Amy Tingle, artist, #NJMOMpreneur and owner of The Creativity Caravan, is making art more accessible in her 13-foot vintage caravan. The Creativity Caravan has driven thousands of miles for fun artsy projects, built thirty Little Free Libraries (amazing!) and wrote spontaneous poetry for strangers. We’re inspired by her advocacy for S.A.V.E., the NJ sexual assault program for Essex County and her dedication to finding what makes her joyful and just living. This ice-cream junkie sat down with NJMOM to discuss her new caravan named Sunshine, how the Jersey Shore has shaped her, and her favorite places to visit around New Jersey including Toast City Diner in Montclair.
Owner of The Creativity Caravan & NJMOMpreneur Amy Tingle
NJMOM: What do you offer to your clients and how is it different than other professionals in your field?
Amy: The Creativity Caravan offers us and our participants flexibility and freedom. Our programming is widely varied and in a flexible format so that even folks who say, “I am not an artist” – and perhaps especially those folks – can participate. We offer opportunities for trying things: writing, sewing, weaving, book-making, storytelling, collaging, and so much more. Our workshops are for people of every ability and age. We offer a place for others to connect to their own innate creativity. Our mission is to spark, engage, and nourish creativity everywhere we go. We travel in our 13-foot vintage caravan as often as we can and as far as we can. At the end of 2018 we closed the brick-and-mortar space we had maintained in Montclair for the past 2 years. For us, life is about figuring out what you like and what you don’t like, and we realized we are happier without being tied to a static location (and the high rent that came with it!). Now, we’re gifting ourselves the time and space to dream up our next large-scale community art project. Stay tuned to see where we end up going.
Leap. If something feels hard, it is. If something feels uncomfortable, it is. If you’re afraid, be afraid. But do it anyway.” – NJMOMpreneur Amy Tingle
NJMOM: What inspired you to get into your line of work?
Amy: I have been an artist for as long as I can remember. It was something I inherently knew I needed as a central component in my life. That being said, there were big chunks of my life when I put artmaking aside in service to the demands of motherhood, but also I think because society said it couldn’t be a “career,” so my focus was on other things. When my kids were in elementary school I began making time to create again. Around the same time I began to take notice of their art program at school. At that age, they still had art classes once a week, but several of the schools had to share an art teacher who rolled a cart into an empty classroom. After sixth grade it became an elective, so only the kids who chose art would continue with it through middle school and beyond. I knew what a powerful force making art could be and I was worried about what would happen to the kids who desperately needed it but no longer had access to art because they were forced to make a choice. I started an after-school program for the daughters of some of my friends. I wanted the girls especially to understand that even if creativity was only a hobby, they should always keep it central in their lives. I truly believe art heals and art saves lives and we need it like oxygen.
NJMOM: What is your favorite part about your business?
Amy: I love that we actually use a vintage caravan, and it’s not just our name. Our first travel trailer (named MAUDE, which stood for Mobile Art Unit Designed for Everyone) was a 16-foot 1965 Covered Wagon (the trailer brand not a literal covered wagon) that weighed 2000 pounds and required an SUV to tow it. She had a bunk bed, a tiny kitchen and a tiny bathroom. We took her on 2 cross-country creativity projects – Type Rider II: The Tandem Poetry Tour in 2014, during which we traveled over 1200 miles by tandem bicycle to build 30 Little Free Libraries and write spontaneous poetry for strangers. Then in 2016 we embarked on The Tiny Book Show, traveling over 10,000 miles and stopping in 60 locations to share a collection of miniature books made by 150 artists from around the world and teaching people how to make their own tiny tomes. We’re working on a plan now to take our new caravan on the road for a longer journey. Our new caravan (a 1973 Hunter Compact II) is a bit smaller, only 13 feet and made of fiberglass, so she’s much lighter and helps us decrease our carbon footprint! We’ve named her Sunshine because she brings light into the lives of lots of folks.
NJMOM: What is your background in your business expertise?
Amy: I started my work life as a teacher in two different private schools, moved into publishing and worked for several years as an assistant managing editor at Simon & Schuster in NYC, and then became a freelance copyeditor when I gave birth to my second son. I started my art workshops for girls in 2009 and when I met Maya, who had been leading writing workshops for several years, we merged our ideas and talents into The Creativity Caravan. Expertise: HA! We are still learning, still transforming, still becoming, and I don’t think that will ever change. I love what the artist Kara Walker said in an interview, “There’s no diploma in the world that declares you as an artist. It’s not like becoming a doctor or something. You can declare yourself an artist and then figure out how to be an artist.” We are all the experts of our own lives and making. And we are always figuring it out.
NJMOM: What are you most proud of in your career?
Amy: I’m incredibly proud of the fact that as partners we have planned and executed two massive cross-country creative projects. We designed the projects, successfully ran two Kickstarter campaigns to fund parts of them, created merchandise, collaborated with other artists, contacted partners and hosts, and then we drove thousands of miles to bring our creative ideas to communities all over the U.S. We fulfilled a dream, twice. That’s pretty f*#ing amazing. And we can’t wait to do it again. Personally, I’m proud of challenging myself to complete the 100 Day Project over the last 4 years. It is an Instagram-based creative challenge where participants commit to making something every single day for 100 days. It has really helped me hone my skills and find my voice as an artist. I had my first solo exhibition and wrote and published a book about my experience after year one.
NJMOM: What is something few people know about you?
Amy: I can hula hoop really well and I secretly wish I was a singer/songwriter. That’s not to say I can actually carry a tune, but in my heart of hearts I am definitely a bad-ass mix of Florence Welch, Joan Armatrading, Pat Benatar, and Brandi Carlile. And our friend Grace says I am a rockstar dishwasher. It’s like meditation for me to wash dishes and have a sparkling clean sink. Weird, but true.
