It’s been a long December—and there’s reason to believe, maybe this year will be better than the last … here’s to hoping the Counting Crows were clairvoyant; 2021 has to be an improvement over 2020! In a year where every month stretched out to five, this last month flew by, despite us being home for all 31 nights.
I eschewed the typical year-end recap I’ve written since 2008 to write a reflections post on the last 12 months, and I genuinely look forward to seeing the tourism industry rebound as the effects of the vaccine slowly spread throughout the country and abroad.
Mississippi Travel Media of the Year. On Dec. 2, we were awarded the Travel Media of the Year at the Mississippi Governor’s Conference from the Mississippi Tourism Association for our work in telling the story of the Natchez Trace Parkway this past year (I only wish we could have been there in person, but alas … pandemic). This was an unexpected and thrilling honor in a very tough year for the tourism industry as a whole and one when media was constantly pummeled for everything under the sun.
We received our first NEA grant! We, being DMA-events, teamed up with the Tennessee Arts Commission to write an application for the National Endowment for the Arts’ women’s suffrage centenary project—and were awarded the grant out of the entire Southeast region (and one of only six recipients nation-wide!). In our third year as an organization and just starting our second year as an accredited 501(c)(3), this was a huge deal. This means we’ll be able to bring two fully funded murals to rural Tennessee towns in spring 2021.
We released a video we shot and produced. One of the most fulfilling parts of our year was helping so many rural towns and counties navigate the pandemic and how to promote visiting safely. Bedford County hired us to put together this promotional video as part of the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, and it was a nice break getting outdoors in Shelbyville, Bell Buckle and Wartrace and filming again.
I wrote a fun story in Parade on how people survived the pandemic. After poring over data and interviewing hundreds of people over the course of several weeks, I pulled together this fact-driven article for the Dec. 6 issue of Parade magazine on everything from TikTok dance trends to baking, Peloton bike riding to home gardening. It was one of the funnest (and most therapeutic) stories I have written in quite some time!
We shot another project for the Clarksville tourism board. We made three separate trips to Clarksville this fall, first to shoot photos and content for a fall tourism marketing project and visitors’ guide under the CARES Act, and then for a Christmas shoot. The great thing is that a lot of what we do can be done in a safe, distanced manner, as we did in Clarksville (masked, away from others, using each other as models!). It was fun and also a unique challenge, navigating night shooting under the sparkling veil of holiday lights.
I also did another five family shoots this past week. For years now, I’ve been inundated each fall with requests to take Christmas card and holiday shoots for families; typically, I’m on the road, so I can’t fulfill most of these requests. Well, not this year! I did over a dozen family shoots toward the end of this year—always masked, always outdoors and always from a distance (thank God for telephoto lenses!). It’s definitely a different way of interacting with your subjects, but it’s given me a chance to grow my photography skills and experiment with fun, new ideas. Next year, we may take on even more—including weddings—at least until our travel schedule is back to where it was pre-pandemic.
We had our final board retreat of the year. This year, we had planned to take several trips for our nonprofit’s board retreats in big public art cities like Philadelphia and St. Petersburg; that obviously did not happen, but as our other board member Emilie has been holed up alone in Minneapolis, we all felt comfortable still getting together at the Cedar House. She came out in June for a bit, in August for two weeks, then drove her new camper van Jane down for a long weekend in early December so we could flesh out all the 2021 projects we are dreaming up (including round two of Walls for Women!). Public art has been the therapy we needed in this overwhelming and challenging year.
We celebrated Christmas with my family. As always, we’re bubbled up with my parents, my sister and her crew; we all live in the same general vicinity and swap off childcare duties, cooking and more. We had a weekend in pajamas at my mom’s house, and it was almost like the world had not been turned upside-down—for a little while at least.
THE VACCINE IS HERE. Am I the only one who sheds a tear every time I see a photo of a friend get vaccinated pop up in my news feed? The time is coming for all of us, y’all, and I can’t wait for this world to get back to normal(ish). I know it will likely take until the summer or fall until herd immunity or the effects of ubiquitous vaccination are felt—after all, the Spanish Flu pandemic lasted 26 months—but I’m fine staying home and distanced until then if that’s what is required of me. They’re already up to vaccinating the 75+ group in our area starting this weekend, and many non-healthcare friends have lucked out and gotten vaccinations when there was a surplus at risk of going bad. I’m hopeful, y’all—very hopeful!
Our pup Knox died. On Dec. 3, the evening we celebrated my dad’s 69th birthday, our eight-year-old Maltese Knox went to bed and never woke up. He was Ella’s brother and my mom Katey’s dog’s son, and SVV delivered him back in January 2012 just weeks after we moved back. He was always the family dog, staying at our house long stretches after my dad’s stroke and this fall when Katey had surgery with a long recovery time. I was with him the day he died, and while he was acting a bit funny, he hadn’t been sick or had any terminal condition that we were aware of. Of course, now we all have a lot of “what ifs”—what if we had taken him into the emergency vet?—but likely it was a stroke or something else that a vet visit wouldn’t have fixed. SVV and I buried him beneath the evergreens in my parents’ backyard and are only glad he didn’t suffer, though, we continue to miss him daily and especially at every family dinner.
The Nashville bombing. I touched on this in my last post, but it was one of the most shocking events of my life, waking up Christmas morning to the news that a homegrown terrorist had bombed a historic, tourist avenue in downtown Nashville. He died in the bombing, and thankfully all other lives were spared, but businesses and livelihoods and those gorgeous historic buildings were not. The blast knocked out communications throughout the South, including 911 numbers, banks, stores, you name it, it was down for days. If you want to donate to the relief efforts, I recommend going through the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee or Hands on Nashville.
Nashville Strong mural by Jason Galaz, Milton Chavez, Mobe Oner
There were several other headaches the last month or two that aren’t worth mentioning in light of what’s happening around the world. Here’s to health and healing in 2021!