Our short film "Lilies", written and performed by Joni Renee Whitworth with video and sound by Hannah Piper Burns, has been taking home some big awards at film festivals! Congratulations to everyone who helped make this quarantine love story a big success.
Future Prairie is now on the Oregon Cultural Trust’s list of best cultural nonprofits!
Thanks to Trust Manager Aili Schreiner and team for all the hard work to highlight Oregon's arts and culture organizations during this difficult year.
Future Prairie Radio Season Three Episode Fifteen: Through Questions About Hands with Arcadia Trueheart
My name is Arcadia Trueheart, and I use she/her pronouns. I grew up in Portland, Oregon. The first and probably most significant influence on me becoming an artist was being raised by parents who are working artists. Art was always much integrated into my life. There was a seriousness about it because it was the work; it was how my parents made a living. I was involved in that. I was always on job sites with them and around their studio and making things on the sidelines. It was also integrated, and our relationship and are in play, and I'm an only child, I have a close relationship with my parents. We would go on road trips and spend a lot of time quietly drawing and painting wherever we were on the coast or in Eastern Oregon.
Art was also the unspoken religion of our family. By that, I mean looking closely, being observant, and appreciating beauty and truth. That was a big part of what they taught me or more, what they modeled to me, and my life growing up. Now I have a lot of gratitude for them for everything they taught me.
I wanted to be different than them and find a way to be my own person. I got into theater and performance, which to me, felt different than visual art. I was involved with circus theater with aerial dance and more traditional theater and acting as a teenager in my early 20s.
A big part of that was exploring my queer identity. I wasn't out at all as being gay at the time. I was curious about the different ways of being and how other people are. It felt this hidden something about myself that was different than other people. It made me curious about all the ways that people are, especially internally, and what we might not see about other people what their experiences are.
Over time, theater more became not this exploration of personalities for myself but learning about theater and social practices. I spent time living in Guatemala and Bolivia. In those countries, I had the opportunity to observe and participate in several different groups that use theater of the oppressed and theater in a healing modality. That has inspired my work, and it's important to me to have that social justice practice through theater. Stories should be amplified in that way and shared in that way, specifically by the people whose stories they are.
Handmade Stories, that project, the seed of that started when I was in college, and I went to Western Washington University up in Bellingham. I took this radical theater class, and we were supposed to create an assignment for ourselves that brought randomness into our work and chance. I made myself a series of clues to go around town and whoever I ran into a task if I could draw a portrait of them, but I quickly realized that it would be less intimidating for both me and the person I was talking to if I drew their hands.
The project was to draw their hands. I would do that, but while I was drawing their hands, they would start telling me about their hands. Through that, they would tell me all about their lives. There was one person, in particular, I remember who is a painter. He told me how two weeks earlier he had gone blind in one of his eyes and how, because his vision has had changed, he could use his hand, and his brush had also changed, which made what he made differently and changed what he painted. Stories like that fascinate me.
Several years later, I applied for a grant with Awesome Portland to do a project in which I interview people specifically about their vocation through the lens of their hands. I ask what their hands do in their careers and how their experience with that informs them. I began to see that hands could be a map.
I remember interviewing one person who is a farmer. He was showing me his hands and going through every scar or mark on them. Each of those held an entire story about his family — where he lived growing up, his culture, religion, healing practices. In that project, I displayed those drawings in public parks, and we invite whoever was walking by to come and write their story on the back of a pre-printed postcard. I sent all those postcards around. Everybody got a postcard from an anonymous other person in Portland with a story about their hands. It wasn't much part of that grant or that project between recorded interviews, but I decided to anyway.
When I applied for this grant with RACC (the Regional Arts and Culture Council in Portland, Oregon), Handmade Stories Live, the idea was to bring these recorded interviews to life somehow. I love interviewing and oral history, and that's part of what I studied in college. A transcript or recording that gets archived away somewhere doesn't do justice to the initial interaction's aliveness. Especially with that project, I was often interviewing people at their place of work. I was in the back of somebody's food cart, in their metal shop, or on their farm. Those were such rich encounters. I felt a selfish experience that I got to have this encounter and gifted with the stories of the people I was talking to.
I wanted to find a way to bring live performance, which I believe can bring much life and heart and energy to whatever the subject is. I can use these interviews as the inspiration for live performance using shadow puppetry, as well as live music and edited audio from those original images views and poems that I've written in response to them, and to combine that into a performance for the public to watch.
I started this project two years ago as a rebellion against technology or wanting to remind people of the importance of touch and physical connection and being in the same place as somebody. Also, to see more and more, jobs and skills that are done with the hands are undervalued and not paid in the same way, and jobs done with the hands touching a keypad are valued in such a different way. That was an essential part of the project for me.
How do I bring in technology? I do appreciate technology during this time, mostly, and that it's been important for many people. That's a question that I have going into the performance now: how to hold both of those things.
My work is connected to the body. It has been since I was 11 years old doing aerial dance and expressing myself through my body. Through learning about masks and puppetry, having an opportunity to create a body outside of a human, putting life back into an inanimate object, learning about other people's stories through their bodies, and asking people questions about their hands, I've developed my work.
This pandemic quarantine — I live alone — has made me look inward and start looking at my own body, which I didn't use to do. My art was always about understanding other people's bodies and stories. During this time, I started exploring, what is it to touch my body, and how does that experience look visually? I love painting and drawing as a visual language to describe an experience you can't express in words.
It's vital that audiences that the stories they are hearing will inform them in some way, which will inform how they are moving in the world in the future. My hope with that is for more curiosity and compassion, you know, hearing some people start understanding that these are people who live in Portland. Their hands hold a vast wealth of stories. Let's bring more curiosity into it. What are other people's hands like in this city and what do they know, and what have they experienced?
I want to continue along this path of exploring my body's interior experiences and sharing that technique — the way that I'm doing it. I'm exploring how it would work best for others to do it. Others can take the time to get them to get to know themselves physically and express that visually.
I've been working with a friend of mine who is a theater artist as well. We're exchanging images with experiences of touching our body and creating dance movement pieces inspired by those images. We're sending them back and forth to each other, which has been a beautiful way to connect that's not in-person or touching. It feels healing. It feels healing for my relationship with my body, as well. I want to bring healing into art. That's always something that I've admired in other artists.
I admire the artist Lily Yay, who's worked around the world. She's Chinese and has worked in places worldwide, creating art with people who have experienced a lot of distress. That experience of people being involved in their healing and collective healing, by going through that process with other people, is something that I'm looking forward to working on.
A significant influence for me is the theater of the oppressed, which is based on the idea that ordinary people — people who aren't necessarily trained actors or performers — are involved in practicing a future they want to see. Whether that is standing up to their oppressors, or interrupting discrimination and oppression, or creating better relationships with each other, you know, it's not a technique that I have spent a lot of time doing personally. It's something that I admire. that even outside of that specific technique, and it's a particular way of doing theater, but that all theater and performance should be a practice for reality. You know, it's improvisation, and it is real. It's this opportunity to create something real now, but that's a practice for life.
The biggest thing for me is having limits. By limits, I mean structure. Some of the limitations that, you know that are pretty easy are limits on what materials you're using, how much time you have to make something and how much space you have to make it in, and what you're making it about. If about, you know, if you had all the materials in the world in front of you, you can make something about anything. as much time as you want it to make it, it would be overwhelming. It also might not be poignant and specific. I would say to others that we all have these restrictions already. Be grateful to them, use them as a guide and structure, and limit it even further.
I'll make an assignment or an exercise for myself. I will listen to the news for half an hour, and I will make something for half an hour using only paper I find in the recycling bin. It's not the thing that I'm making is this masterpiece, but it is about the process of being creative. The whole debate about round process versus product, I do believe in a high-quality product. That is important to me. The process is about practicing, and it's about practicing being concentrated and absorbed in something and spontaneous within that and playful!
"Handmade Stories" was about limits and structure I made for myself. I was only going to draw people's hands, and I was going to ask them about their lives and talk about their hands. Having that limit, not asking about their experiences in general, brought up much more specific stories that illuminated who they were more extensively. Working on the "Handmade Stories Live" project for performance, I'm working on setting limits. I listen to the recordings. I'll type whatever words or phrases catch my eye and catch my ear and that I can type fast enough. I use all of those to put into a poem. I cut up small pieces of paper and make 20-inch drawings that are inspired by that poem. Maybe one of those ink drawings inspires a shadow puppet that I will make for the show. That can be done quickly, creating a limit of time and material and subject, and playing within those boundaries.
