I was hidden away over the Christmas holiday with my family when I received a call from a good friend, our Community Realtor, Jania Daniels, of ABC with D, a community development company based in Mt. Airy, Philadelphia. I met Jania just 3 years earlier when I joined a real estate investment group on Facebook. I must have posted something because I received a friendly message from her asking if I would like to take a look at some properties and, if I did, that she would be happy to show me around. What Jania didn't know is that I had loads of plans for various types of properties. I guess you could call me a wellspring of ideas. I would write down my ideas in great detail and pack them away for the right opportunity.
It was 2018.
Well, it seemed that this was an opportunity! We met, shared a little chit-chat and went out to see what the Mt. Airy/ Germantown MLS would bring us! There was a multi-use commercial property right at the top of my block, another around the corner and Seymour... oh, Seymour.
I fell in love with this hidden, dilapidated gem in Germantown! It was directly across the street from a school, one block off Wayne Avenue and in an up and coming area. It boasted 3 floors and multiple residential &. commercial spaces.
After walking through the building, I would stop by and sit outside, looking at her and dreaming of what amazing things I could create there. Yes, I was a stalker... of a building. #imSpecial LOL
I am sure I am not the only artist whose 2020 was not the year of "vision" and "manifestation" that they envisioned at the close of 2019:
I understood, though. With unemployment rates growing quickly, the prospect of a full-on global pandemic rustling in the worldwide ethos, and the general feeling of panic and uncertainty, purchasing new pillows, t-shirts or getting a custom painting created just didn’t take priority. Most entrepreneurs would disagree with my next moves but they made sense to me. I pulled back from hard marketing efforts.
There was something about asking someone to buy from me when people were frantic about having enough toilet paper for their family that just didn’t “sit” right with me. At the time, we didn’t have any hefty overhead costs, like rent, mortgage (outside of our private home), business utilities, etc. so I pivoted my focus.
I focused on supporting my two children; one that was completing middle school and navigating how their 8th grade graduation would be remembered and one that was completing high school online hoping that his first year of college would be on campus. I made sure my mother, who lives with us, stayed safe from the virus through a vigorous routine of hand washing, hand sanitizer (both at work and in the car) and being a “clean freak” at my part time job. I supported my part time job at a local food pantry supporting the city’s most vulnerable.
Never in a million years would I have thought I would be working at a food pantry applying my love for all things spreadsheets and program coordination to making sure home-bound clients had access to food. Never in a million years did I think that just 3 months after starting there that I would have a stable income (even if partially) due to now being an "essential worker." God moves in mysterious ways. I was extremely grateful.
It was there that I had the most amazing experiences even during such a dark time. I found it an honor to be with people during their most difficult hours. There were clients that had never been in “the food line” asking for help; people who had lost their once-stable jobs whose rent or mortgage was looming.
I was honored to lend a hand with respect to those who now had to ask for food, toilet paper; people who were just grateful for a dozen eggs and a mask. There were days when I was exhausted between working my business and being an “essential worker” but it was also very gratifying to give of myself, my skills and services in those ways. My daily mantra was "I will not complain" about my job.
The vision and the goals for my business were never lost. Throughout the year, Custom Arts Studio applied for EVERYTHING we got our hands on! COVID-19 Business Grants, SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans, Bartol Foundation Grants,... EVERYTHING that came across our laptop screen, we applied for; even some that seemed far-fetched. When the QVC/HSN Small Business Spotlight opportunity came our way I applied simply because, like I shared, I apply for everything. But I never thought I would “land” it… Read more about that experience here.
As a result of those moves; applying, "putting my name in the hat" as I like to put it, Custom Arts Studio was broadcasted across the country. We met people from all over! Orders were shipped to all four corners of the country. Some folks called us by phone just to congratulate us. Each time the taping was aired I would received at least one phone call from a new fan. That is an experience that I will never forget.
To put it mildly, there was a certain level of validation that came from the response our work was getting. It was such a powerful force to help us "keep pushing forward." As you can imagine, being an entrepreneur is not easy and being a creative entrepreneur can add a new layer of complexity to the mix.
My amazing support system (my mother, my children, my inner circle of amazing friends and associates), could not be thanked enough. There really are no words. 2020 was a hell of a year. It was challenging, exhausting and complex, but it was also rewarding, taught me so many lessons, and was a year full of resilience. The year uncovered some insecurities, unearthed some strengths, showed us who we really are and, most importantly, helped us discover what is most important.
As you can imagine, there was a ton of flurry in the weeks immediately after receiving the news about our QVC and The Home Shopping Network Business Spotlight opportunity. The Friday before our air date, I had two successful Skype tests to ensure my live streamed segment would go off without a hitch.
I was nervous; I was antsy and they said that my test was the smoothest that they had experienced this year! Wooo hoooo! I was grateful that our Spotlight segment was during the final week of the schedule; a good 10 weeks away from the moment we found out, and I was generally excited overall,... but nothing could have prepared me for the morning of our on-air day!
