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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: semmiw.com

Twitter: @Semmiw





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