My name is Kelly Harland. I am a natural perfumer, the owner of Crosby Elements. I create products that center around fragrance for yourself and your space. my primary focus is using natural materials and more of a unisex lens to experience fragrance with.
Prior to moving to Portland, I lived in London for several years. I moved there after I graduated from art school. My mom is from Liverpool, England. I applied for British citizenship and had no idea what I was getting myself into, moving to another country by myself. I was maybe 22 at the time, maybe 20, yeah, 22. that that experience in itself was probably my biggest period of growth that I've ever had because I was… London is this insane melting pot of many different cultures. I mean, it's insane. It's a huge city. I knew nobody, I thought that I would move there and get an internship at some, like, a small design studio, and I thought I was going to be this cool girl from California, the surfer girl, and of course, they're going to want to hire me. that got cut the biggest slice of humble pie when I moved there. no one wanted to talk to me because I didn't go to Central Saint Martin's or Royal College of the Arts. I realized quickly that the design community, especially in Europe, is cliquey. You have to know someone, or you have to have been taught under this specific professor and all this stuff.
I would say that for me, impacted the way that I see life, in general, is because I've never felt vulnerable at, you know, at a young age. I always enjoyed traveling. I used to backpack through South America when I was 19 for two months and traveled a ton, as much as I could, my mom. I said it's from England, we used to go back and forth when we have the time growing up to see my family over there. It was important for her that I get to know them. She used to be a flight attendant, she was always like, "Let's hop a plane over to France or to Switzerland." being exposed to different cultures and different ways of life is important. If you don't have the means to travel, that's also perhaps something you could do by exposing yourself to material that you can learn from or different music or different art or, you know, different parts of your community, whether or not it's a congregation more will have people from India like, go eat at that restaurant that has amazing Indian food. Exposing yourself, to me, to different cultures and ways of life is important. That's stuck with me through now where, I mean, I will obviously travel for any excuse. It's important because it keeps you open-minded. It's what life is all about, and experiencing those things and the way that you can translate that into your work, you know, everything and everyone has a story to tell. Being open-minded and curious about people's lives and what makes them who they are, and traditions and rituals. I mean, it's all to me, interesting.
With our connection now, with all this technology, and we have all these tools at our fingertips to be able to connect with someone or be able to see something that is coming from the other side of the world, it is magical. I have a love-hate relationship with technology, as I'm sure most people do, but for that reason, it's beautiful. for the future, I hope that people can remember that there's much beauty in this world, there are many interesting things to learn and experience and to keep open minded about it and to be curious. , you know, it's hard to not judge. I mean, it's all in us. It's hard to not judge anything, but to keep that door open to learn new things, even if it's completely contrasted to who you are because it's important for the future. That'll all keep us much reminded that we are the same, we are still flesh and blood.
My background in design: I worked in advertising and small design shops in London, San Diego, and Portland, and worked for big brands work for some small brands. after 15 years of doing art direction and creative direction, I knew in my gut that I wanted to continue to story-tell but maybe not visually anymore. I would say the one thing I struggled with the most in this past career and being creative and getting paid for it, and having that be your career, is being a woman in that environment. Most of the time, I was the only female creative in my group. I have the sense of humor of a 12-year-old boy like I can hang, like, nothing can offend me—until you mess with my pay. Then it's like, "Okay, no."
when that happened, that that was the straw that broke the camel's back for me, my heart wasn't super connected anymore. then when stuff that started to happen, I was this is, you know, I thought maybe the creative world was the safe space. That didn't happen there. I didn't plan to get into fragrance. It wasn't something that I always had—it wasn't a side thing or a hobby or anything. It started because my mother is an interior designer. she had moved to Portland because my sister was pregnant, and of course, that makes the grandparents flock to wherever the babies are. I had left the full-time design routine and was freelance. If you've ever been freelance, you know you're either super busy or you have nothing to do. during the times of 'nothing to do,' I was like, "I want to go hang out with my mom," like, they're new in town, she and my dad are getting settled. my mom was like, "Let's figure out how to make candles," and I was like, "Oh, sure, okay," because before it was like, "Let's make jewelry, let's make bracelets," and you know, I enjoyed spending time with her, and it was a good excuse to create while we spend time together.
so, we started making the candles, and that was a beautiful way for us to connect, and that's literally what started Crosby; it came out of nowhere. I guess I completely have my mom to thank for this whole new path I'm on, this fragrance. now that I'm in it, and as I started to make the sensor candles and the hair perfume, I became obsessed with like, "Oh my god, this is how I can story-tell now, like, I don't have to make pretty things, I can make pretty, smelling things and what is nice smelling, not what I've always been known to be, like, what I'm supposed to like."
it opened up this whole new coloring box for me to play it. it was interesting. then that is where I tie my past with this deep, deep respect for the earth and my love for simple natural products. I was like, "I can't… that's all I want to work with." they're beautiful and unique themselves in their raw form before I get a hold of them and start blending them with other things, and it's alchemy, and it's chemistry, and it makes you feel things. That what's been fun for me and impactful is that when I make something and then someone says "Oh, this makes me…This takes me way back to my grandparents' house out in Eastern Oregon," or something, and, "Oh, my god, I have the best memories there." they had bought Earthly Dwellings, which is literally the candle I created to contain that beautiful smell of Eastern Oregon where the sagebrush meets all the rolling grasslands and it's leathery and wet and smoky and but fresh.
It's cool to hear how fragrance can be this little escape, or click the memory and trigger emotions quickly, as you would if you saw this beautiful painting. Or maybe it's not beautiful to you, it makes you feel something. I feel fragrance can take you on a journey, and it can take you to places you want to go to.
I grew up in San Diego, and I have pretty much surfed for my entire life. I was into sports. My dad wanted me to be a son, I played all the sports, and when I injured myself during gymnastics, I learned how to surf. from about junior high, I literally spent the majority of my free time in the ocean. That influenced me as a person. I relate to our natural environment, what I consider to be important in life, in art, and storytelling. It's influenced much of who I am as a person today. with my business, Crosby, how I incorporate the materials that I do, everything is drawn from that childhood of spending much time in the ocean and much respect for nature, how powerful she is, how humbling she is, the great escape she allows you to have when you're in the ocean and hiking or camping or whatever it is you choose to do, but it's impacted my life in many ways with creativity and with business.
Being a teenager in the 90s, there was not the beautiful, bountiful immense options we have right now of perfume and small batch indie, you know, bespoke, all this stuff that we're used to seeing now. In the 90s, it was literally, like, where I grew up, it was whatever is at the strip mall, that was pretty much Bath and Body Works and Victoria's Secret, and then the god awful fragrance counter at Nordstrom or something, which was a nightmare. I was never into cosmetics and perfume, even though I had a mother who would not even answer the front door without a full face of makeup on. I don't know where that disconnect happened, but it was not something I was interested in.
When I began Crosby. I had a specific point of view on fragrance and how it can impact someone's life, as far as what are you presenting to the world when you wear something? from what my mom always wore, what I remember when I was a child, she used to wear Clinique aromatics. to me, and I hate saying this now because I'm almost to be an old lady like I'm almost 40, but I associated perfume with, "That smells an old lady." You know, when I was a kid, that's all I could associate that with and the perfume that my mom wore.
As I began to travel more to other countries and experience beautiful raw materials in different formats, it became something that I was super drawn to and interested in. Being someone who's respectful of nature, and I've never had the tolerance for synthetic fragrances, never been one to use, I guess commercialized products hair products, shampoo, lotions, all that stuff. That doesn't sit with me well; it usually gives me a headache and things that.
That when I started Crosby, it happened out of nowhere. But the one thing that I was interested in is something that now is known as a hair perfume, and I feel that's probably the one product that people would know me by. It's my best-selling product. Specifically, Emerald is, which is my birth stone. The hair perfume thing came from surfing essentially, because I would never wash my hair. I've always had long, thick hair, and I don't do anything with it. Now that it's trendy to not wash your hair as much, which is amazing because we're saving on water and resources. It's amazing that it's trendy right now, and I hope that that trend sticks around. It's healthier for your scalp and all of that stuff.
