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.
COMING SOON! :)
COMING SOON! :)
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.
My name is Claire Blaylock, and I'm the executive director of the Architecture Foundation of Oregon. I have a background in public history, museums, and urban spaces. I work on art educational programming for AFO, and it's an exciting time because we're transitioning to a lot more virtual programming. There are exciting opportunities for community engagement and access to architecture and the arts across the state. My pronouns are she and her. About the future from the perspective not only with the architecture field, and the built environment communities I'm sort of looking towards, but also a parent of three young kids. A lot of what I do, I'm thinking about what kind of world we're creating for them.
I've been super lucky to have the opportunity to have a pretty extensive background with education. Education is the silver bullet. So from that lens is how I approach not only what we do at AFO programming but also my values as a community member in Oregon.
I came to architecture sort of from the field of public history, which is a big catch-all area of study. General history is how events kind of leave a mark on the world around us. One of the pieces of research that I did when I was a graduate student was actually around sort of epidemiology and how the cholera epidemic shaped industrialized London. I used a computer mapping program called GIS, and I was on a team that looked at how infant mortality rates corresponded with slum clearance and changes in different areas of London.
There's this strong trend to see the built environment changing as a result of the kind of situation that we're in with a pandemic, but just with like, a public health mindset, what you're going to start seeing our communities focused on urban spaces and focused on environmental health.
You're going to see a lot more open-air buildings. You're going to see, from an office perspective, hopefully, people moving away from an open office plan and into slightly more boxed off spaces, which is both a good and a bad. But from a creative perspective, it will force designers and the architecture community to think about what people are after when they're using a space, and what's going to make them feel comfortable. That's something that I've seen a little bit talked about, is people are going to be nervous about being in large groups, and around people they don't know for quite some time, even after we get a vaccine for COVID, that kind of anxiety is going to linger there. With that in mind, how do you design a space? How do you change that experience so that it's something comfortable for people?
The Architecture Foundation of Oregon has been around for over 30 years, and we are made up of all the people who are involved in architecture, that's not just architects, that's architects, construction, engineering, artists, designers, the people who use the buildings that are created. Architecture is an all-encompassing term.
AFO operates from the point of view that our communities are healthier when more voices participate in creating our world. It's not just one point of view that should be represented in how our communities are designed. We believe that the sort of strategic thinking and the creative thinking that frequently goes into the design process is a transformative approach for both the designers and the professionals, but also community members involved in the process.
We take that idea and that mission of participation, and we execute on that through educational programming. Our third through fifth grade program, Architects in Schools, is our flagship, probably our most well-known. In the 2018/19 school year, we were in 174 classrooms across the state and served 5400 students. But we're also working on building our educational programming through Hip Hop architecture, which is aimed for middle and high school students. We also support our burgeoning professionals with our Hatfield scholarship, which is given to a college student, and then our sort of mid-career professionals through the Van Evera Bailey Fellowship. We do a lot—we do a lot.
We as an organization, from an AFO perspective, we've taken access to heart, and access as a key to something fundamental about our mission, because you can design all these beautiful buildings. You can create these fantastic communities and worlds, but if people don't have access to them, then it's elitist and more divisive than anything else. It's access to those kinds of spaces.
I firmly believe in access to architecture, design, urban planning, all of that, and its access to that as a career choice. You see so many students who don't even know that it's necessarily an option for them. the ones that do are pretty speaking for the architecture in the architecture realm, they take a look at the field and realize it's at the top levels, at least, very, what I jokingly say is "male, pale and stale." Education is the silver bullet. You know when you cannot be what you cannot see. It's such a huge responsibility, for us, as a community to go out and cultivate diverse voices and opinions and participation at an early age.
We are excited to work with third to fifth graders. Some folks would say, "Look, why are you starting that earlier? Why are you focusing then?" it's for so many reasons, but not the least of that—when you start this kind of creative problem solving, it is original, thinking early. When you begin presenting careers like architecture and design and urban planning, when you start giving that early as an option, you know, it sticks. You're cultivating that little seed, right? That's what you're hoping to grow because none of these fields will change unless you get diverse voices involved. That's important.
You bring in new perspectives. We're not just talking about ethnicities here. You're also talking about different social classes or economic classes, excuse me, and different abilities. What does it mean to design a building for someone who's differently-abled? What kind of skills do you need to be taking into consideration? Then also, just think about the user. As a mom, I spent a long, long time looking for places to either pump or nurse my kids when they were little. If you're designing a space that is ostensibly for families or anyone, always include moms. What do moms need? What do people want to see in the area they are using?
It's refreshing to watch the architecture community, which in some ways, and I don't feel bad saying this, is slow to change and can get set in their ways. But it's been exciting over my involvement with AFO to see how architecture as a practice and as a community, including more than architecture, is changing. You have some great leadership going on. Especially here, Portland, lever architecture is doing a lot with CLT and mass timber. you're seeing how companies like Adidas, double down on that and say, "Okay, if we want to take sustainability seriously, we've got to start designing like we're taking sustainability seriously." But even more than that, you're starting to see these conversations around how environmental justice is social justice. That's, I think, going to be a massive theme that we're going to see in design as we move forward. Environmental justice means access, right, access to a pleasant, healthy, clean environment, things like clean water, green spaces, fresh air, clean air, and the ability to get outside and feel safe in that kind of situation.
