Suzanne Luther is spending her retirement demolishing old cabinets and scraping and sanding the baseboards of two older homes in Jefferson City.
Luther, who graduated from MU with an art degree, retired from teaching the art and gifted programs at elementary and middle schools in Jefferson City two years ago. She launched Four Quarters Art House in April 2015. The business enlists the help of local artists to convert old homes into bed-and-breakfasts. Although not a nonprofit itself, the project donates at least 10 percent of its profits to nonprofits such as HALO and Common Ground, which both work to lessen youth homelessness.
Through Four Quarters Art House, Luther unites four distinct yet related components in her work: art, service, community and business.
Since the project’s inception, Luther has purchased and begun renovations on two older houses in Jefferson City with the help of friends, family and fellow artists in the community.
Vox sat down with Luther to discuss her project and future plans.
What inspired Four Quarters Art House?
I’ve been trying to think for years, “How can I use my strengths to make a difference?” Homelessness is horrific on its own, but when you think of the number of homeless children … I wanted to start there. I wanted to do something that would make a real difference. I can’t pinpoint a day or time, but it morphed from other projects I worked on.
What goals do you have for the project?
I want to rehab buildings that aren’t ideal residential buildings so that when I’m finished, you have those four parts, the four quarters. You have the art quarter because the artists come in and help with the renovation and then their work is also displayed. You have the service quarter because whatever it’s zoned for, that income is coming in and a portion goes back to the entities that alleviate homelessness. You have the community quarter because it’s taking places that sometimes were an eyesore or weren’t ideal residential properties, and now they’re functioning places. And then the business quarter because I plan to make a profit, so I become part of the business world, too.
Where do you see Four Quarters Art House in five to 10 years?
Oh, I’ve got a vision! I see artists coordinating a business that also provides a service. I see that expanding so that we’re not just funneling money into entities that help homelessness, but we start bringing the homeless individuals into the artistic process.
How will you integrate the people you serve?
The building next door is empty, and what I’d like to see there is a place where artists can come in and teach. You know how in third-world countries, they’ll create jewelry or something, and then they become more independent and have something that’s satisfying to do? I think that would be great right there to have studios and not just teach people to paint or do creative writing or theater but then also have it become a tourist attraction as an art center. I just see this as something that could snowball because it’s being fueled by that creative energy.
Has anything surprised you during this process?
It’s exciting that when you start something like this, you start to find out how many people have the same motivation, the same desires. They might not have the same vision of how to do it, but it’s been exciting to see how many more friends I’ve made and just a peek at what’s possible.
What has been the most rewarding moment of creating your new project so far?
I don’t have just one. It’s rewarding to me when I go to bed at night, and I’m in this house, and I know things may not have progressed as I may have originally visualized, but those are just details. I know this is working.