I remember asking myself, why isn't there a natural hair perfume like something to hold you over in between washing, and you know, dry shampoo is great, but there needs to be that extra step. It's not offensive, it's not overpowering. That's where hair perfume came around to be known. That maybe that connected with many other people.
I have all genders that buy hair perfume. It's not necessarily made for your hair. It can be worn on your skin, on your clothes, you can use it as aroma therapy. Yeah, that was inspired by necessity.
I have four cents of hair perfume: emeralds, opal, garnet, and topaz. I created emerald first because that was my birthstone. I wanted to put all the things, all the notes that I connect with in it, and make it for me, and then the rest of them were inspired by the stones themselves and my interpretation of what that stone embodies. I use that as the concept for creating the actual scent profile from it.
I would say a hair perfume is probably my most well-known product. then I would say candles are probably second to that, which are great, but obviously, candles already exist, and I'm excited that people have connected with my candles and other things because I do try and break a lot of what's expected of like, women to and men to like because I think that's a bunch of bull and, you know, things that like, we're taught at a young age like, if you're a girl then you're supposed to be a princess and wear pink; and if you're a boy, you have to play baseball and wear blue and smell a tree, and then girls are supposed to smell flowers and vanilla. Like, I don't know, cotton candy or something.
When I create anything in my line, I draw from what do I personally like? Without seeing any sort of gender or anything that's been sort of shoved down our throats our entire life, what do I connect with? what sort of story can I tell with that fragrance? How will someone else experience that? What sort of state of mind will it make them go to? Will it be calming? Will it be energizing? Will it make them sit and want to like, stare at the sky and dream or be sensual or anything. It's cool that these beautiful natural materials can make people feel a certain way. you can have control over how you want to feel using fragrance.
Emerald hair perfume, that one is my best seller across any line, any product. Why this one connects with many people is that again, there's no sort of assigned smell gender or anything. I have plenty of men that buy hair perfume, which is awesome. But what connects well with people is that it touches in this maybe humanistic ancestry or ancestral part of ourselves. There's a lot of tree resins and sacred tools or sacred plants that are used in it from different cultures; obviously, there's Palo Santo, there's Sage patchouli, balsam, copaiba balsam, which is a beautiful oil from Brazil, super healing. Just incredible. I'm obsessed with that right now. You can take it internally too, which is amazing for other reasons. Cypress, vetiver, to me, it has all the most amazing things that nature offers. Maybe it's because it's grounding and at the same time refreshing, that there's a little bit of lime in there too and spruce, and that mixed with the Palo Santo, which is getting more of like, a bright citrus woody note, can be refreshing. I don't know, maybe that's why it's the best seller taps on to all those different categories for people.
The product that I love right now, especially during this time of staying inside much is my water fragrance. It's called Ama. I created that because I'm a huge fan of multipurpose products. I fully believe that we do not need to buy as many things as we buy, especially if some of those things we buy concern multiple purposes. With the hair perfume, you can still use that as a room spray. You can use that as an all over body spray as you know, you can open the bottle and sniff it if you need a hit of a good mood or something. It could serve other purposes. But with a water fragrance, I use that because I'm energetically sensitive and being an empath, I can take on a lot, and I was finding myself smudging, clearing, doing all these things every morning, that I enjoy the ritual of it. I'm ritualistic by nature, but I wanted a change and something different.
So, I love using diffusers. I have a nebulizing diffuser that uses air to disperse the oil, which is great because it's keeping the potency of the oils. I was like, I wanted to create an oil that can be dispersed that energetically would be clearing, that is a good way to start the day. It's uplifting and energizing at the same time. But also, I love taking baths. I want that oil to also be able to be used in bath water to nourish my skin, give me that same sort of feeling of grounding and calm, and all the things. That is why Ama exists, but that also has…My two products have Palo Santo, Ama, and Emerald, has Palo Santo, cedar, Palma Ross, balsam, frankincense, cypress, lavender, probably missing a couple notes there, but every note is specifically chosen for specific reasons between energetic properties and also skin healing properties.
While we're staying inside much, it's important to keep your air healthy, your mind healthy, your body healthy. I've definitely seen a spike in sales of the Ama for that reason. That's amazing. Like, I'm happy that it's a tool that can provide people some benefits, both mind and body.
The last year starting in spring, through summer, I began to work on the residency collection, which was my first line of Eau de Parfums. this was all inspired by the idea of artists' residencies. I spent a lot of time traveling, and that is how I gain inspiration, a lot of artists do. It's incredible to feel all the feels and see all the things and experiences that are outside of your normal environment.
I was talking to a friend who owns a hotel out in Eastern Oregon, and he had mentioned to me like, "Oh, I love having artists come here and do artists residencies, and we've never had a perfumer before, you should come out and do one, and that conversation sparked the concept for the new collection. I knew I wanted to come out with a line of Eau de Parfums, but I wasn't sure what the concept was yet. Being a designer by trade, my background is 15 years of doing design. I work from concept; that's how my brain functions. I was like, "There's my concept. That's it. I'm going to go do these artists residencies, and it's an excuse to travel, get out of town, be uncomfortable, go by myself and see the things and talk to the community and have a lot of time to think and experience and take notes and photos and explore flora and fauna and all this stuff and take it all in, and then base that scent off of that experience."
It's not necessarily a literal translation of Joseph Oregon or Joshua Tree or Tofino; it's through the lens of my experience, it's conceptual. That was an incredible experience to have and also to be able to create something an artist would, you know, paint something or a songwriter or anything that. It's just, I now have this physical manifestation of my experience.
That line has three different scents in it natural. I use beautiful organic grape alcohol as the base. Again, they're unisex. The three locations were Tofino, BC, and that was much inspired by the ancientness of that area of Vancouver Island. It's remote and rugged, and I surfed while I was there, which was super fun, and the warmth of the people there influenced that sun, even though it was prehistoric visually. Moved from there to Joshua Tree. That was the one place I had been multiple times, but not using the lens that I was using to make the perfume, and had a very, intense, insane spiritual experience there that was unexpected. that influenced the fragrance to be a lot more on a spiritual side, it's nurturing. I use a lot of sacred resins that are traditionally used in ceremony, and that one feels a cocoon-like. It's warm and spicy and nurturing.
Finally, Joseph, Oregon — which is honestly, beautiful mountainous and prairie and ranching and all this sort of small-town and friendly people, American, but also creative community there, too. that one's green and touched by the history of that like, Chief Joseph and that whole story, I stopped at his gravesite for an hour by myself. It was beautiful and sad. I was like, "Oh, gosh, there's much beauty here. But there's much sadness and repression," all this stuff. that all came out in the fragrance, too, because it felt right. It felt good to express it that way.
I hope that there is more transparency in the years to come. I hope that businesses and politicians and anyone that is influencing other people will be transparent. It's important for us to align ourselves with people who live openly and are honest about, whether it's what they put in their products or their point of view, it's important that we have the information that we need in order to make informed decisions about how we live our lives, and where we spend our money, and who we support.
2020 seems almost overwhelming for small businesses or musicians, artists, creators of all kinds. We need those people around, and what we're all offering the world is important. We need support from the rest of the community to hold other people accountable for that. We can't let the struggling artist thing be a thing of the future. It's as important as the person that's the financial advisor. To me, it's what makes this world a beautiful place. It's what makes things worth it in the end because it's important. I hope that we can continue to build a strong, supportive, creative community by, I don't know, continuing to open the door for the conversation to have more events that talk about that more creative support.
One thing that I find super helpful is connecting with other people that appreciate creativity and appreciate creative minds, and they have more of the left side, and they can give that support by like, you know, "You're an amazing artist or creative, let me help you show you how to get your business going. Let me show you how to structure things that you can actually make money from what you're doing," which we all need. It doesn't make you less of an artist or less of a creative if you're being paid for it properly.
Aligning with people that can help balance out that creativity with the money side of things, because it's really difficult. At least for me in my story. It's I never knew my worth. That's hard to find out, I guess, or do that on your own, because most people don't think of creativity is something that you can profit from or like, build a life off of. I hope that our community continues to provide resources for creatives.
