The Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA), a 501(c)3 non-profit, was founded in February, 2013 by Erin Elizabeth Smith and Joe Minarick at Firefly Farms, in Knoxville, Tennessee. Nestled in an old-fashioned "holler" just twenty minutes from downtown, this picturesque 45-acre farm is home to a small herd of sheep, one cranky goat, and a flock of backyard chickens & ducks. Firefly Farms is the perfect artists' getaway, where visitors can hone their creative crafts as they escape the routine of modern life. Whether you're hiking, camping, or foraging, you can connect with nature and be inspired by a part of the Appalachian landscape that is often forgotten. SAFTA residents and workshop attendees can also expect to learn a host of new skills from the staff in order to enrich their creative work. You can read testimonials from our former residents here.
SAFTA is currently accepting applications for short-term residencies at our farmhouse and Writers Coop for artists of all mediums to work on/complete long-term projects, receive feedback from our professional staff, and be inspired by the natural beauty of East Tennessee. These residencies are designed to give artists time and space to complete their creative projects in a quiet and productive environment.
SAFTA runs a series of weekend workshops centered on writing, theater, filmmaking, and visual art. We encourage artists of all skill levels and experience to work with peers and professionals. Previous workshops have included "Writing the Chapbook," "Cracking the Ice: A Yoga and Writing Workshop," "Crafting for the Holidays," "Writing Nature," "Advanced Editing Techniques," and "The Stage and Page." In almost all workshops, participants are also taught a skill outside of the arts, including—but not limited to—pickling, beer-making, crocheting, baking, bookmaking, and archery. We feel that these skills broaden the experiences and vocabulary of the artist, keeping their work engaged with the larger world. Artists of all mediums are forever advised to "Make what they know." If this is true, then we believe we should all know more!
All of our instructional staff are trained professionals, and a number of them hold advanced degrees in their chosen disciplines. We also bring in a number of visiting and guest artists, who have included Ruth Award, Stevie Edwards, Jeanne Thornton, Jeremey Michael Reed, and Allison Davis within the last year.
Writers are forever advised to write what they know; if this is true, then we believe we should all know more. This is the core tenet of SAFTA's Literary Arts Division, which oversees the award-winning SAFTA Reading Series, assists in the selection of potential residents at Firefly Farms, and oversees the coordination our writing-based Weekend Workshops. Whether broadening our skills and vocabulary with hands-on training in non-literary disciplines, or engaging with visiting writers from around the country, we strive to engage writers in all genres and of all skill levels with the wider world and expand their notion of "community." Still, we do not forget our home and actively work to promote and showcase the work being done—sometimes quite literally!—in our own backyard.
In keeping with Sundress' mission, SAFTA Stage's goal is to provide a creative outlet to the underrepresented voices in our community as well as build bridges between different theatre organizations within Knoxville and its surrounding areas. We have many projects we are currently working on, including SAFTA Shorts, a night of short performance pieces composed of national submissions that focus on issues of gender, race, sexual preference, social status, and more, and OUTSpoken, a series of writing workshops where members of the LGBTQ+ community develop their experiences into poems, monologues, narratives, or other literary forms that are then revised and performed in a staged reading as the finale for the project. Our long-term goal is to build a natural amphitheater at our home Firefly Farms in order to host theatrical productions on site as well as in town.
SAFTA's Community Outreach division seeks to support and encourage creative activities in Knoxville and the East TN region. Working with artists from all genres and other creative organizations, especially those from underserved community, and in partnerships with businesses and other non-profits, we seek to enhance and expand both the interactions between and awareness of the immense creativity found in our community and region. We also seek to highlight the creative accomplishments of SAFTA and the Knoxville community on both a regional and national level.