Adventures In Sharing Your Art

A small story of joy at the end of a dark week in our country.

As some of you know, I build experiences across unused, Class A commercial spaces for one of my clients. My job is to essentially engage, strengthen and connect disparate communities in any given building.

One of the ways we recently achieved this for a particular building in Midtown was by inviting all tenants who had side passions as creators, makers, and artists to exhibit their work in our common space. So an HR manager at a hedge fund brought in her homemade greeting cards, an executive assistant at a law firm brought in his 3D paintings, a front desk associate at a beverage distributor brought in her photographs, and so on. Once we collected and proudly displayed all their work on the walls of our common space, we threw everyone a big Art Party. They could invite their colleagues, friends and family to attend in celebration (and hopefully sell some of that side hustle work too.)

I was particularly struck by a series of prints that appeared to be images of microscopic specimens, so I tracked down the artist. She was unbelievably sweet. Her name is Stephanie, and she’s been a secretary at the same company for nearly 30 years.

I asked her about her work. It turns out they were prints of various recyclable objects found around her desk. For the last three decades, whenever she’d get bored at work, she’d collect discarded staples, trashed packaging straps, and wayward hole punches, and make beautiful pieces of art out of them.

I asked her if she had ever shown her art before. She laughed. These prints had been accumulating under her bed, collecting dust for thirty years. No one had ever seen them before. In fact, she had hundreds and hundreds more where these came from.

I then asked her why she hadn’t shown her art before. She said she didn’t think she was a “real artist.” She said she didn’t think people would like her art. She said she didn’t think she had permission.

So I told her I wanted to buy a piece. Her mouth dropped and stayed open. I changed my mind. I told her I wanted to buy three pieces. She fell to the floor and sobbed. What seemed like a small gesture on my part felt like a tidal wave to her. Later that day, she submitted a few of her pieces online to a contest. And this weekend, her work will be shown publicly for the first time in her life at an art show in Red Hook.

I share this story as a reminder, friends. Please don’t hide your art under your beds. I say that both literally and figuratively. Show your colors to the world. If you’re angry, share your anger. If you’re happy, share your happiness. Enjoy your process. Share your work. Share your passions. Share your story.

This world could afford a little more of your light.

And if you’re interested in purchasing a piece of Stephanie’s, I’ll gladly put you in touch.

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Adventures In Self-Respect

I never share my craziest stories publicly, but this article gave me some major #TBT last week, and I think, I hope, the lesson is worth sharing.

Last Summer, smack dab in the middle of my Tony Awards Week, I suddenly found myself in ten interviews, from the Yale Club to the top of 1 World Trade, as the sole candidate for the newly created role of Editor-In-Chief, Experiential across all of Condé Nast’s titles. It was to be the first non-magazine, Editor-In-Chief role in the company’s history. (A role that, for the time being, would two months later become obsolete. But just imagine for a moment my wide eyes and slacked jaw when they told me that the in-house stylist was going to redo my entire wardrobe!)

I’ve had too many major job almosts to count. This one was certainly one of the most fascinating. It was a bananas, super “who me?” experience, and everyone I met with during that period was beyond wonderful and encouraging.

But through this experience and a confluence of other well-timed events, it was the first time in my life, at age 32, when I realized I was worth something. I’m not speaking of monetary value. I’m speaking of human value. Over the course of this wild year, I recognized something so essential: I was a human that was worthy of respect and worthy of love, just like everybody else. Perhaps I always knew that on my skin. But now I knew it deep in my bones. My college mentor told me “You are enough” on graduation day. I guess it took me a decade or so to finally listen.

Maybe it was the years of working some of the most degrading gigs I could find to barely make ends meet. Maybe it was the hundred No’s after auditions and festival submissions and directing program applications that came with every once-in-a-blue-moon Yes. Maybe it all goes back to my at times fanciful, at times miserable childhood. Maybe it was all the other external factors I could name that would ultimately take the responsibility off of looking after myself. “You can’t blame nobody but you,” Janet sang. “I’m starting with the man in the mirror,” Michael sang. Whatever it was, I don’t think I had much self-respect. Not love. “R. E. S. P. E. C. T.” (Aretha SANG.)

After I started to respect myself a little more, that’s when I found love.

After I started to respect my opportunities a little more, that’s when I found strength.

After I started to respect my life a little more, that’s when I found joy.

I’ve been talking to a lot of friends and family lately about Pascal’s Wager. “You might as well believe in God.” I can’t vouch either way for that statement. But I do believe, “You might as well believe in Good.” In this life, you might as well try to be good. You might as well try to feel good. You might as well try to do good. You might as well believe that humanity as a whole has the capacity for good. Every person’s unique circumstances could certainly argue otherwise, and this current administration does nothing to support my claim. But I can choose only how I aim to live. And for me, I think this is a directive worth aiming for.

Social media has become a scientifically proven dust bowl of psychosis, misinformation, and ultra targeted marketing. It’s the ultimate “You are NEVER enough.” Whenever I log on, I see that congratulations are in order for a multitude of things – a big job or promotion, a marriage or a baby. Heck I’ve seen people sincerely congratulate others on finding their light in a grungy bathroom selfie on the Lower East Side.

If you’ve read this far into my meandering, 2 am thoughts, here’s what I want to say to you:

I AM PROUD OF YOU.

Yes, YOU. I am proud of the jobs and the babies, yes. I am also proud of you on just a regular Monday like today. I am proud of you for taking the time to apply to all those jobs. I am proud of you for soldiering on after heartbreak. I am proud of you for busting through barriers on a regular basis. I am proud of you for waking up every morning and charging ahead when the world wants to eat you alive.

I am proud of your optimism. I am proud of your kindness. I am proud of your resilience.

If you ever need a reminder, let me know. You have to remind yourself every day.

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