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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Soul of a Woman

Soul of a Woman: Ardena Clark Interview

 As I entered Ardena Clark’s apartment, I noticed Norman Rockwell’s famous painting of Ruby Bridges on her wall, The Auto Biography of Malcom X on her table, and Etta James smooth voice in the background. Then and there I had a strong sense she was culturally in tune, but it was only in our conversation later on that I found out she was also intellectually stimulating. Ardena Clark was once part of the award-winning and gold-selling single “Day and Night” R&B group Isyss. After her exit from the group she discovered her passion in helping people and became the representative for the 43rd Assembly District of Los Angeles, California. After her political career, she had a radio show with entrepreneur Demitrius Harris. Describing herself as an “independent entity” in her journey Ardena Clark continues to enrich her community and the world through effective change all while keeping her soulful spirit intact.   

Home Town: Los Angeles, California

How did your musical career begin?

In my early teens I was a part of a musical group called Unlisted. After a year or so, I left the group due to creative differences. Lilly Buchanan (acting manager at the time), her grand-daughter, my niece Letecia Harrison and I held auditions to form our own group. That’s where we found Lamyia Good, Meagan Good’s sister and we instantly loved her as well as Paulette Maxwell, former lead singer of the hit group Gyrl. Billy Moss, who served as our executive producer, found our amazing lead singer Quierra Davis-Martin.  For a couple of years, we worked on our sound, harmony, dancing, doing shows, and getting more experience. Paulette Maxell dropped off, leaving four.  When we were ready, we flew to the east coast to audition for the labels of J Records, Atlantic, and Arista. We collectively decided to go with Arista under LA Ried’s leadership cementing the award-winning and gold-selling single “Day and Night” R&B group Isyss.

What lifelong lessons did you learn while you were in the music business?

The most important experience I took away from being a signed artist, and having an excess of money at the time and some celebrity is that none of those things truly matter to an individual’s happiness at all. That’s the number one lesson I took away from the music business. Fortunately I experienced that at an early age. So many people make it their life’s goal to acquire fame and fortune and pass up the amazing treasures that life has to offer all along the way. You travel the world and you see the differences in people, what they believe, why they believe those things, and how we communicate about the world around us. Then more importantly, you see the similarities and what’s actually important in life and what people cherish. I became a true citizen of the world. For example, I knew poverty growing up, but it was nothing compared with the poverty that I learned of overseas. It was always my intention to come back and help clean up my community, but when I discovered the world, I chose to augment my mission to include as many suffering people as I possibly could.

What caused you to exit the group and leave the music business altogether?

I was no longer comfortable with the way that we as women and our group were being portrayed. “You’ve got a house on the hill, a chromed out ride…Even though I’ve got a man, just can’t leave you alone”- ISYSS Day and Night (single). What kind of message do you think a song like that sends to little girls and boys?! Girls believe that their worth is in how attractive they are and how many gifts a man is willing to give them based on that beauty and what comes along with it. Little boys then begin to believe that their worth is in how many hoes they can attract with all of their flashy things! That wasn’t us! I wanted to sing songs that were positive & uplifting and travel the world with my girls. Our voice was lost and on top of all that you’re dealing with the sexualization of yourself as a human being.  Celebrity is strange because everybody that’s around you isn’t about you at all; it’s about what you can do for them. So you’re constantly searching for people that keep it real with you. Then of course there is always a bit of inherent racism that is omnipresent in the industry. They wanted me to change my image. So they wanted me to go blond and suggested I wear contacts. I valued myself too much to continue to subject myself to such an environment. The industry couldn’t buy me. I’m not for sale.

How did you balance your integrity and sense of self while being in the music business?

It was impossible to balance for me, at that age. I was still a teenager. There were two things that kept me in for as long as I was, my beautiful sisters and the thought that “With the money and power that I will have, I will be more able to effect real change.” The problem was that I wasn’t sure by the time I got there I would have a soul left and that was something I wasn’t willing to jeopardize. One can hardly think of improving the world around them if they are living in their own personal hell. I was too young at that time and didn’t have the tools to prevent everything that was happening around me from negatively impacting me. 

What did you do after you exited the group?

