STORY by Chelsea Callicott
PHOTOGRAPHY Courtesy of René Mitchell
It’s a creative thread that weaves René Mitchell’s life together. She serves as an advocate for the arts, culture and social change on behalf of ScaleHouse and Bend Design, as well as in her position as director of marketing for Humm Kombucha. René became well known in Bend as co-founder of tbd Agency, where she, her business partner Paul Evers and their team developed branding for many successful local businesses. We sat and chatted about what is most important to her these days, as she parents her vivacious, imaginative girls and finalizes plans for the third annual Bend Design Conference, which she directs.
Tell me about the evolution of your career
I received a college degree in advertising and broadcasting, and really wanted a seat at the morning news desk on the Today Show — I really wanted to be Tom Brokaw. However, right out of school, I had an internship at a Portland ad agency and then was offered a position at Mandala Agency in Bend as an account coordinator in 1994. After a few years at Mandala, I partnered with Paul Evers to start tbd, a local branding and advertising agency. tbd enjoyed a magical combination of an incredibly talented team and some of the most innovative businesses and organizations in Bend, including Humm Kombucha, Deschutes Brewery, BendBroadband, BendFIlm, Crux Fermentation Project, Bank of The Cascades and TEDxBend.
When we closed tbd, I provided account management services at my own boutique firm, René Mitchell Creative, working with BendFilm and Visit Bend. And then, I had the incredible good fortune of being offered a chance to work with Jamie Danek, Michelle Mitchell and Eric Plantenberg at Humm, and how can you say no to that? Humm has an excellent product and an amazing culture that develops staff personally and professionally — each staff member is valued as a significant contributor to the success of the whole. This culture fits me perfectly at this point in my career.
What is the significance of art to you?
Since I was a little girl, I have always been drawn to the creative arts. I was the happiest in museums, galleries and interacting with creative thinkers. It is no wonder that I was drawn to the commercial arts, working in advertising agencies, yet I felt siloed at times as an “account person.” This experience led me to work with arts and cultural nonprofits, such as Caldera Arts, a year-round art and environmental program for underserved youth, where I served on the board for many years. Now, as board member and acting director of ScaleHouse, I get to further my passion, helping inject a deeper connection to art and culture in our community through a variety of programs, including Bend Design.
Please share more about ScaleHouse and Bend Design
ScaleHouse was a vision of Pat Clark, founder of Atelier 6000, now Bend Art Center. Pat brought Sandy Anderson, Alex Anderson, Cristy Lanfri and I together to dream about creating a contemporary art center in Bend — a gathering place for artists, creative thinkers and the community to experience, learn and engage in creative thinking. This is a huge undertaking, but we believe so deeply in the mission that we strive to connect creative thinkers, providing opportunities for artist congregation and collaboration through workshops and art talks. Our cornerstone event is Bend Design, an annual conference held in October and now in its third year.
Design and creative thinking impact everything we do and everything in the world around us. What excites me about Bend Design is that it brings together people from diverse backgrounds — not just artists and designers, but all kinds of innovative thinkers, and creates a dialogue around the power of design to transform business, culture, technology and how we share our humanity. This thinking and approach have helped me personally break out of my box as a “noncreative.” When a broad spectrum of thinkers and instigators share ideas, we really have the power to change the world. I am honored to work with the passionate and curious ScaleHouse board members who make this all happen, Martha Murray, Cristy Lanfri, Cassondra Schindler, Scott Gilbride, Kiel Fletcher, Sandy Anderson and Angela Reid.
Who are some of the most exciting participants in Bend Design 2017?
The theme of the conference this year is Shape Our World and this interactive event will shine a spotlight on those who use design to create positive social, civic and business change. We will feature Angela Luna, the founder of ADDIF, a humanitarian fashion design firm that creates clothing out of sleeping bags, and vice versa. Another exciting participant is John Cary of Design for Good, who develops buildings for those margins, including hospitals in Rwanda and housing for the homeless on skid row.
How does your work play a role in your personal satisfaction?
I love connecting people, solving problems and seeing an idea become real. I especially enjoy collaborating with others to bring the creative community together.
Has your outlook on life changed over time?
When I lost my husband, I was forced, for the better, to change my outlook, focusing on what matters and not getting caught up in what people think or other people’s issues. A dear friend reminds me of this with her quote, “Stay in your own movie.” With that said, I am very sensitive, a people pleaser and I get defensive, but now I worry less about the little things. I’m a work in progress.
How do you find balance as a single parent?
I don’t think I do find balance, at all, but I think about it. Does that count?
I do have many 4am mornings — that is my quiet time to read, meditate, work and get caught up on emails. Humm, ScaleHouse, my friends and my family are my inspiration and what motivates me, and honestly, what has helped me through my grief. I recognize these might not be the best form of therapy, but they have given me ways to engage, connect and feel full again.
Describe a great day with your kids
Every day! We are a little tribe who finds fun in the mundane to the exciting. Going to Newport Market is an adventure, as I set them off to handle part of the list. They have gotten to know all of the amazing employees there and have even given Mike in the produce department a nickname, Mr. Lettuce. I love how they engage with others and how they connect with adults.
We love to travel and have had the good fortune of going to Barcelona to visit dear family friends, to Mexico with family friends and last summer the three of us went to Washington D.C. My girls say it is their favorite place because we did not fight and they got to go to all the memorials and the Spy Museum. I have this wonderful memory of being at the Lincoln Memorial and reading the Gettysburg Address to my girls and Ruby, my youngest, walked away saying “Abe” and President Obama are the best presidents because they care about people.
How do you currently define happiness?
Happiness. It seems like we are all striving for happiness, rather than really living and expressing the happiness that resides in each of us. I am guilty of this, as I often grieve my future and what I thought my life would look like. Yet I know that I live in a beautiful place, with healthy daughters, loving friends, an engaged community. For me, now, happiness is found in the simple moments, such as watching my girls dance, or playing soccer, or explaining the book they are reading. They are thriving and that is my happiness.