4% of the art in galleries and museums across the United States are from black women artists. TILA Studios, an arts incubator in East Point, Atlanta is doing the work to tackle those glaring statics while simultaneously providing a solution to eliminate barriers for black women seeking professional art careers. Upon moving to Atlanta from New York in 2014, artist, entrepreneur, and scholar, Tiffany LaTrice saw the lack of a peer network amongst black women artists, affordable studio space to create art and the limited opportunities to produce and curate art shows. In 2016, LaTrice decided to empower her network of black women artists and creatives to showcase their work by opening TILA Studios.
TILA Studios is a co-working and community space dedicated to fostering collaboration and growth within each artist that walks into their doors. Since opening TILA in 2016 with investment and support from the likes of Sara Blakely and the Spanx Foundation, LaTrice and her team have exhibited 93 artists, held 11 exhibitions and sold 30% of the artwork. They have gathered over 2,300 people in their gallery space for exhibitions and conducted and facilitated over 60 programs attended by 825+ black women artists in Atlanta.
Recently, LaTrice, TILA Studios’ founder and executive director, thought it would be beneficial to take TILA Studios on the road to Art Basel, one of the largest art festivals in the country with over 70,000 visitors per year to expand their brand and give artists within their community an opportunity to showcase their work. Their goal was simple for Art Basel: include black women artists in the conversation and create a seat at the table for them. LaTrice and TILA Studios took ten black women, aptly named “Garden Fellows” for a five-day all-inclusive trip to document their experience, enjoy curated dinners at the TILA House sponsored by Mail Chimp, and mingle with 250 of the most affluent black women artists, curators and influencers to discuss equity and access at the Perez Art Museum during brunch.
LaTrice’s mission for TILA Studios happened to make an impact with the art community at Art Basel while also providing access and inclusion for an underrepresented group of artists.
I recently spoke with LaTrice about her vision for TILA Studios, her experience at Art Basel and plans for the future.
Dominique Fluker: Talk about your journey to artistic entrepreneurship. As a practicing visual artist, share how you developed your craft.
Tiffany LaTrice: Since I was a little girl, I have been an entrepreneur. When I was in first grade, I used to paint my peers’ nails during recess and only charged one dollar. That was my snack money and I took pride in every dollar I earned. Fast forward a few years, my mom enrolled me in a Girls Inc. Entrepreneurship summer program where I learned the fundamentals of business planning. The eight-week accelerator program challenged each participant to pitch a business idea or concept. I won the competition by pitching a visual artist facility. Entrepreneurship has always been in my genes and so has art.
My family is a group of creatives; my grandfather is an artist, my dad has created some prolific paintings, my mom can draw anything and everything, and my grandmother is a seamstress. So, naturally, I’m good with my hands. However, art was a field of study that was never encouraged for me to pursue growing up. I always had to sneak to take an art class or take it as an elective. So, my artistic practice was birthed from a place of necessity and resistance.
Fluker: What led you to create TILA Studios?
LaTrice: I don’t think that there was one moment that led me to create TILA. I think I’ve been creating it my entire life. It is something that I was born to do, and that vision was amplified during my studies at Sarah Lawrence College. At SLC, I was enrolled in the Women’s History Master’s program. The program was instrumental in my learning about the power of collective sisterhood, collaboration, and activism. My thesis explored the intimate relationships that sculptor, Meta Warrick Fuller had with other Black female artists in the 19th century. Her successful relationships and friendships with her peers empowered her to attain a flourishing art career. Meta’s story really inspired me and was the main reason I took the biggest leap of faith in my career. In 2014, I left everything behind in New York City to move to Georgia to become a full-time artist. It was during moments of isolation and solitude that I had with a paintbrush, that I knew art and creating were my life-long career. After a year of committed studio time, I wanted to enter into the market to start selling my work. I even considered getting my MFA. I was rejected by every gallery I submitted work to and I didn’t even make it to the second round of interviews for the MFA Programs.
I was completely devastated. And quite frankly, embarrassed. I took this huge leap and had nothing to show for it. It wasn’t until I was able to connect with a gallery owner, September Gray that I had one of the most honest conversations about my art. She took the time to critique my work and pushed me to look beyond my current ideas. What I realized was that I was missing feedback, professional development, conversation with my peers, conversations with women that looked like me that shared my story. TILA was birthed from a need for Black female artists to have a safe space to collaborate and get feedback before entering the art industry. Very few spaces exist that don’t exclude and ignore our voices.
Fluker: Explain the resources that TILA Studios offers to Atlanta based artists.
LaTrice: TILA is a relatively new organization, established in December 2016. So, we are still learning from our members and understanding how to best serve them. First and foremost, we offer studio space, a 24HR workspace for Black women to gather, create, and collaborate. Right next door to our workspace, we have a gallery where our members can exhibit and display their work. It is critical that we give our members the platform to showcase their work, to experience their work on walls and to know the endless possibilities of where their work can go. If you go to museums, you rarely see the work of a person of color, particularly a Black woman. It is our goal to support Black women from ideation to creation to exhibition. One of the benefits of a TILA membership, is we provide classes and workshops that are taught by their peers to elevate their practice. We are empowering an entire underserved creative class to disrupt the industry.
Fluker: TILA Studios is tackling one of the most glaring statistics in the art industry – Black women artists make up only 4% of art professionals across the United States. Share more about the mission of TILA Studios and the impact that the community space is making in the Atlanta community.
