"Art Is Who I Am"

Actor and writer Kelley Knight at Thursday's The Commons. At the inaugural event last month, she said that she practices her craft because "I’ve found that if I don’t, it will kill me. It’ll kill my soul, it’ll kill my spirit. " Lucy Gellman Photos. 

Actor and writer Kelley Knight at Thursday's The Commons. At the inaugural event last month, she said that she practices her craft because "I’ve found that if I don’t, it will kill me. It’ll kill my soul, it’ll kill my spirit. " Lucy Gellman Photos. 

Why do you do it in a progressively gig economy? Like, what makes it worth it? 

That question hung in the air—and got some answers—Thursday night, as The Arts Council of Greater New Haven and Breakfast Lunch & Dinner hosted the second The Commons, a monthly meetup for artists, arts enthusiasts, and community members across the New Haven region. After last month's inaugural event in Fair Haven, The Commons moved to Westville's Lotta Studio

Attendees were visual artists, musicians, actors, educators, and consumers of the arts. Some stayed for the whole event, soaking up Salwa Abdussabur's poetry and sipping on New Haven's new Rhythm Lager.  Others schmoozed, weaving through bodies to get to old friends, and making new ones along the way. Here's what some of them had to say about why they practice, and what makes them keep going. 

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Avé Rivera, Sculptor  

I just keep working at it. Sometimes I wake up and I don’t want to do it, but I’ll crawl to my basement, because that’s where my studio is, and I take a look at what I have to do. Once I get started, the joy comes after. Basically, I force myself to do it. 

Mistina Hanscom, Photographer, Designer, Curator, and Co-Founder of Lotta Studio with her husband, Luke

The adrenaline rush! I think that there’s something so gratifying about starting with a concept and then seeing it in its end result. It’s glorifying. It’s beautiful. It’s exciting. And you have control over all of the elements … it’s an outlet for random emotions that there are no words to. 

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Meghan Shah, Printmaker, Painter, Curator & Teacher

I think the big thing is that I really love my day job, teaching. So I don’t have to worry about income from that. I think taking the monetary pressure off of it is what makes me keep going and love to do it. If I was dependent on making my livelihood from art, I don’t know if it would be the same experience. So I’m very fortunate that my day job, I love.

But I think coming up with new projects. I get a lot of inspiration through travel—so finding trips, and making sure I keep taking trips really helps. 

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Salwa Abdussabur, Spoken Word Artist & Teacher at The Word

It’s the joy of being my authentic self. I guess you could label me as being an artist, but I’m just a creator and a being, and my purpose. I find joy in turning my sadness, my happiness, my story into beautiful works of art that people can relate to, and love, and feel connected within themselves. 

The biggest part is connecting to myself, yes, and sharing my art. But when people take my art and take what I’ve put out there and they turn it into their own, and I inspire them in that way—that feeling of transferring that energy to somebody, so that they can in some ways make it better, or improve upon it, is the most amazing feeling you could ever have. You’re like: Wow.

And that makes it all worth it. When people come up to me and they’re like: Thank you for being vulnerable. So that they can be vulnerable. Oh my god. That makes it so worth it.” 

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Travis Carbonella, Videographer

Helping people hear their stories in a way that they would not have heard it themselves. 

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Hanifa Washington, Poet, Wordsmith, Community Organizer, Teacher at The Word

How do I find joy? Under carpets. On the side of the road. In the couch, you find it there. Just little nuggets and sprinkles. Being able to keep pushing, and stretching, and seeing the impact. Being able to question and maybe not always find the answers and keep diving for them. 

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Paul Bryant Hudson, Musician and Organizer, Sofar Sounds New Haven

So, I think the gig economy preys on people like me. Not just because I’m an artist, but because there literally is not another option. We have to do what we do. I don’t keep going because I’m hopeful, or inspired by living gig to gig, check to check. I’m inspired because art is who I am.

Art is who I am. We know it’s not glamorous, but we know it’s also not a reflection of the value of what we do. Telling myself that is another way I keep it moving, keep it going. 

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Alisa Bowens-Mercado, Salsa dancer, Beer brewer, Small business owner

You know what? It’s a passion. It really is a passion. It’s a drive. It’s the thought of: What can you do next? Artists are always thinking—what can I do next? How can I make that portrait a little finer or put more detail in it? It’s no different than being an artist of a product. Or your creativity. 

Really, it takes perseverance. But when you’re driven by passion, you find yourself going to other forms and places in your brain. That’s what makes it exciting.