Big and friendly with genuine warmth, he explains that the Athens brewery commissioned the mural a replica of its Tropicalia can. Mike says he’s going to add “some flair” in homage to Monday night ping-pong league that plays on the table a few feet away.
“How does one become Aflac’s Head of Design?”
“That’s God willing. That’s how I look at it, man. Nothing I did. I do solid work but I feel like that was my next step.
And honestly, I took the job because I wanted to give my wife a break. She went through some hard stuff with her dad passing a year before that. It allowed me the opportunity. God knew this and put me in that position.
I love working there. Fantastic team. Fantastic bosses. We do some awesome work for some awesome people.”
“What’s a typical workday like for you?”
“You know … it’s a 9-5 grind. A lot of problem solving. A lot of pleasing clients.
All of our clients are internal. The team that I’m on does the artwork for all of North America—except for commercials.
That’s what my 9-5 workday is like.
During lunch, I’m doing Creative South. After 5 I’m running errands and then it’s family time until probably about 9. From 9 to 11—or midnight, depending on much sleep I want to get—I’m doing more Creative South. Or freelance work for my studio.”
“People have traditionally thought of a creatives as a poet, or a painter, or a musician. Now, people are being creative on their computers. So, what do you think defines a creative today?”
“I think it’s a lot more than just the arts.
Creative covers music, theater, cooking, photography, videography, UX / UI. Obviously, the fine arts and the graphic arts. There are so many facets of creativity that it encompasses all of those things.”
“How’d you come up with Creative South as the name for a design conference?”
“I didn’t name it. I have a team and have had one for a long time. It changes—people come and people go.
We were sitting a Iron Bank coffee one night with the team from that one year. Spouting off names, asking each other, ‘What can we do? What to make and impact and make people want to come and check it out?’
Holly Sutherland—she works over at WLTZ, fantastic lady—was like, ‘What if we call it Creative South?’ ‘That’s it! Done.’ We bought the domain name literally right then.
Then I reached out to several other artists and asked them if they could help me brand it. Ryan Hamrick did the first script. Bob Ewing came in and did the script that we currently have. Nick Slater did the peach logo.“
“What’s the experience like for a typical attendee?”
“They come in; they register. They go to workshops on Thursday if they want to do that.
On Thursday night, we have our kickoff mixer, where we close down the 14th Street pedestrian bridge. We throw a giant party out there. Food and drink and live art battles. Lot of fellowship. Lot of people finally getting to meet face to face, knowing there’s a reason, which is nice. Try to end with fireworks.
Friday, you can go to our vending hall and see all the speakers. Friday night we have our after-party—lot of people leave Saturday, so have something where everybody can attend.
Saturday is more speakers and vending. On Saturday night, we’ll have some kind of family-style dinner.
Sunday morning, we have Creative by Design—which is our version of church for people that want to be at that. The speakers, all tied to a specific ministry, share their testimony and give a faith-based design talk.”
“What do people at Creative South—most of them traveling to Columbus from outside the region—say about the city?”
“They think Columbus is Uptown.
That’s funny to me. They don’t know we’re the second-largest city in Georgia. They don’t know about the National Infantry Museum. They don’t know we have one of the largest military bases in the world. They don’t get to see all the other sides of this city. They get to see Uptown. But, because of that, they want to come back. They fall in love with it. To them, that’s Columbus, and it’s small and charming.
They talk about it all year. How it’s thriving. The fact that you can walk everywhere. The great food. I’ve heard one say, ‘My calendar year starts out in April with Creative South, not in January.’
It’s weird to hear that, but it’s funny, too. I’m born and raised here. So my mentality is a little differing about it. But then hear those comments and I think, ‘You know, this is a special place.’ And that’s why I try to do Creative South here instead of in a bigger city.”
Education: Bachelor of Fine Arts, West Georgia University
Family: Wife Karen, 4 kids (ages 17, 17, 14, 8)
Podcasts: Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me. Ask Me Another. This American Life. They’re entertaining and just fun. Great to listen to when you’re on a road trip. Feasting on Design. Adventures in Design.
“What inspires you to keepdoing this year after year?”
“The fellowship. For creative people, community can be everything. That’s the main reason. People love finally getting together in person and knowing there’s a reason for it.
We’re in year 9. If I can keep fostering that kind of community and fellowship, then I want to keep doing it.”