Just the evening before, I was frantic; shouting at contractors, freaking out about the renovation project for my new community arts space, The Art SPOT. Would they be sure they would be finished and cleaned up so I could use the space for the big day?? A few frenzied hours later, there I was,... alone in a white room of freshly painted walls frantically wiping off the dust, breathing in that good feeling when you get to see a vision manifest. Setting up the Culture Portrait Product Collection on my handy-dandy IKEA bookcase was the cherry on top!
I took a few deep breaths, placed my tripod in its proper place and headed to bed. The day concluded with my having checked every one of the “to-do” boxes on my list; in true artist fashion, I actually draw boxes to check off (my mother thinks that is so funny), so all in all, the day felt “good.” I took a hot shower, snuggled into my blankies and closed my eyes on my cool pillow.
I wish I could say that I woke up to the bright morning sun brushing my cheek.
I remember where I was when I received the call: at my dining table working on my laptop. My two teenagers were sitting on our couch fiddling on their phone… the TV blasting in the background.
It was a typical summer day during COVID. The city remained pretty shut down, we were still freaked out about being close to strangers, wearing masks and washing our hands a million times per day.
Just a month or so prior one of my business mentors forwarded me an email. QVC (yea, QVC!!), HSN and their parent company, The Qurate Retail Group were looking for Black owned businesses to spotlight and, on a whim, I applied.
Using their platform to spotlight black owned businesses was their response to the recent uprisings, racial injustice, and general obstacles to opportunities in the Black Community. Now, you may not know this about me but I apply to everything! While I generally check if I am qualified; I can make no promises that I will not apply for a grant, residency, award or contest even if I am completely unqualified for it on paper.
As a matter of fact, most of the traditional jobs I have landed were “out of my league” on paper. You just never know! Most people DON’T apply; they talk themselves out of even the opportunities that they ARE qualified for, so… I have trained myself to STOP AND APPLY as soon as I see an opportunity.
It has generally worked out in my favor. Do I land every deal, grant or residency? No; but I would’ve definitely missed opportunities had I never applied to the dozens of applications that have crossed my email inbox. So I “say all that to say” that I made sure to apply to this QVC/HSN opportunity even though I never thought I would get it.
I wish I could say that I applied with confidence...
It's been rough. 2020 has been a real curve ball for so many intersected and overlapping reasons. I am tired.
I find myself not knowing what to do; restless; energized and exhausted. Have you ever been in that place? What do you do to re-energize?
I am not a big fan of taking photos... of myself. Never have been. So what do I do? I set up a photoshoot with a friend who is great at taking photos and I push through it... looking uncomfortable the whole way. Why do I do that to myself?
Over the last few weeks it has become increasingly clear that no matter how successful I am in business, at home, with my children... if I don't get reallllllly comfortable with the uncomfortable things my life will not be as fulfilling as I desire. I remember plopping on a couch feeling the whole weight of my body, my spirit and my story bang into the cushions. I remember looking up through tears of glass and saying, "Either we are gonna find out what is going on with me or I am jumping out of the window." That was at minimum 3 years ago. Erva Baden (she is dope. You should definitely check her out.) sat across from me and held my hand through unraveling decades of trauma.
That was three years ago and I am reminded of an old church adage..."Another level, another devil", except this time (and likely every time) the devil is ME. NO! I am not saying that I am the devil! Relax! Put your annointing oil away and breathe. What I mean is this: with every new level I ascend, there is a new level of ME I need to conquer, love and understand.
Some things need to be conquered, processed, expressed and stood upon. Some things need love, care, soothing, shit, a hug! Then there are some things that need to be understood, validated, heard.
I hate this place. Hate being defined as really, Really, REALLY not liking something. I hate this place because it forces me to move to and THROUGH so many hurtful places that I instinctually retreat from. Who WANTS to stick their hand in a fan? Who WALKS toward the fire? Even the Pheonix would retreat if it could.
So because I don't want to, I write... about some of the hardest, most destructive and defining moments of my life. The lump in my through tells me I am moving in the right direction. Until then.
New challenge: to be open, vulnerable, and expressed.
I have been painting or creating just about all my life...
Even the 15 years or so, from about 20 to 35 years old, when I put the paintbrushes, charcoal and canvas down and stopped creating through visual art, I was creating programs, curriculum, and events at work. There was this incessant need to create, to make something new that I hadn't seen before... to see what could be made from the components given to me that invigorated me.
It was kind of like the "When life gives you lemons" saying... I would, throughout the years, take what life threw my way and do all I could to stay afloat and make SOMETHING, anything, out of it that resembled a palatable creation. Sometimes the creation was too bitter and others it was just right but, all in all, my creative drive was always there. That is not to say that it was always easy to create, to get in the zone.
I remember dark times, very dark times, when the most I could create was a dark room with me on the couch and tears, lots of tears. There is a strange thing that happens when you are depressed (and I was- very much so), the music you select (let me correct that) the music I (underlined "I") selected was somber, sad, dark, melancholy... I couldn't talk about what was going on with me. Hell, I didn't really understand what was going on with me and it was like the songs helped express it for me. The songs helped me cry more which seems like a bad thing but, I have learned in the almost 20 years since that time, it is good for the soul; the actual expression of trauma, pain and grief. Of course, I had no idea that is what was going on or that trauma, and grief were the culprits but the songs helped none the less.
BEHIND THE BRUSH