Johnson grew up in South Carolina around Anderson and Columbia—a good way northwest of Charleston. Her passion for art developed early and became a constant throughout her parents’ divorce and various moves. “I was always known as the new kid who was creative and won the art contests, drew the logos for school spirit pins and posters and banners for spirit week,” she said. Yet when she matriculated to the University of South Carolina, she enrolled in the psychology and elementary education program.
After she graduated from college, Johnson moved to Atlanta. There, she taught kindergarteners with special needs and established Threshing Floor Academy, an extracurricular arts program for children, merging her creative passions with her scholastic experience. “My mission was to help families and children to pursue their gifts through art,” said Johnson. “I wanted to help them discover who they are and what they want to be.”
Though Johnson moved around the country as an adult, as she began to establish a family of her own, she continued to visit Charleston. The city’s beauty and history attracted her, and she felt a spiritual connection that only grew as she learned more about the place. Through her travels, Johnson befriended Jeannette Cooper (formerly Jeannette Nicholson), who owned the Ellis-Nicholson Gallery on Broad Street—“the Rodeo drive of Charleston,” as Johnson described it—in a building once used to print Confederate money. In 2018, Cooper called Johnson to tell her she was closing her gallery. Johnson responded that she’d love the opportunity to open her own gallery there; with that, Neema was born.