Welcome back to Future Prairie Radio, where marginalized artists explore the future through the lens of the arts, humanities, and culture. This is a transcript of Season 5, Episode 1, “To Listen with Elly Swope.”
Elly Swope is a queer and autistic songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer, guitar tech, and dog mom, living in Portland, Oregon. She seeks to empower and embolden diverse folks through her work. You can check out Elly’s music on Instagram @Ellyswopemakesmusic.
My name is Elly Swope, I’m 35. I grew up in southwest Missouri and moved here to Portland in about 2010. My pronouns are she, her, and I’m a musician and a recording engineer here in Portland. I’m an autistic queer woman.
I started on drums when I was about 11. I mean, I took private lessons for about seven, eight years when I was a kid. And that was largely focused on jazz drumming, a little bit of focus on being able to be versatile and be able to play in a bunch of different genres and in a bunch of different bands. And I played in school as well, so I did marching band and I did orchestra, and all these things, but I learned to play guitar in high school and started writing songs in my early 20s or so.
For the last 20 odd years, actually, songwriting and producing has been my main bread and butter, and just in the last five years or so, I got back into being a session musician and playing in other bands. And that’s what I’m mostly doing right now. I play drums for a band called MAITA. And that’s kind of, you know, coming out of the pandemic, has been the main bread and butter and what I’m actually spending most of my time doing.
MAITA is a songwriter named Maria Maita Keppeler, she runs the band, and she has a few different personalities. She’s very much a folk musician, that’s kind of how she got started. But she really loves 90s grunge, she loves early 2000s and emo, she’s got kind of a rock edge to her as well, so there’s kind of a mixing of those two.
In MAITA, I really love playing with her in particular because she has all these different sides to herself. So there are songs that are a lot more based in sort of my jazz training, and then there are songs where I’m just playing straight up rock drums.
I love writing songs and performing with my band, but I’m not doing it as much anymore post pandemic, because there’s so much that goes into it, it makes me very anxious, whereas like, drumming has always just put me in that happy place. It’s just something about drumming in particular, is always joyful for me. I’m not ever stressed out about it.
Coming out of the pandemic, playing the drums again for the first time in the band in about two years, I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience, like I couldn’t…Especially being an autistic person, like a high amount of adrenaline, a high amount of stimulus, all these things, it was making me freak out a little bit. And I’ve mostly gotten used to it again and gotten it under control, except that I keep dropping my sticks in the middle of sets.
And if it’s a low-pressure situation, it is just funny and fine and I’m used to it, you know, so I can just grab another stick and keep going. But we just played South by Southwest for the first time. And I was playing someone else’s drum kit, backline drum kit and the first song, which you know, your first song is always like a high energy song, I played a big fill going in in the chorus and dropped my stick going into the chorus, in the first song, in my first South by South West set ever. So that, I did not handle smoothly.
When something goes wrong like that in a set, I think the immediate thought is to try to make up for it and kind of overplay for the rest of the set or prove how good I am, but I did have to kind of collect myself and go, “It’s fine. You can’t overplay because then you’re going to ruin the rest of the set, you’ve got to relax.” So, you know, I mean, things go wrong.
I’ve had a couple experiences, like I remember the first time I ever played KEXP, the radio station in Seattle that’s nationally famous, I had massive impact syndrome around it. And I’ve gotten to play Crystal Ballroom and that was amazing, but I was like, “Do I really belong here?” I think all the work I’ve put in, in the last several years, and then also coming out of the pandemic and just feeling so proud that I didn’t give up, and that like…Having this perspective as well to realize that, like, I do have a music career, and it’s worth continuing to work towards it. It just felt like an accomplishment. I didn’t have impostor syndrome about it. It just felt good, like I belonged there.
The biggest thing for me is to just be authentically me as much as possible. Especially coming from trying to be a songwriter and trying to find my voice within that, you know, or playing for a songwriter who has such a diverse voice, trying to bring whatever thread of Elly that I can bring into it all, I think is the most important thing that I try to do. Not try to take on a character or take on a specific genre too much, but just find my voice in everything that I do.
It's like, what does it mean to be cohesive? For me, I think being cohesive is just being me in everything that I do, making sure that I’m making authentic choices every time, making sure I would make the choice I would make every time, and not thinking too hard about what other people think or what other people would do. That’s the basis for cohesion for me.
I’ve never really been much for collaboration, because it can be very stressful. I’n so used to having my own ideas be the most important thing. And when I do write and record my own music, I play all the parts, I write it all myself, and I record it all and mix it all myself, which was one of the driving factors, it was one of the reasons why I wanted to learn all these instruments and learn how to record, was that I wanted that control over everything. So this is all new to me, trying to collaborate and let other people have some level of say in the work that I do and contribute to other people’s work. It’s really taken a lot of pressure off of just the work of songwriting.
As far as being a recording engineer and a songwriter right now, I’m just trying to get back into recording, because that really dried up for me during the pandemic. But I love producing bands, I love engineering music. And as far as being a songwriter, like I said, I’m not super driven to do my own work right now because of the level of anxiety. But I’ve found that I’m really interested in co-writing and producing other folks. So, I’ve been trying to do some co-writing with a woman named Erica who goes by EMA, and she’s a great EDM producer. And, yeah, I’m just trying to find other folks, other musicians, other songwriters who I can support and co-write with.
For musicians, the ideal future would be more—or maybe I should qualify that, I think for pop musicians, anyone exploring a commercial career in music, there’s not a lot of financial support from institutions that give out grants and the government, that sort of thing. Most of that support is for maybe non-profits trying to do more community outreach, which is great. There’s a lot of support for performing artists that are doing classical and jazz and those sorts of things. There’s just really not a lot of support for “commercial musicians” because the assumption is that we’re the ones that are going to make the big buck. And there really is a class barrier and a financial barrier to getting to a point of having a healthy career in music.
I’d love to see more of that. I’d love to see more community support outside of GoFundMe and these sorts of things. It feels like you’re just asking all your musician friends for money, just passing the same 20 bucks back and forth every six months to a year. I mean, even playing shows, it feels that way. I’ll go out and support my friends when they’re playing their shows and they come to me and it’s like, who were the supporters that aren’t musicians, just passing the same $5 back and forth going to each other shows?
There are some folks kind of dabbling in non-profit record labels so that, you know, if you can get together a record label that isn’t really interested in making a profit, isn’t like a capitalist model, they’re just truly trying to raise money to support bands and help them get on tour, I think that’s a really good model. Actually, my personal record label as a songwriter is a guy that just does it as a passion project, he just has a little extra money to spend and he helps bands release their records, and takes on a lot of financial responsibility for that.
There’s something definitely in that. I do think that it gets a little hairy when it becomes the government’s job. The big change I’d love to see as these institutions that are already supporting music, open that up to more modern music, pop music, rock music, folks that are just trying to make a living.
A good example of somebody doing this: Regional Arts and Culture Council. They do grants for development that any one of us just playing shows around Portland can apply for. But a lot of organizations like that only open that up to jazz musicians and orchestral musicians. So those performing arts grants that Regional Arts and Culture Council does, having more of those available to folks like me and my peers from similar organizations, I can’t really speak to any other organizations but that one, but that’s what I’d love to see.
We do, as a people, really get locked on to some things and things that we really care about. And being able to spend a ridiculous amount of time absorbed in the fine details of the craft, has been a huge advantage for me, that I’m willing to spend four hours a day practicing the drums to just figure out the smallest details of a song I’m learning,
The biggest thing that I do is just make sure to focus on the craft, making time to make sure my chops are honed, to make sure that I can play any idea that comes to mind. And I definitely find that spending the time just to play my instrument does open up the imagination and the creative part of it for me. Even playing someone else’s song, I’ll get ideas in my head for my own songs. It just opens it up for me just to be playing my instrument.