This whole idea of trading, whether that be a physical item or your time, your knowledge is what people used to do before money was this currency. People had a skill and a trade, and they traded that for what they needed. There's much…I feel this more now that I'm in the small business community, especially with a ton of other women who are using, you know, their skills and their creativity to also have a small business is, it feels a sisterhood, or it feels a family. We all want each other to succeed. we all want each other to enjoy what they're doing every day and spread whatever they're bringing to this world to give each other the support.
Crosby is now three and a half years old. Just in the last three years, my community has expanded exponentially. It's like, it's crazy, in the most amazing way. I do see now this supportive network, and there are many times where I've met dear friends of mine through my product that connected us, which is cool. They have something I'm interested in. let's trade our things, and we also share much in common, and it's just, you know, we can help each other out when we need it. That's what's beautiful is you have this deep bond with people, and you can sympathize with what they're going through and, you know, be the rock when they need it and vice versa. Whatever it is that you're offering to the world, it's important to have the support of your community, whatever that community is for you. That's the key too, it's everyone has their own version of what that community is.
I identify with being a right-brainer. I am creative, I'm organized, but I'm also creative, and I can bounce around, and I can get obsessed with the creative process and how it looks and how it smells and how it feels and all the things, and the experience of it. But then, as a business, that's what I do to live off of, that's where I struggled, and I went to art school, and I don't remember ever learning anything of like, "Okay, now here's how you can actually be an artist and be creative but also support yourself." I wish that someone had given me more of the tools needed to apply that to doing your own thing and having your own business. It was easy when I worked in designs, I was always working for someone, I always had a paycheck coming in, and the days that I didn't feel that creative and I wasn't turning out great stuff, it was like, "Whatever, I'm still collecting my pay and stuff, and I didn't have a creative day today."
When it's applied to freelance, if you're doing anything off commissions or whatever, it's, you're only going to be as good as your hustle is and then your network. My biggest advice is to align yourself with people who can support you on the actual business side of things. I wish someone would have told me that like, the day I thought that I could actually turn my newfound love of fragrance into a business, I wish someone would have said, "I know you don't have any money right now, but tap your friend who's actually good at business stuff or financial advice or whatever it is, whoever that is in your life, and even if you don't have money to pay them, offer a trade, like, trade. Be like, 'Can you help me organize my accounts? Can you give me some advice on how to structure things I'm not in debt or I'm not bleeding money out, and I can't pay my rent," or whatever? "I know I can't pay you your hourly rate, or I can't afford your fee, but what if I create something for you I will give you no all the hair perfume you've ever desired and some candles, and let's trade you know my time for your time."
I wish I would have known that back then because that is your biggest ally and your tool, and this is to allow you to be creative but also feel you have the support to still make a living and still survive because that's obviously as important as creating. Being able to use your resources that you have, like, you know, contact your cousin, if that's what they do or whomever it is and ask like, there's no harm in asking, the worst they're going to say is no.
It's important for everyone, especially creative people, to have something that grounds them and quiet their mind in order for the space in your brain and like, the channel from whatever it is you believe in or don't believe in, to be able to be open to get that information. Maybe that's my belief, is that what we're sharing artistically with the world isn't coming from ourselves, it's coming from our ancestors, it's coming from whatever is beyond, alien, whatever it is that you connect with or that you believe in, that works, it's much more, it's like, we're much deeper than what our physical bodies are.
That's something I've leaned on much in creating, because I don't sit down and then say to myself, "Okay, I need to create a new perfume, and I'm going to start pulling my supplies out and start messing around," like, I have to have an intention going into it. Sometimes that intention might be strong, sometimes that intention might be a little not that strong, and then maybe my materials will start to speak to me, and then it becomes strong. But one thing that I personally have been able to lean on for that, sort of quieting my mind and letting that idea come through because that's how I work, I need to have a concept, I need to have that idea, is I do a tea practice. It's connecting again, with nature with beautiful, high vibrational, high-quality tea leaves, and I have a whole ceremony, and it's my form of meditation. It's my form of connecting with myself with spirit with nature. It's all in one. It teaches me patience, and it teaches me to sort of settle in and be more of a vessel to let these leaves speak to me and open up my heart and my mind to receive whatever sort of creative pings I'm getting. That's happened countless times like it's memory, it's experiences, but in order to actually sit down and work and be mind frame, tea much helps me get there and get prepared to start to create.
The pandemic has influenced maybe, from my point of view, the community to rally around each other. I feel it's been super supportive. I feel the community has come through, maybe in this bubble of Portland or some…and I'm hoping it's not that bubble, but my immediate community of Portland and all the other business owner females, all this stuff. It's every I feel wrapped around and then supported, and that… I can only hope that that's the case for other people that they do feel supported and people are dealing with many different variables of trying to get through this and of still maintaining some sort of normalcy, whether that be with their family, their mental health, their physical health, their financial well-being, and it's much as uncertain right now that the community is crucial at this point, this is the time where our community needs to show up for one another, whether that's buying that takeout from the restaurant you don't want to see closed, because they're the sweetest owners and you want them to stay open. Or buying products from someone in your community because that's the money going back into, you know, your local economy. This has been a great time for people to see the string in numbers that we're collectively trying to do the best thing for people's health by staying inside wearing a mask, being mindful of the things we're close to, and touch, and things that. It's forced us to strength in numbers.
The thing that's come up for me the most during this time is how apparent light and dark is, that we've all been forced into seeing this whole thing that's happening right now, the darkness of many things, the lives lost, illnesses, the lack of organization and support from our government and people losing their jobs and hardships. But on the flip side, there's all this light that has come from it, and I mean, that is just—I could go on and about all the light that I personally see in it, but it's become apparent to me that there is no time that the present and that without dark there is no light and vice versa. It's apparent to me right now. It's raw and important to acknowledge that and be okay with it, and/or try and find some sort of peace in that and comfort in it, that everything has this balance to it. Perhaps this will be the time where the most incredible advancements for humankind will come out. The most incredible music will come out of this, and the most incredible art and poetry and novels, and all of this stuff will come out of this time.
Historically, when there's something awful that happens, something amazing will follow. I wholeheartedly believe that there will be more good than bad that comes out from this pandemic.
I'm Kanani Koster. I'm a Hapa director, filmmaker, AD, and producer here in Portland. My pronouns are she, her. Hapa is pigeon or Hawaiian for half. I'm Japanese-Hawaiian and white. That is a big part of the work that I make in a lot of different ways. I have been living in Portland for the last year and a half. Moving to Portland was the main thing that's driven my career forward. I lived in Seattle beforehand and felt stunted and didn't feel connected to the community. The second, my partner and I landed in Portland. I started getting jobs. I started meeting the coolest people here who were supportive and excited to work on my projects and excited to have me on to help with theirs. That's meant a lot to me.
I find it essential to bring BIPOC people onto my projects and working with women-identifying people because the set is different when you have a nice mix of everyone coming together. I guess that's my background: my racial and ethnic background is precisely that. It's this weird mix of cultures, you know, it's that islander vibe of having all these Asian identities and Hawaiian. All the islanders are coming together and also learning to acclimate to larger, more comprehensive systems. That's a little bit about how I try to build my sets and relate directly to my ethnic identity.
When I was younger and middle and high school, I took a lot of film production classes. I remember I enjoyed the classes at first but eventually got frustrated. Many girls were doing those types of courses because many of the dudes would do all my work for me. they were, "Oh, I'm going to help you out here." Or, "you can be in front of the camera." Honestly, I hate being in front of a lens.
I remember getting fed up and tired of it and not pursuing it, because it didn't seem like a real career, ironically. I went to college, and then I started looking at education and becoming a teacher. That was not fun either for me. As soon as I got out of college, I started a small nonprofit, with my partner, Travis, called Cherry Street Films. It was merging those two things, which was education and filmmaking, and we started teaching filmmaking across Seattle at a different location. It would be more accessible because social justice was also a big part of my graduate degree.
That was fun for a while. I appreciated the work I did, but it bugged me deep down because I love film much, and it means much to me. I was teaching it, but I wasn't producing any of my content. I was supporting all these young people. It was exciting to see them all get inspired by the work that they could have. It made me also want to do that.
