» Simone Williams
What kind of art do you practice?
I identify as an actor and spoken word poet, primarily. The community of actors and spoken word poets in the Twin Cities are very important to me. They draw me to my work. They are all really good at what they do, which in turn makes me motivated to be good at what I do. A lot of the artists are changemakers or have a heavy drive for community development or social justice, and that’s the kind of art I want to make – art that creates change and makes a difference.
How did you become an artist?
I became a performer and actor when I was really young, primarily because my mom was looking for something for me to do after school. I really enjoyed creating things, being loud and sometimes obnoxious. I don’t think I identified as an artist for a really long time. I became an artist when I created my own work that made me feel purposeful. In the past, I had worked for other people and their work didn’t have the level of impact I was hoping to create; I wanted to work for myself and build something that represented the change I sought to make. And it wasn’t until I began making my own work that I identified as an artist.
What inspires and motivates you?
Every single person I’ve met who is a queer or trans person of color is a fighter and a warrior. I’m inspired by especially black and brown queer and trans people, and watching them doing work and have them teach me. Watching them live their lives, even through trauma, inspires me. If they can do it, what am I doing laying around?
They are brave beyond belief and uphold continued resilience.
What has been your greatest joy as an artist?
One of my personal favorite moments happened after a performance of a show called Bottom - I’ve been a part of the show for the past three years. The show revolved around human sex trafficking and I was playing the character of Amber, who had been a victim of sex trafficking. It was a very challenging role because she is a very vulnerable character. About a year ago, we performed at a church and there was a woman in the audience who had been in the same position as Amber, a victim of sex trafficking and she expressed that she had been in the same position of hierarchy in the sex trafficking system that my character had been. She told me “You told the narrative correctly” and that the art I created was a perfect representation of her life. To hear somebody who has actually experienced and lived in Amber’s shoes say that I portrayed the experience correctly, brought me the most joy. I pat myself on the back for that.
What is the biggest adversity you have faced in your artistic journey?
I’m 18. I’ve experienced a lot of my time and my work being taken advantage of because I’m a young person. I’m using so much of my time and effort, while my work is being exploited. Some people believe I will work for free because I need the experience; but no, I am giving up time at school time for homework or time with friends and sacrificing just as much as an adult, if not more, to be doing the work I am doing. On top of that, I am of mixed race and I’ve been kind of fetishized by a lot of white adults in the community; a lot of them want me to be their token person of color in their show. And that’s a problem.
How has art influenced your community?
Art is in every single thing that we do. Art occurs in our lives every single day. Just living in the Twin Cities, there are poems scribbled on the sidewalk around my house and on the Green line. There is art everywhere and art integrated into the community. Art has the ability to create a space for people whose voices have often been rendered invisible to create something, speak of their oppression and talk about those experiences. It benefits the individual as well. Someone can see a show and feel improved by something, or have their awareness be drawn by something. I think it has the impact of creating space that is necessary and important. It has the capability to create a vulnerable and safe space.
“Art has the ability to create a space for people whose voices have often been rendered invisible to create something, speak of their oppression and talk about those experiences.”
- Simone Williams
How has Intermedia Arts been a part of your story?
The Million Artist Movement and TruArtSpeaks! brought me Intermedia Arts, initially. My friend, Anders, introduced me to the Youth Leadership Council in 2015 and I started going to Intermedia Arts on a weekly basis. Intermedia Arts has changed my narrative of who I identify as and what I identify as an artist. I wouldn’t have identified myself as a curator before Intermedia Arts. The Creative Leadership department also helped me learn about careers and jobs that I never knew existed. For example, I had no idea I could be an artist actively creating change in law making. I didn’t know I could help coordinate with other artists to create change for social justice. I had conversations with staff about what do I need to learn or get a degree in to get the same type of jobs and art-related work opportunities. I’ve told Wendy, who is the head of the Creative Leadership department, that I was going to take her job. It’s a whole different kind of practice to creating art here at Intermedia Arts. It’s changed the way I view a lot of different things as an artist.
How does art impact the world?
I think art is the language that we are all versed in. We may not necessarily speak the same language but we all understand the basics of art; you can find a story and build a connection with it, and I think that facilitates community building. My art has not reached everyone in the world, but if someone walks away from reading my piece and they feel touched or if they tell their friends about it, and their friends tell their friends about it, the world can share the space for critical conversation in respect to art. Art has the ability to be critiqued. When you critique art, you are able to critique the world in a safe and creative manner. It gives people the ability to reflect. And that doesn’t happen everywhere.
At what point in your artistic career did you find your true voice? How did you find it?
Poems are never completely done. They just get to the point where you can show them to people or where they’re not terrible. So I’m still finding my voice. In theatre, while directing and producing, I realized a long time ago that I’m only going to do shows that have an intentional message - a message that you can’t look away from. I did shows that didn’t have those intentional messages and I wasn’t enjoying that. I wasn’t enjoying watching people not be impacted. It was a lot of trial and error to get to where I am now. I’m still finding my voice and I think I will be as long as I identify as an artist. The art that I make reflects culture so much and culture is ever-changing, therefore my art should never be stagnant.
How do you engage community in your practice?
I just recently started curating art space in different ways, shapes and forms like the work I do for Intermedia Arts. I feel like the easiest way to engage community is to invite people in and tell people about the project in their language. That may mean a pop up show, hiring an interpreter, or using visual communication to engage with those folks and letting them know that I want them there. I try to bring it to the people I want in the space. I want to have a space that’s safe, accessible and equitable to have conversations with the community.
Simone Williams (they/them/theirs) is a queer, trans, mixed race multidisciplinary working artist from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Simone works as a poet, organizer, educator, actor, singer, director, curator, and visual artist. Simone has been affiliated with multiple organizations across the Twin Cities including Intermedia Arts, TruArtSpeaks, Million Artist Movement, Justice Occupation for Philando, blank slate theatre, and nimbus theatre. Simone hopes to dismantle the heteronormative, white supremacist, ableist, capitalist, patriarchy with art while maintaining an ability to laugh and rejoice in the small things. Their favorite fruit is pears.