Something has been missing in the Charlotte arts scene, according to artist and business owner Dammit Wesley. Specifically, something has been missing in the arts scene for creatives of color.
In particular, Wesley said he noticed black and Latino artists didn’t seem to have access to resources that would help a small business owner succeed. So he and a small group of collaborators launched a discussion series called “Let’s Talk Dammit.” The group meets twice a month at Wesley’s BlkMrktCLT photography studio, located at Camp North End, and you are invited (artist or not).
Artists might have all the talent in the world, Wesley said, but they often don’t understand the business side of things, which can create a lot of stress and disarray for people who want to make a living creating art.
The series began last month, drawing a diverse crowd of artists, photographers, musicians, DJs and chefs. The topic centered around what creatives, especially those from communities of color, need in order to lift each other up. The second meeting included an art critique by Andy Smith of Charlotte Magazine. The third meeting is Thursday, Jan. 11.
Initially, the group was created for artists ages 21-30.
“There are a lot of black creatives in this city that are widely talented but who aren’t given the same opportunities,” said Jonathan Cooper, a photographer and series collaborator. “I could be wrong, but I feel like there’s an ongoing conversation happening among creatives that aren’t creatives of color.”
One goal was to help them learn how to price their art competitively.
“You wouldn’t go to like Duke Energy and be like: ‘Oh man, my bill’s kinda high this month, can we adjust the price a little bit?’ You wouldn’t do that,” Cooper said. “Us as creatives, we have lives; we don’t do this for free. This is our livelihood. This is how we make money, this is how we live, this is what we breathe life into, and this is what breathes life into other things.
“If you’re doing shoots for 50 bucks, the consumer doesn’t understand the value. I figured if we bring everyone together and we all share our knowledge, that’s a huge step.”
Despite their laser focus to help elevate artists of color, Wesley said the meetings are open to anybody who is interested in the arts. It doesn’t matter what race you are, and it doesn’t matter which field you are in — you just need to have an interest.
“Art isn’t made in a vacuum,” he said. “We’re all in the same city. Your success is mine, and my success is yours.”
Wesley added, “If you’re just curious, if you want to help, if you have some kind of knowledge to pass on, show up. Maybe you’ll learn something, maybe somebody will learn something from you. Maybe you might meet your fiancé, your best friend or a cool bartender. Who knows?”
The admission cost: Bring a list of three demands you want the city to deliver to people who create for a living. The group plans to discuss the list of demands and then send city officials, made up of new leaders including Mayor Vi Lyles, what they’re calling, tongue-in-cheek, a ransom note.
“If we don’t get these things from the city, then we’re leaving,” Wesley said. “We’re the influencers, we’re the reasons why thousands of people move here every month. We’re your entertainment, we cook your food, we make nightlife fun and we make the city beautiful. We’re also capable of making videos, pamphlets and flyers, so should the artists turn their backs on the city, should we taint your name: that’s problematic. Should we leave? The bottom falls out.”
“Let’s Talk Dammit” is “a smart and useful way of having artists recognize their power and also letting other people realize the importance of us in the city,” he said.
Go to the next meeting
The next meeting of “Let’s Talk Dammit” begins at 7 p.m. Thursday at BlkMrktCLT, located at 1824 Statesville Ave., Ste. 106, at Camp North End.