I’m sure it’s different for every medium, but I think the most important thing in music is to listen. I find a lot of inspiration in just the practice of listening and not just to the same stuff I listened to every day, but exploring; exploring new genres, exploring, historical genres, figuring out where the sounds we make now really came from, those sorts of things. So, it just really broad in my imagination and my creativity. Those are the two things that I do to prep for kind of getting into the headspace of wanting to actually write music.
There are two sides to playing music. I think you have to work on your craft and spend that time like being in the present, being in your body, being in your brain while you’re actually practicing your craft and practicing your technique, so that when you do get on stage, you don’t really have to think about it anymore. I feel like my best performances are always times when I can sort of get out of my head and out of my body a little bit and just listen to what’s happening around me. And yeah, the flow state is exactly the best way to describe it. Yeah, that’s where I go.
The good thing about touring for me is I’ve almost exclusively done it with four other people. So, I’ve been a session musician in other people’s bands. And I just make sure that I choose trustworthy people who are going to communicate what I can expect. They take care of all the logistics. And then if I start to get stressed about anything, you know, they can recognize that and help me with it.
I do go out to shows but I make sure to go with someone who understands my needs. And I take a lot of breaks, I go outside by myself a lot and just kind of recuperate. I also am not afraid to just leave if I need to. Thankfully, I have a community and a group of friends that understand that if Elly disappeared, it’s probably because she’s overwhelmed.
I only just found out that I’m autistic a couple of years ago. Part of my pandemic journey was figuring out what’s up with my brain. So before I knew, it’s funny because I knew I had sensory issues. I knew that I needed to have a certain routine around the shows I would play. I would always get very stressed about playing in new venue. I wasn’t sure like how the random show was going to go. So I just would communicate, make sure that I had bandmates that understood, like, well, Elly’s just a very anxious person. And then upon finding out why all that stuff makes me so anxious, now I have the proper words to communicate, and I have the reason why. So my bandmates and everyone around me are even more understanding and are even more supportive now.
So as far as playing the shows, I mean, it’s a lot. I’ll wear sunglasses on stage, if I need to, if the lights are too bright. Like I said, I take a lot of breaks during the evening. If I have to go out to the tour van to just get some silence and some alone time, I will. And I’m just really lucky to have bandmates who understand that and take care of me in that way.
Not judging yourself for whatever accommodations you need, I think is the biggest thing. I think autistic people are often taught to look at ourselves in terms of what we lack or what is hard for us. And we judge ourselves for those things and maybe hold ourselves back. Whereas, if you look at yourself more in terms of the advantages that our neurotype gives us, and then figure out how to just find accommodations for the things that you need.
That’s been the biggest change for me, is to not apologize anymore, and to just expect the people around me to take care of my needs just like anyone else. Like, if somebody needs a certain kind of sleeping arrangement because they have a bad back or whatever it may be. I’ve been in bands with folks who like to drive a lot because they get car sickness, so they don’t like to just sit in the back of the van. We make accommodations for each other all the time. It's knowing those accommodations and not judging yourself for needing those things and really expecting people to come through for you. And then also investigating, like, what makes you a stronger artist because of your neurotype? For me, as a musician, pattern recognition is a big one. It doesn’t take me long at all to learn a song, you know, because I can just recognize how it goes very quickly.
Being a late-diagnosed person, I got very good at masking, and I can really put on a stage persona and kind of live in that world. And I have a really great time doing it and it doesn’t feel stressful. It takes a lot of energy like masking always does, but I’m able to then just make sure I get that energy back off stage, but it feels like an advantage.
My name is Damon Smith. I'm 28 years old, my pronouns are he, him. I'm from Portland, Oregon, born and raised, grew up mainly in Beaverton. I'm of mixed background; I have a black father and a white mother, which informs my art in many different ways.
Things that influenced me have always been comic books and stuff like that, very animation-influenced growing up. I didn't get into doing murals and street art until after I had received my first box of comics from my dad, who was in prison at the time. It was one of the first gifts I had received from him after probably 8 or 9 years of absence growing up. I cherished those comics and really dug into them. I had this golden vision of him being this really great guy, and I wanted to make him proud, I did all I could to learn as much as possible about the comics he sent me, and in turn, I was already into art. My mom is an artist. She didn't take it professionally, but she's always been painting and influencing my art, as well as my grandmother before she passed.
Once I got the comics, it was kind of this combination of I want to draw these things and being inspired by something my dad gave me. I really want to make both of them proud, and I really thought it'd be a good idea to see how comics are made. That's when I started getting into comic books. It wasn't until about a year or two after that my mom showed me the movie Beach Street. 80s movie about hip-hop all elements, rapping, and graffiti, break dancing, and to this day, it's probably still my favorite movie. She showed me that because my dad was an old school big boy, he was a breakdancer, and dancing was always my hobby as well at that point. I did dancing and art a lot growing up. Once I saw Beach Street, it kind of made me want to push the art in a graffiti direction.
I had this comic book background already, now meeting, seeing those characters in a graffiti typesetting, I thought they look similar, they're very vibrant, very poppy and your face. I wanted to do as much hip hop and art-related things with comics as possible, which was my main focus. All growing up, I was into break dancing. I moved up to do dancing for Nike, and they flew me around here and there to do certain events for them while doing graffiti forum later on for a little while.
It wasn't until about 6 or 7 years ago that I decided that I should transition into only artwork because I saw its longevity. I saw that I could do this the rest of my life; unlike break dancing, it's a minimal timeframe. I was really enjoying break dancing into it. Still, I felt the need and call to really get into doing art entirely. That's when I started expanding into painting portraits and using different mediums, playing with oil, acrylic and trying all sorts of other things. I was doing concept art, comic books, life studies, and anything to advance my skills.
My focus and how I've gotten into art is about trying to make my parents proud. Then I found out I have a real passion for art, and I noticed it was affecting other people; they were enjoying it, it was bringing out different conversations that I might've been afraid to have through my art. That fed the fuel on the fire, kept me going, and that's kind of how I got to where I'm at now.
When I was 16, I lived in Beaverton, and I had a buddy in a gang. I was his best friend; I knew him since I was 5 years old, we always did art together, he was still into break dancing with me, and it wasn't until high school that gangs appeared. It basically came down to his initiation being a robbery of another opposite gang. I got caught up in that. I was there when the initial conversation happened. I was stuck between not feeling like I could tell an adult, and as an adult now, I realize I had different routes I should have taken, but I didn't feel like I could tell anyone. My mom was a single mom, my dad wasn't really around at the time, and I was alone a lot. I felt stuck between trying to help my friend and doing the right thing; I ended up getting caught for the robbery (burglary), I was actually severely beaten, I was stabbed through my hand and pretty beat up by the people in the house, I was left in the place by myself.
But that's what happens. I don't make any excuses for it. I got what I deserved in my eyes. I'm not angry about that. I don't blame any of my friends for leaving me there because I didn't want to be there either. It was a horrible situation to be in without feeling like I had a way to get out of it. Once I was incarcerated, I was sentenced to 5 years, I started receiving mail from my mom while I was imprisoned, and she would send me comic books every week while I was in County jail. That's when I really thought this could be my way out, and this could be something that I can find peace in while I'm in these walls, and it would help me to explore different worlds, different ideas, and study art at the same time, and I ate them up.
