Creating the Space & Knowing Our Value: On Being A Black Artist in the Design Community

by Grace Bonney

Last summer, I attended an outdoor music festival and Janelle Monáe yelled into the microphone, “I love my beautiful black people!!!” The crowd went wild. I felt seen and connected to my blackness in a way I rarely feel, even in a culturally diverse city like Brooklyn, New York. To find my communities I must seek them out. I settled in to watch a young, openly queer black person put their art into the world. A sense of belonging is so comforting and irreplaceable. I can feel underrepresented as a QTPOC in creative spaces, often being the only black artist at a by-invitation networking event or conference.

I spend a lot of time on the computer marketing my knitwear brand and sharing my journey as an independent designer. When I launched my shop on Etsy seven years ago, seldom did I see a black model or shop owner featured on what was the very coveted treasury home page. I wondered, is this platform for me? I ended up carving out space and listed 27 products, all modeled by black women. The first time my shop made it to Etsy’s home page, I flipped out!

I later participated in a market hosted by the Black Resource & Identity Group at Etsy (BridgE); a team striving to connect with black sellers and improve their experiences on Etsy’s platform. I jumped at the chance to teach Craft Entrepreneurship, a course that empowered mostly women to generate secondary income through a creative practice. To create inclusive spaces, I had to intentionally show up for my work and actively participate to the institutional change happening.

So much of today’s economy is built on racism and the patriarchal assumption that a woman’s time is institutionally less valuable than our male counterparts. The wage gap persists, especially for QTPOC.

Our stories matter and knowing our value is key.

I frequently hear “never turn down an opportunity.” Don’t listen to that foolishness, especially if you are black, brown, or queer! Know what your time is worth.

Developing an event for 25+ down to the place settings is worth at least a month of NYC rent, but I did it for a shoutout in an event program. Rookie mistake. Bartering with other artists in exchange for ideas, classes, handmade goods and being paid cash money on time – now that feels good. If one unpaid opportunity closes, other reciprocal partnerships will open for us.

I am holding more and more space for sharing stories that center my blackness, gender, and sexuality in the context of my craft. To be a contributor to the culturally rich world I want to see. This sometimes means being vulnerable, acknowledging my fears and having difficult conversations about our shared history. I love this quote by the revolutionary Audre Lorde whose words I often revisit. She said, “When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision – then it becomes less and less important whether I’m afraid.” Brandi Cheyenne Harper

Visit Brandi online at her website here.

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