We as Oregonians feel proud that we have this vast, natural world that we get to go and enjoy. But that's not the case for everyone. We've seen a few events that have kind of highlighted it, not necessarily here, but as the Flint water crisis is undoubtedly a great reminder of that. But to have any sort of social justice or social equality, you have to have access to clean and healthy environments.
One of the pieces from an organizational perspective and working in the nonprofit sector, one of the things that you see is that a lot of sort of the up and coming generation, "millennials," one of the things that matters a lot to that generation according to the data is the mission, right? You don't want to support something that's just next, you want to help something that's going to make a difference. From a fundraising perspective, it tells our story and the impact that we have from an AFO perspective, we have a huge impact, and we have a lot to talk about with that. From an education perspective, AFO is trying to look forward when it comes not just to trends within the architecture and design community, but also like, what kind of world are we preparing these students to be part of? How does our programming reflect that?
We were getting ready to start a curriculum redevelopment when the pandemic hit, so that's going to change a few things, undoubtedly. But we also are... even before the pandemic. We wanted to go through the curriculum and update it to include more about equity and inclusion in the design process and environmental sustainability. It's vast—It's going to be the number one issue that the up and coming generation faces.
I hate to keep bringing it back, but one of the things that this situation has illustrated is that broadband and internet access is something that should be considered a utility. Once that is more equitably available to folks, regardless of who they are and where they are, the educational opportunities are pretty boundless, at least from our perspective, with kind of some of the virtual learning and the virtual teaching that we can do as an organization, especially into communities that don't necessarily have architects or designers who maybe live there. But if we can bring them virtually to classrooms, that can have a considerable impact. I'm hoping that when we see the future sort of arriving, it's a future that is far more inclusive and provides a lot of access to these fields using whatever methods we can.
You shouldn't be afraid to try things that don't work, experiments. That's a fundamental principle. When architects and designers are kind of sussing things out and puzzling things through, is they try a lot of things that don't work and a lot of ideas that don't pan out necessarily, but it's all part of the creative process, right? You have to try a lot of things to get to your endpoint.
But I also think designing and making choices for your life and your environment and your space, and all of that that meets the user needs is super important. That sounds basic, but think about what it is that you need, what is it that makes you function as a person? Trying to design around that, be it, making choices for your career and the people you surround yourself with, all the way to, you know, where you put your kitchen table, and how you organize your cabinets in the bathroom, those types of things. That perspective is valuable.
There are two pieces that I kind of go back to consistently. I have a background in theater, and it's something that I wish somebody had told me when I was a young performer, but I always go to Ira Glass' piece on: "It's okay to make bad things when you're first starting. It's incredibly essential advice. But it's about this idea that you can't expect to be…If you sit down to write a novel, you can't expect to be a genius right out of the gate. It's going to take some trial and error. It's okay, that is part of the process. Don't think of art, and don't think of your creative outputs as merely an end goal. The whole journey is essential. That's something that Ira Glass talks about just beautifully, beautifully. The second one is in times of crisis, make good art. in times of change, make good art. when nothing makes sense, make good art. It just speaks to the heart of what I want to be as a person.
The built environment and architecture, in general, have the opportunity to be so transformative in people's lives. Because we can create better spaces, we can create spaces that nurture and support and encourage people to be their best selves and to be happy, and to thrive. That's a critical concept. It's keeping that in mind in the design process. It's exciting to see how our folks are doing that. There's a fantastic project that is happening in Portland. It's a collaboration with a couple of architecture firms and construction companies called the Living Building. There's been some press around that, but it's one of the first living buildings in the country. It's going to have everything from composting toilets to green roofs and reusable and sustainable energy sources for all of the building's power. It's a pretty incredible piece of design that's happening right here in our state.
If that becomes the standard moving forward, I mean that every building has to meet a certain degree of sustainability right now. But what if we raised the bar? What if we asked people to reach even farther? It's always amazing to me how people rise to the occasion when presented with new challenges.
One of the development companies leading the way on that, and showing people how it can be done, works with our organization. We've seen amazing collaborations between the nonprofit environment and developers. You can do it. Kevin Cavenaugh, who runs Guerrilla Development, did a TED talk in Portland a few years ago, and he talks about the concept of "enough," like, what is enough? That's a vital mind frame when you're going into development in the future of, you know, what is enough? What is enough for you to meet your costs and to make an appropriate amount of capital, but that doesn't force you... but it will allow you to prioritize other things that are better maybe for the community and the environment and for the people you're building for, rather than the bottom line. It's a different way of thinking.
My name is Matt Dan; usually go by he or they. I’m 28 years old. I was born in Las Vegas, Nevada; lived there until I was about five. My parents moved around a lot. Moved up to Oregon and lived in different places around Oregon. I was homeschooled for a while. For some reason when I tell people that they’re like, “Oh, yeah, that makes a lot of sense.”
My dad worked in law enforcement,there was some, you know, conservative. We also took in a lot of foster kids, and that was wild to get a view up close of many other kids my age growing up and their sort of experiences, and also started the system that put them in the house. I grew up religious, under this sort of branded, very, commercialized, kind of Christianity with VeggieTales in the Bible men, and all this stuff. It was just a pattern in my life of , identifying these kinds of contradictions and trying to reconcile them in some way.
