The creative mind is a beautiful thing that helps people bring their passion to fruition. Having a business mind as well elevates the chances of entrepreneurial success. As an interdisciplinary artist, Melissa Sutherland Moss has been able to focus her energy and business acumen to help artists such as herself showcase their talent.
She co-founded sk.ArtSpace, located in New York City, with Jarryn Mercer and Symone Wong. The space is an art incubator whose primary focus is to provide opportunities for emerging artists to expand their network, showcase their art, and be celebrated by the community.
Moss spoke with BLACK ENTERPRISE about the company’s ideation, how the pandemic has helped keep the focus on keeping the business going, and how she sees the future working out for sk.ArtSpace.
As the director of Creative Innovation & Ideation for sk.ArtSpace, a company you co-founded, what are some of the things you do to help others in the space when it comes to the arts? Why was it created?
As sk.ArtSpace’s mission continues to evolve, one important factor has always been to create a safe space for creatives of color to express themselves in an environment that understands and works to preserve the integrity of their craft. Within that space, I wear many hats, including collagist, creative installer, producer, and even curator when the time calls. One thing that I do in order to help others within this creative space is I allow myself to be flexible when sharing knowledge or creating unique spaces. For example, I put together quarterly creative critique groups for a cohort of three artists at a time. Critique groups are essential in an artist’s career because they can provide emotional support, motivation, and accountability. It’s also a space where it can help you improve your writing by offering feedback, perspective, and concepts.
What led you down the path to becoming not only a creative artist but an entrepreneurial one, making a career out of a passion you have? How are you able to separate, if you have to, the business aspects of your company versus the creative talent?
I have been fortunate to know that my purpose in life is to create. As far back as elementary school, I remember how all of my small milestones lead me down creative paths. Art has always piqued my interest, but a high school teacher’s positive critique of a painting I created led me to pursue painting in college. As I continued to blossom, my love and relationship with art deepened. I began to brainstorm ways to not only monetize my passion but ways to build a platform that would grant access to Black creatives.
Separating sk.ArtSpace from my creative practice is a very challenging task but a necessary one. It is difficult because of the many hats that I wear within the company, mostly related to visual concepts. My team looks forward to my creative ideas and feedback; however, they are also extremely supportive and protective of my creative identity. It takes time, but with their support, I am able to separate the two without confusion.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of us in some way. How have you coped with the pandemic, and how have you had to pivot to continue working through this?
Since opening our physical gallery space in 2018, sk.ArtSpace has stayed true to its mission but, like many of us, has been shaped and maneuvered by the unprecedented times of COVID-19. As a team, we continue to move forward in thought and inspire hope as we undergo a hybrid transformation. Today, we continue to challenge ourselves to find new ways to communicate with our community and carry out our mission by supporting each other during this time. More than ever, we needed to focus on our mental health and take a moment to acknowledge that physical closure did not mean failure.
The pandemic was a significant moment of silence for me. I’ve never experienced stillness like that before, and it was the perfect opportunity to gain clarity. During that time, I was able to reflect on mental health, my creative practice, and certainly my entrepreneurial spirit. The pivot for me was: do more for yourself.
As a Black woman, what obstacles have you had to conquer, and what advice would you give anyone who wants to pursue their passion and make a longstanding career out of what they seek?
My biggest challenge right now is that there aren’t enough people who look like me in the spaces that I occupy. It is important to me to deliberately tell our stories through relatable programming or using relevant imagery. Ultimately, creating works that grant people permission to be multifaceted. My advice to anyone who wants to pursue their passion or currently navigating it is: keep exploring and always lead with curiosity.
What does the future hold for you and your company? Are there any goals, dreams, or things you envision doing that will fulfill whatever legacy you would like to put in place?
I want to be remembered as someone whose practice is dedicated to celebrating the historical narratives of diverse journeys across the Black and African diasporas. Through a hybrid of mediums, I am able to fulfill visual and socially engaging projects that capture Black culture right now. The future holds the flexibility to choose which mediums I get to express how I want to contribute to my overall goal. That could be expanding sk.ArtSpace to an artist residency and physical gallery space. Or that could also look like photographing Black people on my Polaroid camera. Whichever route the future holds for me, the mission will remain the same: to collect, create, preserve and celebrate the histories of Black and African people across the diaspora. This is important to me as I navigate the world while exploring where I fit in as a Black Afro-Latina woman. It is also critical for me to document my culturally diverse family and my friends in the process.