I took a long sabbatical for about a year and then, I started getting back to the people that inspired me: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., The Kennedy brothers, Marian Anderson, Malcolm X, Madam Curie, Einstein, Confusions, Franklin Roosevelt, Lena Horne, Katherine Hepburn, Nelson and Winnie Mandela, Jesus Christ and many more from all over the world. I just enriched myself with beauty and created a new culture for myself in my imagination that would be my support system throughout life. I decided what I really wanted to do which was change the world. Then I got involved officially with the Democratic Party. I ran for the Democratic Central Committee and was the representative for the 43rd Assembly District of Los Angeles, California. At that post I wrote resolutions, around the time of the mortgage crisis, and even had then City Councilman Isadore Hall, who is currently running for the Senate seat; pass my resolution in neighboring Compton. 

I taught voice lessons. I worked with a political action committee that was doing a lot of work in economics, for about seven or eight years consistently, producing documentaries about various political and cultural topics, even traveling to Mexico for months to teach economics. I also had a great time with, married and divorced my husband, Creighton Jones who is still and will always be a cherished friend.

After the divorce, I came home to Los Angeles from Virgina and realized that I had under my belt roughly a decade of music and entertainment as well as a decade of culture and politics so I decided to combine the two. I wanted to do a radio show; I knew a lot of people in Los Angeles, political people as well as entertainment people so I set out to produce my project.

How did you a Demetrius Harris start your radio show?

Demetrius Harris is a very knowledgeable and respectable entrepreneur in the Los Angeles area that I met through working with Isadore Hall and we were a perfect fit.  As the co-creators we edited, produced, and choose the topics we would discuss. It was fun because Demetrius is on the conservative side of the Democratic spectrum and I’m a little bit more radical. We had many notable guests including football legend and activist Jim Brown, Former California speaker of the house Fabian Nunez, famed actor Robert Beltran, hilarious Comedian Michael Colyar just to name a few. Unfortunately Demetrius’ and I’s work schedules, no longer synced up and we did not have time for the show. Recently though, especially with the elections coming up, there has been talk of resuming it, at least for the season. We’ll see.

What are your future aspirations?

Currently I work for a firm that’s fundraising for left-leaning nonprofit organizations where I run the recruiting and hiring department there. We have around 70 clients some of which include the Democratic Party, Habitat for Humanity and Doctors Without Borders just to name a few. I recently produced a video entitled “Don’t Shoot” in response to the increasing occurrences of police brutality that has recently been captured all across the country.  I am also making steady moves to start my own nonprofit whose purpose is to take our beautiful gems from the inner cities of all ethnic backgrounds and host them in summer camps. I won’t unveil the complete idea here, but let’s just say that Music, Science, Culture, Literature and Dance will all be included. Recently when people ask what I do, my response has been “I’m a facilitator of the good”. I suppose that’s a fair statement. I don’t foresee that fact changing about myself anytime soon and I look forward to both what life has to offer and learning more about what I have to offer life and you. Life is good. Be good. ;)  

Where can people reach you?

Facebook: Ardena Clark

 "Don't Shoot" Video

Monday, October 27, 2014

In the Name of Art

In the Name of Art: Semmi W. Interview

Semmi W. is one of the founding members of ArtInFactMagazine which showcases innovative thinkers and the people behind the independent culture of New York City. Semmi serves as ArtInFact Magazine’s Managing Director and Arts Editor where her attention to detail and distinct writing style sets her apart.  She had already had an illustrious career covering international affairs when she decided to follow her passion to become an arts reporter. Her main objective since then has been to make the world of fine arts more accessible for everyone. With a love for art Semmi W. paints a descriptive picture with her words and we are all better for it.

Hometown: Toronto

What sparked your interest in the arts to begin with?

Initially I was interested in being a journalist that covered global issues. I had received my undergraduate degree from The University of Toronto in international affairs and health services.  I worked for non-profits and for four to five years I hosted the radio show The Monday Night Word of Mouth Show on CKLN 88.1 FM in Toronto. I interviewed politicians and activists. Then I received a scholarship for the Graduate Journalism Program at Columbia University in New York. I had worked for NPR and The Genteel then came to a realization that reporting on the arts is what I was most passionate about doing.

