Artist Profile: Stephanie Brown

by Isabel Lamont 

For multidisciplinary artist and program developer Stephanie Brown, creativity seems to have been ingrained in her DNA. She grew up a first-generation American in Delray Beach, Florida, as her parents are Jamaican immigrants, and is the youngest of five siblings. “I didn’t realize until my senior year in high school that I am surrounded by creative siblings and parents,” she tells Dr. Rhodes in our exclusive interview. Her oldest sister is an interior designer, one of her brothers is a media specialist, her other brother is a woodworker in Florida, while her other sister is a professional DJ in Tampa. But while all of her siblings ended up in creative fields, “it took them a long time to get there,” she reveals, “because they all went to school for something they didn’t necessarily love or want.”

This is what ultimately led Stephanie to applying to art school. Knowing that she wanted to train her eye, she landed at The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Georgia, where she earned a BFA in photography in 3 years– completing her degree an entire year earlier than her peers.

Stephanie also knew that she wanted to go to graduate school for art, but was receiving some pushback from her professors and faculty. However, it was the advice from her mentor at SCAD that made the most long-lasting impact: “go when you know what you want to say to the world as an artist.” Knowing what she wanted to do had not been an issue for Stephanie– it was her heart and her passion that brought her to art school. But knowing what she wanted her artistic message to be? “I couldn’t fully answer that question. So that’s why I decided I wouldn’t go straight to grad school.”

She took this time to travel and work, finishing her last two courses at SCAD at their campus in France, and then taking a job to work as a travel photographer for Norwegian Cruise lines, where she was able to build up her portfolio. “I then went back to Florida, where I stumbled my way into art education,” she recalls. Growing up in Delray Beach, Stephanie took advantage of the art courses offered by her community, and received numerous scholarships from them to take photography classes with a professional in their community center, and then drawing classes when she revealed she was applying to art school. Though teaching had never been something Stephanie set out to do, she knew that if she were to end up in education, it would be at a community center such as the one she grew up with.

And that’s exactly what she did– she went to central Florida, where she worked at the Discovery Center in Ocala, Florida. Though she was initially hired for their summer camp, her boss decided to keep her on as she recognized her strong potential to work in their preschool program. “I loved it. I love that age. They’re young enough where they’re not sassy,” Stephanie says, laughing. And Stephanie delivered above and beyond– she designed the lessons, and while the Discovery Center was typically science-oriented, she incorporated art into the lessons and redecorated the whole classroom and course design. After her first year, her preschool program gained so much popularity that a waitlist developed– the first one to ever exist. It was in this role where she discovered her passion and talent for program development.

Grad School and Current Projects

After travelling, working, and discovering more about herself through her program development, Stephanie attended grad school for two years at the University of Michigan, and just graduated this spring. Through her travels and experiences working, especially with younger children, Stephanie realized the message she wants to bring to the world as an artist.

“For the past two years, I have been working on colorism,” Stephanie tells Dr. Rhodes, “And a lot of the work I’ve made is situated around that and moving towards interactive and public art-making. I have been targeting more organic spaces, social justice environments that will really feed off of that. For me, there are a lot of things goings on in the world and in social media that ties into colorism– there’s a lot of waves I can ride with that.”

Recently, Stephanie exhibited her work at the College Arts Association annual conference. There, she exhibited three of her works: one of which being one of her topsy turvy dolls, titled Revolution. Another work she showed was her “Do Not Bleach” shirts, which is a public art campaign that allows people to advocate for their melanin. “[This campaign] allows people to represent their melanin by literally wearing a shirt that has been actually bleached in the screen printing process,” she explains. The third piece she exhibited was a satire piece titled “Mulatto.” “This piece is a fast-tanning product that I created that is meant to mimic the language of sunless tanning products out there on the market, but then with a closer read of the ingredients, the company branding– all of those little details on the back,” she reveals, “I’m shaming those products as a contemporary form of blackface.”