I’ve been making animation on and off in different contexts for probably the last 13 or 14 years or so. I got started making little Lego animations in high school, and then from there, I started making more and more elaborate things. I was lucky enough to be able to take an animation class during high school, and by the time I graduated, I finished my first hand-drawn animated film.
I went on this misguided mission’s trip to Russia and lost my religion through that experience. Definitely a culture shock experience and all that. It was weird because over there, it’sBaptists and Evangelicals are considered to be something of a cult there. You’re either atheist or you’re orthodox, and everything else is looked down on. Because they were trying to create American style commercial Christianity in Russia basically, we were passing around these things for this concert, you know?
Somehow, I guess, the FSB or some security agency, heard about them—next day, there's 10 cops outside of the church or something to send a message, but…I remember talking to random people on the streets , what they are ere having us do and just having a moment of , “Okay, what on earth am I doing here? What am I...? Who do I think am?” I realized, , I don’t know if I believe this stuff that I’m spouting out, and maybe I’m, kind of, my motivation was to go on a little adventure. I took a train ride south from Moscow — historical context, I guess, during World War II, that was one of the points where the Nazi invasion turned around. There are a lot of used AMS there for that sort of thing. It’s pretty, some big deal there. They had 20 million people die. From their point of view, “We did the work, and the US came in afterwards and swept that up.” It’s interesting to get that direct perspective there. I think I was somewhat disillusioned with Christianity or religion by the time I went there.
After that, I came back home. I enrolled at Portland Community College. There I kept on taking art classes because I knew I was interested in art. I wanted to continue pursuing being an animator. I had a pretty good time at PCC; I did a lot of painting, sculpture, theater. I got involved in the theater classes there and did a lot of video work for the theaters. While I was there, I also made another short film called Pinko Cowboyo. Sort of towards the end of that, I was pretty set on going to art school. So, eventually, I settled on PNCA. I started getting into doing a lot of interactive installations.
As an artist, I enjoy getting into sort of the technical aspects of making things. I made a lot of animated installations, interactive installations. I enjoyed that for a bit, but after a while, I started the novelty of it and just having it within an art space. It felt a one-liner to me. I knew that I wanted to do more narrative-based work, but there was a limit. You know, when you walk into space and play with the thing and then walk out, there is a limit to how much I could do with that. I finished my thesis at PNCA. I did it on ‘Environmentalism on Pause in the 21st Century.” It was a combination of sculptural work and some animated video that I had made. It is basically about that sense of..., that disconnect from this urgent thing that’s hanging over our heads that affects our survival.
Nighttime Science, we started around 2015. We originally started as sort of this community-oriented scene, we decided to focus it on Beaverton, Oregon. Because me, and Hector Estrada and Charlie Brewer (shout out to them) we decided to collaborate on this project. At first, we put up posts on Craigslist, and posts around town and just asking for submissions, social media and such. Hector and Charlie were born and raised there. I’ve pretty much spent all my teenage years there. We say, there’s nothing about this space, and we’re familiar with this space.
We did a few issues that were just compilations of poetry, art, short stories, things that. After a while, we switched gears and started focusing on making artists additions with artists who had submitted with us, sort of do, you know, focusing on , let’s give this to an artist and let them do whatever they want with it, and then we’ll pedal it around and do this, and started taking it little more seriously after that.
The 2016 elections were a big point for us when we realized, hey, politics is life or death, this isn’t just silly, you know, you can’t just be absurd about this stuff forever. But around that time, I had also wanted to, you know, after pushing other people’s things for a bit, I tried to make my own thing. One day when I was driving around, I came up with the idea of, oh, what if I recontextualize Beaverton, Oregon, as this futuristic cyberpunk place? What if I took Blade Runner and married it (or more particularly probably Akira) to Beaverton, to create this uncanny resonance between this familiar mundane place and fictionalizing it?
I spent a few years on that. The project grew bigger and bigger. Then we finished it, and it’s this eighty-page long graphic novel. We self-published it. Think while I was working with other artists, I figured out some things, oh, here’s how I can get an ISBN, here’s how I can contact different comic shops, and we just distributed it myself, you know?
Luxury Gulag is a two-part narrative project. It consists of 22 pages, well graphic novel, and then it continues on with a point and click adventure game on the computer. The premise of the game is that it’s set in the same sort of universe as Beaverton 2200, but set in the people’s utopia, Tacoma, and it’s set in this rehabilitation center for reactionaries, Nazis and jerks, you know, sort of people who can’t get along with it, or get with the program.
The game itself is stylized after a lot of point and click adventure games 90s games: Freddi Fish, Hot Pot, Secret of Monkey Island, stuff that. We’ve been working on it for the last three years or so, and through that process, it’s definitely evolved and grown quite a bit. At first, it was just going to be aa little 16-page comic. But as we kept writing on it, and elaborating on it, kept feeling. I felt I wanted to say more with it.
It’s Johnboy Booer on his journey through the Gulag. The goal of the game is to get Johnboy through therapy. As you’re playing through the game, you find you have a lot of other characters within the Gulag who are unsavory in their own ways, and you help them through some of their issues.