How have your experiences in the Graduate Journalism Program of Columbia University, at NPR, and The Genteel help you grow as a writer?

All those experiences helped me tremendously.  At NPR I had the privilege of working with Susan Stamberg. I had the opportunity to go with her on the fine arts assignments. I had gotten to see her process. That’s when it clicked for me. I learned that the arts reporter has to give the same attention and care as an international reporter would treat a story. I also felt it was important to see a physical example of what it’s like to be an arts reporter. I would be working and producing for ABC News at night and during the day I was writing for The Genteel. Writing for The Genteel helped me hone my craft as a fine arts writer. It has always been and continues to be my approach, how can I learn more. At The Genteel I initially I wrote fashion content, then I began to pitch fine arts articles. I realized that the inspirations behind the creations of the fashion world derived from the fine arts and design.   

How have you used your platform as a journalist to influence future generations?

Within the organization East Metro Youth Services in the East End of Toronto, Canada where I grew up I created a journalism program with three components: radio, photography, and print. I thought why not share my experiences and knowledge with these students. I felt it was important to create this because I benefited from programs like the YMCA and the Boys & Girls club that equipped me with skills that I still can use today.  

How did the creation of ArtsInFact Magazine come about?

I am one of the four founding members of ArtsInFact Magazine which we all began about two years ago. Ashley Calloway, Angel Lenise, Danielle Hester, and I all graduated in the same class from Columbia University. We felt that there was a real voice missing of indie arts culture in New York City.  I am the Managing Director of ArtsInFact Magazine and I serve as the Arts editor where I still write content.  

As a reporter what are some of your goals as you venture through the world of fine arts?

Art is all about expressing an idea or perspective. You cannot live by those strict definitions from art critics, collectors or curators on what is good art and what is bad art. My goal is to make the fine arts accessible to everyone. Another one of my goals is to make the world of fine arts less intimidating. The idea of inclusion is important. I want people to enjoy the artwork as well as think about the context.

Who has been your favorite contemporary artist you’ve covered and what is your favorite art exhibit you’ve covered?

It’s a toss-up between Theierry-Maxine Loriot, the head curator of the Jean Paul Gaultier’s exhibit From the Sidewalk to the Cat Walk at the Brooklyn Museum and the sculptor Nnenna Okore. The curator had a nice perspective on Gaultier’s artistic process and aspirations. I thought that sculpting and ballet were two unlikely categories to be combined together. I had the chance to interview the graffiti legend Crash. I got his take on the property owner of Five Pointz, the mecca for many graffiti artists, painting over the graffiti artwork. Crash respected the demolition plans for the building, and understood the property owner’s perspective. And that showed me the other side of what it means to be an artist.

I am looking forward to Kehinde Wiley’s exhibit entitled A New Republic coming to the Brooklyn Museum in February of 2015. I’m also looking forward to Henri Matisse’s exhibit at the MoMA. And of course I would love to go to The Louvre in Paris, France.

New York is such a bastion of culture. What are your favorite spots in the city?

I love Prospect Park in Brooklyn, the history of Harlem, and Washington Heights. New York is places where you can walk around, get lost, and have no agenda. One of my favorite places to visit is Dumbo in Brooklyn.

How have the cities of Toronto and New York inspired your work?

I think the arts are in the air, especially if you live in a big city so New York and Toronto are similar in that way, but Toronto feels like a family vibe for me, obviously because I grew up there. I’ll always consider it home. New York challenged me. In this city you are expected to do your best. And in New York I was reborn.  

How have you incorporated photography as an aspect of your journalism?

I love taking photos. Taking photos while I’m out on assignments helps me refine my own creative eye. Taking photos allow me to see the subject from a third person perspective.

What future endeavors do you see yourself embarking on?

I’m happy where I’m at right now, but one day I want to curate an exhibit somewhere in the distant future. My immediate goal is to expand into video production. My overall goal is to make art accessible to everyone, no matter your race or pay grade.

Where can people reach you?

You can reach me at my web site:

Twitter: @Semmiw

Feel Young, Be Bold, Live Regal

Feel Young, Be Bold, Live Regal