I read as many comments as I could, and I would draw pages from them all the time continuously, and the entire time I was incarcerated, I focused on art solely. I ended up only doing 3 years because I got out for good behavior, I had half my time, but then they had to take another 6 months or something to get you situated and find a place to live. I did about as good as you can do while in that situation. I wasn't in any more trouble, I didn't cause any fights, I kept my eyes down and focused on my work. Luckily, many people, regardless of background, respect artists, wanted things for their mothers, for their girlfriends. I didn't have issues as far as gang affiliation or anything like that. I am always about respect. If I give respect, I expect it, and that's a pretty level playing field for everyone. You know, if I'm respectful to them, they were totally fine with me, and I didn't bother anyone, because I was always drawing the whole time.
While I was in there, I got my GED right away, and then my high school diploma. I even started getting some of the college credits as much as I could, all in there. My senior project was what career path are you going to take? I said, multimedia artist. I'm trying to live up to the thoughts I had of myself while I was away from the world.
I did the life of Frederick Douglas graphic novel with a guy I met at Rose City Comic-Con, named David F Walker. He does many professional comic books. He was a mutual friend of another guy, Abraham Mustapha, another Portland citizen who does comic books that were also a breakdancer growing up. That's how we knew each other. It was through dancing. It wasn't until years later that we realized we were both into art. But he connected us… he had a deal coming up for a book that he wrote, and they were looking for an artist. He threw my name in the hat, he told me they had gone through like 20 different artists trying to figure out who and kind of how I was like the last resort.
I guess they liked my work and said that they wanted to see me draw quickly — something that I would be able to do really fast, not take much time on. I went on my break, went to my car in the middle of winter, drew Frederick, and sent it in, and then later that week, I got a call saying that I got the job. The book was basically about Fredrick Douglas's life from beginning to end, fighting against slavery and for women's rights and equality for people. It was about how you started out as a slave and ended up a free man and his journey. I mainly worked in pencil for that book. Usually, you do pencil and ink, but the publisher thought it would be a good idea because he like my pencil work to get in there and add hard lines, really sick outlines. I decided to do it in real pencil instead of thinking about it, to give it that texture of being worn down.
I was not super precious about all the forms and everything being precisely correct because I wanted it to convey the mood more than looking pretty. It wasn't a pretty time, and I thought studying old photos that are already grainy, and the expressions on the people's faces that I saw during that time, and the audio that I was listening to, talking to you about the events that were going on and the documentaries and all those things kind of made me feel like I had to do more about a rugged look to it.
As far as the murals I've been doing lately, during quarantine, it's…Because I did that book, I've always been aware of racism and inequality and all these issues. I've had plenty of racist things done in my life. I'm not the darkest skin, but most people know that I'm different, and I had a big fro growing up, and braids and you could tell that I was mixed. I've had people write nigga on my artwork and call me mud and all sorts of stuff like that. When I did the book, I was very aware that it really opened my eyes to even more of the issues and how long everything's been going on because I had to dive into his life. I had to study this stuff for a year.
Once George Floyd was killed, I felt like I needed to do something with my art. I felt called to do it. I couldn't sit around and do nothing. It took me a while at first because I have a 3-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter, and I work long hours, and between commissions and whatnot, I didn't have time to really get out there. But when I saw people were doing murals and painting and showing their support and getting it out there for the world to know, I felt it would be wrong of me if I didn't do something to shine some light on the situation or give some hope or anything that art does. I thought I need to go out there and do these paintings and let it be known that these are people, and regardless of any background or wherever you're from, no one deserves to be killed, and everyone should be treated equally no matter what. It's a human right, that's as simple as it gets, and that people don't understand that is where the conflict lies, that's where it becomes problematic.
I'm not the kind to start busting people's heads out there. I respect everyone on every part of the protests going on, but I know I had a specific skill set, and I know that an image can speak a thousand words. I thought I would do that. If it's in your face, you can't ignore it. You're forced to see it, whether you said you did or you didn't. If that can shine some light, then I'll keep doing it, and that's the reasoning behind why I got out there. Because after Frederick Douglas and being stuck in that world for a while, and everything that's been going on lately, I couldn't sit by and do nothing.
I tried to find imagery with good lighting and capture as much of their essence as I'd want to see, or I want people to be introduced to if they have never seen them before.
I did a lot of photo reference, and then went in there with aerosol spray paint and did it very old school, didn't use very many different caps or anything, straight can on the wall.
I tried to make the pieces pop; I wanted them to be kind of in your face. I wanted there to be good contrast of color. The first one I did was a blue man, a head shot of a black man and an orange around him. To kind of get your attention, I want you to look at it. I wasn't trying to do something that you could walk by quickly. I wanted it to be something that catches your eye.
The next one was Breonna Taylor. I thought a grayscale with yellow, bright yellow around her would make her glow. I wanted her to shine because she's gorgeous. I liked that to transfer through to my artwork the best I could, and then the blue is very mellow and kind of welcoming, but then we have the orange around that as well, around the blue lettering to drive it home. Those were the ideas behind that.
The next mural I did was "protect your future," which I did with a couple of buddies I've worked with. On three of the projects, I worked with an artist named Steve Limits. I grew up with him as well, and that was nice.
Then the last one I did was Elijah Woods, and I did that one myself, and I really liked the idea of it being like a purple, cool purple with a bright background to really make you look at him. I wanted you to look at his face, how kind he was, how sweet he was, and how sad it was that his life was taken for no reason.
I would love to keep making art that impacts people and that I feel matters and needs to be seen. My hope is that people that see my work in the future and in the past can put me into a kind of different category of caring for people and know that it's not a way to make money or that I'm trying to draw superheroes in capes, that I'm trying to send a message of equality, and that people need to be accepted, and…I guess my goal is to hopefully make a living off of doing these things, I'm not currently making a full-time living off my art, I'm still in the trenches trying to work my way there. But the goal for the future is to support my kids and my life by telling these stories and continuing to do murals and work on comic books and anything that people can consume and just…I don't want to limit myself to one thing. Right now, I'm teaching myself more airbrushing, trying to learn the digital side of things. I'm doing whatever I can to continue moving forward, creating content that matters.
I've come to realize that if you're not feeling it, don't force it. We're our most prominent critics, right? We don't like our own art. I try to find what's good about it, I try to get pumped upon myself, it's essential to see where you're going, what you've done, what you feel like you can do better, pointing out your own flaws to yourself and seeing what did work. The main thing I try to do is look back through my whole post on Instagram, and see how my videos come together, or mild illustrations, or flip through my book and get into the mindset of okay, I've done this before, I can do it now. What did I enjoy about it, what didn't I enjoy about it, what works, and what was I feeling during that time. How do I like the lines and how the lines came out, how do I like the figure, what about the composition that works? I found looking at your work helps loads.
Obviously, you're looking at people that inspire you. I would do that sparingly because you can also discourage yourself a little bit. After all, you're like, oh, I'm not that good, or I'm not going to be like that, or it's not going to come out how you want, but I would try and capture the essence of what inspired you by their work. Look at someone else's work that you like, and instead of looking at the image or listening to the piece or whatever art form it may be, think about why you like it and what inspires you about it, and then try to put that into your own work. Because I feel like if you're inspired, it's much more comfortable, right? If you're not inspired, if you're sitting there unsure of what to do, you need to get that spark going by seeing something you enjoy, whether it be your work or someone else's.
My name's John Akira Harrold. I am a fourth-generation Japanese American of mixed heritage. My dad is white, and my mom's Japanese-American. I'm 33 years old, and I've been living in Portland for 7 going on 8 years, I think. I'm originally from Colorado. I was born and raised there. In terms of how identity intersects with the work, I feel it's primarily through the lens of race. The current job that I do now tends to be around the concept of publishing and is frequently—although not exclusively in print. I'm interested in thinking about how publishing can work to coalesce either a group of people, or a conversation, or this moment around whatever thing you want to connect that energy around. It commemorates or culminates that or expresses it within the physicality of a printed item, a book.
