Jo Ellis is Making.Do in Searcy


Photo:  Ashel Parsons

In a colorful loft makerspace above the new Arch Street artist’s corridor in downtown Searcy, Jo Ellis is building a community. She’s connecting people who want to create and people who need to create with opportunities to explore new skills together. Equal parts Christian philosopher, entrepreneur and advocate for the arts, Ellis has a deep conviction about the therapeutic value of the creative process. She views creativity as one way humanity bears the image of God. Her belief, shaped during three years as a missionary in Ireland, underpins the business model for her nonprofit, Make.Do.

IMG_0672She sighed, her powerfully expressive face momentarily calm. “I’m careful how I talk about calling —  but I know that I am a co-creator with God in this work,” she confides, relating Make.Do’s origins in a group of “difficult” girls who were her charges while she was doing mission work. They were the girls no one wanted. They challenged her and pushed the limits in every way.

To keep them occupied, they made pillow covers out of strips of fabric. Ellis recalled, “They went through the entire creative process: They were overwhelmed with the fabric choices, they discussed possibilities, narrowed them down and learned to use the sewing machines. They made mistakes; they had to use a seam ripper to tear out and start over. They were frustrated. They had to deal with imperfection.”

IMG_0678At the end of the day, they posted pictures of their finished projects on Facebook. She beamed at the memory. “We spent the entire evening watching people ‘like’ their projects and comment on them. In a single day, they went from being the girls that ‘no one ever wants’ to being creators of something others valued — and that value was reflected back onto them. It was the first time I understood the deep impact creativity has on our hearts.”

Not only does Ellis want to be able to offer classes for free to places like Jacob’s Place or Hope Cottage, but she wants to be able to offer an affordable place for community to gather. For now, Make.Do’s class fees are “pay what you can.” Most people pay the suggested fee, a few people pay more, and some people pay less.


Clients may learn quilting, sewing, watercolor, hand lettering, embroidery, felting, knitting, cookie decorating, iris paper folding, macrame and more. Classes may last three to six weeks, but Ellis believes the social mission of Make.Do is best realized in six-week classes, which bring people who might not otherwise interact together over a longer period.  

To some degree, all entrepreneurs are risk takers and, although Ellis has a missional purpose for Make.Do, she seems bold in the familiar entrepreneurial way. The numbers have to add up, even for a nonprofit. “It didn’t feel brave. Committing to one idea and having to stick with the same thing day in and day out might have been a challenge, but Make.Do allows me to constantly look forward to the next, new class.”

To market new offerings, she publishes a newsletter and relies heavily on social media. Since Facebook users can share content in a way Instagram users can’t, Facebook is Make.Do’s primary expansion tool. But 30-something Ellis is an uninhibited natural on Instagram live, where viewers have a window into her life as they visit her eclectic apartment while she emotes about her babies (her houseplants) or bond with her on the merits of her new side-shave hairstyle.

She’s on a related mission to lure each of us away from projecting an image of polished perfection. “When the front that others see is one of perfectly-edited photos and captions, we can forget how to relate to someone in the moment. Face to face, I can’t edit what I say to you as I do when we text. When we’re constantly smoothing out the roughness to perfect our communication, and when that is what we are always seeing from other people, we become grossly more aware of our own insecurities.”


Photo: Ashel Parsons

Ellis shares a promotional photo of her taken in her studio. She’s awkwardly, enthusiastically telling a story. Her face is contorted. It’s the kind of photograph most of us would delete rather than post. But she loves it. “The more vulnerable we are, the more we post things that aren’t perfect, the more we give others permission not to be perfect as well.”

She sees the creative process as a metaphor. “When we take random scraps of something and give it a purpose, over and over, it makes it easier for us to draw a parallel in our own lives. We can zoom out and see that random pointless events are being woven into something more purposeful and beautiful. And that point is amplified when it occurs in community.”  

Comfortable authenticity is a goal worth pursuing, and it’s especially useful to anyone whose self-image has been weakened or fractured by life events. Ellis is currently working on fundraisers and is pursuing grant opportunities to provide scholarships to classes for those who might benefit. If you’d like to become involved, contact her through her Facebook page.

Know an entrepreneur whose story needs to be told? Email Patti Summers in the Waldron Center.



Meredith Palmer builds her brand

This is the first in a series of entries about student entrepreneurs on the Harding University campus.

Looking into the wide-set eyes and broad, open smile of Meredith Palmer, it is apparent that although she doesn’t yet have a fully-developed idea where her interests and talents will lead her, she does understand she needs to make them pay.  She’s already had a fair measure of success. Is art profitable? Palmer smiled, “I worked three jobs this summer if you count selling art. I earned more from my art than doing either of the other jobs.” So she’s optimistic.

Although she’s not an art major, both of her grandmothers painted. She grew up around art, painted some as a child, and took entry-level art classes in high school. One day while in high school, she impulsively purchased a pair of white canvas shoes at Walmart. She decorated them lavishly with permanent marker and wore them to a volleyball game, where people immediately began asking if they could buy a pair. Before long she had filled 200 orders, mostly via Instagram. Palmer donated a 10 percent of her proceeds to a Geita, Tanzania, mission.

She participated in the student business club DECA, entering a 30-page business plan for Palmer’s Designs’ “Shoes for the Sole” in state competition. She was nominated by the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) as Student Entrepreneur of the Year in 2014. Writing a business plan gave her a framework for understanding that if she wanted to continue to create, she needed to be strategic about monetizing her work.

Because she’s an advertising major, the importance of building her brand comes naturally. First, she rolled out a Facebook page and Instagram account for Palmer’s Designs. She now has business cards, stickers and Palmer’s Designs t-shirts. The newest addition to her branding campaign is her website. It introduces who she is, explains the kinds of custom work available, and includes a gallery.

Art is one way Palmer experiences the world, as evidenced by a sketchbook filled with casual scenes from her semester abroad. She often works in oils with bold distinctive strokes, but she also paints in watercolor or a combination of ink and watercolor. You may have seen her work outdoors at Midnight Oil. She’s done a fair amount of commissioned work, including charming watercolor renderings of pets. She enjoys getting to know customers so she can better predict what will please them most. “I like to think I am taking the ordinary and helping people see the beauty in it,” she said.

As with every artist, occasionally her inspiration is blessed by happenstance. While in a car en route from Virginia to Searcy, suffering with a distressing case of poison ivy, Palmer completed a series of pen and ink sketches of bunnies. She tinted her drawings with the only available medium — calamine lotion. The bunnies later sold to a pharmacist who was intrigued by the medicinal medium that gave them their soft, rosy glow.

While Palmer is creating a brand and a network of social channels through which to share her work, she‘s also exploring her talent for the distinctive style that might match a market niche. As we browsed her digital portfolio, she mused about possibilities such as greeting cards, different types of children’s books and the home decor market. She’s doing her homework, asking questions and investigating potential outlets for her work.

The Waldron Center emphasizes that the best business plans are not one and done — they are iterative. The entrepreneur researches, plans, implements a test, tweaks the plan and tests again — successively closing in on the business model that’s most profitable and best suited to the market. Often, the final business model, or even the product, is not at all what she might have expected when she began. 

We’ll be following to see where Meredith Palmer’s journey takes her.

If you are a Harding student who runs a business or know someone who is, email Patti Summers at We’d like to talk with you about your experience.