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Charlotte, NC 28208

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Wendy Hickey: The Fairy Art Mother

Wendy Hickey

ArtPop Street Gallery, Founder and Executive Director



Artists affectionately call Wendy Hickey their “Fairy Art Mother,” but her founding the nonprofit ArtPop Street Gallery is no fable.


The pop in ArtPop stands for public outdoor project. Hickey promotes the work of local artists and makes their art accessible to communities through donations of available media spaces, including billboards, buses, taxi tops, news racks and in airport terminals. In effect, her organization converts roads, highways and thoroughfares into virtual galleries, sparking serendipitous moments of artistic expression, discovery, and appreciation.


The project dates all the way back to 2002, when, while servingon the board of a Northeastern arts council, Hickey had an epiphany: She could leverage her extensive professional experience in sales and sales management in the outdoor advertising industry to give artists a one-of-a-kind showcase on a grand scale. She refined the concept, creating the first ArtPop program in 2014 in Charlotte and running it as an unpaid executive director from her living room. This spring, HIckey became ArtPop’s first employee.


To date, ArtPop has displayed the talents of more than 200 artists from Charlotte to Las Vegas. In the process, Hickey has converted commuting and traveling into a fine art.


Brave New Word: Why do artists need ArtPop?

Wendy Hickey:Most of the time, local artists don’t know how to market themselves. We help them become household names. We work with all types of artists – painters, photographers, sculptors, woodworkers, etc. On our billboards is the art, the artist’s name and our URL, which takes you to the artist’s own website.


BNW: And why does the community need ArtPop?

WH:Only about 25 percent of the population goes to museums and galleries, which is staggeringly low and sad. With ArtPop, you could be walking, biking or stuck in traffic and see art.


BNW: What role has art played in your own life?

WH: ArtPop is my calling, my soul, my passion, my life. It means everything to me, and I put everything into it. I’m helping artists because that’s what I’m supposed to do. My relationships with artists and what happens to their lives and careers brings me more joy than anyone can understand. When artists tell me they’ve been invited to galleries, formed collaborations, received tremendous commissions or opened their own galleries, it’s like I’ve gotten a heart paycheck.


BNW: What was your early background?

WH:I was a military kid who left home at a young age, and I’ve been on my own since I was 16. I never went to college, and I’ve done all right. Perhaps college could have catapulted things for me quicker, and maybe I would have had a different book-smart sense, but I couldn’t be taught this in books. I have no regrets.


BNW: You project such enthusiasm and drive. Do you ever procrastinate?

WH:I go with procrastination for awhile, and then have a stern, self-disciplined talk with myself. I swallow the frog, and get it done.


BNW: What’s the best advice you received about becoming an entrepreneur? WH:You’re on to something. Don’t let anyone take that away from you or make you change your mission. Doors will open for you.


BNW: What advice do you offer would-be entrepreneurs?

WH:Figure out precisely what you want to do, and be unstoppable.


BNW: How do you start your day?

WH:I roll with either a 3-mile walk or a 10-mile bike ride between 6 and 8 a.m.


BNW: How do you recharge?

WH:It’s been so long since I’ve totally turned off. Riding my bike helps. I love being on any body of water. My dream is to go on a vacation this year, maybe to Santa Fe.


BNW: What keeps you awake in the middle of the night?

WH:How ArtPop will continue to grow and provide offerings outside of media space, like education and scholarships for artists. I think about funding and how to build a sustainable organization.


BNW: What has failure taught you?

WH:Not to do it again. But if you don’t try, then you’ve never done anything, and that’s so boring. The answer is always no if you don’t ask for something, and I don’t take a no personally. I also don’t take no for an answer, but in the nicest ways.


BNW: What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

WH: Bravery comes in many forms. I lost my mom and was brave about that. I have a gypsy soul and moved many times. I’ve skydived. I figure out a way to get through anything and don’t let it taint my life or cause fear. I’m grateful to be alive and happy. I feel I have a light and have to give it to as many people as I can.


BNW: Any hidden talents?

WH:I speak a little Japanese. I do puzzles. I have a secret stash of coloring books and love to color like a kid.


BNW: How do you spend your off-hours?

WH:I attend every art gallery, museum, live musical show or concert – anything to do with the arts.


BNW: What’s next for you?

WH:Now it’s time to make ArtPop everything I’ve dreamed. Hire a staff. Create more benefits for artists. Grow into more cities. When I turn 60, I’ll go to college and be an art history major.