That hasn't always been how I've approached creative work and printed work, but it's what's interesting to me now, about creative work. I'm also in a place where a lot of what I'm interested in changes, and I don't have a strong sense of who I am as a creative person. More than anything, I actually respond to whatever interests me at the moment, and then I try to pursue that.
Another thing that informs what I do creatively is also this interest in graphic design and art. ever since I learned about typography and image-making, I've never looked at the world the same, and studying those disciplines, has opened up things creatively for me even though their primary application is commercial. Thinking about visual languages and visual work through the lens of graphic design has helped me create new work and find ways to problem solve in the creative process.
Before that, I didn't go to school for anything creative. I did get the opportunity to go to school to study a discipline called ethnic studies. I majored in Asian-American studies, which was a hybrid degree. Which was an exciting experience, and I learned a lot about political things, and got to do a lot of self-exploration during that time as well, to understand more about my identity and my own family history, and what my role was in society and what responsibilities I would have because of certain privileges.
I carry a lot of that with me today, although my politics have changed. But then again, similar to my art practice, I don't even know how to put words to it. I guess it's just-- I don't comfortably fit into a category of wokeness. I would have when I was in college, and now my politics are grappling with finding a political home. It seems part of being a politically active, creative person is also engaging in developing your politics and its consequences. Again, I feel this is a constantly changing process that I have a hard time articulating and setting in stone.
When about bookmaking and typography, I definitely think of this non-profit in Portland called the independent publishing resource center. I got involved with them maybe 5 years ago and learned about letterpress printing. It's a traditional form of printing used to create various printed media types, from books to posters to newspapers. But it rests on this idea of setting type by hand, so, putting individual letters of words together in a string. Something about being able to pick the letters and construct the words without picking up a pencil: I was able to make marks on paper, and for me, that was new because I've never felt compelled to illustrate. It's coupled with you also using letters, and you can say something and articulate something and communicate.
It is also a rich medium for people interested in language, specifically poets, because setting many words by hand can take a long time. People who can have an economy of speech can find a home in letterpress. Letterpress led to this interest in print, and it also led to an interest in type and typography. From there, I figured out how to learn all the Adobe programs, and I still consider myself learning. Even though I use them daily, there's so much depth to them.
Then I also spent a couple of years apprenticing with this guy named Spina, who recently moved to Arizona about a year ago. He ran a small print shop in Portland that was a unique business where he worked mostly with artists and made custom books. He was embedded in Portland's music community, did many show posters, and did a lot of art prints. I learned more about what it would take to run a small shop, make books, find ways to have more time where I'm spending actually making stuff, and printing and learning how to do it and learn how to put everything together.
So I'd say type and bookmaking come together with the political stuff, is…well, to put something out into the world, you have to figure out what you want to be saying. Combining it all together is thinking in a way that, for me, still feels very academic and heady, but then trying to represent that a bit abstracted and then also graphically, and wrapping it all together in the format of a book. I feel sometimes I do that, sometimes I don't do that, but I think generally, that's kind of, I don't know, a process that I feel would resonate with my experience.
A project I did last year that was meaningful was this book that I made in my grandpa's memory commissioned by my grandma. My grandpa passed away a couple of years ago. At his memorial service, my grandma wanted to find a way to get the community's memories together and share them. as someone from a different generation, very comfortable with print media, she was let's try to get people to write letters. We'll put them together in a book, we'll include some photos, and then we can give it out, because they live in a small town, and my grandma still does. It's called Alamosa Colorado, It's a unique place in southern Colorado.
, that project was great because I got to read through 70 or 80 handwritten letters that were all of the people sharing stories about the time they had spent with my grandpa, and funny times, sad times, meaningful times, everything in between. So, we put them together in a layout and print it off, maybe 130 copies or so, and my grandma gave them out to everyone who came to the service, or anyone who's in her network in that in that community. That was a cool project because I felt I got to use all these skills I've been trying to acquire for the past 5, 6 years and put them into something that I thought I would want to look back on in years and be oh, this was a very worthwhile thing to do.
Another noteworthy project is one that I recently completed, and it was actually funded—partially funded by RAAC, so, thank you, Regional Arts and Culture Council. It's called ACNBF, and it took years to make. It took a long time to figure out how I wanted this book to speak, and I wanted to do it in collectivity with other people. I reached out to nine different people who all have a background of either full Asian or mixed or mixed Asian and something else. They have various sexual orientations, mostly men, but not all men but most men and primarily male.
I wanted to talk about masculinity, and I wanted to talk about the unique position of the intersection of Asian-ness and masculinity. It's an exciting position that is rich, in the sense that there's a lot there, but we don't have a framework for understanding it or how to talk about it. I interviewed people, and many were creatives and had casual conversations with them about their lives. I asked about their relationships, upbringing, relationship with their parents, how they deal with racism, how they want to grow personally, off the cuff, but meaning—I would consider them to be meaningful. Hopefully, others did too.
I transcribed all the audio. It was over a hundred pages of audio. Then, it categorized every sentence into a category, then printed out those sheets, then chop them up into sentences, and then rearranged them to form composite poems. , each line from the poem is from a different interviewee, and you don't know who. They're not attributed to anyone, so, in that sense, they're a little more anonymous. I then gave every interviewee a disposable camera and paid them a stipend to fill it up with photos, show me what their life is like, and give me a perspective through their eyes. So, everything got put together in this book called AZMBF, and it was set to be released right when COVID hit, and so the release got canceled, and so, that was also a particular project that I'm still excited to release into the world, and I have no idea. I've given it to a few people, and they're oh, this is sweet, but I haven't had the opportunity to get a ton of feedback on it or see how it's going to land with folks, so I'm excited and interested to see what's going to happen with that.
I also feel too I should shout out Dao S. Dow's work was part of a collective of Vietnamese American women writers called "She who has no masters." some of their work inspired the format for AZMBF. , I feel it's important to acknowledge that-- they didn't do the same exact thing, but the idea of how do you speak in collectivity, as a group coming from a position, but also like, I don't know, they do way more stuff, but the idea of that inspired this book.
The book is basically a combination of image and text. The images are the 35-millimeter photographs from the disposable cameras from the nine different people I interviewed for the project. The text is pretty big on the page, it's basically set in Arial, a stock font, but it looks pretty all right. It was printed on a reason graph printer, which gives the images a distinct texture, its a bit grainy maybe, and it also prints one color at a time, so each image is one color. The photos are either red, yellow, turquoise green, blue, or purple, and they change throughout the book. Then all the text is white, and all the negative space is black.
, when you print, you have to print on white. Well, you don't have to, but I printed on white paper and basically didn't print the text itself. I printed everything around the letters. , it's a lot of blacks, it's when you open up the book, I wanted it to feel you were going into this space of emo darkness because that's my jam, or at least it was. Or it's this space that I, for some reason, feel comfortable communicating from, but I wanted that not to be so overpowering that it was aesthetic in and of itself, but I wanted it to be an element of it. I would say there's this element of a little bit of darkness to the book, but in a way that I hope actually helps further the message and give it a distinct tone.
Then I guess the last thing I'll say aesthetically about the book is that it was all done a hundred percent in my studio. It was a run of 150, and so, each copy was handled quite a bit, and I put more care into this project, into this physical production than I've probably had any other thing in my life. My hope is that some of the detailed work shines and comes through visually when people are…visually and effectively compelling when you're actually engaging with the result. The book is bound using this method called Japanese stabbed binding, and it is an old way of binding books, where you take a stack of loose pages, and on the edge that you're going to bind, you drill holes through the top and out the bottom, and then you stitch them together with this thread that's called waxed linen thread. It's a specific type of thread that basically is meant to be archival so that it doesn't have any acids in it, so that if you have the book 20 years from now, hopefully, it won't leach any chemicals into the paper and ruin the quality of the book, and it will hopefully still last.