I hope people enjoy it, and, you know, maybe they’ll see some bits of themselves in the Gulag as well. One thing that I did when I was fleshing out some NPCs and stuff is I put out this post on social media and I made an announcement, , “Hey, I’m working on this game called Luxury Gulag, and it’s about this cybernetic futuristic utopian rehabilitation center for reactionaries and jerks and you know, would you to be in the Gulag?” I made a Google Sheet form for people to fill out. I put in a lot of questions in there, , describe a time when you hurt somebody, describe a time when you felt betrayed, and how you think about therapy? I actually got pretty surprised, because some of the questions were, you know, a lot of people started out filling out the forms as being jokey, and then by the end of the form, they’re , “Oh, my God, I feel tense.” there are a lot of people who I know in real life who volunteered to be put in a Gulag.
A couple of things that I find work for me, because I’m either in a sort of conceptual or planning mode or I’m in some more labor-intensive, you know, labor long, where I’m making animation or... When I’m feeling stuck, or I have an artist block. I think I’ve hit a wall, something that someone once told me is just to start writing down questions, not any answers, don’t try to answer anything, start writing questions and let the questions lead into another question and another question, and that’ll help open you up in a way, rather than trying to find answers and lock things up. I find that that helps loosen my mind up a bit. When I have a lot of work I have to do, then I’d be a little more redundant animation. I find that if I enter my workspace or the studio, I’ll immediately get started. I’ll set a timer for five minutes to get over that initial hump of you know, where I don’t want to, you know, make you don’t feel doing it. Then usually by the time the timer runs out, I’m in my flow.
I’m Alex Schmidt, aka Body Confidence. My pronouns are she, they, or thine. I also like thine. I am an artist and an athlete. I run Dyke Soccer, I also do a lot of community organizing, Dyke Soccer, but also Queer Speed Cruising. I co-organized Dyke TV screenings with Ainara Tiefenthäler. I am pursuing my MFA at Hunter for art. I say combined media, which for me, is mostly social practice, but also quilting and videos, and I make a lot of merch. I make these Gay Gap shirts that have been really fun to see spreading around on new friends and strangers all over the world. And especially during quarantine, I’ve been doing a lot more figure modeling than ever before. So, before quarantine, I was figuring modeling for a consistent group every month, which is how I met Joni, and then I’ve been hosting weekly figure modeling sessions on Zoom, bringing out like a lot more of my characters, so finding ways to blend it with my performance work and my social and community organizing work. I’m busy. It’s how I manage my anxiety.
I am half Barbara Corcoran, half like, this dyke community organizer, service-oriented person, definitely an entrepreneur and financially savvy, and like to run businesses. And I also feel like extremely committed in terms of what I’m going to leave the world with like, to changing things. And most of all, helping people find connection, not just dating though, that’s great, but finding community, finding support, finding mental health care, finding a doctor, finding places to live.
Dyke Soccer is a network right now of about 1000 people that spans between New York, LA, and DC. So we have three chapters, and it’s a financially accessible, queer-inclusive soccer team that’s more of a pickup league than a pay to play situation, where you sign up for an entire season. We are free for anyone who needs it and are non-competitive, and definitely are about like owning sort of dyke power in soccer, and taking over the fields with that. For most of us in our lives, that was something that was really missing, like, this queer inclusive sports culture. I had stopped, like, I played soccer my whole life and had stopped playing because there just wasn’t a place for me, or for most of my now teammates. And now through quarantine, we’ve been doing mental health check-ins every week and like, growing a lot closer emotionally, but I think that’s built on creating this community space, kind of out of thin air a little bit.
And that kind of blends with Queer Speed Cruising as a pretty similar community, or like a big community overlap. Queer Speed Cruising is an event I run with my friend, Lily Marotta. And it’s a speed cruising dating event. We call it cruising, because dating feels like going on an interview or like, yeah, looking at someone’s LinkedIn profile and deciding if you’re going to get married. And we find that queer modes of flirting and finding each other could be like, sitting down with someone for three minutes, talking to them, learning you have a lot in common with their roommate, who then connects you to like an open studio, which is where you end up meeting your partner. So cruising as like a form of loose flirting and meeting and connection building, and it’s built on a lot of comedy. We have referees, which is like the role for our Dyke Soccer players and a goofy like, slideshow that plays. We haven’t done it in the past few months because of quarantine.
I’ve been figure modeling basically since I moved to New York about eight years ago. It would be like you’re paid $50 and it’s like, five people watching you and I definitely, you know, was trying something new, but also definitely found that it was like a really perfect balance for me between performance and body movement. But I don’t really know what to call it because it is just like posing, holding a pose. It feels so meditative for me, and I love seeing everybody’s way of seeing me, or perception of me in all their drawings.
So I’ve always been saying like, “God, I wish I could do this more.” And I ended up meeting a group that’s run by my friend Colleen called Sunday Salons.” And that is how I started doing it like, somewhat more consistently, so like once a month, and it felt like a much safer group, because it’s a vast majority of womxn in this group. But also, it’s mostly Colleen’s friends, or like Colleen’s community that I was posing for. And so I didn’t necessarily know a lot of the people before I started posing for that group.
And then with this pandemic, Colleen and I were talking about it as like, a possibility, like to try it virtually. We posted about it, shared it with this group. And that’s sort of the group that was like the foundation for now over the last couple of months, figuring out an even broader community that I think - because I’m organizing it - is like very queer, very explicitly financially inclusive, which is super central to all the projects I do, especially Dyke Soccer and Queer Speed Cruising. There’s always the option of coming, even if you can’t afford to pay. And that’s kind of, to me, like one way that a community can function as just like on an honor code system.
