president and CEO of Minnetrista, another player in the area’s arts and cultural life.
Two big projects in MACC’s sights
Euliss joined MACC’s board in 2015 to learn more about Muncie’s life.
“It was just a good way for me to have even more of the kinds of conversations I was interested in having about the role the arts play as a community builder, as an economic driver, as a kind of glue that helps hold smaller communities like ours together,” she said. It also gave her arts administration experience.
When the executive director job opened, Brewer said, Euliss was the natural choice. “She was so engaged with what MACC was doing, including our new National Endowment for the Arts grant that we hold with the city.”
That two-year, $50,000 federal grant is one of Euliss’ biggest projects. It will let her launch an artist-in-residence program to bring nine outside residents to Muncie each year.
“I envision it being more inclusive and multidisciplinary than a traditional artist residency program,” she said. Each artist will work with a community organization or group on a public art project or programming to address a community issue.
The program also aims to strengthen ties between the city, Ball State, neighborhoods and nonprofits, including the University’s Marilyn K. Glick Center for Glass and Minnetrista.
Another priority is helping with very early planning for Muncie Arts & Culture Trail.
“When completed — which is 10, 15, 20 years down the road — it will connect Ball State, Minnetrista, Downtown and Heekin Park with a multimodal trail system,” she said. The system will tie into Cardinal Greenways and White River Greenway “and help emphasize our cultural assets and use it as a platform to add cultural assets.”
One program Euliss wants to restart this year: monthly creative conversations like those that led to MACC’s birth. “Our creative community members can get together, talk about what they’re doing, ask questions, get help with a project, or link up resources to maybe develop new programming.”
The importance of role models
Growing up in Muncie, Euliss began her art studies at West View and then Storer elementaries with her beloved teacher, Pam Summer, re-engaging in visual arts as a high school junior. But for lack of a single role model, she didn’t know art could be a career.
Turned out that getting a part-time job starting in high school as a framer at Gordy Fine Art & Framing Co. was a helpful step.
When she got to Ball State, the Presidential Scholarship recipient discovered and started voraciously taking art classes. For six years. Because she loves to learn.
“In what eventually would’ve been my second-to-last year, they added the glass program. Why would I not take advantage of an opportunity to learn how to blow glass? That’s amazing! I just kept finding things that I wanted to do.”
She was active on campus and in the community, setting examples by being part of two off-campus group exhibitions in 2008 and having her first solo exhibition in Muncie.
Before getting her degree, Euliss faced a common challenge for art students: how to turn the creative work you love into a full-time job. Undergrad studio art curricula generally don’t address that, “mostly because most of your teachers went into teaching,” she said, then laughed.
One of her School of Art profs, Maura Jasper, didn’t immediately become an educator but has become a professional and personal role model. She was so impressed by Euliss’ artwork at a student show that the assistant professor had to introduce herself.
As they developed a friendship, Euliss learned of Jasper’s background, including having her own Brooklyn studio in her 20s; co-creating Punk Rock Aerobics and its bawdily encouraging website and items; making a punk Muppet music video that got brief MTV play until the Muppets’ parents protested; and her ongoing multimedia career.
There was something else that Euliss valued.
“After living the life that lots of BFA candidates dream about living, she came to Muncie and valued it and celebrated it and recognized the good here and the possibility here. And that the work that could be done here was just as meaningful as the work that could be done anywhere else.”
Seeing the value in being here
Jasper’s example helped empower Euliss, who presumed she’d have to leave town to find a creative niche in a bigger city. But after being named the outstanding senior art student in 2010 and graduating a year later, she realized she was open to staying.
When Gordy Fine Art co-owners Brian Gordy, ’77, and Genny Gordy, MA ’84, offered her a full-time job, adding gallery manager to her duties, Euliss accepted.
Her gallery job helped her be taken seriously. “I was fortunate to have sort of that Gordy family stamp of approval, which means a lot to me and helped me get to know the downtown community a little bit better and helped other people in the arts community trust me a little bit quicker.”
Brian Gordy takes scant credit. “(We) gave her the platform for people to meet her in that capacity, but she used her talent and intellect to grow people’s trust.”
She started a small exhibition series, including eight shows in 2013 just for Ball State art seniors, graduate students or recent grads. That innovation also let the gallery’s usual patrons, who Brian Gordy said tended to be older, learn about current, edgy visual art trends. And he said she got people in their 20s and early 30s to “feel plugged in and interested in coming around.”
She’s co-curated and co-hosted Final Fridays at Owsley since 2014. The next year, Euliss co-founded CritChat, an ongoing monthly chance for young local artists to offer constructive criticism to each other.
That’s a perk of being in a smaller area, Jasper said. “Here, if something is missing for you, you could be part of making that happen. Braydee is creating opportunities for herself and for other artists. And I think she’s amazing at that.”
So does the city, which in 2015 named her the inaugural Next Generation Artist at the annual Mayor’s Arts Awards. While she was honored, she said the award meant Muncie “was thinking about the future and was prioritizing young people and their contributions to our city, helping them feel like there is a place for them.
“It gave me a lot of confidence in my decision to stay here.”
Helping to improve the community
While Euliss didn’t have an arty role model growing up, she’s become one to other artists, such as Faith Kellermeyer, MA ’15.
“She could have gone to Chicago or New York and chose to stay in Muncie and cultivate relationships and try to elevate the arts community where she grew up. She’s always pushing me to be thinking of different ways to enhance the community and the arts around me, even when we were just out getting a beer,” said Kellermeyer, who recently took a job at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
“She has helped me become a better artist and made me a better member of my community.”
So, is Euliss glad she’s still here?
“Oh, yeah. It’s rocky. I won’t lie about that. It’s hard to have wave after wave after wave of friend groups leave. Anybody who stays here struggles with that, especially if you are closely affiliated with the University. That’s hard to constantly feel like you have to be forging new relationships with people.”
But she knows herself a lot better.
“If I had decided to leave Muncie immediately after graduating, I don’t know that I would have been afforded opportunities to learn as much about myself as quickly as I learned. That I like nonprofit work. That I do actually like collaborating with people. That just working on things by yourself all the time is really lonely and usually ineffective.”
Yeah, she’s glad she stayed. “You just have to know what’s important to you.”
A communication studies class partnered with We’re Trying Collective, co-founded by Braydee Euliss, on a mural project. Students helped raise funds for the multistory piece on the outside of Muncie’s Mark III Tap Room, touted as Indiana’s oldest LGBTQ nightclub. The colorful abstract is both art and celebration, emboldening Muncie as it supports and accepts all people. Read more about the project and what students did.