NJMOM: What can we expect from you next year – personally and professionally?
Amy: More art. I’m working on a couple of collaborations with other artists and a new body of artwork is crystallizing in my mind, so my personal focus will be on that this year. As a mobile business, you can count on us hitting the road again. Our next big idea is percolating and all I can say right now is it involves collaborating with other artists who want to travel . . . and circus tents.
NJMOM: What charitable cause are you most passionate about?
Amy: I am a volunteer advocate for S.A.V.E. (Sexual Assault & Violence Education) of Essex County, which is the state-designated sexual assault program for our county. The team is comprised of forensic nurses, law enforcement, and confidential advocates who work together to provide services for sexual assault survivors and their families. S.A.V.E. operates a 24/7 toll-free hotline, provides medical and legal accompaniments, counseling, and prevention education. I also support S.O.F.I.A. (advocacy, support services, and temporary housing for victims of domestic violence and their children) and Toni’s Kitchen (a food ministry), two other local organizations who do incredible work in our community.
NJMOM: Who is your role model? Why?
Amy: This may sound strange, but I am my own role model. There are a lot of people I admire, a lot of artists I am inspired by, but if the definition of role model is “someone looked up to by others as an example to be imitated,” well, I don’t want to imitate anyone. I want to be myself. I’ve done an incredible amount of hard work to get where I am today. I’ve taken huge personal leaps without a safety net. I’ve had to sit in very uncomfortable emotional and psychological spaces wondering, “Who am I? Who do I want to be and how do I get there? How do I stop being invisible?” I was very moved by Glenn Close’s speech at the Golden Globes. “Women, we’re nurturers, that’s what’s expected of us. We have our children, we have our husbands, and our partners. But we have to find personal fulfillment. We have to follow our dreams. We have to say, ‘I can do that, and I should be allowed to do that.’” That’s what I did after I had my children. I left a partnership that was very comfortable, very easy in many ways. But I was lost. I was heartbroken and depressed. I was not living my truth, was not fitting into my own skin. I walked away and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And the most fulfilling. It took a tremendous amount of courage and strength to claim my rightful place as a woman and an artist. I am here because of me. I am my own best role model.
NJMOM: What is the best piece of advice your mom (or parent/role model) ever gave to you?/Do you have a favorite quote you live by? Why is this quote so important to you?
Amy: The movie “Harold & Maude” changed my life when I was 19 or 20 years old and saw it for the first time. The main character taught me so much about how to embrace the unknown and live life to the fullest.
A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they’re not dead, really. They’re just backing away from life. Reach out. Take a chance. Get hurt even. But play as well as you can…Give me an L. Give me an I. Give me a V. Give me an E. L.I.V.E. Live!
That pretty much sums it up for me. There was a long stretch of my life where I was backing away. I was not taking chances, not living. Now I definitely L.I.V.E.
NJMOM: What are your favorite things to do in New Jersey with your family?
Amy: We moved to New Jersey when I was 8 and that first summer I knew immediately I was a beach girl. Sun-In, lemons and tin foil, Coppertone (back then we didn’t know how harmful the sun’s rays were!), body surfing. I grew up in Fair Haven and rode my bicycle to the beach all the time. All my first jobs were in locations near the ocean, including in the snack bars at Sandy Hook State Park. I love Atlantic Highlands, Sea Bright, Long Branch, Asbury Park, Ocean Grove. Those towns are the backdrop of my adolescence, when I developed a sense of self, fell in love, became independent, learned to drive and dream. I will always be a beach bum at heart.
NJMOM: What is the best part about being a mom for you?
Amy: Watching my boys turn into the men they are becoming. I know this life is their own. Their independent journey began the moment they left my body. It’s been a privilege to share my wisdom, to provide guidance, to answer questions, to muse and challenge the status quo next to them. I love watching them wrestle with the wider world and find their place in it. Then again, nothing beats the smell of those baby heads, all their firsts – first smile, first laugh, first word, first step, first tooth. It’s been a wild ride and I might not have said “yes” to parenthood if I knew exactly what it entailed, but I also wouldn’t trade it for anything. They are my best mirrors and my most brilliant creation.
NJMOM: What are your favorite businesses in New Jersey?
Amy: I have so many favorites: Toast City Diner, Montclair Bread Company, Marcel Bakery & Kitchen, Cafe Giotto, Ruthie’s Barbecue, and Ani Ramen. Dolly Moo Body for delicious-smelling/feeling bath products. Gelotti in Montclair for the most amazing gelato and Day’s Ice Cream in Ocean Grove, which has been my favorite since I was a kid. We recently discovered Kreme & Krumbs, her ice cream sandwiches are out of this world. Can you tell I am an ice cream junkie? Just Kidding Around is the best independent toy store owned by two incredible women who make it one of the happiest places on Earth. Most other things I buy come from the huge network of independent artists we know. I support small and local as often as humanly possible.
NJMOM: Where do you reside and vacation in New Jersey?
Amy: We currently live in Nutley, NJ. The beauty of this town is its proximity to all the things I love – NYC, the beach, the mountains, and Newark Airport so I can make a quick getaway. I love to travel, love discovering a new city or place. Living here affords us the luxury of being at the airport in 15 minutes. Nutley also has gorgeous parks and my partner and I helped build 7 Little Free Libraries here (there are 11 altogether now). We’re really proud of that!
NJMOM: What advice might you have for a fellow NJMOMpreneur who is just starting out?
Amy: Leap. If something feels hard, it is. If something feels uncomfortable, it is. If you’re afraid, be afraid. But do it anyway. Find what fulfills you, what makes you joyful and do more of that. Make that thing your life and L.I.V.E.