As a multimedia artist, how have you used your professional and creative skills to better your community?

I started an art collective in 2017 called Sometimes Art House because I was tired of feeling disconnected from the art scene in Lansing which is typically white, male and over the age of 50.  

Have you ever received criticism for this, either from people in positions of power or from your audience?

The only criticism I’ve gotten from “professionals” is that I’m a bad listener. Which is only true when I’ve made up my mind that their advice doesn’t serve me (my parents would probably agree though LOL.) 

The main criticisms I’ve got about my community work is that my network is too white. And they weren’t wrong per se. A lot of people who go to MSU, LCC or work in Lansing that label themselves as “artists” tend to be white. There are obviously other factors like time, history and institutional racism that play into why this is. 

So while that complaint came once from one person, it was ironic considering the origins of the group (a qpoc art collective) which I thought wasn’t inclusive enough of gender. It’s a constant balancing act and you have to be open to the criticism and finding the right people to help you not fall into that trap of isolating identity groups.

Photo: Audrey Matusz

What motivates you to keep creating?

Lately my motivation to create has been anxiety and literally dreaming about my unfinished projects. The more invested I am in my work, I am noticeably more content, but that also comes with neglecting things like personal relationships and hygiene LOL. However, with my new full-time job, I come home and don’t feel inspired to do anything. My plan, after I finish moving into my house, is to just try working 1 hour a day on a project. 

Have you ever experienced burnout? If so, how did you overcome it?

I’ve definitely get burned out. If I’m just flat-out charred, that’s when I pick up the phone and start canceling plans LOL. It’s not the best habit, so I’ve been trying to notice my signs of burnout (not sleeping, bad hygiene, being short with people) and take as a sign that I can’t take on any projects.

Sometimes my “burnout recovery” lasts a weekend, sometimes a year! After I graduated, I was so tired. I wasn’t sad about leaving school, I was just flat out done. I put the collective on hold and only focused on work and a film I was editing.  Last summer, I was really trying to work on being patient and not get caught up on appearing busy. I just worked for 8 hours at a desk and then would go edit for another 2-4 hours in the lab. Eat and sleep. That was all I could manage, and this year I’ve been able to witness the results of that self-control. 

In addition to creating meaningful art, you also co-founded Sometimes Art House, which is “a platform for artists who believe in enlightening and empowering marginalized youth through their work.” Can you talk a little about why you decided to create this space and what you’ve learned along the way?

It started initially, because I felt like I had spent three years in an arts program and didn’t have a community or pool of resources to pull from. I saw cis dudes organizing creative groups and creating work together that was frankly just boring to me, because I couldn’t relate. The idea started out as just for women of color, but I realized that was pretty ironic considering I’m half-white and some of my white friends have been the most supportive of my art. So the idea was to create a space where fear of people “being better” or stealing ideas is out the window, and we could just get to business. For women in small art scenes especially, there are such few opportunities for us, so the impulse to see another woman as your competition is very common. If there is one thing I’m proud of with Sometimes Art House its that we leave every meeting better friends and started forming authentic relationships with one another. 

The biggest thing I’ve learned (which is something my dad has told me for years and I kind of just blew off) is that if someone can take advantage of me for any reason, they will. I ran myself into the ground trying to show up for other people who asked for my help and guidance — assuming karma would turn it around. However, that is something from my pre-adult life that I need to move on from. 

So the new goal lately is to be more “selfish” with my projects and continue to say “no” to people, no matter how much they flatter me and make it seem that they need me. 

I’ve also learned that creating spaces for QPOC people in Lansing is a treasure. I wish I had the time and resources to do this more often, but people of all genders and race have showed me their appreciation for the atmospheres I’ve assisted in creating. I learned that in most cases, when the most marginalized people are comfortable, everyone else will follow. 

How do you think your identity influences your work, and vice versa? Do you have any tips for defining your voice as an activist/artist?

Art has just been how I learned about myself. I joke that as a Gemini, mixed woman I’m constantly in an identity crisis. Art is definitely a tool that helps me reflect and be like, “Oh, that’s what we’re doing now?” 

For me it starts with an impulse. To just start making something and then later I reflect on why I’m so obsessed with that color, or that asethetic. 

The concept of #blackgirlmagik honestly shook me to my core. I was finally seeing black women in the roles and settings that I had always imagined from growing up loving 80s/90s teen movies. For example, growing up being labeled as “the black girl” for some reason I always made to  feel less feminine. I also remember my (white) cousin once asking me if my mom was a boy because she sweat??? Anyway, I really wanted to be seen/feel like a Limited Too model/princess/prom queen BUT had this glaring insecurity that this was an impractical dream due to my race, hair and weight. So in short, my insecurities and fantasies from my childhood are what make up a lot of my work today. When it comes to struggle, threre is always someone who can relate. 

What advice would you give to young creatives?

When it comes to art, the most embarrassing thing about yourself is likely the most universal. I think people turn to art for non-verbal relief of their own internal conflict. I also think looking at art as mode of therapy is key. If you can lose yourself in something and not get meticulous about how other people may view it, that’s when the good stuff happens. Some of my favorite work I’ve done occurred out of dumb luck.

You can follow Audrey on Instagram @audreysometimes and @sometimesarthouse, and keep up with her work at www.SometimesArtHouse.com.

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