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

Hi Viola, why did you pursue a creative career?
I decided to pursue a creative career after taking an art history class as an undergraduate student at the University of Alabama. At the time, I was an elementary education major and planned on becoming an elementary school teacher. I took the class as an elective, never having taken a class in art history before and not really understanding what art history really was. While in my art history 101 course, I fell in love with art. I had always been surrounded by the arts growing up. My parents would often take us to museums, musical performances, our home even had works of art on the walls. That being said, I never really understood the way that art could be used to understand yourself, and your history. It was in that moment that I decided that I wanted to study art history and I changed my major from elementary education to art history. I took the courses required for my major and I also pursued other opportunities, including volunteering for local museums, working with professors, and applying for internships. My volunteer and work experience helped me realize that I wanted to work with art education and art outreach programs and organizations. As a Black woman I have always had an interest in Black history and women’s history, and as an art historian I began to focus my research on exploring Black artists and art movements. I particularly became interested in artists who use their work and their practice to speak to social and racial injustice. My area of focus in art history is African American quilt artists, and social justice quilting collectives. I currently work as the program manager for Bib & Tucker Sew-Op, a sewing arts non-profit in Birmingham, AL that is a virtual hub for sewing activities that promote, empowerment, education, and economic opportunity. I have spent the past ten years working in the arts as an administrator and educator and much of my work is focused on increasing access to the arts across communities. I also started my own platform Elynn & Rose, where I share and celebrate the voices of Black women who are using their talents and abilities to create positive change in their communities. I have developed a website, social media, and YouTube channel all in an effort to create a space where people can engage, connect, and take action.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I think what sets my career apart from others is the way that it has developed over the past ten years. When I graduated with my BA from the University of Alabama I really did not know what I wanted my career to be. I knew that I enjoyed art history, and I thought that perhaps I would like to pursue a career in museums, particularly art museums. It is really through a series of opportunities, some sought after, others that kind of fell in my lap, that got me to where I am today. I will be honest and say that while some of these opportunities seemed somewhat “lucky” I was able to pursue them and in some cases was chosen for them because I always sought to follow my interests and have faith in my decisions, even when I didn’t know what the outcome would be. I have encountered many challenges in my career. I left a job that I loved, working as the curator specialist for the Troy University Rosa Parks Museum to move to Ohio with my husband. I spent a year after that working in retail and in healthcare before enrolling in graduate school. After receiving my Master’s degree in Art History from Bowling Green State University I became pregnant with my first child and we moved to Birmingham, AL. I spent almost a year as a full-time stay at home mom, not knowing how I would re-start my career and it was during this time that the idea for Elynn & Rose was developed. I overcame these challenges by honestly just following my interests and seeking opportunities whenever they were presented. For example, I joined Bib & Tucker Sew-Op as a volunteer and member before I was presented with the opportunity to work for them as their program manager. Being a small business owner and figuring out what I want my business to ultimately become has also been very challenging. I founded Elynn & Rose in 2018, and it began as a hand-made décor and accessory shop, where I sold my products on Etsy. Towards the end of 2019 I realized that I no longer wanted to make and sell items to customers, and it took me a year to figure out what I wanted my business to be. In the summer of 2020, I relaunched Elynn & Rose, not so much as a business, but as a platform to share and celebrate the voices of Black women. I re-created my website and social media platforms and made my focus less about the selling of products and more about empowerment and the sharing of information. I believe the pathway to change is through knowledge and understanding. We have to understand our history, understand policy, and understand our power as individuals and as a community. The ability to understand lies within knowledge. Once we become aware of an issue and the components of that issue, we can then begin to create solutions. Through Elynn & Rose and my work with Bib & Tucker I seek to be a resource of knowledge for others so that they may be empowered to create the solutions needed to build a better future.
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 currently live in the Birmingham, AL area however I grew up in Montgomery, AL. If I were to create an itinerary for a friend visiting from out of town, we would have to visit multiple cities and places. In the Birmingham area we would visit downtown, go to Railroad Park, take in a Birmingham Barons game and check out the area breweries and restaurants like Michael’s Steak and Seafood, Ghost Train brewery, ect. We would definitely take in the history of Birmingham, paying a visit to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, 16th Street Baptist Church, and the historic 4th Ave. Business District. We would also take in some of the local arts and culture including the Birmingham Museum of Art, Studio 2500, and if we happen to be in town on a Saturday we would definitely pay a visit to Smash Bros. Radio and check out the Live Beat Review where my husband, Chris Ratcliffe @statikmusik, and his production team @mars2pluto_beats host their live radio show premiering new artists and showcasing some of the hottest beats in music.

If we had time to travel to Montgomery I would recommend visiting the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. I would also recommend doing a walking tour of downtown and visiting locations that were pivotal to the Civil Rights Movement like Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the Troy University Rosa Parks Museum, Alabama State University, ect.

To sum up the week, I would want to host a small get together at our home where family and friends are invited and good conversation, food, and drinks are had lol!

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I definitely have to credit my family, particularly the women in my family. I chose to name my platform Elynn & Rose, because it is a combination of the names of the women in my family, my grandmothers, my mother, my sister, and my daughters. I have to recognize my mother, my grandmothers, my aunts and my sister, I also attribute a lot of my interest in Black art and Black history to my father. It is also because of my father’s influence that I am also so invested in furthering and supporting social justice causes. I have had many, many mentors that have gotten me to where I am today. I have to mention Georgette Norman, Rachel Dobson, Donna Pickens, Dr, Amalia Amaki, Dr. Allison Terry-Fritsch, Tobi Richards, Dr. Graham Boettcher, LaShawnda Crowe Storm and Lillis Taylor. And these are just some of the people who I consider to be a mentor. I have been blessed to have been surrounded by people who sought to lead me in the right direction, and open doors for me even when I didn’t even realize that there was a door to open. I also must give credit to my childhood church St. Jude Catholic Church in Montgomery, AL for giving me a spiritual foundation that I continue to rely on. My membership in the National Council of Negro Women at the University of Alabama and in the University of Alabama’s Zeta Chi Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. profoundly shaped me and helped put me on the path to where I am today.

Website: elynnrose.com

Instagram: instagram.com/elynnandrose

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/viola-ratcliffe-ba335311

Facebook: facebook.com/elynnandrose

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCiw2vqWK2bgtjwkE_qf1NPg

Other: bibandtuckersewop.org

Image Credits
Lara Jett Walker (only for the b/w photograph of myself and my daughters)

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