Building community as a creative entrepreneur
Each month, over on Instagram, I chat one-on-one with talented creative professionals across various industries and communities to engage in uplifting conversations around creativity, entrepreneurship, mental health, and how we can show up in our work as our authentic selves.
Today I want to share highlights from my conversation with Dwight White, a visual artist and creative strategist with a passion for creating a greater appreciation for the impact of Black creativity in the world. Dwight is the curator of Something I Can Feel Experiences, which began as a celebration of Juneteenth meant to highlight Chicago artists while uplifting and empowering the Chicago community. Dwight lives his life boldly and has been inspired by his calling to use creativity to bring people together and start important conversations.
In this conversation, Dwight and I talk about community, creative entrepreneurship, and more.
Lo Harris: Can you start by sharing a bit about yourself, sharing a bit about your work, and how you got started as an artist?
Dwight White: I’m originally from Houston, Texas. I’ve been in the Chicagoland area for nearly 10 years. After Northwestern, I tapped into different neighborhoods, different communities. Now I split my time between both Chicago and LA – both places that truly helped me elevate my career.
I'm an artist first and foremost. I'm also a curator and I utilize my background in marketing and teamwork, bringing people together to stretch that curator muscle and build teams as a creative strategist.
Something that I'm extremely passionate about is reaching people where they are. So I create art on small scales, large scales – like murals – and utilize different mediums to reach different people. That's what I'm all about is building community, specifically for my people.
LH: You’ve mentioned that it's always been your calling to pursue a career in art, and you felt that you were “reborn again” with a new spirit for creativity. Can you talk a bit more about that sense of rejuvenation and creative energy – where it came from, what sparked it, and how do you keep it going?
DW: Reborn is an idea or concept based on my past and who I’ve become, who I am today, what I stand for, how I engage with people, community, culture. I do it very differently than I once did in my life. Early on I think I did that through camaraderie, teamwork and things like that. As I evolved as an artist, I started doing that strategically by creating things that connect people. I started thinking about shared experiences, specifically for Black people.
Being reborn is just finding a new purpose in life. My purpose starts and stems in creativity, and then connecting people and community. When I found my purpose in life, I was very intentional about how I approached it. I try and be consistent, continue to let our community know I'm there for them – both the creative community but also the Black community, in Chicago and beyond.
And that's what reborn was all about for me. It was me understanding my role as a creator, and how I can have an impact on this world through the things that I do on a daily basis.
LH: You describe your style as spontaneous realism, bold and insightful, and you've managed to translate that work into various mediums which, as you say, can reach different people. What would you say has been your favorite canvas to put your work on?
DW: My favorite medium is actually one that people don't really see much of. My favorite medium is pen to paper. When I talk about spontaneous realism, that all stemmed from me just getting down initial thoughts on paper and letting it expand from there. And so a lot of times the final product that is consumer-facing or that people see in a gallery or on the street that often is an expansion of the initial idea that happened to be my favorite which is pen to paper.
I think my favorites over the years have become murals because I was reaching people where they were. You can create a mural out in the street and for someone who doesn't understand the gallery space or for neighborhoods who don't necessarily have a gallery, I'm able to put the art where they are and those things are able to start conversations. People can talk about it. People can be inspired, regardless of what level they are in art education.
Then I think about art on canvas. That's a pretty common medium. That allows me to enter gallery space, has allowed me to travel to different states and think about my work more globally.
All the different mediums fascinate me because some of them are really personal and some of them are to be shared and interpreted by others.
LH: You share so much behind the scenes through photography and video. How do you think showing up in this particular way has impacted your business?
DW: For me, it starts with collaboration. When I meet someone who I can tell has a brilliant mind in terms of creativity and is taking their practice seriously, I always love just testing the waters. What does collaboration look like for me and other creators? Because of that, I've been able to work consistently with photographers, videographers, installation artists, and other painters in the Chicago neighborhoods.
If I'm collaborating with a photographer or videographer, what's my added value to him, and what's his added value to me? And when we come together and understand that, it's a seamless relationship. So then you start seeing me put out behind-the-scenes content because I'm working with people I trust to be behind the scenes with me.
