In 2014, St. Louis native Danielle Elise and her husband Darren started the platform All Black Creatives while living in Los Angeles,, with the mission of creating and facilitating community amongst creatives of color. One of the platform’s first endeavors has been gathering local Black artists for a show at TechArtista, which opened on February 9th.
The show features pieces in a variety of styles and materials by artists Basil Kincaid, Brock Seals, Danny McGinnist Jr., Erica Jones, Hayveyah McGowan, Kas King, Lola Ogbara, Marley Billie D, Maxine du Maine, Valencia Miller and Symone Johnson.
We spoke with Elise about how she conceived of All Black Creatives, the power of art and the basic tenets of a good white ally.
What is the mission and vision of the platform you’ve started, All Black Creatives? What led you to begin this venture?
I started All Black Creatives with my husband Darren in 2014, with the vision of celebrating creatives of color. Once we moved back to St. Louis I knew I wanted to create something with a local focus that featured more creatives here in St. Louis. Part of our mission is to also create physical manifestations of a digital community. I wanted to bring people closer together in order to make new friends, create dope art, celebrate each other and strengthen the global community.
Once you had the idea, how did you go about making it a reality?
We started by creating and curating a really attractive Instagram feed. We have great friends in the creative industry and really learned how to make our vision beautiful. Our first event was supposed to happen this past fall: we had partnered with TechArtista to throw a private dinner, but the Stockley verdict came out the same day. We obviously postponed it—but the community remained. We saw each other on the streets of the Central West End that night instead.
The show is called "In Living Color: A Celebration Of Diversity Within Black Culture." The latter half of that title in particular is really compelling, as Black culture can often be flattened through the white gaze. Is the title in part objecting to that?
Actually, the title has nothing to do with white perception of Black culture. It's pretty much all about self-celebration. Not that others can't celebrate Black excellence too, just that the title wasn't made with the white gaze in mind at all. We're called "All" Black Creatives because this is a platform to celebrate the richness and diversity within all of Black culture. We are all so complex and different from each other, but very connected. I love celebrating that beauty and complexity.
That really seems to come through with the individual pieces selected as well. How did you choose pieces for the show and artists to work with? It's a very broad range, yet the pieces in the show have a really strong synergy.
I wanted to choose artists who I felt would really vibe with one another on a personal level. Some of the artists met for the first time on opening night, and that brought me so much joy. Seeing them in awe of each others’ work was amazing, and viewers really feel that energy. The pieces are definitely different as far as style and mediums, but each is a glimpse into the mind of the artist. I wanted to select pieces that were unashamedly honest.
Can you talk about a few pieces that are particularly moving for you?
I got the chance to sit and talk with Danny McGinnist Jr. about his piece “You Are What You Eat.” I stood in front of it for a while, and saw how the asymmetrical and misshapen body represented how foods can change our makeup and chemistry. That piece was so deep to me. Another favorite piece of mine is “Self 2.9.18” by Symone Johnson. It's a self-portrait of her at her desk, which shows her sinking into the floor with a bleeding clock stuck at 2 p.m. forever. That piece represents working for a company with a dark past, as well as being an artist stuck in a corporate cycle. I loved it.
As you mentioned with the Stockley verdict, St. Louis has become a global example of dysfunctional race relations—yet at the same time, some of the most powerful conversations about shifts we desperately need have grown out of the region, like the Black Lives Matter movement. How can art impact those necessary changes and conversations?
That's the thing about art. It's the rhythm of a chant that unites us. It's the drums during the march that help us find each other. It's the solidarity when you look at a piece of art and see yourself represented. It's the power to convict us, to comfort us and to compel us forward. Art is also joy, and it's more than paint and canvas. It's the documentaries and pieces that speak truth, that spark challenging conversations. All of that is art too.
You and your husband moved to LA and then back to St. Louis. What led you back home?
We moved back to St. Louis to have our first baby and be closer to family. We have a son named Sol, and he's almost 2. That's what brings me back every single time: Family.
What does a good white ally look like?
A good ally does not have to relate to me to respect me. They listen more than they talk. I think allyship around the world shares a lot of the same qualities: listen well, talk less, be compassionate and try to grow from what you learn. Be present when you're asked to be, and give space when you're asked to leave. Don't make assumptions. Do the hard work—not just the popular or pretty work.
There’s a great quote I read about this in an article my friend posted from The Huffington Post about the movie “Black Panther,” which just came out:
"The lesson of 'Black Panther' for white allies is this: They must learn to be the sidekick, to be at the fringe, to give up power, to have people of color in their ears directing them on how to be useful in fighting for the cause of justice."
That’s an awesome quote.
I agree—really well-put.
What inspires you on a daily basis?
Every day I am inspired by the persistence and dedication of my toddler. Seriously—he takes risks. If he wants something badly enough, nothing in the world will stop him. He's kind, he loves fiercely and he marches to the beat of his own drum, quite literally. He loves playing the drums.
Is there anything else you’d like people to know about the show and All Black Creatives?
Just to go check out the show and put some local art on your walls. Some of the pieces have already sold! We’re launching a website soon, but for now you can check out our mission and vision through beautiful visuals on our Instagram. More to come! Sol also inspired some creativity that can be found in my newest song, a lullaby I sing to him called Gold Light.