It’s been really interesting navigating my boundaries and sense of safety and security of doing this thing that’s always felt like super freeing. I love being naked. I love naked beaches. I love walking around the house naked. I don’t have any shame getting naked in front of people, as long as they’re respectful and for the most part, womxn and/or queer. But doing it on the internet has been - you know - like a total new experience, so many possibilities like, I can show so much more. I have so much more control over what the set looks like, what I’m dressed as, what the angle is that people are seeing me from. And also, there are ways that I have so much less control, because there’s a big difference between being in a room of 10 people IRL, where you can see everyone and what they’re doing, and having like 100 people and kind of wanting to find a balance between being able to spread my legs and be shameless, but also just protect myself, and be able to continue that kind of vulnerability and presence without getting hurt.
And I don’t totally know what that means. I can imagine a couple scenarios, but mainly it’s about just not having to worry, like, wanting to not worry about it, because I truly feel like this is something I’ve realized I can do that makes me feel really, really, really in my body, which is something that feels impossible to do with people right now. So to be able to do that while being with the energy of like, 100 plus people, just feels like an insane gift to have during this time when I feel super isolated, and I know a lot of other people are, too.
Because they’re growing every week too, or changing, or I’m figuring out new things that are working. I’m always kind of nervous and trying to make sure it all goes right. So I never know sometimes whether it was an profesh session or was really messy, because I’m really working, so there’s so many things going on. But this person said that going to the session woke up a part of them that had been sleeping, and that really, really resonated with me. I mean, it just feels insane to be doing something that would have that effect on somebody. And I also feel the same, like, I feel that this has completely reset or shifted my way of seeing myself. I’d just like gotten truly hundreds of messages from—in part, because when people register, they can leave a little note. But like, hundreds of messages of people saying like, this is, like, it’s a consistent thing that a lot of people are returning to, which I think is helpful for me also. Some people have started bringing their moms into it, and I often pin my video on a mom, it’s soothing to know that that’s more the demographic I’m excited about than like, someone I don’t trust. I’m like, “I’ll just focus on the moms and not worry about the one or two people I don’t know.”
Like, yeah, I feel a lot of people are running into friends in these rooms, or drawing from all over the world, from places I’ve never been. So that’s also just like a wild feeling to be connecting across the world like that. I have like a gut feeling that I know what body confidence means, but I also don’t. I think a lot of times people think body confidence just means like, what it kind of means culturally now, which is sort of just like, yes, your body, like, woohoo, or something. And I do feel that, but I’m also kind of like, part of it… Like, my story is that I have lived with a lot of eating disorders and body dysmorphia, and depression. And it’s not like I was born confident in my body, or that I feel comforted every day or that the risks that I take don’t keep me up at night for like, a week straight.
It’s just kind of, I think for me, trying to always remind myself that I want to feel in my body, and I want to make decisions that come from a kind of presence inside of in my body. And it sounds really vague, but I guess it’s just when I moved, or right when I moved to New York, I had a really bad job, I had a whole mental break and became yoga certified, and just got really into that simple idea of being in your body. And that doesn’t really mean much more than it sounds like. But in terms of figure modeling, I think a lot of times the assumption of figure modeling is like, the model is an object and it’s usually, especially, the female body is going to be passive and in repose, and not particularly powerful.
I am very blessed with like a super jacked muscular body. And in my figure modeling, I try to heighten that or heighten creases, make angles come from below so that I’m not just serving angles and poses that are about flattering myself to fulfill some kind of gaze, but also anything like, consistent. I like shape shifting my gender and my character. And I believe that I’m an artist as the model - versus a model in this context is usually referred to as “the model.” And I mean, maybe I’m saying I’m a muse or something, but I really like, I’m an artist. These are choices I’m making. These are angles I’m taking like, this isn’t just a passive body that you’re looking at, and then it’s like a given. It’s like these are, I’m trying to, like heighten the lens and choose the lens.
And I think, I don’t know always what that means in relationship, the name body confidence. It’s sort of like a nickname that’s stuck because of my handle. But it also does mean being a really buff dyke. That’s like, getting naked and trying to like move from laughter, and humor and failure and empathy, and shamelessness. And all those things like are pretty rare to see, I think. Even if sometimes it feels completely natural to me. It’s been really interesting. I don’t know - there have been so many different things I have dealt with in my personal life and figuring out what feels good and trying to understand why I’m doing this, and not other things that I was doing before. I’ve gone through all kinds of like waves of guilt and fear with it. But when I’m actually doing the thing, I don’t feel that way. It’s more of like, anticipation or post social anxiety, or those kinds of feelings that are a lot about criticizing myself or trying to distract myself from peace by finding things to pick at or something.
But I think the big thing has been really figuring out what my boundaries are and making them super clear and not apologizing for it. And some of that really just took like, for example, I asked the people don’t take photos or video or people are not allowed to take photos or videos unless they’ve asked for consent ahead of time. And that is just because I realized a few times a couple people posted a video or told me that they’d made a drawing from the photo they’d taken. And I realized I wasn’t comfortable with that. And it wasn’t anyone’s fault for taking photos. I’d even kind of encouraged that before. I just realized like as the thing grew, I didn’t really want this free-wheeling house mouth policy around my body. I want there to be limitations like - you are attending this live performance, and that’s what it is. That’s what you’re paying for. That’s what you signed up for. And that’s what I’m giving you, and I’m not giving consent to more than that. Because that’s where it starts to snowball out of control.
