I had always wanted to visit Savannah Georgia and was very excited when SCAD invited me to perform at their deFINE ART week, which just happened to be during my 28th birthday.
The premise of deFine ART is to showcase the work of artists and visionaries who dare to push boundaries.
This was the first museum I had ever performed in and so I wanted to try out new lyrics, experiment with my idea of the Electro-Feminist Church and merge my speaking with my live performance.
I also wanted to continue the tradition of playing drums on my birthday.
In the talk, I shared my journey thus far as an artist who uses her music to elevate and celebrate the female voice. Moreover, I discussed reasons as to why I think intertwining business with the arts is difficult but necessary in order to be successful and healthy as an artist. One of the major reasons why artists often get taken advantage of is because of the information asymmetry between people who claim to understand business and the artist who is actually making the art. We have to teach each other so that we can protect ourselves from being exploited.
In addition, I explained that business gets a bad name because it has often become exploitation of. Instead of two people coming together to share value to therefore unlock greater value, we are competing against one another. We get wrapped up trying to figure out how we can take advantage of each other and get the most for the least amount of money – almost like a game. Instead of respecting another individual for the value of their craft, we think how can we win over this person and get more out of them at their expense. Hence, artists typically reject the notion of business because it is associated with negative energy that they do not want surrounding their art.
I then went over 10 lessons I have learned over the past several years. I shared with the audience that I believe that we as artists have a job. Our job is to create honest and genuine art and let the world decide what to do with it. I think our job is not to make so much money that we have houses all over the world – rather, our job is to make enough money so that we can keep making our art and keep exposing the truth through the various artistic mediums of our choice- in my case speech, performance and music.
In both my performance and my workshop the next day, which I named Own Your Voice, I learned so much from the students who joined me. Their ability to produce art so quickly both inspired and motivated me. Within 24 hours of my talk, many students gifted me with their art and shared with me their journey and the obstacles they’ve over come in the spirit of atomic living.
Their curiosity, hospitality, and kindness moved me. Afterwards, I received a flurry of emails expressing gratitude which served to strengthen my conviction that each of us has a specific role on this earth, that each of us must find ways to nourish each other so that each person can live to the highest of their potential.
I’ll never forget when one student came up to me and said “your show literally made me want to go home and make my art tonight. I feel so reinvigorated and reinspired to go and do my work.” It was a moment that filled me with immense gratitude as I thought back to the artists who inspired me growing up, like TV on the Radio, Thievery Corporation, tUnE-yArDs and Poliça. I’d leave their shows just a little bit early, bursting with energy and the desire to just go back to my studio and practice my drums.
I think the best artists or influencers who have the longest careers are not ego focused but instead, understand that we live in a world that is linked and not ranked, and therefore, are focused on how to show others that they too can live to their fullest potential. They understand that they must contribute to the universe in order to maintain their own relevance. They understand that value comes from the good you bring to the table rather than how much you take for yourself.
Students often times are told that they must follow a path, but this is so counterintuitive to the way life actually works out. I think it’s so much more powerful to teach bravery not perfection, to teach adaptability rather than stringent behavior. This was the idea behind my Atomic Living Talk that I shared for the students at SCAD.
The highlights of my trip to Savannah included: the audience in the theater who sang happy birthday to me after my show, the feeling of heavy rain through Spanish Moss, the vintage shops throughout the town that were reminiscent of the south in the early 1900s, and the birthday hat that Steven bought for me from the Goorin Brothers store. Storm, the Head Curator, who showed us true southern hospitality by picking us up from the airport, tasting chocolate cocoa powder infused with local whipped honey, and then learning from @HollaPollaaa about how Queen bees run the show and then the honey she gave me afterwards. Seeing a girl with a black “future is female” T-shirt walk into to the vegan store I was eating at, guessing the astrological signs of my student tour guides, Ian and Sarah, and being way off and laughing incessantly about it. The group dinner I had with ten students where we enjoyed each other’s company while deconstructing gender roles and meeting Chase who was a big fan of my work and had recently decided to adopt a feminist identity and write about it- I’ll never forget the hug he gave me – he just scooped me up in his arms!!!
I recently finished reading Gloria Steinem’s autobiography and one of my favorite parts from the book is when she talks about the role of a traveling artist or activist. Specifically, she says one of the best things that we can bring to the table is the ability to adopt a bee and pollen model of education. By this she means that she could take lessons she learned from students in the south for example and bring them to somewhere in the north, to those that might otherwise not have had the ability to obtain that knowledge so quickly. So often in my travels, especially when I’ve journeyed to several cities just in one week, I am eager to share how students across the country are reacting to our current political climate. Moreover, in listening to the nature of the questions, I’m able to understand the diverse trials each student is facing and the kinds of things they want to see improved.
You would think that going to a red state like Georgia would have been intensely Trump territory, and yet SCAD proved that sanctuaries do exist as it was precisely this for so many students of various gender identities, backgrounds, abilities, nationalities, and beliefs. Many of them came to SCAD because they wanted to stay close to home, but still be in a place that protected their values and allowed them to be their most authentic selves. How lucky that SCAD exists.
The final thing I’ll add is that SCAD was founded by Paula Wallace in the 1970s and she remains President to this day. Her warmth and openness reminded me of the very thing I teach, which is this idea that each of us has something to contribute and to receive no matter who we are. For someone who is so prestigious and so far advanced in her career to embrace me with such kindness made me feel welcome in a very intimidating and elite art school.
That evening in my hotel I hung with the two receptionists, Jordan and Diamond, who loved dancing and music and taught me exactly what atomic living means with their good energy. They were so warm, I knew I had to give it right back.
Steven and I boarded the plane the next morning at 7AM to continue the journey onward to San Francisco.
Thank you to the talented art students at SCAD for your gifts: