Today we feature probably one of the most innovative stories we have ever told on The Brave Discussion. It’s the story of Risë Wilson,Founder of The Laundromat Project, Inc., a non-profit that uses the democratic space of local laundromats to present art as a tool of personal and social transformation in communities of color living on low incomes and how she set about gaining the qualifications to turn her dream into action. Along the way she gained valuable mentors which we will talk about in upcoming posts. I always say to those social entrepreneurs I coach – find a wing to climb under and learn learn learn. That relationship is critical to helping you realise your vision. Let’s meet Rise.
After conceiving the idea for The Laundromat Project in 1999, Wilson focused both her academic and professional careers on bringing the project to fruition. Since then she has held positions in both large-scale and grassroots cultural institutions such as the Painted Bride Art Center, the Museum of Modern Art, and the International Center of Photography. As an artist, Wilson works in the genre of printmaking. As an administrator, her work has spanned art education, community outreach, marketing, fundraising and strategic planning. Before entering the field of non-profit arts, Wilson worked for Procter and Gamble in Customer Business Development.
Rise Wilson – one of the world’s best emerging Social Entrepreneurs
Recognized as one of the “World’s Best Emerging Social Entrepreneurs” by the Echoing Green Foundation, Wilson is an Echoing Green fellow and prior recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment of the Humanities/College Arts Association, as well as New York University. Wilson holds a BA in African-American Studies from Columbia where she was a Kluge Scholar, and an MA in Africana Studies from NYU, where she was a MacCracken Fellow. She is a current resident of Bed-Stuy.
As an institution-builder, educator, and consultant, I design structures to strengthen the capacity of artists and art professionals to apply their talents to the public sphere. Creativity is at the root of all social change. When we are able to both use our imagination AND believe in its power, we have the ability to transform our lives, our surroundings, our relationships, the world.
3) How did you land your current gig?
In addition to my work with The Laundromat Project, I also serve as a consultant periodically. My consultancies and teaching positions have largely been the result of client referrals and leads from colleagues. After working in the art sector for close to a decade, I am now at a place in my career where I am able to respond to invitations to participate in various projects rather than having to rely solely on my own entrepreneurship. I also enjoy being a connector, so the karma of matching other people with opportunities has definitely come back to me.
4) Where do you spend most of your time?
In the kitchen. I often work from home, which can blur the boundaries of space for managing deadlines and space for personal replenishment. To create some balance I work at a very human rhythm, which includes giving myself time to prepare full meals with lots of organic produce and fresh ingredients.
5) Who influenced you most on your path to where you are today and in what way?
There are too many people to list here, but the person who leaps to mind is someone whose name I don’t even know: a former Managing Director of Freedom Theater in Philadelphia, who nine years ago, listened attentively as I poured out my initial vision for making art more accessible to underserved audiences. After 15 minutes of patiently enduring my over-confident exuberance, he paused, then asked: And how will you pay for all of this? It was a simple, obvious question that I had overlooked in my youth-charged idealism, and it was the moment my focus shifted to strategies for sustainability in whatever I endeavored to do. I developed the blueprint for The Laundromat Project later that year.
6) If you reviewed your recent web browsing history, what sites do you frequent that reveal most about who you are and what you’re thinking about lately?
Eastern Mountain Sports and Door to Door Organics. My life and my work are fundamentally about the capacity of black bodies to be free. Freedom is not just the bare bone essentials of the right to participate in civic life, or the ability to earn a living wage, or access to a high quality education. It is also the ability to be well, to dream, to pause. Freedom is the capacity to make choices that privilege our humanity before all else. The poor quality of life in so many communities—a quality of life that cannot support such freedom and so by extension cannot support humanity—is what fuels my commitment both to The Laundromat Project and to my own wellness.
7) What’s the last big mistake you made that you’ve learned from?
An important relationship went south, which could have been avoided if we had applied a more tempered pace to our professional alliance and friendship. I often act on my gut, but I have also learned the value of collecting information over time, whether it’s in regard to an opportunity or to a person. In our microwave generation of nanosecond decision making, it is easy to succumb to a perpetual sense of urgency (especially entrepreneurs), but as the saying goes: we have so little time, we must move very slowly.
Credit: Story courtesy of EchoGreen with thanks.
Don’t forget to come say hi to The Brave Discussion on Facebook and like our page - we’d love it too if followed us on twitter