Staff profile: Project Manager Christina Johnson

There are just those people. The MacGuyvers— the ones who can practically build a shopping mall using a fingernail clipper and a Q-Tip.

 

Christina Johnson is one of those people. The Arts Partnership’s project manager and longtime North Fargo resident wears many hats for the organization and possesses an affinity (and skill) for everything from pollinator gardening to replacing carburetors in classic cars. 

 

If that wasn’t enough to keep her busy, Johnson is also an accomplished local artist in her own right and a champion of other local artists in a way that extends far beyond her responsibilities as TAP’s project manager. 

 

How it started

Hired in 2017 as a part-time floater helping out at APT studios (now Aptitude creative arts studios in West Acres), Johnson has been with the organization ever since, now at full-time capacity. 

“I manage the Aptitude creative studios we have at West Acres, and I schedule the logistical aspects of ArtWORKS installations,” Johnson said.

The job is physically demanding and requires a lot of elbow grease, but she sometimes puts her feet up and helps out with graphic design, website content updates, as well as fundraising and event hosting.

How it started

Hired in 2017 as a part-time floater helping out at APT studios (now Aptitude creative arts studios in West Acres), Johnson has been with the organization ever since, now at full-time capacity. 

“I manage the Aptitude creative studios we have at West Acres, and I schedule the logistical aspects of ArtWORKS installations,” Johnson said.

 

The job is physically demanding and requires a lot of elbow grease, but she sometimes puts her feet up and helps out with graphic design, website content updates, as well as fundraising and event hosting.

How it’s going

During her time at The Arts Partnership, Johnson has overseen countless installations and Community Supported Art events, project-managed multiple ChalkFests and continues to help the organization’s tiny team stay lean but strong. 

“I can’t imagine TAP without Christina,” TAP Executive Director Tania Blanich said. “She’s a big part of what keeps us going. I appreciate her intelligence, down-to-earth vibe and terrific problem-solving skills. Plus she’s just an interesting human being, which makes for a great colleague.”

Johnsons dressed up for Halloween 2023. The artist designed her own costume and did her own makeup. Contributed: Christina Johnson



A room of her own

It’s hard to imagine The Arts Partnership without her, but what’s even harder to imagine is Johnson having extra time in her life for her own art. Nevertheless, she makes it work.

Deceptively quiet, but with a clever, informed personality and worldview once you get to know her, Johnson is just one of those people everybody should know more about. 

 

Meet local artist and TAP Project Manager Christina Johnson:

Q: Who are you? 

Johnson: I’m an artist and all-round curious person who thrives on getting my hands dirty. I love finding out how people and things work, learning new skills, and engaging in general problem solving. These days I also treasure the time I can invest in supporting the non-human biological life and systems we’re all intertwined with.

Q: Where did you come from?

Johnson: I grew up exclusively in North Dakota, but moved around the state quite a bit until junior high. At that point my family was in West Fargo, and the biggest move I’ve made since then was to move into my own home in North Fargo. I’ve lived in that house for 20 years now.

Q: What did you do before TAP?

Johnson: Prior to TAP, I spent about 15 years working for a grant-funded project at NDSU called The Virtual Cell. I created, narrated and edited educational biological animations that were planned out by the professors heading up the project, as well as managing student artists that worked with us through the years. I started with the project as a college student myself, just as it was getting off the ground. All of our animations were provided to other educators and students for free, and by all indications helped introduce a lot of other students to the topics we covered.

Q: What kind of art do you make?

Johnson: I’ve been painting, drawing and sculpting the longest. All three feel pretty natural to me. But I also dabble in installation art, assemblages, printmaking, fiber art, jewelry making and my next venture is going to be stained glass. (Picked up the materials, just need to find the time.) When it comes to subject matter, I do a lot of portraiture and figure work, both human and animal. I like bright colors, but I also enjoy juxtaposing cute/pretty things with creepier, darker elements. My work varies from highly refined and tight, to looser and more organic, but I rarely venture too far into the fully abstract. In addition to visual art, I have also enjoyed theater, both onstage and off.

Q: Where and when did you get training for your art?