Of course, people might still take photos. They might still go outside of that, but they are at this point, so many things in the way that everybody before I send them a link, meaning that I just confirm that they are who they say they are, cismen need to be vetted by someone in the group or at least, write me a really good sob story or something, a really good application.
And that’s kind of like enough, because at the end of the day, I am someone that like loves to be naked at the beach and someone could take a photo of me there too, and I don’t have any shame around what I’m doing. I’m literally a preschool teacher, like the families there could find out about what I’m doing. So it’s like, the stakes could be considered kind of high for me, but I just don’t think I’m doing anything wrong. I think it’s my body and I don’t consent to being related to as a thing that’s bad to be seen naked on the internet. I don’t think a photo of me from this ends up in someone’s email box and my life is over. I just don’t even know who that would be.
So I mean, maybe I’m having... I like to think that I just don’t have enough forethought or something like what if I want to be a politician or something? But I’m like, well, that’s the kind of politician I would be. I would be a politician that has naked photos of her all over, out of her control. Because that’s a piece of me that I’m comfortable with, and I’m proud of.
I definitely am like a future thinker all the time, thinking about, like, scheming about next steps and plans. I have so many fantasies for the future of Dyke Soccer, the future of my figure modeling, the future of different work I want to make, or events I want to host. I think that’s where we’re at right now, as much as I don’t want COVID to be happening, I think what the mutual aid organizing that’s going on looks like is a lot of what our future could start to look like and hopefully, start to show people the importance of living proactively and doing things, even though they’re not going to be perfect the first several times, you do it and it definitely will never be perfect ever.
But I do think there’s a lot of passivity and it comes from totally a lot of understandable fear, like, fear of cancel culture, fear of like just doing, like, getting in trouble, or doing the wrong thing. And it is at the expense of our power. And so I’m just like really about building our own systems and maybe through those systems and building power, like soccer, for example. It means that I now have like 1000 voices together. And that’s a group that can come together to demand change in a lot of other ways, but it does start with finding your community, and investing in it and like putting yourself out there. You know, like, going on a limb and inviting somebody you’ve never talked to before to do something with you because you really believe in like what you want to see in the world. And that could be different for everybody, for sure. It’s definitely a lot of work. But the payoff ultimately would be all of our power and our rights not being in the hands of people that don’t understand like, don’t buy into our philosophy, which I guess I’m assuming for listeners, but my philosophy is definitely don’t hurt people, support your community, take what you need, leave the world more beautiful than you found it, laugh and check in on your elders. These kinds of like, just almost small town Midwestern values, but applied to a clear world.
Cancel culture is to me a super big bummer. And it definitely like, I’ve had comments, trolly comments on like things I’ve done, or people like trying to come for me or telling me to stop or whatever. Like, all the time, it happens all the time when you’re especially trying to create things for the queer community, because the queer community is really sensitive, really aware, really wants to make sure everything’s being done ethically and correctly. Unfortunately, a lot of times that stuff does happen in a public sphere, versus happening directly, where they would sort of call in, which is what I would advocate for. And I think one thing you can do to like, absolve yourself of at least like a small percentage of cancel culture fear is to practice calling in yourself and start building that culture yourself, and within your own community. And just like really, that means that initiating tough conversations from a place of like, genuinely wanting to resolve them and understand each other and not just judging people and coming for people without considering their point of view or perspective. And then obviously, they won’t always agree [and that is when you might choose to “call out”].
You can’t always control how people are going to see you, and you do have to sometimes just stand your ground. And I think my advice for people that are sitting on ideas, I definitely sit on ideas, because I’m worried because I want it to be done perfectly when I do it or I don’t want someone to steal my idea. So I don’t even want to put it out there, because I don’t want it to be taken. I do think most of our ideas are probably bad, and so we should probably just try all of them and get them out of our system so that we can move on to the next one.
And the ones that are good, people will always get inspired from good things, but it’s so worth trying. And the first time you try anything, you learned a billion things you would do differently the next time and that’s why you have to start because you actually don’t know until you do it and it’s not perfect and you get to do it again. So I think that that’s part of it. It’s like, stop tricking yourself into thinking that you have this perfect little crystallized idea. You just need to drop it, because it’s, you’re going to do it and then be like, “Oh, this actually... I never thought of that until I did it and a few people mentioned this thing.” Or, “it was harder to make than I expected,” or whatever. People will have things to say. And have a good friend who loves laughing at that stuff with you, because it will happen.
[Special capitalization at the request of the artist]
My name is Emery Barnes. I'm 25, originally from Chicago. I am now living in Portland, Oregon, working as a Brand Executive at Wieden+Kennedy, and on the side, I am a Photographer.
I'm a Black African-American Male. Both of my parents were born in West Africa, specifically Liberia. That's been a fundamental trait they've instilled in me at an early age. Having that heritage to your roots. What's nice about me is having family ties and knowing where I come from, and having such a large family, both within the US and outside of it, to be First-Gen, it's been a fantastic experience for me.
My mom lives in Liberia, she has been doing that for about nine years. I live in Portland, my sister is in the city of Chicago on the South Side, and my dad lives in the suburbs of Chicago. What's been amazing about that is that I get to go often to Liberia. She’ll come. It's nice to have that tie.
