Cheekwood's Youth Manager Kelly Terrell | Unsung Nashville
Cheekwood Youth & Community Manager Kelly McGinnis Terrell stands outside

Into the ‘Wood

Cheekwood Youth & Community Manager Kelly McGinnis Terrell dishes on her favorite things in Nashville, from Mexican food to the Day of the Dead.

There are a lot of things people love about Cheekwood. Kelly Terrell’s favorite is a bit surprising.

“It’s something we call the ‘sick bed,’” Terrell laughs. She quickly clarifies, “But nobody’s ever really sick!”

The “sick bed” is actually a small couch in Terrell’s office where kids can come when they need a break. It’s most often used during summer camp, though it’s always available to a little one in need.

“They can take a load off and just vent,” she says. “It’s like a little art-therapy session. “Talking through the life of a 5 year old — that always makes me smile.”


Home away from home

As the Youth & Community Manager and Camp Director for Cheekwood, Terrell connects with people of all ages. From Tuesdays for Tots to Adult Clay Classes to Cheekwood in Bloom, every day is different.

“When you’re working with the public, you’re constantly learning,” she says. “I get to meet someone new and hear their story every day. Cheekwood’s the kind of place where when you get here, you kind of lose yourself, and who doesn’t need that sometimes?”

If you’ve been to Cheekwood when the flowers are blooming, you know what she she’s talking about. It’s like walking into that field of poppies in “The Wizard of Oz,” without the pesky sidekicks and debilitating narcolepsy.

Terrell sums it up: “It’s a Nashville place that makes you feel like you’re not in Nashville anymore.”

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Terrell has always been creative. She got her Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in sculpture from Auburn University in 2008, and she studied abroad at the Lorenzo de Medici School in Florence, Italy. But her artistic career started much earlier than that.

“In third grade my career bear was an artist,” she laughs, “so at a very early age I kind of knew. But I’m also very rational, so I struggled with it. I thought ‘I’ve got to pay the bills and I’ve got to make this work.’ You have to work hard, but if you’re doing what you love, it pays off.”

The starving artists reading this, might be asking, “When?” But that’s one of the points of Terrell’s story: As an artist and a pragmatist, having your work “pay off” doesn’t necessarily mean becoming an “artiste” in the movie sense, i.e. living in a spacious loft, spending your days surrounded by paint cans and Deep, Important Feelings. Most artistic careers — and many of the most sustainable and satisfying — are based on helping other people learn to be creative.

“Sure, I wanted to be solely an artist at some point,” Terrell says. “And then in college, I thought maybe I’d teach. But I wanted to see what else was out there.”

Terrell's office looks out over this courtyard. The building used to be a stable, which they use for the live reindeer that visit Cheekwood during the holidays.
Terrell’s office looks out over this courtyard. The building used to be a stable, which they use for the live reindeer that visit Cheekwood during the holidays.

Finding her own place

Museums seemed a good place to start. Terrell interned at the Frist Center and started teaching there. Then she became the Studio Coordinator and Public Programs Assistant at Cheekwood, acting as camp manager and coordinating and teaching classes.

“It was a little bit of everything,” she says. “You hit the ground running, and I knew I needed that in a job. I want to be tired at the end of the day. The average on my Fitbit is two to three miles. I hit a marathon by the end of summer camp this year.”

Terrell has always loved working with young children, especially the toddler and elementary age group.

“It’s just as much fun to work with them because they’re just as inspired as adults,” she says. “Plus young children always tell you exactly how they feel, and that puts life in perspective for me.”

Banners hang over the marketplace during El Dia de los Muertos.

And because she gets to teach parent/child classes at Cheekwood, too, her job hits all the high points of the art experience.

“I know I’ve done my job well when I see a proud parent and an uplifted child, especially if that child is maybe a little messier than when they got here,” she laughs.

“With any nonprofit — and especially when you’re working with children — you’re going to work very hard, so you better love it. I want them to remember feeling inspired, encouraged and at home at Cheekwood. That’s what the outdoors and art did for me as a child.”

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Playing favorites

Asking a program coordinator to choose a favorite event is like asking her to rank her children. So we let Terrell pick three:

1. Summer Camp

“I live and breathe summer camp,” says Terrell. “I love having the building full of creative bodies.”

With camps for every age up to 18, kids do it all: gallery visits, story time, outdoor art projects, nature hikes and garden scavenger hunts.

“It’s my favorite time of year,” she says.

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2. Spring Art Hop

With thousands of Easter eggs and hunts starting every 30 minutes, the Spring Art Hop is a huge undertaking.

“To be honest, there really isn’t much ‘hiding’ of the eggs for the toddlers,” Terrell laughs. “It’s more about scattering them in the big open fields and vistas, but we still go through several trashcan-sized bins full of eggs.”

Terrell and her army of volunteers also prep several art activities for the kids — all spring or bunny related, of course. Each art project has enough materials for at least 350 young artists to participate.

“We couldn’t do that one without the volunteers. It’s just the happiest, most colorful — and pastel — event you’ve ever seen.”

Photo courtesy Cheekwood’s Facebook page.

3. El Día de los Muertos

“The Day of the Dead Festival is incredible,” says Terrell.

The largest Latin American event in town, El Día de los Muertos has been going on for more than a decade. With more than 4,000 in attendance last year, it’s only getting bigger.

“We have a marketplace with vendors selling goods and art, taco trucks, performances, mariachis walking though the grounds. We also have live bands, dancing, and a learning center with different art activities in every corner, including how to make prints and sugar skulls.

“Thousands of people come out for one day. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen here in Nashville.”

Sugar skulls before...
Sugar skulls before…
... and after
… and after

Class is in session

Cheekwood offers just about every kind of class you could want — and a whole mess of things you’ve probably never even thought of. You can check out their website for their full calendar, but here’s a sample of what they offer:

  • Family studio classes
  • Live music: Bluegrass in the Herb Garden
  • Garden Tales Storytime
  • Live bird & owl shows
  • Aesop’s Fables presented by the Nashville Public Library Puppet Truck
  • Animals from the Nashville Zoo in Wildlife on Wheels
  • Presentations by the Nashville Ballet
Kids get crafty at Tuesdays for Tots.

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