So I just finished my first semester of graduate school at George Washington University, where I’m pursuing the country’s first Master of Fine Arts degree in the field of Social Practice.
The term “Social Practice” was new to me, but it seemed to perfectly incorporate all my interests by intersecting Art, Public Policy, and Community Engagement. For the last seven years, The Fearless Artist Popup Gallery—which I’ve produced each December during Art Basel Miami—has synthesized all these elements and been the work that has been the most rewarding for me.
The Fearless Artist empowers mission-driven artists with access to coaching, to a community, and to art buyers who want to support social change.
My path to figuring out how to use my passion for advocacy and my love of art was not a direct one. It took time for me to develop my professional network, learn new skills, and build my knowledge of business side of art.
Like many people, I didn’t have any guidance after college, I wanted to work in the arts, but knew I wanted to make a decent living in New York. After working as a event production assistant at MTV, I knew I needed more education to move up. So I went to law school and worked for an entertainment firm. My boss was worse than you’d expect even for a lowly associate!
I dreaded going to work everyday even though I made a lot of money.
My life changed when my mother unexpectedly passed away from a stroke.
It made me realize that dreading each day, spending 70+ hours a week feeling threatened, undervalued and in a constant state of anxiety, was no way to live.
Making millions for other people, who didn’t care about me, or the people their work impacted, was also not what I wanted to use my hard won education for, especially as a black woman.
I made the decision not to use my law degree to work for a firm and make my way up the ladder of corporate America, so I sublet my midtown Manhattan apartment, and went to live in Paris and travel the world pursuing a love of art.
I made many friends on my travels. Eventually, I realized that my friends who were artists had difficulty managing their businesses, getting exhibitions, and making sales.
I also noticed that galleries seemed to have much of the control over an artist’s career, their voice, and their access to clients. Galleries also have a reputation for being snobby pretentious spaces where ideas of social impact or equity were usually not a curatorial focus or concern.
In 2014, I took a chance and did the first Art Basel Miami pop up gallery, exhibiting 23 artists to more than 7,000 visitors over a 6 day period. By 2019, we’ve surpassed 12,000 visitors during the exhibition, and have since featured over 200 artists at our gallery, earning us a spot on Time Out Magazine’s “Best of Art Basel” events list.
The art, the interactions, the diversity and sense of community that was experienced felt to me like something new, fresh and satisfying was taking place. I believe it felt like that to many others as well.
It seemed like the way art shows should have always been, and it left me with many questions that I’ve spent years considering before I ever began framing The Fearless Artist in the context of art and social justice or socially-engaged art.
When I decided to follow my heart and trust my instincts, I was able to discover my own purpose, to discover my own mission.
My desire to advocate for both artists and art buyers is stronger than ever. I’m doing what I love—making spaces for people to connect and create.
I look forward to sharing some of those questions and ideas about the role of the artist in creating positive social change.
My goal is to look at contemporary art and cultural events through the lens of social justice—and expand our discussion of the idea social practice—with you on this blog.
I plan to share what I’m working on with The Fearless Artist and conduct interviews with mission-driven artists who inspire me.
I hope they inspire you too.
Finally, I hope this blog can be a place where the arts community can examine the art and social justice issues I am currently considering and grappling with as I pursue my MFA degree in the field of Social Practice.
2021 is going to be a very busy year and we will be speaking to lots of exciting change-making Artists engaged in Social Practice and many others on this platform.
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@Kiki_Somerville blessings in the new year!