At the conference, her work was placed in the middle of the busiest concourse, with a large number of people fluidly moving through her exhibit and viewing her work. The reception of her work was positive– people responding about how timely and important her work is. “And that’s great feedback to hear,” she explains, “but what can be frustrating is that, especially when you’re about to graduate or be done with school, is that’s the most common thing people can say about your work. ‘This is so great.’ ‘I’m so excited about this.’ ‘We need this.’ But that’s it. So, if you need this, and if you feel like this is so timely, what’s next?” And this brings up the issue that art consumption does not equate to concrete support. Especially with art activism, consuming the artwork is not a form of action– instead, connecting the artist with your network, purchasing their work, or furthering their career in some tangible way will better illustrate your support.

As far as the message she wants people to gather from her work, Stephanie explains that “my attention is always on people of color– my bottom line interest is to raise self-esteem and provide people experiential opportunities to not only educate them but to advocate for themselves.” She further gravitated towards interactive art as her medium because she believes that “if I can provide an experience for you, and relate to you by way of my own story, then that’s another window for someone to consider what’s being put in front of them.”

Future Directions

Stephanie is currently coming off of a two-year art making period, and is spending her time marketing her work and looking for full time work to support her art-making. Since she discovered her love for programming, she is looking for something that will incorporate both art and program development. “I am someone who will commit 110% to whatever it is I do,” she tells Dr. Rhodes, “so I am very picky about what it is I choose to work on.”

Her advice for aspiring artists? “If you’re serious act like you’re serious. So many people have talent, but not enough of them are willing to put themselves out there. When you show that you mean business, and that this is not just a hobby for you, this is not just for fun– people will realize that.”

We can learn a lot from Stephanie’s own artistic journey– she knew herself and what she wanted from an early age, and courageously took every step to get her to where she is. But she also kept a part of herself open to new experiences, where she was able to discover her talents and interests in program development. Between working for a cruise line and travelling the world to enrolling in local community art classes to hone her art skills, Stephanie has made the most of every opportunity she sought out. She remains confident in her ability, and rightfully so– she knows that the world needs to hear what she has to say and that her work deserves to be seen. But all the while she balances achieving her creative dreams with being smart about the business side of her talents, making sure to spend time and energy on marketing and looking for full-time work to support her artistic career. Knowing her strengths and abilities and where she wants to end up has gotten Stephanie so far already, and will only take her further. And we are so excited for the great things this amazing person and artist will do.


Make sure to follow Stephanie on Instagram, Linkedin, and Facebook and check out her website. Also, watch the full exclusive interview to learn more about Stephanie, her artwork, and her mission.

  • Back of "Do Not Bleach" campaign. All photos courtesy of Stephanie Brown.

6 Things We Can Learn from Haley Hill

 

In our VAR conversation series video with student and photographer Haley Hill, we discussed topics ranging from the first time she ever held a camera to her own experiences in a public arts institution. Haley’s own artistic journey reveals one of many routes an artist can take towards a successful career. Here are six things we can take away from Haley’s personal and creative journey and apply to our own lives.

Trust your Intuition

One  value Haley holds close to herself is her intuition. “Intuition is something we practice everyday. It’s something I practice with my work, and it’s something I practice with myself.” When you trust your intuition, especially your creative intuition, more times than not it will be validated and supported by those around you. If you get into the habit of practicing intuition in your daily life, and by extension your creative life, you will find a stronger sense of yourself and your own unique creative voice.

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift” —Albert Einstein

Understand when you need a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, and allow yourself to do so

Haley tells us that, while New York has a lively art scene, sometimes it can be too overwhelming for her. There are dozens of gallery openings each weekend, and sometimes the pressure to go to so many different events will just make you not want to go out at all. It’s okay to need a break from the city, and don’t be afraid to recognize when you need one. Take a weekend for yourself to visit a relaxing spot, and use the time to replenish your creative and mental energy.

Allow your struggles to become knowledge and growth rather than blockages

When Dr. Rhodes asks Haley about moments she regrets or times when she wishes she received more support, Haley responds that there had been hard situations that she confronted, but doesn’t look back on them with regret. “I wouldn’t change anything, because I’ve gained a lot of knowledge from having to navigate certain difficulties on my own.” Be aware that the challenges and struggles you have faced will bring you wisdom and a better understanding of yourself, and look at these moments as a chance for growth instead of one of hinderance.