Johnson:  I’ve always been drawn to art and animals/plants and my family was always very supportive, no matter what I was pulled toward. Aside from being lovingly encouraged by my family and various teachers over the years, I decided to focus on art in college as well. I originally started out with a double-major in Biotechnology and Art. Ultimately art won out, and I got a Bachelor of Science in Art, with a minor in Zoology from NDSU in 2002. Beyond that I’ve done a lot of learning on my own. Though I did manage to get myself out to a wonderful ceramic sculpture workshop with Beth Cavener a few years back.

Q: Do you have a favorite medium?

Johnson: Acrylic painting is a comfortable place for me, but I also love watercolor that’s finished up in color pencil. And while I don’t do it enough, sculpting with clay feels like home every time I do it. Creating something out of my head, into 3D with my actual hands will always feel incredibly special.

Q: Share with us one of your best memories as a local artist.

Johnson: I’ve participated in quite a few group visual arts shows around town, and many of those have been very rewarding, but I think working with Theatre B on The 39 Steps in 2011 was a big turning point for me. The show was incredibly fun to do, the people I got to work with were incredible, and the whole experience served to push me further into the local arts world, both for theater, networking and ultimately more visual arts projects as well.

Q: What makes FMWF a great place for local art?

Johnson: I think the local art scene is valuable because it’s at a size where you can really see how the range of creative people in the area engage with the world in so many different ways. It means that artists and the public truly can find something that relates to just about everyone if you stop to look. And the more support we can all provide each other and the more we can introduce people to what’s available, the more the general public gets to learn that they have a wonderful range of options to appreciate–along with learning about their own inner artists. Which we all have, no matter what your stick figures look like.

What else do you do?

Johnson: In addition to art, I like to fix things and grow things and do my best to nurture the interests and lives of the other living things and people around me. I thrive on being self-sufficient, so I’ve learned how to work on my own cars, do electrical, plumbing, roofing and general home renovation, as well as gardening with a growing emphasis on permaculture techniques and natural habitats, along with a lot of food preservation techniques. I also get a lot out of spoiling and caring for my (five) cats. If there were more minutes in the day and more energy in my body, I’d get to do more of the other hobbies I’ve dabbled in like scuba diving, rockhounding, and furniture restoration/upcycling.

How do you maintain energy for all your interests? 

Johnson: I’ve learned to let the energy ebb and flow, rather than fight to keep it steady and highly productive in a consistent way. It means I don’t produce as much as people who can keep their energy up more consistently, but it also keeps me from burning out. I’ve been lucky to have very patient people who have collaborated with me on commission-related work. I love helping other people visualize things, even if I am subject to that internal wave-riding. Also, like a lot of other creative people, I’ve found that just being interested in new things can help to rekindle the energy for previous projects and ideas. 

Q: You seem like a person who knows where to find all the cool stuff. Where is a “hidden gem” in town? 

Johnson: I spend a lot of time at home, lol. For art-related stuff, I’m really looking forward to seeing The Red Raven get its new space in Moorhead geared up again. I really enjoyed how they bridged the gap between art and cozy food/drink in their old space.

 

Q: In your own words, what does supporting local art mean to you?

Johnson: Supporting local art means getting involved. Even if just to share what you think of something that another person put a part of themself into creating. In a perfect world it also means being able to support each other with practical resources, including meaningful amounts of time, but at its core, to me it’s about reaching out and connecting with the creative people and projects happening around us.

Q: Where can people find your work and more info about you?

Johnson: These days,  Instagram (@dualbunny) is the best place to find me. The last few years knocked some wind out of my creative sails, or at least redirected it, but I’ve embraced sharing things that are less strictly art focused as well. The desire to grow a crazy garden-yard and try to save butterflies comes from the same desire to connect that my creative tendencies always have. All of it serves to help me better appreciate and engage with the world around me.

About the author

Lonna Whiting is an independent journalist and content strategy consultant based in Fargo. She covers a broad range of topics, including local arts, health care, senior living, startups, technology and education. Lonna also writes extensively about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease for journals and publications such as Being Patient. Read more of Whiting’s work at lonna.co.

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