Then, each cover was debossed, which is a way of saying a graphic or a shape was scored or engraved into the cover paper, the cover paper's thick, and I use this machine called the digital dye cutter. It's very tactile, it's very textural, as well as functional.
The future is a lot of anxiety right now, and that is affecting my work in the sense of—like, I'm not sure what's important to be doing right now. There's a lot of stuff happening in the world right now, everything feels very urgent, and I think work should be engaging with that urgency and responding to current social and political life. I know this is going to change things for me creatively. I would like to continue to teach. The IPRC, who I mentioned earlier, allowed me to create a class last year and lead in this program that was a 9-month program. Last year was the second year that we did it, and I enjoy teaching, so I would love to someday have a more stable teaching gig, preferably at a university or somewhere that's working with adults or young adults, that's an age group that I'm interested in working with. Doing that may be a part-time gig, teaching one course a term, or something that.
I'm interested in trying to make a living more in the design space as well, whether that's totally commercial work or whether it's at that intersection of art and design, it's definitely something I'm interested in for myself, both creatively and professionally and what I would say, I spend a lot of time working towards now. Ideally, in the future, I would have some set up to where the creative world and the professional world continue to merge and merge even more so. that that could be possible in Portland and as a Portland person living here in the future, what I want is leadership in place that responds to the community's needs. I want the community to feel they're heard in our local government and that local government is by the people, for the people, accountable and effective.
Take advantage of the fact that Portland is a smaller place. We can try things out here, make changes, and do things that can meet the specific needs of what people in Portland need. I want civic leadership that is doing a great job and effective.
Art can help shape hearts and minds, and I'm not sure how it can help us get there. Still, I guess in the past, I've seen a lot of art change how people think about otherness and perception and representation, by putting creators from marginalized backgrounds at the helm and letting them dictate what content is gonna look like. That can be effective, and that's necessary.
I want to create work that makes me feel that it was a worthwhile endeavor, but coming into a project with that mindset is sometimes challenging. I'm a big fan of developing a practice, it could be daily, it could be three times a week, where you engage in something, set a timer, and do it no matter what, and you might come up with stuff you're not stoked on. But what I find is usually when you start getting into things at about 15 to 18 minutes. You typically are at a place that seems inspiring, and maybe something creative could happen that otherwise would not have happened had you not force yourself to sit down or force yourself to engage in whatever it is you want to be doing.
I liked the concept of an archive, and I liked people making their own archives out of ordinary, mundane things in their lives. That smartphones for those who have them, have opened up a lot of opportunities for individuals to be able to document their daily experience, whether that's taking a picture of something every day and having a record of that, or whether that's… you get so much data from your phone. So, I feel there are creative ways that you can mind through that information and take the time to represent it in some way visually. That's a fun thing to do that gives you insight into something you may not otherwise think of — then for people who are visually oriented, to be able to take that and put that into something that's a visually appealing package, I love that stuff, I love it when people make archives of their own experience, in whatever way they want to and see how they do it and what they choose to pay attention to. It is a fascinating practice, both as someone who's doing it and as someone who's experiencing it.
My name is Steven Christian. I go by he, him pronouns. I'm from the Bay Area in California, and I was a former football player. I retired from playing football after having two hip surgeries, I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship to play at the University of Hawaii and then Oregon State University. Afterward, I sort of dove into the creative arts as a means of expression, and it provided some opportunities for me to make a living. One of the things was, I did a documentary on student-athlete rights, and the effects of college sports on athletes, and how it affects them later on in life.
From there, I've decided to come to Portland and journey down the road of trying to become a physician as a medical student and then on to a primary care physician. Throughout that journey, some of the experiences of creating work in Portland, as a creative artist and as a teaching artist, focus around finding the opportunities in health education and in medicine. It's been rewarding. You know, technically, I'm a full-stack augmented reality mobile developer. All that means is I make augmented reality experiences with mobile devices that incorporate all the senses to improve equity in a lot of different spaces in art and tech.
I would say that the AR piece is the new piece in the puzzle. Most of it has been focused on visual storytelling and New Media Communications with video production, primarily animation, video editing, and stuff. But with the introduction of AR into my skill set, it's expanded to me being able to create experiences that people can access on their mobile devices holistically and then take those digital content pieces and bring them into the real world to expand that interaction and that knowledge.
With being a physician, we see many opportunities—within the AR space— we're seeing many options in medical training and medical education that I hope to continue pursuing as I become a physician. I'm a retired football player, and the journey from playing to real life has been fascinating. I spent my time trying to find myself for the past five years, and I've stumbled across a few things that have stuck, obviously with comics and animation, and I have focused on community-oriented and culturally relevant visual storytelling. That stuff has defined who I am and described what I do as a creator.
Most of my stuff, which is actually relevant now than it ever has been. But a lot of my work focuses on what the Black experience is, and how Black people in particular, or particularly kids that have a lack of role models in specific areas like medicine and business, and seeing how they have those aspirations. I explore fantastical, quirky, whimsical stories that I can tell with lead Black characters, which take the essence of the Black experience dealing with racism and police brutality and all those things? How can I make a story that resonates with people? How can I make a story that resonates with people but still has an impact that forces people to question the experiences that people have that they probably shouldn't have because of their skin color and stuff?
That approach has definitely been a long journey. Obviously, it came to a head this summer, with everything that's been going on. I feel fortunate to have had the time behind me to sort of develop these stories out so that I know how to approach telling them in a time that is definitely pertinent. Again, for me being a part of the Black community in Portland and going down those stereotypical trajectories for young Black men, looking at where I'm now, it's interesting to see that this is where my life is turned to, rather than being in the NFL.
Eyelnd Feevr is my pride and joy. I would say I started Eyelnd Feevr as a portfolio piece to get hired when I was working on the documentary. I wanted to hone in on the idea that, like the #Oscarsowhite thing and the rise of the concept of Black Superheroes Matter, and all that, we weren't necessarily seeing a lot of adventure stories with Black characters in it. I started this back in 2015, 2016, so there was nothing. So I put pen to paper and started writing out stories, adventures that were relevant to me, but that spoke to the broader concept of what diversity looks like in adventure stories.
I've used Eyelnd Feevr as a way to explore the different mediums that I'm interested in, whether it's digital 2D animation, whether it's 3D animation, whether it's actual physical comic books, or comic strips, or even 100-page graphic novels. The project has lent itself to that, and with Eyelnd Feevr, sort of expanding. I would say it's come into its own in a way that I'm pretty proud of because of the inundation of emerging technology with it. Every book that I create in the Eyelnd Feevr series ends up being a test of the extent of emerging technology, particularly augmented reality in it.
In the grand scheme of things, I make augmented reality comic books, where you have the text in your hand, and you can read it as a regular graphic novel. If you have your mobile device on with you, you could shine your phone over the pages, and it sort of brings the book to life to where you could read a regular book, you could watch a video, or you can listen to it on an audiobook. It creates an immersive experience that incorporates the visuals, a little bit of the textual dynamics, and the auditory pieces that make it just immersive.
Fortunately, the Coronavirus and everything has allowed me to focus on it a lot more because nobody's going outside, and there are not as many distractions. Unfortunately, I've had to shift gears from relying on third-party sources to manufacture the books, create everything, and promote things. My goal was to go to every bookstore across Portland and try to get the book in there and do conventions. But all that stuff has pretty much been shut down for the rest of the year.