My dad was a photographer, and I always followed him where he was going. He showed me pictures of him living in New York in the 1970s and 1980s. I was always drawn to it. I remember the camera he shot with. He shot with a Nikon, and it was so heavy. I remember as a kid, I would just try different things. I would stage his camera next to his bed, do the self-timer, jump up in the air, and then have it take a picture of myself. It was really cool to play around with different angles and dive into that creative aspect.
I never had a camera. I would always play around with his. Then I ended up buying a Sony a6000, which is the current camera that I use today. I moved downtown to Chicago, and what better way to explore the city than to start shooting? Every Saturday or Sunday, I would simply hop on the CTA, get off at a random stop, and shoot all day in a neighborhood. It was by the end of the summer, so that was around April, May. Around September, I started posting my work on my Instagram. A lot of my friends would be like, "Oh, like, what are you doing with this? Like, are you keeping all this? Are you saving it?" by the end of it, I had roughly 1200 pictures. Within that, I probably had like, 100-200 that I liked and wanted to edit, and wanted to post a little more publicly, so I developed a website. From there, honestly, whenever I travel, whether through work or exploring a new city, I'm always bringing my camera. That's the best way to explore and get to know a new place is by capturing it. I've been doing it for about two years, I want to say.
The most important thing is to get out and do it. I have a lot of friends that have got into Photography. They may not have that fantastic picture the first time they go out, but the most important thing is to just take photos of things that you like, that you're drawn to. The more and more you do something, the more you'll get better at it. I say that with anything in life, it's spending more time with on your craft.
There is this book. I want to pull it up. I believe it's a Malcolm Gladwell book, but he talks about investing 10,000 hours into your craft. I think the book is called Outliers. That's something that I've always practiced within my art.
You're not going to get it the first time; you're not going to get the second time, you're not going to get it the hundredth time. Just keep doing it and doing it. I guess in regards to practice. I can talk a little bit about how I get my inspiration. The most significant thing is doing different things, getting out of your routine, getting out of your comfort zone. I get a lot of inspiration from other photographers, from Instagram, from different websites, from only going on a walk, listening to a podcast, music, etc.
The more I'm changing my routine and putting myself in these different environments, the more I'm getting new inspiration. I try to do that with the protests because what's been great about them is that every protest is different. It has a different route, and it has a different emotion. Some may be a little tense; some may be a bit more peaceful. As a Photographer, my job, and I've told several people with the photos, is that for the people who weren't able to attend, I want to capture the emotion and have them live it as if they were there. If you were there, I want them to be able to relive that same emotion that they had. I said the most important thing is getting out there and immersing yourself in it full-time.
I have two styles. I'm drawn to bright colors, as you can say like, pop art. I love Street Photography. I love Murals. What I'm also drawn to is Black and White Photography, specifically architecture. My mom is an architect. With that family history, I've always been drawn to buildings, whether they be old, new, high-rises. Living in large cities, I've always been drawn to these buildings. What's been cool about Portland is that you have a little combination of both. I live in the Northwest in Chinatown, but getting to walk around and seeing some different Murals in different places within my neighborhood that I can take pictures of, but then walking about 10 minutes downtown, and like, getting that architecture, that's been a cool thing.
I have started going to the BLM Protests in Portland. I have an exciting story about how I got there, but as the people may be seeing on Instagram is that I've been taking pictures, and I've been marching with the Rose City Justice Organization, so shout out to them. It's been a fantastic experience to capture the people, the emotion, Black, White from all different walks of life, and be able to document that on social, as well.
I grew up in a predominantly White Suburb, and so mostly White High School,Ccollege. The first agency I worked at was my first taste of what it's like to be in Non-White Bubbles. I was fortunate for the team, and agency that had worked at, at the time because it had so much diversity. I don't even want to say diversity by Race, but diversity of thought. You had representatives of the LGBTQ community, you had people from different Religious Backgrounds, Races, Ethnicities, but at the same time, everyone was coming from different places. It opened my eyes a bit more to this world than I previously wasn't living in. When I moved to Portland at 23, it made me realize more of who I am as a Black Male, specifically a Black African-American male as First-Gen. It made me look at myself in the mirror. When you're surrounded by people that don't look you, it makes you think of like, what are the values? How can I stay true to myself? I will say that as a Black Male, I've had a fantastic experience in Portland. I've met a great community of people here, so many people from so many different walks of life. I will say compared to Chicago, that does lack that culture as a big city would, but at the same time, there is something unique to that. Because with this small community here, I feel it's a family in a way. I think you're always meeting people and connecting with people. You're fostering these great relationships versus a larger city. It's been a good experience for me so far.
Keep building on that is the creative community out there. You have a lot of organizations, agencies, small shops that are here. What's been amazing for me in Portland is that I've been able to tap into that creative soul and explore my photography a little bit more, and feel I'm now in this circle with people that are pushing me creatively versus a larger city that I didn't have that. That's another thing that I'm super fortunate for, being out here.
June 2nd, somebody invited me to go to one of the protests in Pioneer Square. At that time, I'd never protested before. I was skeptical about it. Just having been a Black Male, and especially in the middle COVID. I had a lot of hesitation about going out there, but I felt it was my duty to go there and at least learn more about it and be involved. I went there, and I'm not going to lie, within the first 30-40 minutes, I felt overwhelmed. I didn't get to enjoy the message, and I ended up walking back.
