We had the good fortune of connecting with Sonya Pfeiffer and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Sonya, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
I have always thought about risk the way T.S. Eliot described it: “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” Back when I was a kid, maybe around age eleven or twelve, I read that quote from my quote-a-day calendar that was all the rage at the time. I tore the page out and taped it up on my wall. The quote embodies everything I believe about risk: it’s exciting, it’s the only way to know your limits, or any limits, and only those who are willing to take risks will reap the benefit of doing so.

Risk has played a critical role in my life – both personally and professionally – but rarely have I taken a risk without doing my homework. Risk-taking requires thought and preparation. I am comfortable knowing that I can think my way through the unknown, but more importantly, I am comfortable asking for help. Especially from those who are more creative, more experienced and wiser than I am. Seeking advice, input, or assistance, regardless the risk of being rejected, has been the greatest teacher in every endeaver. Over the years, as I have gotten older and wiser, I have gained confidence that I can figure things out no matter how complicated they may appear to be. And if I can’t figure it out, I can figure out who to ask.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
With all of my endeavors – lawyering, podcasting, running a contemporary art gallery and being a mom, my mission is the same: to do the most good I can in the world with the time, talent and energy that I have. And I am not afraid to take risks to do that good. I’m so proud of the gallery, in particular, because we have created an exciting, envelope-pushing space in a city that is booming with creativity and hungry to show it off.

The gallery is known for collaborating with forward thinking visionaries to continue its broad exhibition program, welcome a wide audience, and make art accessible to communities across the spectrum – from local to virtual. I took over the gallery in 2017 and moved the gallery in a socially-engaged direction that has resonated with Charlotte broadly – the gallery has been named Best Gallery in Charlotte by Charlotte Magazine four years in a row, including as Editor’s Choice in 2020. In 2018, the gallery mounted an exhibition that the New York Times dubbed “Art to See this Fall” and in 2021, Elevate Magazine awarded Elder Most Relevant Art Gallery in Charlotte, as well as Best Gallery to Purchase Art in Charlotte. In 2021 I was awarded a Bolt of Inspiration by Charlotte is Creative. None of that has come easily – I have an amazing team and I work constantly, too. But the cliche about loving what you do is true: it’s simply not work when you love what you do. And the gallery is doing so much good: we are a place where those who have previously felt intimidated by art galleries now walk in with comfort, we are a gallery exhibiting excellence from artists who have been perpetually excluded, and we put on challenging, thought-provoking programming that addresses real societal issues.

In many ways, what we do at the gallery is also what I do as a lawyer. Using art – whether storytelling or painting or performance – to address important societal issues that underlie so much of the inequality in our world. I’ve learned that there are many ways to engage people, and usually, you need to get outside of the box to make change. Whether it’s advocating for criminal justice reform or encouraging conversation around refugees and immigration through a mixed media piece, I’ve learned that people are motivated by stories, and people want to do good, they want to address the problems they see around them. I am not afraid of diving in and finding those outside-the-box opportunities to make a difference.

As for what I want the world to know about me? I’m here for it all. I am here for living. I am here for making a positive difference. I’m not afraid of taking risks, ruffling feathers, or doing the right thing. Bring it on.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I do love my city, but a week might be a bit too long. You have to leave something for the next time, right? Here is a day, or two:

As for accommodations, either splurge on The Grand Bohemian or find something fun or funky in Dilworth or Plaza Midwood on Airbnb.

*Get up early and drive to Crowder’s Mountain for a hike to start your day.
*Return for brunch at Zada Jane’s in Plaza Midwood or the new Snooze in South End.
*Wander over to Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art because there is bound to be a great exhibition or program running.
*Head over to Camp North End to meet some super cool artists, check out awesome shops, and eat really good food! The former industrial train yard is probably the hippest place in town. Grab a picnic table and then find lunch at one of the walk-up stands including Bleu Barn Bistro (a farm-to-table concept), La Caseta (Latin American street food), and Saru by Bow Ramen (Japanese ramen).
*When you’re full, you can’t go wrong with Blk Mrkt and DUPP&SWAT, and you might even see artists in action. You might also get to meet artist Windy O’Connor at work in her studio next door, Windy O’Connor Art and Home, a contemporary art and home decor studio.
*Stroll off your meal and head to MacFly Fresh and check out some screen-printing, maybe even in progress. You can find some cool pre-printed tees. Then spend some time checking out the murals all over Camp North End – definitely Instagrammable. You can find a mural-walking map at many of the shops there so you don’t miss anything.
*Dinner must be had at Leah & Louise, a modern juke joint from James Beard-nominated Chef Greg Collier and business partner/wife Subrina Collier. And they’ve got one mean mixologist to surprise you with a cocktail to kick off the meal.
*Back to your pad for a cup of tea and a good night’s sleep!

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
There is not enough room for all of the people who get a shoutout in my story!

As an attorney, an enormous shoutout to the National Assocation of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and every member and leader who fights in the trenches, pushes for change, and is always ready and willing to help another lawyer fight a battle. I send a special shoutout to Lisa Wayne, the executive director of NACDL, for being an inspiration and guide to me and so many women attorneys. I couldn’t do what I do without the support of NACDL.

As a gallery owner who entered the “business” of art without any experience, I have endless shoutouts: my whole team (Neely, Madison, Simone, Nichole, Jennifer), all of the artists our gallery represents, every person who installs, or paints or comes to the rescue when we need a creative solution, Charlie Elberson, Dave Butler, Carla Aaron-Lopez, Kyle Mosher, Dammit Wesley, Matt Olin and Tim Miner with Charlotte is Creative, all of the institutions/museums/collectives in Charlotte who have welcomed me and the gallery’s vision, every person who has collected art, attended a program, or posted some love for Elder. That may not even cover it all, but the support and encouragement I’ve received has been incredible.

As a podcast co-host  of Abuse of Power, there are also many shoutouts: our team at Campfire in LA, particularly Ryan Alexander Steiner, who produced the last two seasons with incredible grace and professionalism, my co-host and husband, David Rudolf, who pushes me to be my best, and Audible UK, who believe in us and support us as we tell really hard stories that need to be told.

As a mom, a shoutout to  my daughter, Zayne, who made me a mom, and to every other mom on the planet. Of course.

Website: www.eldergalleryclt.com

Instagram: @sonyapfeiffer

Linkedin: SonyaPfeiffer

Twitter: @PfeifferSonya

Facebook: @eldergalleryclt

Yelp: Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art

Youtube: Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art

Image Credits
Photo #1 Credit: Jeff Cravotta, Cravotta Photography (headshot of Sonya Pfeiffer)

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