Photos by Hillary Ehlen and J. Alan Paul Photography
Chelsea Thorson is a local artist and the owner of Fargo’s Make Room, an art gallery and studio in West Acres mall. Through her classes and open-studio times, she encourages adults and kids alike to discover that they’re artists, either for the first time or by rediscovering their creativity.
“Every day, someone will tell me, ‘I don’t have a creative bone in my body,’” Thorson says, “but there is no one creative bone. They’re all creative, and everybody has them.
“When someone starts out really shy or lacking confidence artistically, and then all of a sudden they tap into their creative self, they begin to love it. It’s the best moment of my job! It’s like an I-told-you-so moment.”
How’d you get to where you are today, running a studio?
I was supported at an early age to be a maker and artist by a family full of makers, art teachers and tinkerers. My sisters are also both artists. I had my first sketchbook at age three and my first studio workbench at age five in my room — until I outgrew it and took over my dad’s workshop to the point that he installed spray-painted “do not cross” zones to keep his half tidy. I still crossed the line.
I received my master of architecture from (North Dakota State University) in 2011 and savored every moment in the studio in college art and architecture classes. Upon graduation, though, the next tasks of interning and computerizing someone else’s designs sounded too mind-numbing, so I dabbled in adjunct teaching at NDSU and Concordia (College) as an excuse to get back into the studio again. I eventually decided that I needed a studio of my own.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
One of my Ladyboss mentors who owns Atomic Coffee gave me the best advice. I was asking her how you know when you’re ready to take the leap and purchase a new space. Her advice was, “You know you’re ready to move when, if you lost everything, you would still be okay. Would it break you if it didn’t work? If (it would), it’s not a good idea.”
So when I was deciding to move Make Room, I realized that if everything failed, I would still have the house I live in, the car I’m driving, my cats, my skills and a ton of stuff to sell.
Do you have any tips for building your network?
People tend to be intimidated by people they view as successful. I think it’s a helpful reminder that all of us who are in positions of leadership have been in your shoes. None of us are unreachable people, especially in Fargo-Moorhead.
Laura Caroon and Danyel Moe are the cofounders of Ladybosses of Fargo-Moorhead, a local networking group for women that’s focused on creating a casual atmosphere and making genuine connections.
Where do you go for inspiration?
I’m inspired by my sisters who are artists and my mom and grandma who were art teachers. I’m so inspired by people who are filling their homes with things they love.
I’ve also loved Star Wallowing Bull since the first time I saw his work at The Plains (Art Museum). I got to meet him, and I was like, “Dude, you’re my favorite artist!’ He is so focused on his art for no other reason beside that he loves it.
Do you have any go-to stress-management practices?
My big one is that I never work on Sundays and Mondays; I never work on Make Room stuff those days. There’s never an excuse to be working eight days a week.
Sunday is house day. Monday is Chelsea day. I try to make that clear with my business.
One Book Every Ladyboss Should Read
“Business Boutique: A Woman’s Guide to Making Money Doing What She Loves” By Christy Wright
“I just got done with this. It’s 17 chapters of EVERYTHING you need to know about budgeting, and after every chapter, there’s a worksheet.”
Who’s your hero?
My hero is my grandma! She’s my hero because she’s also an artist and has been an independent woman her whole life — always marched to the beat of her own drum. It’s intimidating talking to her because she’s done everything.
I’ll tell her about a new craft I’m trying out at Make Room, and she’ll say, “Oh yeah, here’s a book on that.” She’s blind now and still wants to make art. Since her sight is gone, she’s working on rolling paper and fibers that she can feel.
“We need to live with an abundance mindset, that there’s enough success for all of us.
Something unexpected about yourself?
I’m a musician; I play saxophone. I also just got a wooden flute recently. I’ve been carrying it around, playing it whenever I feel stuck or need inspiration.
What can Ladybosses do to support you and the community?
Be aware of what women-owned businesses are out there, and be intentional about spending your money at their businesses.
Also, we need to live with an abundance mindset, that there’s enough success for all of us. We should be supporting each other, and there will always be enough success to go around. I think it’s awesome that I’ve been able to get to know a lot more women in our community through the work I do.
3902 13th Ave. S (West Acres)