I started doing that in Seattle, I started meeting more people who would collaborate with me, and I started learning more about filmmaking on my own and working on sets in different positions. It was still pretty hard, though. There weren't that many projects to get involved in. It was a lot of my projects that I was leading up there. Until, yeah, eventually, I started directing, and then I would work on the side as an AD on a few friends' sets and support other people in smaller producer roles. That's where I made my first big short film as I call it, "The New Frontier," which is a Western all about BIPOC people and reclaiming that history.
I've always loved period pieces, mostly old westerns, but I hate watching them because John Wayne and all these white cowboys are unappealing. I love the imagery. I love the aesthetic of it. I love the idea of what the Old West was because it was such a diverse time. You know, we had many people of color who were building our nation up, I mean, the entire expansion of the West is because we had Chinese-Americans, Chinese migrant workers building outward.
My other piece that I wish I was able to include in the films, during the Old West up until 1865, that's all when we got Hawaii as a state into our country, and that also is a big piece of the Western expansion of the United States. Much of that history isn't told in these old westerns that I wanted to touch upon. That was my first big short, and it was relaxed and fun. It wasn't perfect by any means, and I still cringe watching it. That was the big piece that got me started on this.
Right now, I'm working on two projects. One is currently in production, and the next one is in pre-production. What's currently in production is funded through the Oregon State Film brand and travel Oregon extreme adventure grant, all about diverse women motorcycle riders in Oregon called Any Oregon Sunday. I'm working with Tiffany and Janie and Jasmine Carsey, and we're just...I'm excited. That's what my whole week has been; it has been out shooting.
It's been cool to highlight all these women. Something we're trying hard to do is, of course, in the pre-production and getting grants and sponsorships, we've been using the keyword "diverse women." We're hoping to do that less once we get into distribution. We’re taking those words out of the plotline and logline synopsis, because we want it to normalize that women ride. We want to call it a motorcycle documentary, rather than feeling stuck in this women’s motorcycle box, this mysterious diversity box.
We're hoping to submit it to the festival and have a wider audience come to this film and say, "Oh, there are only women who are in this film." That shouldn't feel that it needs a label to it. That's something that leads to a lot of my work. It's something we're trying to be critical about normalizing things without tokenizing people. That's been necessary when we're interviewing people on; you don't have to label yourself in any one specific way. You don't feel you have to describe how different it is to ride a motorcycle while being a woman because it's not. It's not different at all. You have your own full story, and we want to focus on you being a badass.
The project I'm working on afterward, which is currently in pre-production that we're hoping to shoot in September/October, is called No Spectators Allowed, a short film. That one is a thriller about missing Indigenous women. It's critical of this true-crime love that many people have, including myself, and how we look at women, especially BIPOC women, as disposable, as bodies, as this sexy, gratuitous thing that spices up the story about why you don't ever think about these women who are murdered by serial killers as people and how problematic that is.
That storyline is a tug-o-war between this true-crime podcast host and this indigenous woman sister as they have this tug-o-war on-air over what this narrative will be. Is this focused on serial killers? Or is this focused on the murdered victim or this victim's life and her story and how we need to solve it?
We've been slowly carrying off on pre-production while we are in production for the motorcycle documentary. Jasmine and I have started storyboarding on that, Chelsey Owensby has signed on as a producer, and she's working on getting us some additional funds for that. We're tightening up the script. We're working towards partnering with a few other indigenous orgs. I've got some friends from "The New Frontier" that I'd to show them the script to once I feel it's a little closer to what will be in its final form and have them give some feedback and critiques.
On "The New Frontier," I was lucky, and I was able to have some consultants from the Yakima tribe because we were shooting on that, on the Wapato Reservation. It was important for that story to be told in a specific way that felt authentic. We're trying to do the same thing on No Spectators Allowed, depending on who our lead actress is when we cast her. We want to collaborate with her on tweaking the script. It feels more authentic and filming me at least part of it on the Reservation, and even in the long term, thinking about how we're going to be holding some screening and feedback discussion thing.
A big part of my intention is reclaiming these stories, these genres, and for No Spectators Allowed, it's reclaiming that Fincher murder thriller, but in a smart way that's tackling these larger problems of being gratuitous, of being sexist, or taking advantage of these horrific stories and pointing out the issues and problems that we continuously see in films. A big part of the process I have is how we show the script before we even shoot anything to whoever is our consultant on board and the actresses and actors involved and feeling out what's happening. It's every single step of the process, you know, if it's that bad by post, then I messed up. It's little alignments that I see happening in post-production that I've done in the past, where I'm, "You know what, you're right. The way we cut there didn't feel right; maybe we should have cut sooner. Or maybe that was too gratuitous, and that didn't lend itself to the story in the right way, we should cut that piece out because that's not helping." It's gross at that point, you know, because there's such a fine line. After all, I do love violence and gory things. It's always been a fine line that I play where I'm, "I want to point out this problem, but I also want to have fun and have violence and gore here. For this story, in particular, does that work? How are we going to frame it? Isn't it problematic or something we've already seen a million times?
When I approached these stories, "The New Frontier," which was a Western, I sat down with my writing team, and I said, "Okay, well, when we're writing this, what cliches are we actively trying to avoid and it was, we don't want any white saviors. We don't want anybody blacker brown bodies to be murdered or killed. We don't want anyone raped, of course. It was one of those things, but it's a Western, we have to have some gore. I said, "Guess we're killing the white people. That's going to be fun." In most westerns, we see mostly black and brown bodies being killed.
A lot of the work that I created is with this assumption, and with this hope that we're ready to have these more significant dialogues and discussions. I remember when I made The New Frontier, I focused on what I wanted to tell and what my friends wanted to tell. Each chapter was told by a different BIPOC person, creative, or writer. They helped write a short poem over each of those chapters. I said, take it wherever you want to go, and we're going to build a narrative around that. I didn't think about how it would be taken. Once we edited it together and started showing it to people, I remember how uncomfortable specific audiences were with it. It's a mix. We're ready to have these discussions and especially looking at right now as we're looking at the systemic racism within our country and how that aligns closely with the work that I'm producing in terms of calling that out. It works well. It's timely, or at least I hope it is. I hope that my work aligns in a way that we can have these uncomfortable discussions for the future.
For "No Spectators..." we're hoping to start shooting at the end of September, which is a crazy timeline, but I am hopeful. Chelsea is a powerhouse producer and knocks through things, and Jasmine Carsey, our DP, is also a badass who's ready to work. It is already working on the storyboard with me, even though we're currently amid this insane motorcycle documentary. We're hoping to have that shot in late September, early October, spend the winter in post-production and then, in theory, start to submit something by late spring. We'd have a rough screening cut at some closer local orgs to partner with to get some feedback on and feel it out. See if it is headed in the right direction, or if there is something we do need to reshoot or if something is not feeling right.
Because the story is essential to me, you know? We're talking about murdered women and how their stories and pop culture has always been geared towards the serial killer. What is sexy? What type of story or even most black and brown bodies and has been ignored completely? I take it seriously. It's super important when we're...Even once we're on post, and we've made an edit, you know that it's worth fixing if there's an issue. We'll find a way to do that. To me, having community feedback sessions are such a big part of the story process. That hopefully will happen in the late spring and summer; I imagine it will be this beautiful, shiny, polished project.
I want to continue to grow as a producer, especially learning more about distribution. That's such a crucial part of the filmmaking process that a lot of other filmmakers that I know tend to forget about or at least are exhausted by the entire process. By the point that they get to distribution, they're too tired and throw the reins and are, "I don't care, anybody can have this film if they throw me $2,000 or $5 or whatever the cost is, the check they get.
I want to continue on my career path, learning, and having a firm hold on to continue to support my community of friends and their projects and distribution deals. I want to continue to direct, of course. I want to continue to grow as a director, especially in finding more funding for my projects. I'm pretty good at writing grants. There are many other pieces to funding a film that I am not equipped for that I haven't met the right people yet, and that's something I want to look for in the future. I want to continue to stay in Portland and help everyone else on their projects as much as they've helped mine.
