5 Questions with Melonie Knight
Melonie Knight is a Brooklyn, NY-based artist and entrepreneur. With multi-medium and installation practices, she confronts the memories of Black womxn residing in the body and home. Her entrepreneurial ventures also reflect her desire and hope for healing and starting anew are also reflected. With her business Art 2 U (2018-2021), she created group painting fundraiser events, funding NYC BIPOC grassroots, non-profits, and small businesses.
Art and activism are often inherently linked, how do you see your work illustrating that relationship?
Creativity is an innate force that advocates for our existence. This impelling energy helps us honor and activate our ever-abundant tools, stories, and connections, allowing us to conjure reimagined conditions for us to thrive. A force that reminds us of our intrinsic power and interrelatedness is inherently political, under fabricated systems promoting marginalization, isolation, and devaluing to survive and obtain power for a few.
I often think about griots, a West African that uses the oral tradition of sharing song and poetry to keep history and legacies alive. How spectacular is it to recall the rhythm of legacies in our bodies, and to transcribe this energy into movement? Art helps us to feel and alchemize ancestral knowledge to sustain and move us forward. We wouldn’t be here if for the steps of those before us, revealing the essentialness of our connections to exist.
My “Sketchbook Sticker Fundraiser” for Power to Decide’s contraceptive access fund, BCBenefits, is my most recent attempt at a creative fundraising practice. In the refusal of capitalistic narratives of scarcity, I recalled my access to drawing tools, personal experience with birth control, and connection to reproductive justice work. I then shared three sketches in the form of donation stickers and social media content. I received a noticeable amount of engagement and donations from sharing “Sketch #3”, my crayon drawing of two birth control pills stretching into a figure eight/ infinity, and a narrative carousel-post expressing how birth control access can allow one to practice body reclamation and life planning as it did for me. I have been gratified to see how my Instagram community felt moved to DM me about personal reproductive health experiences, which occasionally extended further into donations and sharing this work with their networks. We all have so much to give. Moreover, I hope that my creative fundraising work continues to activate a generosity that reminds us of our infinite richness.
How did you get started in your field? What is your driving force?
I have been creating art for as long as I could remember. I attended Brooklyn High school of the Arts as a music and studio art major. In my senior-year Economics class, I was taught how to build and pitch an art business model. In 2018 Summer, I partook in a competitive youth entrepreneurship program, winning investments for Art 2 U, a traveling-youth paint and sip service. In 2020, Art 2 U pivoted into a Zoom paint and sip fundraiser service in response to the needs emerging from Covid-19. From July 2020, Art 2 U raised over $1.2K for NYC BIPOC grassroots, non-profits, and small businesses until its closing in August 2021. I then completed my BFA-Studio Art major and Business of Entertainment, Media and Technology (BEMT) minor programs at NYU in May 2022. Most recently, I committed to learn more about development through interning at nonprofits such as VIA Art Fund and The Studio Museum in Harlem, as well as running month-long social media art fundraisers.
I am driven to develop a fundraising practice that encourages interdependence. I often ask myself how we can all use our creativity to remind us of our inherent value and connection, and the importance of practicing generosity for our survival. In other words, how can creativity put us in a sustainable relationship with each other?
Art 2 U was started in 2018 and raised over $1.2k for various nonprofits, what are your aspirations for art fundraising programs in the future?
I envision more holistic arts fundraising programs. I aspire for there to be development practices that meet people where they are, yet invite tough conversations to look at ourselves, the community, and larger systems. I envision more inclusive value systems that credit in-kind gifts and facilitate conversations with low-income communities about small collective giving and battling scarcity mindsets. This can also look like affirming to donors with higher giving affinities that “we” are all in the same ecosystem and therefore this justice work frees all us all. I believe that we can build up to a future where fundraising programs can hold more space for what we all have to share. I want fundraising to reflect what we have versus what we are lacking.
What advice would you give to someone looking to effect change and create community with art?
I would advise someone looking to do this work to be hopeful. Make something, and be open to mistakes. Learn from others by reaching out to community members doing similar work, and integrate what you've learned from the community and your experience into a more sustainable practice.
I am so grateful that my “Sketchbook Sticker Fundraiser” email campaign reached Casey Roncoroni, the Vice President of Development at Power to Decide. Casey generously shared resources such as community-centric fundraising, and connections with BIPOC women doing this type of development activist work (Please check out Women of Color in Fundraising and Philanthropy). I am looking forward to more efficiently effecting change and creating a community with this wisdom gained.
What is a highlight of your work in conjunction with our organization?
I truly enjoyed the DMs I've received on Instagram about statistics I have reshared (such as Power to Decide’s contraceptive desert infographic) and the sharing of personal stories around reproductive autonomy. Fundraising for BCBenefits has painted clear the importance of destigmatization and the educational work needed so we can best see and support each other.
Power to Decide’s inclusive staffing, comprehensive sex ed, and research highlighting and addressing the cultural, racial, geographical, and economic barriers in the way of equitable reproductive health, made my work more meaningful in connecting a diverse group of people to the fundraiser’s mission. Fundraising for BCBenefits was truly an enriching experience. Thank you Power to Decide.