So for me, it's been trying to hone in on creating the product. When the opportunity lends itself, I'm going to look at digital avenues and stuff like that. So it's definitely been interesting. One of the big things that I guess I try to undersell is that all the books are made by hand because I make them by hand, which creates a unique experience for the reader. Because from start to finish, outside of the paper and ink, all that stuff is made by me. As a creator, that's one of the more powerful things to do, especially with books because you don't often read a handmade book that checks a lot of boxes on the unique scale, with emerging technology and augmented reality, there's an app, and they're also made by hand.
I do all my printing through the Soul District Business Association, a community organization or nonprofit in north northeast Portland. But outside of that, yeah, I got a printer, a bookbinder, and then I have a tape, like a label maker that allowed me to print all the information on the spine. Then I design all the pages, illustrate, write, and put the book together to design and print it out. I have a paper cutter, like a stack paper cutter, so I put the books together, put the spine on, and then I start cutting the books. After that, I interface with the app, and then I put it out there, then people buy the books and stuff online and download the app.
I make about 20 to 30 books each round. I've been logging who buys the books and stuff. I've been logging how many books I make. There'll be a letter in the book, and there'll be a number corresponding to that. That lets you know what batch of books I made this from and the number on that batch of books. Roscoe was the last character that I've developed in the series, which is interesting because he's the main character, and everything's pretty much focused around him now. I initially created him as sort of the antagonistic kind of annoying character similar to Cartman in South Park, where he's annoying. He was a side character to my previous main character, TJ.
I started to sit down and think about like, okay, when I'm looking at an adventure story, and I'm looking at the character dynamics, what speaks to me? For Roscoe, he's adventurous, he's outspoken, he's all that, and TJ is sort of the soft-spoken, supportive leader, or supportive dependable person that Roscoe goes to. So I started to develop stories out of what would happen with an experience that stays true to the character; it lent itself to Roscoe. But more importantly, for me as a creator, I develop both of those characters as sort of two sides of the same coin. I have my own experiences that I sort of revere, and the people I revere, particularly with my father, and my relationship with that, and being an athlete.
Roscoe is the athletic one who didn't have a relationship with his father, and TJ is the stable home one that wasn't an athlete. So with it, I sort of explore what my life would be like in this weird fantastical way if I didn't have one of those two things in my life. it's definitely allowed me to reflect on my experiences because I find myself in my life trying to find ways to be successful in things that I'm not necessarily well-versed in. I have the idea of the American Dream. That speaks to Roscoe's drive, but what that American Dream looks like is up for debate. It's subjective. For me, and for other Black people across the country, outside of sports, and entertainment, that idea of achieving the American Dream is something that you don't know, you don't understand, and you don't see your capacity in until you're given opportunities and exposure.
For Roscoe, he's trying to put himself out there to get that exposure. Unfortunately, he doesn't have much direction with it, and he's likely to say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing because he doesn't know. that's what drives the story because there's a dynamic where the world of Utopia plays on the idea of race, and plays on the idea that there's the human race, then there's other races. The concept of different races interacting with each other allows me to exploit that idea and talk about police brutality in a visceral way but doesn't hit close to home, as it were if it was two people attacking people. This is the beauty and joy of being creative, being able to tell these stories that resonate with people and develop characters that speak to me, but also talk to the broader audience. see them see the growth in it, and that's been great.
I am trying to get into medical school right now. This is my third time applying. I recently applied back in 2017. I took a gap year because it's expensive. It's taxing on your mental health, your physical health, all those different things. I took a gap year, I applied last year in 2019. I ended up getting two interviews, but I wasn't fortunate enough to make it to the other side. So I am currently in my third application cycle right now. I will be going back to writing my personal statement and putting together all my work and experiences, and putting together the application, and scraping together every ounce of pennies, and nickels, and dimes that I could find to pay for all this stuff.
I was a health and wellness coach before the Coronavirus and everything. Now I'm sort of biding my time to get back into the healthcare space. I didn't get my rejections till the end of April, like, April/May, and then I didn't get my feedback sessions to last month, and applications opened up last month. So I spent like three weeks trying to figure out if I actually wanted to apply this cycle or wait till the next process. So it wasn't until last Monday that I officially decided to apply to medical school. Then that's when an onslaught of reality hit where it's like, I got to do this, this, this, this, this, this. Then I got to come up with $1200.
For primaries, I have all the schools that I'm applying to, I'm applying to 30 schools, which is actually not a lot, that's sort of the expectation. If you applied to less than 20, then you're not applying enough. It's one big primary application where they have your personal statement. They have your work and experiences, your "disadvantage" statement, letters of recommendation, all your coursework and everything, that is your cover letter, and then you send that in. I'm sending it to 30 schools, but it'll cost me around $1200 for that. You pay that price; can't write it off in your taxes, nothing like that. Then you hope that you don't get immediate rejections, and any schools that respond back to you, they'll send you a secondary. The primary is around $45, the secondaries are about $100. Then you have another wave of applications where it's probably three to seven questions, and they're all essay questions, so around 700 words for each question. Typically, half of the responses will come with secondaries. You submit the secondaries, fill those out, submit those to the specific schools because they're all school-specific. Then you pay that $100 for each one of those, which will probably run me another 1500; then from there, you get interviews. Last year, I got two interviews, so I had to fly out and do all that stuff. They're going to be doing those remotely this time, so I don't have to travel, which will save me money. After that, you wait and see if you get in.
That's pretty much the journey that I've been going through for the past three years. There's so many different things, and it's interesting to see how the Coronavirus has perpetuated those inequities, where people in certain areas can't take the MCAT and because they can't take the MCAT, it's hard for them to apply and make their applications more competitive, and then you can't get clinical experiences. You're not working in healthcare. You're not volunteering and shadowing. You can't even do any of the stuff you want to do to show that you want to be a physician and staff.
Much like everything else, the Coronavirus is definitely exploiting many of these flaws in these institutions that are not necessarily known for their diversity. I'm curious to see the lasting effects of this on the pathway towards being a physician. We're going to be in a pandemic, for at least the next year or so, based on empirical evidence. So I'm curious to see how this moment will affect so many industries over the next 10 years because this is like the great depression for us.
It's one thing that people are dying, and people are losing their livelihoods and stuff. it's another thing to see the perpetuation of inequity and how that sort of furthers the gaps between people and communities. I'm curious to see what some of the solutions will be. Hopefully, the work that I'm doing with emerging technology and trying to get more Black people into emerging technology, health education, training, storytelling, I hope that I end up being on the right side of history with this. For me, it's a matter of sticking to my guns and seeing how I can sort of leave an impact with the work that I do.
I know what it feels to not see—to not even be aware of something, not even saying that it was impossible or possible, just, it wasn't even on the radar. Once things start to become more—I become more aware of things. It kind of came to that conversation. That a level of imposter syndrome that a lot of Black people have is just, "I'm doing this, I have interest and stuff, but will I get the opportunity to show what I can do? When I do have that opportunity, because I don't see people doing it, will I be able to rise to the occasion?" and that is a real thing that, like, for me, at least there's not a lot of people in AR. So when I put something out, I'm self-conscious that it's going to break when somebody downloads it, or I'm self-conscious that this is going to be a brief reflection of why there isn't diversity in the space because I wasn't able to see the project through and live up to, the expectation.
The beauty and curse of Twitter are some people feel that way, the same reason some people don't see the grounds for making AR hardware cheaper or having low-cost solutions for head-mounted displays. There's a sect of people in the industry that only care about enterprise solutions, only care about things that cost $3000 to $4000 for entry-level points, only care about those corporate branded sorts of solutions for AR, rather than some kind of consumer-oriented ones that are low-cost solutions, which are the things that I focus on.
