LaShun Tines Spotlights The Art of Blackness
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
There's a growing movement for inclusive policies in a wide range of fields. But Art and Design, while typically more progressive, are not where they need to be as industries. And Advertising is lagging even further behind. It's what initially led WNW Member and AIGA Chicago Diversity Lead LaShun Tines to start The Art of Blackness exhibition in Chicago five years ago. And it's still one of the few, if not the only, national group art shows dedicated to furthering the presence of African Americans in the fields of art, design, and advertising. One of its key goals is highlighting potential heroes for younger creatives. "Familiarity and exposure to our heroes in the art and design space is an unspoken issue affecting African American artists. As a result, the aspirations of our artists can be limited. We try to introduce our audience to African American trail-blazers to serve as inspiration and as an example that the possibilities for African American artists and designers are endless."
In our interview below, LaShun doesn't hold back, and that's frankly what is so refreshing about the kind of work that he's doing with The Art of Blackness. LaShun takes the Chicago advertising scene to task for its segregation and non-inclusive hiring practices, and he recognizes the personal risk involved: "'Fuck it,' I reasoned. 'It's not like they are hiring Black people anyway; this may be an opportunity to show them why they should.'"
On September 22nd, The Art of Blackness will host this year's exhibition opening at Block 37 in Chicago. You can register for the event here. The exhibition allows for a meeting of the minds between African American artists and design professionals, to provide these artists with both an avenue of expression and an introduction to potential patrons and resources.
How would you describe your creative style? Do you recognize a signature style linking all your work, or do you try to excuse yourself & approach each project as its own entity?
Life as a freelancer requires no small amount of versatility, so I really try to not lean too heavily on one aesthetic. Also, it cheapens the experience as a designer if I'm constantly producing the same creative for different clients. In a perfect world, each project would provide an opportunity for me to stretch my creative wings as well as provide the client with creative that is both exciting and beneficial to their project.
You’re currently organizing this year’s Art of Blackness Exhibition in Chicago. Can you tell us about the exhibition, and what the impetus was?
I created The Art of Blackness in an effort to join the growing movement for inclusive policies in the fields of art and design. Additionally, familiarity and exposure to our heroes in the art and design space is an unspoken issue affecting African American artists. As a result, the aspirations of our artists can be limited. We try to introduce our audience to African American trail-blazers (in the worlds of art, photography, and design) to serve as inspiration and as an example that the possibilities for African American artists and designers are endless.
What's it been like to make this passion project a reality? Do passion projects produce an unending flow of creativity, or is there added pressure to do the project justice?
There is definitely pressure! In the instance of passion projects, it's self-initiated.
Establishing milestones for your project really helps in balancing a need for greater creative expression and experimentation while managing deadlines. For me, a project isn’t definitive until a date for a deliverable is established: “Sponsorship proposals are due in the 2nd quarter.” “Promotion of the exhibition should begin no earlier than 3-weeks out.” Defining milestones for a self-initiated project is a key. These due dates create the impetus for getting things done as well as establishing how much time the artist can spend on the fun stuff.
How do you balance feelings of pride and frustration that this is the first and only event of its kind?
Considering that non-inclusive aspect of the design industry, creating the Art of Blackness exhibition and becoming the inaugural diversity lead for AIGA Chicago came with no small amount of danger to my professional career. There were definitely slings and arrows to be suffered (which is another conversation entirely). I had to really ask myself if I was prepared for the consequences that came along with such public-facing roles during a time when diversity and inclusion weren't the hot topics that they are now. In the end, I decided that being on the right side of history was the move for me. “Fuck it,” I reasoned. “It's not like they are hiring Black people anyway; this may be an opportunity to show them why they should."
How would you describe the Chicago creative scene?
Segregated. The unemployment rate for African American men in Chicago is currently hovering around 50 percent. That's more than triple the national average, and the hiring practices within our industry are not excluded from those statistics. And as a result, our industry has a part to play in the reversal of those types of statistics.
What's the best advice you have ever heard or received that all creatives should hear?
The best piece of advice I have received is from one of my mentors from my time as an intern at VSA Partners: If you are a great designer there will always be work: non-inclusive policies aside, great work creates its own demand.
Additionally, I have a saying in regards to inclusion. There are literally a million reasons to "not" hire candidates who are people of color (the majority of which are probably untrue and skewed unfairly) and only one reason to hire them: because you want to. That's really the prime differentiator. If recruiters can be honest with themselves about the "why", real headway can be made.