Jenni Tooley to Highlight Dallas Creatives in New Web Series

Dallas Innovators | Smart Cookies will feature female Dallas-based artists talking about their work and the humanity behind it.

Jenni Tooley (center) with a few "Smart Cookies" (clockwise from left): Karissa Leicht, Vicki Meek, Stormi Demerson, Jenni Tooley, and Holly Peyton [Photo: Bruce Richardson. Make-up: Kayla Combs and Raven Faye]

From actress and birthing doula to cookbook writer and film producer, Jenni Tooley has held many titles. 

But, the one she prefers is businesswoman.

“It’s taken me a long time to realize that I’m actually a businesswoman,” Tooley said. “I’d always thought of myself as a flaky artist and that was a really bad story I told myself. I didn’t have enough self-esteem to realize that I’m really good at marketing, and I’m really good at pitching and writing and strategizing. It took me many years to understand that.”

Jenni Tooley

She still hasn’t strayed far from her creative roots though. Tooley‘s entrepreneurial spirit has led to her latest project — an online web series highlighting female Dallas-based artists.

Smart Cookies, which will debut this June, will feature artists such as singers, actors, cinematographers, painters, poets, dancers, and more. The series of videos will be shot at venues throughout the area. 


Tooley’s own creative journey took her to New York, where she spent nine years after college pursuing an acting career. When job prospects dried up, she decided to return to her home state of Texas in 2009. She hoped the change would bring a fresh start for her career and herself.

“I’ve learned to just move forward with what I’m working on. It’s important for me to have goals, a sense of what I want to do next. Life has taught me anything can happen at any moment,” Tooley said.

“The key for me is being myself, following my own intuition, and knowing it’s OK to be who I am.”
Jenni Tooley

Tooley’s move to Austin encouraged her to pursue acting again, but with a different mindset. She decided to enter auditions with an open, honest attitude rather than striving to attain the ideal of the “perfect,” young actress. This mentality landed her a breakout role in Richard Linklater’s 2014 coming of age film Boyhood.”

“The key for me is being myself, following my own intuition, and knowing it’s OK to be who I am,” Tooley said about auditioning. 

After appearing in “Boyhood,” she found herself in Dallas where she was able to fund and film a project she’s been working on for more than 15 years. “Stuck focuses on the inner workings of the mind of a woman with Alzheimer’s disease. 

“It’s raw, mysterious, and a little bit confusing,” Tooley said of the film.

This fall, she hopes to release “Stuck” in top-tier festivals in regional and international markets. 


Shooting Stuck in and around Dallas allowed Tooley to meet and interact with multiple actors, directors, and producers based in the area. 

Jenni Tooley on location of the STUCK pitch video working as an actor-producer-director. [Photo: Bruce Richardson. Make-up: Chelsea Lee.]

Jenni Tooley on location of the “Stuck” pitch video working as an actor-producer-director. [Photo: Bruce Richardson; Makeup: Chelsea Lee]

“There are so many amazing, talented people here [in Dallas]. Why aren’t we showcasing these people?” Tooley said she asked herself while meeting the successful creators.

This revelation sparked the idea for what would become “Smart Cookies.” Tooley conducted brief interviews throughout the filming of “Stuck;” however, she knew if she wanted to create a high-quality product, she would need to receive funding for proper equipment.  

“There’s so many amazing, talented people here [in Dallas]. Why aren’t we showcasing these people?”
Jenni Tooley

Tooley applied for and received a grant from the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, which covered the first six episodes. The other half of the budget will be raised through online fundraising. 

“If there are artists out there who are not familiar with what the city of Dallas can do, go to the Dallas Cultural Plan, go online, and look at the grants, because they do offer things for individual artists. They are willing to support you,” Tooley said. 

Tooley acknowledged that the support for the arts in Dallas is flourishing not only from city funding, but from the strong network of creators.

“One of the great benefits of being an artist and producer here [in Dallas] is that the artistic community is smaller and very supportive. We also have great philanthropy around the arts here. So if you’re willing to do the footwork, it is possible to get your work funded and supported.”


The first artists to appear in “Smart Cookies” will be Marianne Gargour, Karissa Leicht, Vicki Meek, Anastasia Munoz, and Holly Peyton. Each episode will be set in a unique location across Dallas such as the South Dallas Cultural Center, and the Deep Ellum Art Co. 

Jenni Tooley (center) with “Smart Cookies” Vicki Meek, Holly Peyton, Marianne Gargour, Stormi Demerson, Anastasia Munoz, and Karissa Leicht, pictured clockwise from left. [Photo: Bruce Richardson; Makeup: Kayla Combs and Raven Faye]

“I want to talk about these women’s lives, and their artwork, and the humanity behind it.”
Jenni Tooley

“I want to talk about these women’s lives, and their artwork, and the humanity behind it,” Tooley said. 

In the future, Tooley hopes to expand “Smart Cookies” to other cities such as Austin or Portland. Regardless of where her projects take her, for now, Tooley plans to stay in Dallas and continue creating meaningful content. 

“I’ve found a way to creatively craft my life,” Tooley said. 


Jenni Tooley on location. [Photo: Bruce Richardson]

Jenni Tooley on location. [Photo: Bruce Richardson]

Whitney Hart on location of “Stuck.” [Photo courtesy of Jenni Tooley]

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