Nikkolas Smith, artivism, art, illustrator, children's books, Disney

Nikkolas Smith Navigates ‘Artivism’ And Commerce

Nikkolas Smith finds a way to bring together personal expression, joy, and activism while finding commercial success in the process.

Nikkolas Smith is an engineer, artivist, and businessman.

Serving as a witness to the active and immediate fight for democracy, Palestinian genocide, and police brutality—by way of video—can be exhausting and defeating. Luckily, art exists as a balance, infusing light in dark places. Whatever medium chosen—music, television, books, pottery, or any other form of expression—art provides a soothing balm to harsh mental wounds. Other times, art serves as the medium in which people express displeasure at societal woes. 

Smith finds a way to combine personal expression, joy, and activism while finding commercial success in the process. He considers himself an “artivist,” a combination of activist and artist. In addition to designing famous Disney structures, Smith is a muralist and illustrator of children’s books, movie posters, and clothing lines.

BLACK ENTERPRISE spoke with Smith at the Disney Dreamers Academy, where he mentored 100 youth. His message was based on personal experience, as he championed dedication to your craft, consistency, and profit while maintaining integrity in your artivism. 

Smith started his creative journey after graduating from HBCU Hampton University. With his engineering degree in hand, he began his career as a Disney Imagineer. In this role, he was able to put his technical skills and hard-earned degree to use. 

While working for others, Smith never lost focus on his craft. To sharpen his skills and gain exposure, Smith began an Instagram sketch series. He created art for an older family friend, and it was the beginning of his journey to independent artivism.

Smith told BE how it all started: “I made a picture book cover of Simone Biles.”

He continues, “That art piece was shared by a lot of people on Facebook, and Barnes and Noble saw it and were like, can you turn this into a picture book in three weeks?”

He says his consistency in perfecting his craft and making it available to the public without fear of critique allowed him to be prepared to accept Barnes & Noble’s offer. Since this opportunity, Smith has illustrated over 10 children’s books, including I am Ruby Bridges, Artivist, and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever: The Courage to Dream.

“It started with my Sunday Sketch Series,” he says.

This series would lead to Smith stepping out of his Disney cocoon to pursue his artistry full-time. Though faith in his talent played a part in his transition, Smith tells BE that business acumen is necessary. He didn’t have the acumen at the time but credits his wife, Vanessa Crocini, for being “the brains” behind his success.

“I didn’t have a website. I didn’t know the value of my art. I needed someone. Some people need a team of people to do all that. I needed my wife.”

Trusting in his talent and wife has led Smith to heal “the broken bones of the world” through art. His mission is to educate and entertain. His work is bringing awareness to Palestine is a testament to his compassion and dedication.

When asked if he is afraid his commercial opportunities will be hindered by his activism, Smith says, “It is what it is. I’m not going to stop doing it. I will rock with the people who rock with justice for all.”

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