Take advantage of the resources and connections you can gain from your school

Haley is currently working for an artist named Mary Mattingly, who is located at Governor’s Island, NY. Mattingly gained a lot of publicity and media attention from a installation called Swale, a floating food forest for New York. Haley was able to intern for Mattingly through her school practicum, an internship that matches students to artists in NYC based on similarity. Know which opportunities you have available to you, especially at your school or within your community. Apply for any position you come across, and reach out to any opportunity that you feel would be a great experience. This way, you can build your network and gain fulfilling artistic experiences that will contribute to your personal and artistic growth.

Do not allow the fear of life after college to take over your experiences, as you are still developing

In the interview, Dr. Rhodes asks Haley what she wants to do with her career after graduating. Haley responds that she has no idea what she wants to do career-wise, but mentions that her dad offered to let her work in his photography studio for a year after graduating. Acknowledging that this is a wonderful opportunity, Haley also reveals that she would like to figure out how to navigate the world as an artist completely on her own. This openness to self-growth, even if it means not taking the secure route, is so important when it comes to following your passion. Sometimes, the greatest successes begin with failure, and the courage to embrace those failures is a deeply valuable trait for artists.

If there is a place in the world where you feel happiest, make time to visit the location multiple times and take a friend or loved one with you

“I really love to be in nature.” Haley tells Dr. Rhodes, after she was asked where she would want to go if she could go anywhere. Knowing yourself and when you work best is crucial to becoming the best artist you can be, and what’s even more important is knowing what will put you in that creative mindset. Though the New York art scene is rich and vibrant, Haley know that it’s “just city,” and while that works for some people, it wouldn’t make her happy. Take a moment to reflect on where you were when you felt most inspired, and what about that location made you feel that way. Whether it was by your favorite hometown lake or walking through your favorite museum exhibit, make the time to revisit those places. Take someone with you, and talk to them about why you love this place so much. Sharing your art with others is important, but sharing your inspiration with people you care about is equally as meaningful.

Haley will be having a private art showing in NYC and we will be sending our VAR fellow out to look at her show in the following week. We can’t wait to get a closer look at a student run art show! You can find her website at haleyrhill.com and her instagram @haleyrhill.

Queens Open Engagement and the Power of Art Activism

On May 11th-13th, 2018, the Queens Museum held their 10th annual Open Engagement event. Hundreds of artists, activists, educators, creatives, and students alike attended the program to explore this year’s theme of Sustainability. The Open Engagement consisted of numerous activities, speakers, and various other ways for artists and activists to marry their mediums of expression to deliver a powerful message of sustainability.

There were several different interactive activity stations, based in the visual arts. One station was hosted by Mobile Print Power, a printmaking collective based in Corona, Queens. At the station, they had a printmaker on site who taught visitors how to silk-screen while going more in depth about their mission. This particular site focused on making tote bags addressing the question “What does a community of trust, compassion, and inclusion look like and how do we build relationships to make that real?” They host workshops every week, and their collective is compiled of both artists and activists who seek to unpack social and cultural issues through printmaking. You can learn more about Mobile Print Power and their workshops here.

Mobile Print Power station Photo credit: Netanel Saso

Another station was hosted by Greenspace NYC, a non-profit organization that organizes and creates free programs, workshops, and design projects to educate the public about issues surrounding sustainability in NYC and across the globe. For the past three years, they have created an event called the Civic Art Lab, which is a pop-up gallery and workshop space that takes place every October. The Civic Art Lab explores topics ranging from climate change to sustainable architecture to urban agriculture. Their station at the Open Engagement included a pop-up gallery that exhibited works covering these topics. Here you can find information about last year’s Civic Art Lab, and stay updated with information about next year’s gallery.

A company called PulpMobile hosted a station, where mixed-media artist Rejin Leys created a mobile cart that showcased how paper is made, and allowed community members to make paper as well. In this interactive station, visitors could make their own page or use a pre-made page, and even learn how to make paper out of recycled materials. You can learn more about PulpMobile here, and further explore Leys’ work here.

