In West Philadelphia, born and raised, on the stage is where Joshua Dingle spent most of his days. Like Will Smith, Josh’s life got flipped-turned upside down but he didn’t have an Uncle Phil to bail him out of troubled situations. And while he never had the Banks, he did find a different kind of family in music and theatre programs. On the stage, Josh overcame all odds, ultimately producing the concept for Music Makes Me Happy, a nonprofit connecting creatives invested in social impact to help the next generation of kids heal through art.
Today, Josh is making big moves in Atlanta with The Gathering, an upcoming event for socially conscious artists. We sat down to talk about his nonprofit, Atlanta’s global influence, and the coolest thing to do as an artist (hint: it’s not to play Coachella).
Tell us a little about your background and why you decided to start Music Makes Me Happy.
Music Makes Me Happy comes from a very personal place. I grew up in foster care and experienced a lot of emotional trauma. I didn’t have an outlet so that trauma triggered a speech impediment where I could I could not speak; I had to write things down to get my thoughts across which impacted my confidence, behavior, and grades. It was downhill from there despite going to speech and therapy classes. As I kept stuttering, my confidence kept dropping but at the age of 12 years old I discovered music and theatre; I was able to speak again! It was a powerful way to show the world that I didn’t have a thinking disorder, but I had a speaking disorder. My disability stemmed from a lack of space for me to process my trauma. Music and theatre allowed me to express myself and to be human. To be creative is to be human.
Music became a window into my emotional and psychological levels and it can do the same thing for a community. There are so many issues that are plaguing our communities but music and art are such powerful vehicles for change. Art makes you care and music provokes. I know that when I use my art and music I can provoke thought and spark conversations. Though those mediums, my voice as an artist is very powerful.
Music Makes Me Happy is a community of artists who share the belief in the power of art. Many of these artists have stories that are very similar to mine, art became their voice to help them process trauma. Now they are empowered through their work. I want to help them connect and build. Our official mission is to provoke artist towards social awareness, advocacy, and activity.
We love how you provide a platform for Atlanta and beyond. Can you elaborate on that? Also, tell us a little more about your core initiatives and the community you serve.
In 2014, I engaged music industry professionals in Philly around my idea of connecting artist and the brand began to take on a social impact focus. We expanded to Atlanta in 2015 and into Los Angeles in 2016. Being in Atlanta is important because the creative community here influences the world. There are so many artists that come out of Atlanta and inspire the nation. From a social activism perspective, our artists are carrying on the work of Martin Luther King in this city.
We have done close to 12 events between all our cities of focus. One type of event we do is called The Gathering which is a networking event for artists and organizations that use art and music to inspire social change; we create a supportive collective of individuals who follow our mission. We also produce The Good Sound, a musical showcase where artists perform their socially conscious music. We recently hosted The Good Sound during the 2017 Grammy Weekend in Los Angeles, which was hugely successful.
What I am most proud of as Executive Director is our first core program called The HeArt Exchange. It is a youth mentorship program that matches local artists with youth in underserved communities. As artists, we are painfully aware of federal cuts in funding to the arts. Those cuts reflect the lack of value for arts, so we want to activate artists to do something. We have tools in our hands to invest in a young Joshua.
Tell us more about hosting The Gathering in Atlanta on May 11th.
This a great networking opportunity for individuals and organizations that use art to impact change. Our event is for anyone who feels alone in their mission to use art to make a difference. This is a great chance for those socially conscious folks to share resources, insight, and inspiration with each other. The panel discussion will be the culmination of the event. We’re inviting established professionals to speak about doing this work daily and I’m hoping it will yield real, raw and authentic conversations. Opening Remarks will be presented by Courtney English, Chairman of the Atlanta Public Schools and Candidate for Atlanta City Council. Additional confirmed panelists Include:
- Dr. Bettina Love, is an award-winning author and Associate Professor of Educational Theory & Practice at the University of Georgia.
- Rohit Malhotra, the Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Civic Innovation in Atlanta, GA.
- Alexander Acosta, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Soul Food Cypher a community arts organization that builds individuals and communities through the power of freestyle rap, cypher events, educational services, and workshops.
- Carlton Mackey, is an adjunct professor at Emory University, artists, scholar, and creator of BEAUTIFUL IN EVERY SHADE a grassroots empowerment campaign, internationally recognized brand, and apparel company also comprised of the signature platforms Black Men Smile™ and 50 Shades of Black.
I’m also excited about having a live performance featuring Charvis Flagg, a live painting, AND an open bar – it’s going to be a great time. Not only do we want to change the narrative around our communities but we also want to kick back and enjoy it. There are many of amazing people here doing a lot of great work. I know this event is going to be amazing!
Interested in learning more about Music Makes Me Happy’s newest initiative The HeArt Exchange? Check out how they’re working to connect creatives with youth in underserved areas.