I am a producer of Scott Brown's documentary, Dear Doris, which is all about the drag queen Doris fish and her insane life story and how she made this film called Vegas in Space. That's also RACC funded, and I helped him write a grant for that as well. Continually join that supporting all of my friends and fellow creatives, such as Alberta Poon, who always has the coolest projects. I help her anyway I can as an AD and jump on those projects. I am continuously being a part of this community and supporting everyone else because they've continually shown up for me.
I remember before production started on, I had the blues. It hit me. I got melancholy. I felt I was never going to do a project again, even though I had a Regional Arts and Culture Council grant given to me, and I'd gotten this other grant for the Travel Oregon and Oregon Sunday. I got blue waiting for it to happen, and it's hard to get out of that headspace when you're there. Any Oregon Sunday I reached out to a friend, I reached out to Ashley Mellinger over at Desert Island Studios, who's been a producer for me. She's always working on such cool stuff.
I said, "Hey, I'm feeling down right now, do you want to trade scripts and give me feedback. I'll give you feedback. I don't know, and I'm blue. I need that right now." she's lovely and sweet. She said, "Of course, I would love that." she immediately sent me a script. She said, "I don't know if this will be made. I wrote it in a haze or for fun, or this is an older one." I sent her a script. I don't think we gave each other our scripts' feedback back. It was such a...it lifted my spirits quickly. It's reaching out to your fellow creatives and sharing scripts, sharing stories with friends over FaceTime. Or if they're in your little bubble, having them over in person and having writing parties.
Chelsea Owensby came over, and we wrote a ridiculous script for Hump. "Yeah, we can make this even, it'll be COVID safe, and we'll have a drone, and it'll be ridiculous." She signed on for No Spectators Allowed. We dropped the Hump project, but it's one of those things, it's okay to drop projects, it's okay to keep them on the back burner to throw it in an archived project folder. Continually trying to write and being open to the writing process is a super collaborative process. I was always willing to read other people's scripts. That's a vital part of it, you know, you get excited. Hopefully, suppose you're reading other people's writings. In that case, you'll be inspired not only to write but also to help them do whatever cool film they have in their minds, whether whatever role they need as a producer as an AD, and that's how I've been doing it.
I feel lucky to have many awesome cool people who are doing cool work and are continually pushing me and helping me in my career, and I aspire to do the same for them.
Hello, I’m Michael Davis-Yates. I’m a guy that makes audio stuff that I really like. And that’s my motivation for it. I was raised in Benton Harbor, Michigan as an adopted child of two really cool people. My mom was a teacher. My dad worked for the city and sang in the Lakeland Choral Society and St. Joseph Michigan. Through them, I got a real love for music. My dad was a jazz guy. And also, he worked with his vocal group. My mom was the president of our church choir for as long as I can remember, music was always a big part of my life.
As a kid, I was kind of an oddball nerd, and I spent a lot of time alone as an only child, even though I had pretty hardcore group of friends in my neighborhood. I always found time for myself to find things out by breaking electronics by accident and then taking them apart with a screwdriver to see what was inside. Junior High was a big one; I blew up my first speaker with too much power from an amplifier. The smell of the electronic smoking and the impact of the driver blowing out was pretty cool. I wanted to know more, and I kept with it.
I’m definitely not as outgoing as I’d prefer to project. My life as a DJ is an excellent example of that. It insulates me from the public aspect, because I’m out, but I’m not really out and available. I don’t have to interact that much. I’m a huge nerd. I still keep a day job, which was heavily brought to me due to Cstm Math and my speaker building. It all turned into a portfolio. Now I’m working for a company that I’ve been with for about four years that’s in Portland. We build studio monitor speakers for professional recording studios. That takes up a lot of my time. I’ve been DJing at night and on weekends (until COVID hit). Now I’ve gotten a lot more time to focus back into things and realizing that there is no rush. The ideas are there and working on them and making them better has been a great asset to me.
I’m making speakers and boomboxes. A lot of my boombox work now has been based around vector recreations of retro boomboxes, or imagination stuff that pops out. Yeah, that, imaginary stuff. I work with plywood mostly. Laminated plywood is my favorite thing to work with, stacking the layers of Baltic birch to get a really cool edge effect.
Cstm Math is a name that I came up with a couple of years ago for it. I’ve been building speakers since 2011. And at the time, I created a name, Leap — Lamar Exciting Audio Project. Lamar is my DJ name, DJ Lamar La Roy, and that was a thing. I kind of got jaded after a while of working with that, due to outside influences in my speaker building and decided to step away from that.
Cstm Mathematics came up during a point in time where I was reading up on the 5% Nation of Islam. They have a thing called supreme mathematics, which is the numbers one through ten with a symbol that represents a step of knowledge and learning, understanding. Reading through that, it felt kind of inspiring. It inspires me. Custom Mathematics means I do customized speaker work. I need to customize this because I definitely can’t focus on the pre-mathematics because there’s some problematic things with that whole ideology. But the ten parts were pretty prominent, and that’s where Cstm Math came from.
The public art showing was going to be in June, and it was going to be a straightforward showing of my works from the last seven years and up until the latest stuff that I’ve been working on. But over this time, I thought more about reaching out to other artists that I know from my experience in Portland to collaborate with work, and I believe that’s the direction that it will take. Now, as far as an in-person showing, I don’t know if that’ll actually be possible, the entire premise of that would be to have as much traffic as possible, and if traffic is going to be stifled by mandate, that’s kind of a non-starter. At the same time, not needing to produce this live event would open up a lot more time to dial in my website, which is in sad repair at this moment. That could be an excellent formal introduction to everything.
I will have a public showing. There are two parts that are going to be focused on in the showing, when it happens, in whatever form it happens. And that would be the retro design boxes, or things that are straight out of my imagination. When it comes to the ones for me, they’re a little bit more on the hi-fi side of things, where sound quality is the first concern, along with that cabinet construction being solid. And I laminated plywood, because it gives me the ability to mill out internal forms that you can’t make by gluing panels edge to edge, you know, traditional manufacturing processes. It gives a solid sound when you dunk on it, and I like that. Whereas the retro designs are more focused on the adornments which are...Well, it’s a combination of traditional table saw work, along with laser etching. I use a tiny laser in my basement to cut out single pieces. Imagine an old school JVC boombox has little silver buttons for tape deck, play, pause, and all that stuff, or tiny switches and small bezels over the speakers, all those parts, I’m cutting out singly with a saw or the laser, then reassembling them at varying levels of height to add a three dimensional element to the facade of these boom boxes. Vector art and tedious gluing.
As far as art making...the art part of it all is pretty much the main experience. If I can remember that far back, I’m getting pretty old now, I feel a professor actually mentioned that that might be the most essential part of any art — the process.
Living through things is going to be my lifelong art project. I’m a beautiful person inside and out. For the future, I have two things on my mind. I’m a strict nerd when it comes to what I desire. If I have a plan, I chip away at it until it’s finally executed. That’s what all this has been in roundabout ways that I didn’t predict. Hopefully, at some point, I will be creating a venue, but my central part is building a legally insane system that makes people feel something they’ve never felt before. And it’s mostly for that, not for profit, per se or the usual things. But I mean, the system is actually what it’s been called in my mind a lot, but it’s the space that would encompass a music venue, performance venue, with an insane sound system, hence the name. Al recording facilities. It would be a community hub type situation where people can do whatever they want without needing a gatekeeper’s okay to get in and perform or pay absorbing fees, or anything that. Kind of what Regional Arts and Culture Council does for people, except embodied in a tiny venue that’s a niche. That seems a farfetched goal nowadays with COVID dampening the parade. My biggest dream would be chilling somewhere, in a small manufacturing shop, making stuff.
My creative routine is not too creative at all. It essentially involves getting up for work early in the morning, going there, spending eight hours, getting off, taking about 30 minutes to breathe a little bit, and then going in the basement and looking around at what there is trying to get to it. I’m still in the baby stages of it, I feel, I haven’t really hit my stride. It’s more of a, I know if I can keep myself focused on the goal, keep on chipping away at it, I’ll get somewhere at some point. And the chipping away feels pretty good to me. I don’t have a problem with that.