There was also an Open Platform that allowed various speakers to give lectures and talks on the theme of sustainability. Sculptures That Talk gave a speech on protection of public land, and specifically on the protection of the land of Oak Flat, Arizona, which is sacred to the San Carlos Apache. Sculptures That Talk is a collaborative work and public sculpture that seeks to educate and engage members of the community. Erin Turner, one of the presenters, is working to create an Oak Flat interactive sculpture that will involve both the natives and the landscape to construct this collaborative piece.  Turner discussed the history of San Carlos Apache concentration camps in the United States, as well as Native American removal practices. Her piece aims to educate the public about the protection of this sacred land, and with it the advocating for emotional and spiritual safety for the indigenous people of this area. It is a powerful project, revealing how identity and environment are so interwoven, and exhibiting this idea through a sculpture that illustrates identity and landscape through art.

The Open Platform where guest speakers presented. Photo credit: Netanel Saso

Speaker Grace Lynne Haynes came to discuss the topic of Social Impact and Design. Haynes is an LA based social impact artist, using her art to bring awareness to social justice and underrepresented communities. She is mainly an illustration artist who uses social media to promote her work. She discussed how to use art and design as a tool for the community, and mentions a community of color in LA that runs and performs in their own theater company. Haynes explains the deep run issues within the education system, and how it benefits very few people. Her work seeks to engage the community with family oriented interactive themes, like creating workshops for children that lets them channel their creativity and use the power of image to tell stories. She is also involved in travel-based projects, and had recently returned from a trip to Egypt where she created a mural. The mural was a wall painting that focused on themes of women’s empowerment, and was a collaboration project with Egyptian women artists who all currently work in Egypt. She mentioned that this experience was unusual as the area is typically a male dominated area with high rates of sexual assault, but she participated in an exclusively woman-based project.

The Queens Open Engagement is an excellent way to bring artists and activists together under a uniting theme. Witnessing the powerful projects that so many artist-activists are working on and the communities that they foster reveals how inspiring art can be, and how it can manifest in so many different areas of life. There are so many different avenues your art can make an impact on a community or an issue. Art is truly one of the most powerful vehicles to spread your message.

Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, and the Vulnerability of Creative Entrepreneurs to Mental Illness

by Isabel Lamont and Baruni Sharma

The other week, the world was devastated with the news of fashion designer and creative entrepreneur Kate Spade’s passing. Only three days later, we found out that another creative entrepreneur, renowned chef and travel documentarian Anthony Bourdain, had also died. And what is even more devastating is that both of these deaths were caused by suicide.

What puts creative entrepreneurs at such a high risk for anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses? At first glance, it seems as though these two individuals had it all: they were famous, successful, and had made meaningful impacts on countless people around the world. Yet, while on paper they appeared to live a picture-perfect life, the reality of a creative entrepreneur is wildly different from what the public sees, and the reality of a person with depression is vastly different from what any other person sees.

The Unique Journey of a Creative Entrepreneur

The journey of a creative entrepreneur is unique to that of any other field. While many entrepreneurs strive to develop something to better the world, as a creative entrepreneur you do this in a way that is intrinsically connected to yourself– through your craft. A regular entrepreneur has a vision, but the creative entrepreneur possesses a unique artistic vision inseparable from their own personality and character. Art is an expression of the self– it is one of the most vulnerable things someone can put out into the world. This is the difference between creative entrepreneurs and the rest: while a typical entrepreneur can remove themself from the product to a certain degree, creative entrepreneurs simply cannot. You are offering a part of yourself to the world, which makes the highs and lows of your journey far more extreme.

Courtesy of The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/05/fashion/kate-spade-dead.html

And that’s the thing about being an entrepreneur: the nature of the profession calls for a rollercoaster ride that doesn’t seem to end. It’s incredibly exciting, but also painfully unstable at times. The side most people don’t see of entrepreneurship is that you are constantly pitching your vision to just about everyone, from friends to major companies. And you are constantly getting rejected.

When someone enthusiastically hops on board with your vision, it gives you an insurmountable feeling of joy and acceptance. But when those rejections start coming in, it creates a deep cut. When creative entrepreneurs experience rejection, it is so much more than a rejection of vision– it is a rejection of the self. And that’s an extreme emotion to experience time and time again. It eventually will wear you down.

