Should I Stay or Should I Go: Emilja Frances

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Emilija is leaving for Asheville.
Emilija Frances is leaving for Asheville.

by Eric Ginsburg

This is Emilja Frances’ second time living in Greensboro. Like before, this time it’s also temporary.. A comic artist and woodworker, Frances first left Greensboro to move to Baltimore.

“The reason I moved to Baltimore in the first place was that I had five friends that lived there who were making comics there,” she said. “I don’t think I know a single other person in Greensboro who I know personally who draws comics.”

That proximity of people working in the same format reinforced her work, making it easy to bounce ideas off people and providing company to sit in a coffee shop with and draw together. Frances eventually moved back to Greensboro, in part for convenience.

“I just wanted to get back to North Carolina in general because I love the state so much and Greensboro happened to be where I knew people and they had an open room,” she said.

But Frances hasn’t found that same artist community here — she knows it exists, and is even aware of specific leatherworkers and street artists whose work she likes, but she isn’t connected to them and wouldn’t know how to find them.

Soon, Frances is planning to move to Asheville, where she’s also lived before, and will be going to woodworking school.

“It’s more to do with craftwork but it is about the art also,” she said. “Asheville has a really vibrant community not just for the mainstream perception of artists but a lot of people I know are doing really cool stuff. I love that city so much and the mountains are so inspiring to me so it’s really just a bonus.”

There are artist collectives regularly cropping up in Asheville too, she said, but the history of furniture making — a traditional Appalachian craft — is part of Asheville’s appeal.

“It just has a really strong tradition in arts and crafts and the blending of the two,” Frances said, laughing as she clarified that she meant serious craftsmanship. “I’m not talking about macaroni necklaces here.

“I don’t want it to sound like I don’t think Greensboro has that [craftsmanship],” she continued. “I think it’s just a little more hidden than I’m used to. The impression I’ve gotten is that the artists in Greensboro tend to function more on their own and less as a community.”

That has been true for Frances as well, who says she’s mostly been a solitary artist while here. There are other barriers too — including money and a perceived lack of avenues to break into the scene.

“The art community in Greensboro seems so institutionalized that you kind of already have to be successful to be successful in it, if that makes sense,” Frances said. “I have way less incentive to build the arts scene in Greensboro because I’m not from here. There’s not as much incentive for people who don’t have investment in that place.”

Frances has still made some inroads, she said, adding that she’s working to get the punk comic anthology As You Were — which features a piece she created about moving back to Greensboro — carried locally.