There's a Photographer that I want to shout out. His name is Andrew Wallner. If you're not familiar with his work, he shot the notable bridge picture. I remember seeing it that day. I remember seeing a few other photos of people that were at this protest. I liked that photo because he was able to show a new perspective on the protests that I'd never seen before, and that I didn't even see in person. What was interesting is that the media amplified this and focused on the looting and the tear gas. I know a lot of that's happening, but they were focusing on the negative. When I saw that picture, I was able to see the emotion in peoples' faces, and seeing that combination of people walking together. I went back out that next day, and I felt a lot more confident.
I went with the Rose City Justice team, and they did a protest on the waterfront. As a Photographer who was shooting now and then, I brought my camera out that day. There's one particular shot, it was in the midst of this crowd, and there was a fist that went up, it hit me, I immediately had to get that shot. I felt drawn to it, because out of the sea of people, you see a hand go up, and it goes to show that this movement is bigger than me. I mean, 50 different states are doing this. It's even hit that global reach. That night, I posted it to my page. I was at like, 1200 followers, so nothing super crazy. It blew up from there. From that point on, I knew that I had a unique gift, and from that gift, it was to continue to amplify this message and put my work out there. Something I'm super passionate about. But at the same time be able to show in a perspective that the media wasn't highlighting.
For my Photography, in particular, I always make sure to Black out the individuals' eyes, because I know protesting is different for a lot of people, and I don't want to be the one that exposes them or post something without their consent. If you're doing it for the right reasons, it is a beautiful way to amplify this message and reach people who aren't too focused on what's going on, but two, it's such a lovely way to document this. I mean, I would love 50, 60 years in the future, these photos can still be cherished. What's history if you can't look back on something?
Many people have reached out to me and said, "Your photos, they've made me cry. They made me reevaluate and have these tough conversations with my family." People that aren't even in the US have reached out to me for these photos. I said it's bigger than the following. If I can change someone's mindset about what's going on and get them to get out and protest or do something, whether that donateing or have that tough conversation, even if that's one person, then I'm doing something important.
I want to do my job as a Photographer to keep going to these protests, amplifying the message, and trying to make this more significant than it is. We're in an exciting time in the world right now, especially within Portland, we're in phase one. You have seen a lot of drops off at these protests. One is people want to go out and do things and get that sense of normality, but at the same time, you have people that are burnt out. I mean, I have personal friends and people that I know well that have been out there every single day, and I know it's a lot, especially if you haven't done this before.
Long-term, I'm working with a few other photographers out here to figure out ways if we don't continue protesting for the next six months, how can we continue to amplify this message? How can we keep people engaged? How can we get new people that didn't necessarily protest now, but are more interested in issue two, three months from now? I have a vast network of people out here that all have that same mindset and eagerness to do something. So, I don't want to go into much detail now, but we're working on a few initiatives. Hopefully, that will launch a little bit later in the summer, that takes the Photography a step further and brings it into I'd say, like, the real world versus digital.
I want us to feel more united, putting aside differences. What's been interesting is to see, especially in Portland, that everyone's coming at this from a different place in their lives. One of the most beautiful moments was that I was protesting one day, and I was walking down the street, and I forgot what neighborhood it was. Still, predominantly white, there were younger white couples, older white couples, white couples with young children, throwing their fist up, throwing their thumbs up. It's like, I'm not emotional, to be completely honest, that was the closest I was to crying.
Having a world where people don't see color, and not necessarily in a color blindness, but more of like, no matter what you look like, race isn't the thing that's top of mind. it's the one thing that people celebrate, the fact that someone is different from me, looks different from me, I don't… I would love to live in a world where we're celebrating our differences and learning from it versus looking at someone already feeling divided. I honestly think that being at these protests and seeing how charged up this next generation is that… we're getting to that place. There's a lot more work to be done, but we're making the necessary strides to get to that place.
As an Artist and a Photographer, I want to continue to connect with people, tell their stories, and amplify other Black artists coming up. What's been a fantastic experience out of all this is that I'm meeting with people that I necessarily wouldn't have connected with. Portland is small, but sometimes it feels divided, especially someone from a new city—being able to communicate with these Black Artists and meet them for the first time at a protest or a get-together and talk about our stories and how we got to it. I want to keep doing that. I want to continue to expand this reach, so one day, I'm telling a story of someone that, I said, it can reach in another city, or I have big ambitions where if I'm in a new town, I want to be able to highlight people there. A lot's going through my mind right now. I'm full force in what I want to do with this.
You have to look at yourself as I'm more than a Photographer. I'm a Photojournalist who is documenting things, and with this platform and with this attention, what can I do to change things and change policies, and change the way that the world operates? Something that has been top of mind in the upcoming election in November. There's a lot of people that aren't aware or not engaged. Is there a way that we can use the medium of photography to amplify and get people immersed in what's going on and more informed, rather than posting a picture and having it be linear within the Instagram cycle? It's like how we can make our content, our art a little more expansive, beyond the simple posts on Instagram.
As an Artist, the biggest thing is, don't be afraid to put your work out there. If you're doing it for the right reason, now is a fantastic time, too, especially as a Black artist, use your brain platform to educate and spread awareness about this critical issue. Thinking a little bit long term as an artist, continue to work on your craft, and I'm still working on it to this day. I mean, there are so many things that I aspire to do, and people that I want to be, but you can't get to that point unless you make that first step as an artist and work on your craft, get those reps in, and keep being as excited as I am. Many people out in the world are eager to put their work out in the world.