Mental Health Research Shows Creatives are at Higher Risk

A study published by the Felix Post in 1996 suggested that most creative personalities around the world had more distinguishable personality traits and problems with substance abuse than the general population. The prevalence of mental disorders, particularly depression, are alarmingly common amongst famous personalities in the creative arts fields. It is, however, debatable whether the depression is a cause or an effect of such creativity.

Anthony Bourdain, courtesy of NBC News.
https://www.nbcnews.com/pop-culture/celebrity/anthony-bourdain-celebrity-chef-parts-unknown-host-dies-61-n881251

It has been commonly said that, in order to perform or create, one must feel. A writer, a painter and an actor alike must have felt some sort of pain to project their emotions onto their work. But even further, the underappreciation of such creative geniuses can be a major cause of depression, and thereafter, suicide; which we have seen even centuries before.

Depressive disorders, especially since the 1960’s, have been largely ignored or misdiagnosed. Those with depression are usually given negative labels, such as lazy or dramatic, and proper care is rarely given to these people. The lack of attention given to mental health has been a cause of an alarmingly high number of suicides all over the world.

The aforementioned study also highlights a higher prevalence of bipolar disorder amongst poets than other playwrights and writers. However, poets were otherwise least affected by other common problems such as alcoholism, depression,and other conflicts in personal life. In another study by a Swedish group of researchers from the Karolinska Institute found that persons in the creative arts field such as dancers, photographers and authors were 8% more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder than the average population. Writers, in fact, were 50% more likely to commit suicide than the general population. Furthermore, men in the creative arts fields are less exposed to depression and other mental illnesses than women in the same fields.

Another very vulnerable group of people are those who have had the courage to start their own businesses. Entrepreneurs, due to the consistent rejection and failure in the initial months of their business, are found more susceptible to giving in to the thought of commiting suicide. To exacerbate these situations, it is also harder for entrepreneurs to ask for help in fear of hearing the “I told you so’s”. It was only after Brad Feld, an established entrepreneur, started talking about the shame associated with his depression, did a conversation start revolving around entrepreneurial mental health.

Ultimately, while research reveals the higher association of mental illness with both creatives and entrepreneurs, the effect that working in a field that is both entrepreneurial and creative has on an individual is compounded.

How Do We Create a Better Future for Creative Entrepreneurs?

I wish that the answer was as simple as suggesting a diet change, or telling people to exercise, or something like practicing mindfulness. I wish it was even as simple as checking in on your friends and loved ones, as we have been reminded to do incessantly these past couple of weeks. Sadly, it’s not as straightforward as that. Because the truth is, depression is such a serious disease, and while these aforementioned things may alleviate someone’s struggle or symptoms, in order for things to get better, changes need to happen at a much larger scale.

First, there needs to be more mental health professionals working with creative entrepreneurs, and giving them the help that they specifically need. This means that there needs to be an increase in therapists and psychologists who specialize in mental health for creatives. Even further, these specialists should be asking creative entrepreneurs what it is they specifically need or struggle with, and coming up with creative solutions to help them.

Also, we unfortunately live in a world where how much you produce is considered the most important thing about you. Especially with creative entrepreneurs, and even more so when they become widely successful, the pressure to produce increases. They are told that if they take time to recuperate that they will lose out on major sales. Especially for creative entrepreneurs, where their brand is so interconnected with themselves, they feel as though their work is their entire life. Taking the time to heal is absolutely crucial, especially as a creative entrepreneur. If you experience burn out, your creativity will fall and your mental health with suffer. For business owners and business coaches, understanding the need for these mental health breaks is necessary. Taking care of your health is more important than any profit or gain, and this is constantly ignored in the business world. Creatives also tend to be more emotionally sensitive people, which makes them more prone to creative and emotional burnout. If you are someone who works with creative individuals, I urge that you take this into consideration, because you never know what someone is going through. And if you are a creative person yourself, or someone who is personally struggling with your mental health, I strongly encourage you to take as much time and space that you need to heal, because your health is far more valuable than your brand or your art.