Jeremiah Ojo is an unforgettable man in Atlanta’s art scene. Aside from his swagger and contagious grin, his work with creative communities of color is a resource that’s long overdue. His organization, Creative Milieu, connects artists with everything from proper paintbrushes to underscoring the importance of policy. We recently sat down with Ojo and got schooled on the ABC’s of Atlanta’s diverse art scene.
What made you decide to start Creative Milieu and why is it a needed resource for minorities in the art community?
I started Creative Milieu for connectivity. That’s the biggest issue I find not just in the Atlanta community, or minorities in the art community, but in the art world altogether. There are a lot of silos and enclaves of experience, knowledge, and resources because the art sector is really based on having experience, but there’s a big disconnect. If there were a way to leverage and connect the people I know from nonprofit and for-profit entities, as well as artists who have great experience, and translate that into emerging artists on a peer-to-peer accountability system, then something would change. I didn’t want to just focus on individual artists but also institutions and organizations that facilitate those opportunities from a more formalized structure.
So I created Creative Milieu which facilitates and cultivates opportunities for creative communities of color through artistic and cultural production. I started it full-time after I left Bill Lowe Gallery. I was the director there for about two years which was a good experience. I worked with so many international artists, nearly 80 artists from 13 countries around the world. I found that an artist in France who is mid-career, at 50 years old, has the same issues as an artist who just finished their BFA at Georgia State. They still want to understand the business metrics of navigating the art world.
When I started the organization, I didn’t want to recreate the wheel by doing something other organizations have done. There are great art organizations like WonderRoot and C4 doing great work but there is still a missing gap, particularly communities of color. These communities produce culturally or artistically at high volumes whether it be music, dance, visual arts, or otherwise, but many still don’t get access to information or aren’t fully aware of what they could be taking advantage of. For me, particularly being a man of color and my parents being immigrants, makes me a double minority. I’m kind of an anomaly already being in the art administrative field. I know a number of people who look like me, or have issues like me, who need tailored services that go beyond a class or seminar. So I thought to myself, ‘let me try to connect them to some of these opportunities that I’ve been exposed to.’
Can you talk a little bit about the resources you provide?
Creative Milieu has four buckets of portfolios. The core element is connectivity within art, culture, policy and community. The quad helps people create sustainable careers and growth. I’m not about a get rich quick gimmick or telling people that if they do these two or three things that they’re gonna be an immediate star or super successful. But rather, I assist artists in looking and building an ecosystem to which hey can create and see how they can make a lasting contribution to society. It takes time!
The value-add for me is aspirational-based learning. It’s something I learned working in nonprofit fundraising and development. In order to move the needle on sustainable growth for communities, I first listen to who and where they are and where they want to go because not everyone wants to be a famous or millionaire. I try to understand what these individuals and organizations desire and begin to work backward from there. If they say, ‘hey, I want to make x number of dollars over this period of time’ then we look at pricing structure and what they need to do in order to get to that level. Then add realistic goals and benchmarks and have accountability partners within the community that hold them accountable in order to push them to those goals. It’s about community.
Within all the various obstacles, red tape, and other obstacles, it’s important to have policy to underscore and solidify some of those efforts. It’s understanding the policy considerations of artists and art organizations, as citizens, voters, and economic engines, not just cultural accessories. Are we pressing our elected officials, city council members, and state representatives and otherwise about issues that affect creative communities? So I have worked with C4 and other organizations about advocating for art and policy and things to protect creative communities.
What is a common misconception you see in the art community you work with?
People think they have to go elsewhere. There’s this whole idea that the South is on the cultural periphery. That everything goes through Atlanta but not to Atlanta. So in order to change that narrative I’ve been working with a group of artists and paired them together as accountability partners and leveraged my relationships in order for them to show and promote their work, here locally. Taking artists who have lots of unseen inventory of artwork; stored in studios, garages, and even family member’s homes and give them the opportunity to share, sell and expose their work with a number of galleries and venues here in Atlanta and throughout the South.
I’ve seen the progress of creating expectations and standards to which these artists and creatives need to bring themselves up to in order to be on par, globally, not just locally. To dig and see what opportunities are already around them first, before they start looking elsewhere. There are so many successful artists that live here but they show their work or perform everywhere else. In order to change that, I’ve encouraged the artists I work with to first look at the city and say, “alright, what is here?” They have the experience to do something in their backyard and not shrug off Atlanta and say, “well I just live here and do work elsewhere.”
What’s the best piece of advice you can give to emerging artists?
The artists I work with in galleries and nonprofit organizations I’ve consulted with over the last year will tell you I say this alot. Many of them are tired of these two things but they are salient with the work I do and are universal whether you’re a creative professional or not.
The first is that “you must meet the expectations of your expectations.” So if you expect a gallery or museum to show your work, spend thousands of dollars in marketing, promotions, cultivating collectors and crafting narratives to support your work, then your work needs to be of a certain quality. The markup is already huge. So if you’re a professional, the expectation is that you use professional-quality materials. There’s a difference between good work and quality. because “good” is a degree of taste and that is preference. Quality is that no matter if I or you like it or not, that the artwork is well-constructed and you used the best materials you can get your hands on.
The second thing which is also very important is habits-rituals-production. Habits are things you naturally do whether good or bad. Knowing and recognizing what they are and then taking up a ritual on top of that, allows you to create this rigor in order to improve your production or creation.
There’s so much quietly happening in Atlanta’s creative sphere. If you’re a painter or sculptor you don’t have to just to do that. I know painters and sculptors that exclusively work building sets for TV and film sets. It’s just letting people know those opportunities exist and the structures you can put in place to prepare yourself for those opportunities.