We definitely need more art to get a lot of views across nowadays, especially for things that really matter, because we happen to live in a time where attention spans are very short. And it seems it’s something that’s done on purpose to keep people chomping at the bit of near insanity. To tell the truth, the last few years, culminating with now have been quite frightening. I wouldn’t say depressing, because it’s far too scary to get into a slump for me. It feels we need more art to like, allow people to speak without shouting over each other, and have a comment that actually lasts. You can walk away from your moment of anger and then see that again and say, “Hey, maybe I’ve caught a message here.”
Seek out help, because there’s a ton of support here. Portland is a beautiful city to live in. I can’t say that there’s any place I’ve ever lived in the United States that offers as much help towards its citizens trying to get a leg up doing whatever it is they’re doing. For a long time, I did not pay attention to it. It wasn’t until last year that I spoke with a friend who mentioned to me three or four more friends who had ideas and approached different entities and have their dreams come to fruition. If you have your passion, follow that passion, because that’s going to be the thing that drives you, no matter what.
Future Prairie, Wacom, and CreativeMornings/Portland are partnering to offer three Portland-based artists a creative basic income of one thousand dollars per month for three months.
Last night, we collected and reviewed 100 grant applications.
We will now spend the next couple of weeks discussing each project as a team. We hope to announce awardees by the end of September.
More info here: https://www.the-imagination-project.com/pdx/faq
My name is Ameera Saahir. I recently turned 74. I’m an African American woman, highly educated, I grew up in southwest Portland and was gentrified to southeast Portland; been here 16 years. I’m an artist and a business owner. I was looking into my ancestry. That's where the idea came up for the show that the Regional Arts and Culture Council funded. I’ve always captured stories and ideas. I found out from talking to family members that we have a narrative that has been circulating within our family at the family reunion. I took that information, the story, and I modeled my art exhibit after the milestones that the narrator had left for us. I took our family and I put it into historical references. Then I started looking into the story of the African migration. I’m from a large family. I saw family members becoming homeless, and I was like...oh, no. My own sister was living in terrible transitional housing; it became personal.
I went backwards instead of going forwards, and I traced through that story, and I looked at the housing. It started in Africa. I made some paintings of housing. There’s a slave ship called Minerva in my family history story. The woman who was captured and enslaved and brought here from Africa, well, her name was Minerva Jane. in my research, I learned—and I went, it took me months, but I traced it back—that was the name of the slave ship. That’s where our story begins. I have the narrative. I found records of the ship that carried my ancestors.
When my painting exhibit starts, it starts in Africa. Minerva talks about arriving in Virginia. She said she was put on the auction block. Slaves were being sold where Wall Street is now. I connect that to what we are seeing here now, which is squalid affordable housing. I was three months old in Vanport. I don’t have memories of it, only stories; I was only three months old. I was the first to go to college in my family. I finally made it. There I was in a private college in brand-new housing in my early 20s. Then they killed Martin Luther King Jr. while I was at Pacific University in Forest Grove and my dad said come home, come home...
It took me a while to get back to art school. When I finally went, I fell in love with oil. I’m an oil painter now, and I love to do abstract. As far as paint, there are all kinds, but I could never afford to use the best. I said to myself, I challenged myself. If I’m good, then I should be using the good stuff. When Regional Arts and Culture Council gave me a grant, they said, “What do you want?” I said, “All I want to do is to be able to use some good paint.” There’s nothing like it. I use brushes, but I also use the knife. It’s vibrancy, it’s color. I’m in love with color! When you put the good paint on the canvas, even a base coat, it’s like — bam, it’s staring at you! It affirms me, because now I’m confident in saying I am good. I deserve what I’m experiencing right now—feels good!
My name is Matt Manalo. I'm an artist based in Houston, Texas. I'm also a community organizer. I founded the Filipinx Artists of Houston, and I also run an alternative art space called the Alief Art House. Filipinx is basically the word that we are using to have inclusivity in our community from basically anyone who identifies themselves as Filipino, Filipina, and other genders.
I moved here in 2004, and when I had left Manila, I was already in college, and I was pursuing computer engineering. It wasn't the greatest. I felt it wasn't for me, and maybe I should think about another profession. I sought advice from my family, and they suggested that I should go into nursing. I did for two years, that didn't work out. I sit down with my parents, and I had to tell them that I wanted to switch to fine art. so around 2006, that's when I decided to get into the arts and get my education in that. Then in 2011, that's when I graduated with a bachelor's of fine arts and a minor in art history in painting at the University of Houston.
I've worked several jobs in the museum, doing install, doing some grunt work, security work, being a ghost painter. Finally, I decided to be a full-time artist and be working for myself, have my studio at home, and then building community through the Filipinx Artists of Houston and through the art house.
I mainly work in mixed media. I collect a lot of materials and, in a way, collage them to a single piece. I always try to include elements of drawing, photography, printmaking, and sculpture in them. My current work is, it also gives into the whole idea of breaking bread and being inviting. But at the same time, exposing some truths, ugly truths from history. Because I work in different materials, I have objects—and these are objects that are either made in the Philippines or use materials from the Philippines. I have a vintage placemat that was woven in the Philippines, and it was given to me by a good friend that I decided to reclaim and embroidery it with words that say "Not Your Brown Brother" on it.
I have two hardwood chairs, which my family and I brought from the Philippines when we moved here. But I started to carve on them and add encaustic wax on them as well, on the surface. There was a response to that poem by Mark Twain, which was a satirical essay titled, "To the Person Sitting In Darkness." it's those two chairs that are contrasting to each other. Then on top of the words that I etched out of the seat, then I put the encaustic wax on top of them. Inviting, but not.
A lot of my work act as a self-portrait, because I'm always identifying and researching about what the Filipino identity is. A lot of it talks about colonialism, being a victim of colonialism, having a colonial mentality as an effect of that. Then coming out of that, also trying to look back into pre-colonial history and how, I guess now we're trying to bring that back into our society, that wisdom and knowledge that we've used before we were colonized by Spain and the US.
I'm mostly focusing right now on the traditional way of tattooing, which was called batok. When Spain first came into the Philippines, they were surprised to see that everyone was basically tattooed from head to toe. We were called "Pintados." every pattern that was seen or that was tattooed on every citizen basically told them about their identity. That talks about their origin or their families or where their family originated from. It talks about their profession as well. To me, the whole idea of having like, your family tree basically tattooed on your body and what the body means, it brings so much excitement for me. I decided to also get a batok on myself.
One of the museums here in Houston, the Menil Collection, I was walking in there, and I decided to walk into their artifacts wing. It's in the museum that has always been familiar to me. But for some reason, once I started looking more into, there was a piece there that stood out, but it was a print of a Filipino covered in tattoos. , you know, his history or his story was basically, you know, he was from an Island in Mindanao, and he was brought to Europe as a slave, and he was shown like, in a human zoo. he was basically being exotified because of his tattoos and his—or the different language that he spoke, or his looks.
Unfortunately, he died with smallpox after a few months of being in Europe. Then they decided to skin him or take his skin off and display it in Oxford. I reached out to the Menil. Originally, I didn't get a response, but then I was already able to get in touch with their curator, and they want to do some programming around that artifact. Yeah, and I was super excited in finding it out, you know, that it existed there, because being a Filipino in Houston is, I don't know, strange, because Houston doesn't have a revolutionary moment in its history, like, the grape workers or the Delano strike in California for Filipinos in Houston, it's mostly professionals. We don't have anything to ground ourselves from other than not a festival in Houston where they brought Filipino natives and displayed them a human zoo, the ones that they did at St. Louis World Trade Fair. We as Filipinos here in Houston, we're trying to find something where it would — grounding ourselves as a community here.
Social practice hasn't always been a part of my art practice. It didn't start until last year when I founded Filipinx Artists of Houston. It's mainly a creative space in the community, organized for Filipinos, Filipinos and Filipin Xs who are looking for community and a sense of place to be creative here in Houston.
I had a conversation with Bridget Bray of Asia Society of Texas from an opening where they were showcasing Filipinx artists from different States. Around this time, I was meeting with Bridget, and we were having conversations about what it is, what does it mean to be a Filipino or Filipinx artist here in Houston. Then almost at the same time last year as well, I was also starting my Project Freeway Fellowship with DiverseWorks. The whole fellowship is basically about building an art project within different neighborhoods of Houston. So I chose Alief. That's also known to be the most diverse district here in Houston. It's also where I reside.
