Two and a half years ago while we were living in San Jose (wow, it's already been that long since I was immersed in the surreal magic that is California), I woke up from a dream that I couldn't quite make sense of but still excited me. In the dream I had been working in a studio with my older (second) cousins Addye and Crystal. The studio itself was big like a factory or warehouse and I think it felt so big because it was a container of sorts for all the creativity in my family to spill out into the world from. The details now are softened due to time converting this from short to long term memory, but how it made me feel upon awaking still lingers like the warmth of an embrace from a person who genuinely cares for your well-being.
Fast forward through nearly 300 rejections, a move back across the country to New Jersey, and a successful $25,000 crowdfunding campaign later, and at least 2-3 days a week you'll now find me driving across the Ben Franklin Bridge and through the heart of North Philadelphia to get to the real-life manifestation of that dream: Addie Addye Studios. After a particularly disappointing rejection last summer, I started thinking heavily about the nature of my work, the purpose it's here to serve vs. the one I had wanted it to, and the barriers at play that keep that purpose from being carried out. I started questioning why I was pursuing a traditional art career and exactly what kind of "art career" I even truly wanted. I was reminded that first and foremost, painting and creative expression in general for me has been my therapy; it's how I process the experience of living in a body and with an existence informed by trauma. As such, I've always believed that due to the raw, vulnerable, deeply personal, and call & response nature of my work, that it finds those who are meant to experience it. I fully believe that my work is meant to be seen and even touched by people in person and that when this happens, people will awaken to a truth about themselves they previously weren't conscious of...or perhaps were simply afraid to face. I knew this based off of reactions to my work over the years online, but it wasn't until I was sitting in my booth at The Other Art Fair in Brooklyn last November watching people experience it in person that my belief was affirmed. The reactions, conversations and revelations that came spilling out of people as they engaged with my paintings and with me about my experience and process, left me determined to no longer let barriers like not having gallery representation, or being selected for exhibitions or emerging artist programs & residencies keep my work from being seen and felt by others.
I didn't sell a single painting at the fair, but I walked away from it realizing my growing frustrations with gatekeepers, and recognizing my desire to have my work serve others as much as it serves my own needs and creativity. I decided that trying to work with the traditional art world model to fulfill my goals as a self-taught artist with no formal art education wasn't going to work; I needed to have my own space where I could work and give the public access to my creations. I thought about what opening such a space for myself would even look like and in doing so remembered the dream I'd had back in Cali. I come from a family of artists across disciplines-dance, theater, music, fashion, design, sculpture, illustration, & writing-and so it made sense to me that if I was going to open a studio space, I should do it with at least another artist from my family. I approached my cousin Addye with the idea and as we talked, we realized the space could serve as an homage of sorts to the legacy of our family matriarch Addie B Lily-an artist and business owner who used her candy shop in her North Philly neighborhood to sell & display art made by her family, as well as provide resources and support to those in her community. With my cousin on board and the narrative of our family legacy as our anchor, we decided to crowdfund and created the bones of a development plan based on the space itself being a self-sustaining entity that not only supported our practices and work, but also that of other local women artists of color in the Greater Philadelphia area.
There was a lot I didn't know when we dived into this and began the crowdfunding campaign. I was terrified we would launch the idea and campaign to crickets, but was hopeful others would believe in the vision and plan. The outpouring of support was immediate, coming in waves that crashed into us like waves breaking upon the shore. I remember the sheer velocity of it striking the backs of my knees til they buckled and I was overwhelmed to the point of tears more than a few times as we surged toward our goal. We launched on March 3rd and sailed over the goal line thanks to a series of back to back contributions on March 30th. $25,000 in 27 days and then $27,618 by the time the campaign closed on day 45. 295 contributions. 292 of them from women/trans/non-binary folks. The reality of what had been accomplished left me breathless, stunned, struggling a bit to stay present in the moment and grasp ahold of it. As scared as I had been to put myself out there and say I was going to do something I'd never attempted before, and as hard as it was to ask others to invest in it, I had the audacity and grounded confidence to believe that people would. I knew that over the last decade of my life, I've been (thankfully, abundantly) fortunate enough to have forged bonds and connections to some of the most compassionate, wholehearted, action oriented, and generous individuals I've encountered in my adult life. I trusted that if we just showed up, the support would be there, and it has been in ways that have exceeded my wildest hopes.
There's still so much that I don't know even now after navigating the learning curves and responsibilities that come with commercial leases, renting a commercial space, ironing out a charter and partnership agreements, and simply just moving into the space itself. There are numerous moving parts that require assembly and management and shouldering that while also managing motherhood, marriage, chronic pain, mental illness, and an art practice has had me on a roller coaster ride of emotions over the last 8 weeks. Some days I walk into the studio and it feels surreal to be literally walking around the manifestation of what I dreamed and envisioned and I am giddy from the accomplishment and potential that's waiting to be unleashed; others the weight of responsibility having a studio comes with settles like lead in my belly as I turn the key in the lock and cross the threshold with my boys in tow.
Last July we were crossing the threshold into our first home, and 12 months later I've moved into a storefront studio in a city I didn't think I wanted to reconnect roots to. It's strange, alarming, and fascinating what can shift and grow in a year's time. I don't know what the future holds for myself or this new studio that feels like a gift of love from my great grandmother, but I do know I'm immensely grateful for this present moment and this beginning because it's incredibly affirming and full of magic. Doing so is helping me continue to put my hands to the plow, ignore the panic, and pursue the vision.
**Addie Addye Studios is a new shared artspace in the Kensington neighborhood of North Philadelphia. We provide studio, gallery, & retail space exclusively for emerging and established women artists of color to create & present their work to the public. We believe Black and Brown women shouldn't have to rely on institutions and traditional models to have their creative work experienced by the public. We believe creating our own lanes affords us more control of our work, allows us to drive the narratives around it, and provides more outlets of access and engagement for artists and communities.
Through community events (art making and professional development workshops, film screenings, exhibitions, salons, Open Studio tours, etc) a future residency program, and space rental opportunities, AAS is a supportive resource for both local artists and our neighborhood. Operating on a self-sustaining model, AAS gives featured artists and makers 100% of the profits made through gallery and retail sales. To join our community of support and help us fund the cost of running our current space, you can pledge to our Patreon here.