LH: One really cool aspect of your practice is that you maintain this fabulous balance of artist and entrepreneur, and I've always kind of known you to be pretty enterprising in terms of how you go about creating opportunities and partnerships for yourself. Do you have any tips for artists who are looking to start pitching partnerships with brands?
DW: Remain authentic to yourself. It starts with you staying consistent, doing your practice regularly, and building brand awareness. The brand then recognizes what your added value is. The other part of that is recognizing that you're a business. We are creators, but being a creator, that means you're an entrepreneur. Being an entrepreneur means you operate and run a business to eat.
And because of that, it requires discipline. It requires coming correct. It requires some organization to really package yourself as a business. You basically become an agency. You have creative control over who you partner with and why you would partner with them. And that's how you start to find the right brand partners.
LH: Do you have any insight on how to approach brands so that you can pitch to them?
DW: My approach personally is utilizing real-world connections.
Have a very clear understanding of what your pillars are – why you create, who you create for and what you want your work to look like and stand for. And I think when you have a clear understanding of that, that's what you're pitching to brands. You're pitching alignment – this is what I do, this is what you do, this is what we can do together.
LH: How do you think artists – especially Black artists –can do a better job of cultivating community and what benefits do you imagine we'd see from doing that?
DW: We're not competitors. We're in a career where the opportunities are plentiful. You as a creator, you as a human being, you are different than the person next to you. You all have added value in different ways. I think once we understand that, collaboration becomes a little bit easier. There's nothing about the person next to you that should take away from who you are, and what you want to create.
LH: You said that your power statement is “Don't see it? Create it.” How do you approach this philosophy in your daily life?
DW: Going back to my favorite medium – thoughts on paper, pen to paper. That's how I practice it daily. If there's something that I'm thinking that feels like rich, new and different, and has some sort of uniqueness to it, I like to document it.
How I bring that to life? That’s all about solving problems. For example, the Juneteenth idea that I brought to life. I saw a problem I wanted to solve or a gap I wanted to fill. How can Juneteenth be celebrated in a place that hasn't historically celebrated it?
Any business – regardless of the industry – you find success by filling gaps, finding whitespace and creating within that space. And so that's, I think, how I practice it daily. It might not come to life every day, but it's always brewing.
LH: Can you tell us about the Something I Can Feel experience?
DW: It was all it was rooted in the idea of celebrating Blackness. Specifically, I made it for Juneteenth. That’s when I wanted it to come to life annually because of what Juneteenth meant to me as a native Houstonian. It was all around this idea of taking a step back, breathing, focusing on a moment of escapism and celebrating Blackness.
Our struggle needs to be talked about…but on a day like Juneteenth, I want to talk about what has elevated and propelled our communities.
Something I Can Feel is all around this idea of, go feel, get in touch with yourself. Tap into our mental health, our well-being and our culture and acknowledge these creators that are on the ground level pushing the culture forward.
As the curator of this experience, it's been incredible. It was the first time I've been able to work with a number of creative disciplines across the Chicagoland area and beyond. We've got artists that are painters, musicians, fashion designers. Just that alone shows the breadth of creativity as in Chicago, as Black people.
LH: What do you hope Something I Can Feel will look like in 10 years?
DW: The celebration of Blackness should be celebrated every single day.
Something I Can Feel I want to grow to where there are these experiences happening throughout the year or happening on a larger scale, where you’re able to tap into experiences like Art Basel. My goal, especially looking 10 years out, is bringing up the next generation of creators and them having a home as a Black creator, not feeling like they're outside outsiders to the arts community.
LH: Besides Something I Can Feel, what has been one of your favorite projects to work on?
DW: It was a collaboration with the Chicago Bulls working on custom shoe design. That was a really interesting project for me because I gave myself permission to try mediums and materials that I traditionally don't use. It pushed me out of my comfort zone. And usually, when I do that I discover something new about myself.
As entrepreneurs, we learn things about ourselves every single day because we face challenges every day. And I think that's what evolution really is.