In the distant future, I guess continuing the AR work that I'm doing as a creator, as a developer, and as sort of a teaching artist. I do a lot of teaching to get people to learn how to create comics and stuff. Now that I'm in the AR space and emerging technology, I'm trying to incorporate a lot of that skill set of teaching into the work that I'm doing, to where I'm teaching people how to do the projects that I'm making, and developing online curriculum around those things. So that's one of the immediate things that I'm continually building out now and putting out. Hopefully, as we get towards the beginning of the year, I get accepted into medical school. I get to sort of close some doors that I currently have open now and open more doors towards a different career that is sort of tangential to some kind of creative stuff that I'm doing.
For me, my role in AR is one to sort of being a use case for why there should be more diversity and emergent technology., with the work that I'm doing, particularly with Island Fever, I'm trying to find an opportunity to create a seamless, low-cost, immersive experience for physical books. I want to do that because, you know, books in and of themselves are the essence of us knowing anything and everything; they're the conduits for us to explore and learn and all those things. Any YouTube video, any speaker, anything comes from their ability to read, parse down information, and transmit data to others.
The only problem is, now particularly with the Black community, is that illiteracy rates are high. That's because there's stories that people don't identify with, people don't have access to the right books, and many reasons that are byproducts of lack of equity. So creating books and telling stories to sort of get books in the hands of Black kids and set them down this road of learning to read and appreciating books.
With Augmented Reality and stuff, it's sort of lowering the bar of entry barriers for early readers and people who haven't necessarily appreciated literature growing up or in their lives. So even if it's gimmicky or with bells and whistles, by adding sound, adding video, incorporating more senses, into the reading experience, so that they are eager to pick up the next book and go down that journey again. For me, that gives me the most joy when I'm developing and coding and animating at two o'clock in the morning. It's like, okay, this is why I'm doing it, and this is the angle that I have. Hopefully, I get to that angle sooner rather than later.
I approached everything as I approached football. So with football, there were specific reasons why you did certain things. Those were sort of, you built some kind of tasks around doing those things to achieve the end goal of winning a national championship every year, or getting a scholarship or getting drafted. Those were always, like, the specific goals. You sort of mapped out the trajectory for that. So when I retired, I realized that that part of me didn't quit. It was still there. It sort of drove me to explore other things and get that sort of fix that football gave me despite it not being there. So what I've done in my creative career, my journey towards medicine, is make a lot of lists. I have a wall with a dry erase wallpaper on it, and I have tons of dry erase markers. I literally have a wall, that the sole purpose of that wall is for me to write down ideas and mind map how I go from the concept to the actual thing I want to achieve. It feels great to go to the wall and erase one thing because I accomplished it. I sort of continued to do that repeatedly until I sort of reached the point that I could erase everything off the wall and figure out a new goal and continue that. The other thing has been time management and time management to juggle different projects throughout the day and throughout the week or the month.
I want to make more money and learn new skills. I'll do that right when I wake up, it will be from 8 o'clock to 10 or 11, and that time is solely for me to learn something new, learn something about blender, learn something about 3D modeling, or if I saw a tutorial video on YouTube, it's like, "Okay, I'm going to watch that video and learn about that new skill in the morning," and then once 10 or 11 hits, then I go about my day. I work on the different projects that I want to do.
Those have been the two things that I encourage other people to sort of look into or add to their work or whatever it is, finding ways to have a wall or space or a document to throw ideas on there and then look at that, be able to get out of your head and look at what's in front of you and say okay, how can I get from point A to point B? and then you make lines. You try to connect them in feasible ways. Then put the time in and block out your time to understand how long it's going to take and make the idea less of an idea and more of reality with actions.
My name is Annamieka Hopps Davidson, and I also go by Mieka, and I’m 35 years old. My pronouns are she and hers. I grew up in Eugene, Oregon, and I’ve been in Portland now for over a decade. The most significant part of my identity that’s important to share is that I recently became a mother: I have a one-year-old.
I live and work as an artist, and I am primarily a painter: I’m a painter, drawer, illustrator, and occasionally surface designer on fibers and textile. My work has also led me to be a teacher. A lot of my creative practice is this fluid motion of learning, figuring out how to do something, sharing my discovery, sharing the delight of the creative process, and sharing it. I do this by teaching creativity courses and mentoring artists one-on-one.
I have this funny little niche where I basically shout enthusiastically through a Zoom screen while people work in their own studios. Or I can go physically to their spaces if they live locally, but I work with people worldwide. I also founded an art studio in Southeast Portland called the Nurture Artists Collective, and five of us share space here. We collaborate frequently, and we created a community.
In the Nurture Artists Collective, we’ve all been friends for years now. We decided to name ourselves Nurture Artists Collective because a lot of what we do in our community and with each other is to nurture and uplift and encourage and “water” each other’s creativity, and see each other through times of challenge.
I do the same thing in my year-round course called Let’s Go Deep. It's basically a community that I facilitate, but I’m also living my process out loud for the participants: I’m completely transparent about my creative practice, the highs and lows, and the times of great productivity—and so, we work through the whole year together in that way.
I feel that I have two creative communities. I have Let’s Go Deep, my year-round course that I’m about to launch again for its third year. Then I have the Nurture Artists Collective, my physical studio in Portland with my fellow artists. The Nurture Artists Collective also has a Patreon, and we are starting to do more collaborative offerings with our growing Patreon community.
For many years, I’ve been teaching in-person classes. I got my start in 2007 as an intern at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, which is this fabulous little nonprofit on the coast that is centered on a nature preserve. The Sitka Center brings artists and ecologists together from all over the world! It’s a significant creative hub for the Pacific Northwest. I told my students, “Let’s go explore out in the woods!” I’d teach them to identify plants and then paint them in layered paintings. I taught that workshop for years and simply loved it. It inspired the content for my first online course: I basically adopted the process I taught at those workshops to the online format.
It was fun! I hired a videographer friend of mine, and we went out to the old-growth forest, where we filmed the botany parts of the class. Then we filmed all the other parts of the class here in the studio. That class, Wild Wonder, has now been taken by over a thousand people all over the world. It’s super fun for me as an Oregonian to share the gorgeous natural beauty of our region, and I can’t help but get enthusiastic when I’m doing that kind of stuff.
As a teacher, there’s a point when we have to make a decision: Are we willing to give it all away? I firmly believe that there’s genuinely no competition in creative work because the most rewarding, fulfilling career is finding our voice and sharing that. The more we work, the more undeniably true to ourselves we’re being. So there’s no fear for me when teaching my process, because one of the most fun things I do is keep innovating and thinking of something new.
In my year-long course, I have a cohort right now of 35 artists that are doing this with me for the second year I’ve taught it. The whole point is for them to get a creative practice going that fits them and supports them as they make a cohesive body of their work. I teach lessons and the students do exercises and work on their own artwork as we follow the yearlong curriculum. We learn basic design and color theory. We look at art history and creative practice, and the participants end up making a body of work that’s all their own. Each artist’s unique, original voice gets gently revealed, even if they were having trouble distinguishing it before.
I’m trying to imagine, if you’re listening to this podcast from, maybe in your kitchen, or you’re chopping vegetables or folding laundry or maybe driving somewhere and trying to picture my paintings in your imagination. I typically start with quite a bit of color. I’m a huge fan of blues and greens, and there’s usually botanical imagery—and I can’t help but make some sort of all-over pattern. I like to weave and dab the color all around. There’s a story inside every painting, so sometimes there are people. Sometimes there are animals. Sometimes there are plants—it’s either based on an actual walk I’ve taken and something I’ve encountered or a memory or a wish for the future.
