René Mitchell smiles in reflection. As head of René Mitchell creative, previous Caldera Arts Board member, and co-founder of Bend's tbd Agency in 1998, she can count many victories for Central Oregon. Her work with Humm Kombucha, Deschutes Brewery, Mt. Bachelor and Sunriver Resort helped put Bend companies on the map. Along her path, she became much more than a brand strategist. Today, she is a creative leader and champion of social change through art.
The earthy executive was also the mindful one behind the development of Scale House, a new contemporary creative think tank in Bend, which she also co-founded. She describes Scale House as "an incubator for all things creative." It's goal is to provide a physical space for artists, exhibitions, education and collaboration. What Mitchell does for the community is many years in the making, and though she makes it look effortless, it hasn't always been easy.
The 44-year-old mother of two daughters was dealt an easily foldable hand when her husband passed away five years ago. "I kept expecting him to walk through the door, but I knew that wouldn't ever happen again," she says. "We had two children together and I was left having to explain to them why Daddy's body didn't work anymore."
When the unthinkable became reality in her life, she says, "I only had one option, and that was to continue." Mitchell describes tapping into the creativity that had influenced her life since as long as she could remember, looking for a way to bring healing.
"My kids and I started art therapy classes to help us better cope with the loss," she says
She shakes her head, and when asked if she was at all surprised that she chose an art avenue of healing, Mitchell says, "Yes! It absolutely surprised me. It didn't dawn on me until the middle of one of the art classes."
Her connection to all things creative appears at unexpected turns in life. After her success as founder of tbd, Mitchell decided that it was time to work with the community and use her powers to promote the arts. "I wanted to take the same disciplines I had utilized in my agency and apply it to nonprofits," she says.
She recently branched out to form René Mitchell Creative. Looking back, her work as a board member of Caldera Arts in 2007 continues to be a personal favorite of hers. Caldera is a nonprofit creative program designed to help middle and high school students with limited opportunities. It received a 2015 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from First Lady Michelle Obama. "I just believe in these kids," says Mitchell.
"What's lacking in today's world is acceptance. I want these kids to build confidence within themselves and share it with others. I want them to learn that it's OK to be you."
Mitchell discusses how being creative is an expression of an individual and how unfortunate it is that the encouragement of such a simple thing is often missing.
Her plans for the future are inspiring and will build on her passion focused on creative, civic and cultural change. The world will surely have to keep its eyes open for things to come from the creative beacon that is René Mitchell.
Photo credit: Christian Heeb Photography