The Artist Spotlight series aims to celebrate creators at a time when art is being consumed the most. We wanted to invite individuals working within the creative field to provide their voice, opinions and suggestions for the improvement, development and future of the Canadian creative community.
Alicia Roberts is a Toronto- based Freelance Event Producer and Project Manager. Specializing in curating Music, Art and Brand Experiences, Alicia shared with artsUNITE how taking a holistic wellness approach in her creative work enables her to show up as her best self and how she aligns herself with the bigger purpose.
Q: Can you share a little background about yourself and your work in events and the arts and culture sector?
I originally went to school for social work because I was passionate about social change and wanted to make a difference in the lives of youth like myself. After gaining some experience working in a detention center, I quickly realized the path I had chosen would limit me creatively and didn’t allow me to express my love for so many other things such as music, dance, art, hospitality and fitness. After graduating from York University with a Bachelors in Sociology, I decided to volunteer and explore other career options. After being exposed to my first live event, everything clicked. I realized that there was a way to merge all of my passions into a career. Not too long after, I enrolled into a post-graduate program at Humber College for Event Management. I graduated in 2017 and went on to intern and eventually work as an Event Coordinator for Manifesto. That experience created many opportunities for me from working in an event management role in spaces like Daniels Spectrum and Free Space, to working on the production and creative with brands such as Topshop Topman Canada, Airbnb Design and Afrotech.
Q:With events at a stand still, can you share a little about your current role?
I’m currently working as a Production Coordinator at Somewherelse. After dabbling in the freelance world for about a year and a half (working with Toronto staples like Dudebox), I wanted to gain agency experience and learn how to produce music and experiential events for larger brands. I got my chance when Somewherelse (formerly known as Young Offenders) hired me as a freelancer for a three month contract which later turned into a full time role. Since being here, I’ve had the opportunity to learn so much about the technical aspects, business strategy and creative design that goes into producing some of the coolest experiences we see around the city. I think I have definitely found my home, at least for the foreseeable future.
Q: What led you to freelancing before starting at Somewhereelse? What is the hardest thing about being an independent contractor/creative in the city?
With the exception of my current role, I choose to freelance because I’ve only ever known typical 9-5 jobs to be extremely limiting. Eventually I’d always feel frustrated by the routine, rules and inflexibility. I’m not trying to sound like a rebel or anything but I know my personality and I understand the kind of environment that I thrive in. I need a happy combination of diversity, freedom to create, plan/flex my day and hustle with a team when it’s time.
As an independent creative in the city, the hardest thing was learning to stay focused and disciplined with my time. Especially at the beginning of my career when everything was fresh and exciting, it was easy to get caught up at events networking and partying. Thankfully, I’ve been able to find a balance and can now apply better time management to my social life.
Q: Is there a quote/ mantra you live by, and if so, how has that shaped your practice/ work?
Yes. So many. But I’ll share this one.
“Don’t hustle. Align”.
This is what I say to myself when I think about closing the gap between where I am and where I want to be. Especially because the event industry is so intense and fast paced and everyone is out here trying to do everything and be everything overnight. So I often remind myself that I don’t need to rush my goals or learn everything there is to know within a year. I have learned and am able to recognize that true success, longevity and creativity require consistency; they are developed as you develop your excellence over time. With that said, I won’t stress about chasing the next opportunity or a big client. I align and prepare myself by focusing on doing quality work (among other things) and trust that what’s mine will find me.
Q: What inspires and/or motivates you right now?
Right now I feel inspired by all of the current events taking place around the world. From the pandemic to the Black Lives Matter movement and everything in between. All of it has really shaken me awake in a whole new way. The vulnerability I feel and have been witnessing around me has inspired me to take more responsibility around the work I choose to do and the projects I produce. I only want to create experiences that elevate and help us become better humans. I also feel really motivated by the reality that tomorrow isn’t promised, so I gotta do what I gotta do, now.
Q: (How) Has the pandemic and physical distancing measures affected you/ your work?
At first it was a shock. I had a hard time processing what everything meant. Especially since I thought I had chosen a career that was always going to offer financial security, I never considered the possibility of a pandemic. No one did.
With live events cancelled and postponed, I’m learning how to create digital content, stepping up my social media engagement and using the opportunity to work on personal projects I’ve put to the side. I’m also grateful because the pandemic has allowed me to take a deeper look at my skill set and knowledge tool box in order to identify other ways I can provide value within the creative community and the teams I am a part of.
Q: How do you envision the future of interactive events like panels, art shows and live music events, given physical distancing measures? Is the future all digital?
In my opinion, nothing can replace the experience and energy of a live event. So we may continue to see the zoom panels, online galleries and intimate musical performances but I truly believe that the way many people rushed outdoors to connect and socialize is an indicator that we are craving social connection. I imagine that events will slowly resurface and boom as we reinvent how to host in-person experiences. We’re already seeing the use of drive-in movie theatres, baseball diamonds, parks and other public outdoor spaces in re-imagining live events.
Q: What do you think companies/collectives/local organizations need to be focusing on to address the ongoing systemic racial inequalities in the arts and culture sector?
First, they need to focus on themselves; both on an individual level and on the executive and director levels. The leadership teams and owners of these companies need to be the one’s immersing themselves in anti-oppressive literature, diversity workshops, self-reflection, etc. so that they can be better leaders and decision makers for their teams. I’ve heard way too many stories of employees who have had to ask their senior management to address the issue of racism and the BLM movement. I was sad, but not surprised, when many of my friends heard silence or received scripted language around an empty commitment to do better.
Second, hire and fund black artists/creative professionals. Give us the space to tell our stories with our voices and don’t try and filter/silence it. Oh and don’t just do it to check a box or protect your brand. Everyone is watching and I don’t think we’ll take our eyes off the cause just yet.
Q: What is the most important tool in your practice?
Professionally: my laptop, my measuring tape and my network.
Personally: my wellness practices (journaling, meditating, running) are things that I actually can’t live without and are the reasons why I show up with the energy, ideas and with the quality of work that I do.
Q: What are you up to offline?
Right now, I’m working on developing my writing and drafting content for a personal blog project I have in the works. I’m also participating in a five week self-care workshop by wellness collective Black Girl In OM (BGIOM) called “The Circle”. Each day, I follow writing exercises and meditations based on the theme of Divine Disruption which feels necessary and aligned with everything that’s going on in the world.
To see more of Alicia’s work or to hire her for your next creative project, visit her website.
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Event Manager & Coordination, Alicia Roberts