LaTrice: Our vision is that when Black female artists are thriving, we have the power to change the world. Atlanta is considered the destination for Black excellence, entrepreneurship, and success. Traditionally, Black women are still underserved and underrepresented in fine arts. Since opening our doors in 2016, we have been able to exhibit 95 Black female artists and sell over 30% of the artwork in our gallery. We have also aligned our members with opportunities in the city that otherwise, they may have not had. TILA is the dot connector that is actively creating and building a pipeline for Black female artists. So, when public calls are announced or grants applications open, I am actively making sure that the applicant pool is diverse and that the stakeholders and institutions know that we are here.
Fluker: For Art Basel 2018, TILA Studios launched “The Road to Art Basel,” campaign that focused on sponsoring ten African-American Georgia based women artists, aptly named “Garden Fellows” to attend the fair. Why Art Basel?
LaTrice: Art Basel is the largest, national art fair that exhibits artists from all over the world and still lacks representation in showcasing the work of Black women. I wanted the inaugural Garden Fellows to be exposed to opportunities that expand their work. I wanted them to be in direct connection with their role models, mentors and have candid conversations with their peers. Every industry is about exposure and access. So, if I can give 10 Black female artists, across mediums and generations an opportunity to show up and claim space, how powerful would that be in shifting the narrative. You can’t ignore a group of ten Black women walking around one of the largest fairs. I also wanted them to see themselves and connect with other established artists and curators that are doing the work on that level. I believe that is empowering and affirming. It’s so interesting because every night a Garden Fellow would come up to me and say: “You would not believe who I just met.” They would list off a list of Black female artists that they admire. It was so inspiring to me to see that once we show up in numbers and empower each other, we can start to create change.
Fluker: How did you choose the 2018 Garden Fellows? Explain the application and decision process.
LaTrice: We selected the Garden Fellows through an online application process. The artists had to submit the standard requirements as if they were submitting for an exhibition proposal. It was important to us that each applicant understood the importance of how to write an artist statement, how to produce a CV, how to submit professional images of your work. Throughout the application process, we hosted informative open critiques and programs to best prepare for each applicant. Often, applications can be daunting and a barrier to entry that can stifle someone’s confidence. We made the application challenging but also made it accessible by implementing programs to support them along the way. We wanted to ensure them that they were supported while being challenged by the application process. The decision came down to our curators, Grace Gardner and Daricia Mia DeMarr who scored the submissions based on portfolio quality, exhibition history, and whether or not this opportunity would elevate their career.
Fluker: Speak about the experience “The Road to Art Basel” provided to the Garden Fellows. From the TILA House to the EmpowerHer brunch, a guided meditation event and showcase of the Garden Fellows art at the TILA pop-up show, this seemed like an invaluable opportunity for exposure.
LaTrice: It’s amazing what this opportunity did for these artists’ exposure and access. The Garden Fellows were known around Miami, were invited to VIP Art Previews and Fairs. They even set up meetings with potential collectors, curators, and artists. One of my favorite success stories is that of Christa David, who is one of our fellows that exhibited at Prizm Art Fair along with Jasmine Nicole Williams. Christa’s work is now a part of the prestigious David C. Driskell Collection. I could go on and on about the impact this opportunity created for them and TILA.
I wish I could have some of the Garden Fellows answer this question because they were the ones in it, living it and breathing it. We do have their experience documented on a platform called THEA. It’s a network that highlights the work of Atlanta Creatives. We have our own channel and produced videos and mini-documentaries so that our community could join in on their experience.
Fluker: From partnering with notable companies and organizations like Mail Chimp, PRIZM Art Fair and Perez Art Museum, how did the Miami art scene and community receive TILA Studios?
LaTrice: TILA is still receiving so much support from the art community whether it’s through social media or friendly ‘thank you’ emails, but I think the best example of support is our official welcome to the city of Miami from the Office of Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson. She said: “Black women are vital to the success and strength of our community. Our skill, promise, and “magic” is unstoppable, if we are simply given a chance. Thank you for providing these amazing artists with a chance.”
Fluker: Share how Art Basel could be more inclusive of African-American women artists.
LaTrice: I don’t know if inclusivity is the only thing we are striving for. I think it’s more about sharing Black female stories so that we are heard and valued. It’s about disrupting the notion that there is only one token Black woman successfully practising in the field. I think the art world is so vast and the opportunities are limitless if Black women are seen and visible. It’s more about representation and showcasing that the collective power of Black female artists is so grand that it’s time for us to have a seat at the table or create our own.
Fluker: Share three tips for the artistic entrepreneur who is passionate about executing their business vision.
LaTrice: Share your vision and mission to anyone and everyone that will listen or give you an ear. Do it with grace and sincerity so that it manifests into action and faith that the vision can be carried out. Too often we hold on to our dreams, afraid that someone may steal them away but what really happens when we share and become vulnerable, is that affirmation and validation become a part of our daily walk of life.
Trust your gut and throw linear ways of thinking out the window. Creativity is inherent in innovation. Trust your crazy ideas because those are the ones that are going to take you to places you never imagined. Surround yourself with people that are Type A and that challenge your way of thinking. Those people are meant to reinforce your ideas and make you stronger. The more diverse your tribe, the endless the possibilities.