Almost always, if we have a chance to talk about the painting, I’m going to tell you about the process of making it because the picture itself, when it’s done, feels kind of like a moment in time. It’s one bit of the whole experience, so that’s why I like to make videos about the process and teach the process, too.
Layer by Layer and much of the process is the title of the body of work that I’m working on now. This is the first proper full body of work I’ve created since I went through a considerable metamorphosis and became a mother. Layer by Layer and much of the process is the name I came up with because it will be interesting to share the process. My plan is to create and edit a video that shows the process of creating this new body of work.
This project is also giving me accountability and a deadline. Due to COVID, my gallery placement fell through. I don’t have my deadline on my venue anymore, but I’m still trying to keep to the same timeline because I very dearly need to make a new series of paintings.
Right now, we’re in the middle of a massive opportunity for transformation as a society, and we see that with Black Lives Matter and the civil rights uprising. COVID and quarantine have caused us all to reconsider what’s essential. We’re learning that connection is necessary—and we’re creative beings, and so creating our art and expressing our truth in that way is essential, and we have to find ways to do that on a personal level. I’ve learned that the more I can learn to love and accept myself, the more I can help my students learn to love themselves and move themselves forward on their creative journey.
Then, my big dreamy hope is that that self love and acceptance ripples out, and we’ll have a more tolerant society because people are learning to love and accept each other and provide for each other. My hope is that this time is an opportunity to realize our impact on each other, to learn how much connection matters, and for the artists to remember that your work is needed; it is generous to make your art and to share it, and that’s enough; get out there and do it now!
In the future, I want to continue to be a painter and be healthy and happy and provide for my family. I say that because I’m squarely in the struggling working class right now, and I want to live in a future where it’s not such a grind to be an artist—a future where we have the ability to have our work be supported and valued by the community. I want to live in a society where healthcare is a priority for everyone. It’s scary to live in a community that feels like it doesn’t truly have your back. My vision is for personal resilience that then ripples out into societal resilience and the realization that everyone needs to be loved and cared for. That, I hope, is part of the new paradigm that we’re fighting for right now, that we’re actively creating. I believe that as artists, by practicing and keeping our creative muscle and our imagination healthy, we can keep visualizing and actually creating that possibility so other people can see it and then help direct the whole collective thought that direction.
My name's Matt Schumacher, my pronouns are he, him. I'm a resident of the Kent neighborhood here in Portland and managing editor of Phantom Drift, a Portland-based literary journal whose mission is to celebrate and support the strange and fantastic writing in the Northwest and worldwide. I had been working on the magazine since its inception 10 years ago. I'm also a poet who made six collections of poetry, most recently the collection of Missing Suspiria de Profundis published by Grand Gus Press last summer. This fantastic story collection is about a time-traveling poet, an anti-hero, who eventually collides with the opioid crisis in the drug war.
Having been raised in Iowa, I often think I was drawn to the fantastic due to long-term exposure to cornfields and prairies, wide-open spaces, and imagining what might be performing. As a poet, too, I've been most influenced by the surrealists. In the 1970s, poets believed in the Fantastic's revolutionary power and in its ability to create alternate worlds and hypothetical situations that multiplied possibility. In what Todoroff, or was the V. Todoroff called the 'duration of uncertainty' and Victor Schwabskis notion of defamiliarization, i.e., presenting everyday things to your readers in strange ways to rethink reality.
At Phantom Drift, our mission is to nurture and advance fantastic writing, writing of the word, surrealism in the Northwest and throughout the country and then in the world. We do get international submissions as well as—well, a lot of submissions from the area. We're currently in the process of publishing our 10th-anniversary issue, which I'm really excited about, almost done selecting work, and we're nearing the proofing stage. The last few stories are being decided upon as we speak. We have four poetry editors, four fiction editors, and a webmaster, a graphic designer. The Regional Arts and Culture Council grant allowed me to pay early, which I felt really great to do.
We're hoping that this year we'll be able to print our most special issue. It's even more work than usual, including semesters, in particular by our editors. I know that we should be featuring an essay about the premium poets and the next Mexican fiction writer, Ampara Davila. I do think about the future. I have quite a few goals for the journal. First of all, let's say just stability and being solidly as constant in the literary field. I see us as a sort of precarious rare bird, and I really don't think there's another journal like us in the United States at this time.
The tangible goals for us would include an expanded readership, more submissions. I'd like to see, particularly in poetry and poets out there, bombard us, saturate us, please. as long as we're able, I see us as continuing to offer area writers and artists publishing opportunities and an unusual lively showcase for featuring their work. We'd like our journal to help inspire and kindle the dust of writing, and we welcome submissions from Portland authors and artists. Ideally, we'd like to partner with other local organizations and hold literature events. I have this pipe dream of owning a carnival of the weird fundraising event, with poetry readings, booths, music from local bands.
Stubbornness first, I guess, is some advice I would give on longevity, perseverance, the careful management of what you have before you, and surrounding yourself with people that will help in any necessary capacity. I feel like it's easier than it used to be when I did all the poetry. I usually write the intros to the journal too, I would say, you know, you get kind of accustomed to what you're doing, and you figure out what works best. So, in the decade of making a journal, there are benefits to longevity. It's kind of like teaching, you keep what works, and you jettison the rest.
It's obviously a challenging time to be making art. It's an appropriate time for workers to protest and advocate for the victims of police brutality and social injustice. I'd say it's heartening to remember that great art can and will be made, even in the most challenging moments. I would say the great art of this era needs to be and will be created, and it will face some of the racism and injustice our country has failed to acknowledge, and that's an exciting prospect and a necessary one.
I was giving a friend of mine this advice the other day—a friend of mine, he's been talking about not writing poetry anymore. I advised him to remember the life force of all creative work is play. There's a Dutch theorist, Johan Huizinga, and it's become a lens that works as a beautiful reminder of this concept.
In the more highly organized forms of society, religion, science, law, or politics gradually lose touch with play. Prominent in the earlier phases, the poet's function still remains fixed in the place sphere where it was born. CoExist, in fact, is a play on role that proceeds within the playground of the mind, in a world of its own, which the mind creates for it. Some things are different physiognomy from the one, they were an ordinary life, and they're bound by ties other than logic and causality. It'll be defined as one that may be made in terms of waking life.
Poetry will never rise to the level of seriousness. It lies beyond seriousness on that more primitive and original level, where the child, the animal, the savage, and the seer belong in the region of dream, enchantment, ecstasy, laughter. To understand poetry, we must be capable of dawning the child's soul like a magic cloak and forsaking man's wisdom for the child.
Try to move a bit more play into your process. Think about enlivening the process with whatever tools you have to make it more ludic, I guess, more celebratory, more fun. I would say that most of the literature that I encountered that I really loved for Phantom Drift has that as a centerpiece. It's playful at the level of language, or it's attentive to the sound of the language, just active in that realm and the realm of ideas. I don't think you can lie if your practice includes fun and play in it.
I would go straight to the source, read Huizinga's book, chapter seven. If you're a poet, dabble a bit throughout it, it's an informative piece, I think. Of course, as a writing teacher, I can tell you that collaboration, seeking, which of course, social distancing at the present time most certainly. If you have friends that can present you with prompts or possibilities for creating art, that's an added benefit. You can form a group where you give each other prompts, sometimes that's freeing, that frees you out of any sort of block you're having. If you're writing to a different goal or purpose than you'd written to before.
Something that I try to do as a poet: cross out what you've done before. I don't want to write the same term over and over again, so each time that I start a new project, I say, 'Hey, I've done this in the past, I can't do this again,' sort of disallowing that, and that creates a new space to work, and that's invigorating, it takes you different places. Constraint, oddly enough, can be liberating.
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.
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!