The Alief Art House is basically a communal space for artists or creatives, or anyone basically who wants to approach or communicate creatively. It's mainly for artists who reside or make work or have deep connections to Alief, which is a district here in Houston. DiverseWorks is an amazing arts organization here in Houston. It is run by five amazing women who are doing a lot of great stuff for the city, especially for artists. They put the artist first, you know, in terms of needs and making sure that the artists get gets paid and making sure that they're also getting a lot of other opportunities after fellowships or other projects that we've done with them.
I even talked about it on my last common field session on how Houston was a good place for an artist to be at because of where they're at, and, you know, there's funding, there's community, there's culture, but now that that's going to be a problem, what are the art institutions going to do to be able to support themselves? For me, you know, because I also run an art space and focusing on the live community, I feel in a way there's a silver lining to that. If you want to be progressive and you have to focus on where you're getting your money from because for myself, I'm not getting any funding. I mean, at the moment from fellowship, yes, but then to be able to run the space completely independently from all the things that we think is not good, is also paving the pathway for a more progressive approach into programming and how to be able to support other artists in the community.
An ideal future for me would be able to build a community that is able to sustain itself creatively and in ways where spaces are provided for everyone and by everyone, meaning people with disabilities, people who are immigrants, who are black indigenous people of color, people of different genders. Basically, a completely inclusive community that's able to sustain itself creatively. That would be the future that I am dreaming of.
I feel with my personal work, I'm making that for myself, from my own research and from my own—to satisfy that voice inside my head, because it is also my personal work and my way of decolonizing myself. that that's where my community, the Filipino Artists of Houston comes along and having a space the Alief Art House, you know, comes along as well, because with the Filipinx Artist of Houston, we're also trying to collaborate with other communities and not only with Filipinos and mainly Filipinos, but we're also trying to collaborate and do projects together and how we can together fight problems racism or transphobia, or homophobia. Especially for undocumented folks. Then for the art house, you know, basically providing a space, even for folks, you know, not being judgmental of where folks are in their career, being able to have a space where they can promote, or they can express their creativity with the guidance of a community that already exists around it.
Those are the two things that will achieve or help achieve that feature that I dream of. Before this whole pandemic happened, I was trying to work with local high schools within Alief and try to showcase like, whoever was going above and beyond homework in art classes, and be able to start that conversation of is art a career that you're looking into, and you're having problems with trying to convince your parents, you know, thing.
I'm trying to be a mentor in a way because I also have the backing of some art institutions here in Houston. Being able to be a source of guidance is one of the goals of the Art House and being in the community we're in right now. It's important that we dig into something that we're passionate about or a conversation that we've been having that we haven't had any type of courage to bring out.
I wanted to have an art space in Alief and, you know, I'm not a great writer either. Being able to reach out to some friends and see like, you know, having conversations basically, and then maybe help them look over whatever your application is, then go for that. Because it's always good to look outside of ourselves and seek guidance on a lot of things, you know, even like, if it's an art application or if you want a project done.
Anything personal is always the best way to express ourselves, because if it's not personal, then you know, that thing is going to exhaust itself quickly. I'm speaking from experience. I've done work that didn't speak to me at all, and I've quickly had to paint over them right away. It's the most that I've struggled with, but when it was something personal, you know, I knew the story. I know what I'm talking about, so my art comes up easily.
I'm Olga, a Slavic artist, live currently Manchester. And as you might notice, I'm from Russia. I'm full blood Russian from the center of Russia, where the three countries connect together. I really enjoy shamanic wisdom, shamanic knowledge, and I consider myself a shamanic practitioner. I do enjoy helping people to awake and manifest their full potential, full power through their senses, through their connection with nature.
Everything I work and everything I do come as intuitive channeling and intuitive download. Living in Mount Shasta, I started connecting with the elements naturally, purely, directly, it's all connected and intermingled together. My choice to spend more than 80% of my day in silence, which mean communion with the nature, communion with elements, seeing the micro movement of the leaves in front of my house, how the flowers become berries. This is my classroom; this is my university of life. And when I commune with all these elements, my own sharing becomes so strong, so I cannot hold this anymore, so I go ahead, and rest of the time, I spent time with the people to share this inspirational creative flow of life. And when I share with people, they're like, "Yes, I already know there's...It's something in me, telling me that’s true.”
The most luxurious, divine gift each of us can to your own self is to go sleep and wake up in silence. I make my fingers moving right now, because silence doesn't mean nothingness. The silence, it means no sounds of the cars, trucks, people voices’, Wi-Fi routers. Every random sound removed, and you just wake up with the sounds of the existence itself; with the sounds of the birds, wind, maybe water. This, for me, is a silence. If you spend a lot of time in silence, when you’re with the people, you’re sharing your communication, your co-creation with people, you'll be more pure, more divine, more full of meaning.
Experimenting with that. See how one day - what if you don't hug people, or you don't ask how are you? What if you just be in yourself, and see how you feel by the end of the day? The more you start working on yourself and tuning into your power, everything start making sense. How person look at you, how person approach you, how person greet you, everything start make energetic sense through the eyes, through the smell, through the body position, through the touch or not touch, through how long you spend time, how many seconds we spend together, it all make sense and affecting me or the other person energetically.
When I’m fully in me, fully awake, fully understand, then when I talk, communicate, or touch people, I experienced the energy. Either energy make me feel good, or feel drained after that. So now I become very conscious, if I don't want to do anything, I don't do it. Just talking about boundaries, everyone say, “Yes, we need to practice this more.” Especially, you as a woman, I'm woman, and it's always in trend to talk about spiritual trends, to talk about boundaries. And every time when you think you achieve something and you like, polish this, feel secure, something else come up to you to challenge your boundaries, to challenge the way you approach this, and then something again can happen. So there's always something different and something new come to life to test you about your boundaries with physical body.
With me being from Russia, living in certain cultural flow, I feel a little bit more awake maybe from everyone who may be born here, because my mind has not adjusted to…For example, people asking ‘how are you’ constantly, and I feel very sensitive to that, because I take everything so deeply and seriously and somebody's asking me how are you? I do want to experience and feel from this person the true asking of that meaning, and you have time to listen how I am. And if you're so sensitive and you feel my vibration, you don't need to ask how are you, you can scan and feel it, instead of asking. Everyone wants to hug each other. Sometimes I ask is this what it’s doing for you this moment?
[Drum Beat] Find a way to find your own way, your own way. Not my way. Not Lady Gaga’s way, but your own way. When you find your own way, there’s very little competition. There's no competition. There's abundance, no competition, and no comparison.
[Drum Beat] One day, I happened to be in festival, it’s called Firebrands, where at the end of the festival, they offered the fire walking ceremony. It was hundreds of people drawn in at night. It was a powerful experience. My first time walking by foot on the hot coils; it’s called firewalk, anyway. In that moment, I was very—was in dark state of my life suffering, and I screamed to the skies, screamed to the air, “Please help me, give me direction, make this happen!” I walked on the hot coils, and after I finished this walk, something changed in me.
I went to the people at the fire, I say, “I want to do what you do. Teach me, help me.” I go directly to the elements, to the gods, to the pure beginning of the beginning. And from that, now I manifest my life as this beautiful, abundant, happier, freer, purer, and innocent.
Fire element is the element that comes from the sun. Fire element is in us, so walking, walking, walking, talking, making love with the fire is a life-changing experience, truly devotion. Not just experience fire as a little camping fire, bonfire; devotion to the fire, learning about fire, approaching fire as a live being. I started living with the fire for a while. A few years ago, start holding the fire ceremonies in Mount Shasta. It takes time. I started seeing shift maybe after one year working with the fire. I started seeing the spirits of the fire with physical eyes. I started listening songs from the fire.
[Drum Beat] My music become music from the flowers, from the trees, from the birds. The music not coming through the ears, but music come in through all the skin, through all this…Every cell of the skin become a receptor, receiving the sounds frequency, and suddenly, you start listening music from flowers and it's very beautiful, angelic sound, angelic music.
I, Olga, I say thank you. I'm grateful for the time you spend with us today, because your time is a gold, your time is jewels.