When Jounda Strong finds out art she’s been preparing for an upcoming invitational show needs to be about “Panic!”, a directive theme she forgot about, she knows how to rebound.
She’s been through much more difficult personal straits.
Most recently, last December, the 49-year-old found out she was being “downsized” from her 9 to 5 job, after working in customer service, retail and IT marketing.
Jounda decided to “break free of the chains” and also “shatter the myth of the starving artist.”
In addition to selling an early painting before “the paint was even dry”, Strong also now has time to reinvigorate other passions.
Teaching Meditation, Self-Expression and Helping the Homeless
If she’s not at the Reno Art Works compound on Dickerson Avenue, you can sometimes find Jounda leading meditation sessions with young women at the Nevada Youth Empowerment Project home, giving tours at the new LGBTQA Our Center, or feeding the homeless on a Saturday afternoon with the Reno Initiative for Shelter and Equality.
Being Present in the Moment, Whatever the Chaos
Jounda started the meditation classes this Spring to keep young women, some of them who have been living on the streets, “present in the moment, away from chaos and drama.”
“The drive comes from having been a single mom, and having raised two girls, and seeing what they went through,” she explains. “My house was the place everybody went to. I was always working with young people who were in crisis or their parents just weren’t present. It’s a passion for the youth, to show them they matter, that their ideas are important and have value. it doesn’t matter what the noise is. They can be present and ground themselves.”
She hopes to soon begin a “Painting Through Recovery” workshop at the Our Center, to help people overcome their own traumas, or traumas of loved ones, by telling their evolving stories through art.
Hopes and Concerns for Reno
Jounda, a native Midwesterner who has been in Reno for four years, worries about some of the current trends in the biggest little city, including the displacement of low-income residents from downtown areas.
“There has to be a solution. They have to go somewhere. Displacing them to the river or the streets it’s not acceptable. There are some solutions on the table. I hope there will be solutions for elderly people and others and they won’t end up being homeless, that they will have a place to go. There’s conversations being had, so I have hope.”
The Role of Artists in Reno
But she appreciates the current surge of art and artists here.
“It’s a way for people to express themselves, to tell their stories and it starts conversations. That’s what we need. We have not had those conversations, We’re often afraid to have them. Art starts those.”
Here's an additional Q and A Our Town Reno did this month with Jounda Strong at her communal studio space.
Can art be too loaded in its messaging?
“I don’t think anything is too loaded. More and more people are waking up. Let people say what they need to say and sometimes than can only be said in a picture, and then let’s stand around and have a conversation about it.”
Do artists play a role in Reno’s uncertain future?
“We all play a part, be it small or be it large, whatever that role is. When we know better, we do better. We can’t put our heads in the sand anymore. We have our work to do. Whether it’s feeding the homeless or painting a picture, or teaching, or holding a workshop, or painting with kids, whatever it is you are called to do, do it and do it with everything you have."
Do you miss anything from your pre-artist life?
“I didn’t have a choice. The company I worked for took my position away, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I have the time time to volunteer and I have the time to create. My wife is incredibly supportive. I couldn’t do it without her. I tell people if you have the urge, do it, the 9 to 5 can kill you.”
Note: Questions and answers from the June 2016 in person interview were trimmed and rearranged for clarity.