André Smith

Networking is a valuable skill for designers and creatives to have, which interestingly enough is how I met this week’s guest: André Smith! His career has touched several fields — advertising, music, education — and now he runs his own firm called Appendix where he offers strategy and branding services for companies from all over the world.

We talked about his recent shift back into agency life, and he shared a bit about his day-to-day work and gave a peek into his creative process. André also spoke about his time at Morehouse, his early post-grad career, attending NYU, and his forays into art curation and being a university lecturer. André’s advice to Black creatives is simple: learn to think wider and deeper, and you’ll find many opportunities to succeed. How will you expand your horizons?

Happy Holidays from all of us here at Revision Path!


Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right, so tell us who you are and what you do.

André Smith:
Hey, my name is André Smith. People call me Dre. I am a strategist, an educator, and a recovering curator.

Maurice Cherry:
A recovering curator?

André Smith:
A lot of my work has to do with… I guess you could say the confluence of the fine arts, academia and advertising. And I’ve been in and out of curatorial since about 2015, but I had a bit of a pivot in about 2018 when my gallery became the classroom and my canvas became a syllabus.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. We’ll get into that a little bit later. I was just curious you threw it out there like that. How has 2021 been going for you so far?

André Smith:
Better than 2020. 2020 was dope though, it was like a victory lap for me. If you listen to Nipsey, you know what I mean. Yeah, I went from the classroom to brand side for an e-learning platform and then agency side for agency of the year 2020, and what was considerably the hardest year for any business, particularly marketing, media and comms. That was pretty cool. And 2021’s been better still.

Maurice Cherry:
Has it been hard kind of adjusting to working from home?

André Smith:
Not per se. When I was teaching at UYC, that’s when the pandemic had hit and I began working from home doing hour and hour and 15-minute long sessions with 40-50 students. So, I got used to seeing [inaudible 00:04:28] pretty effectively. And then working from after class, which was based in San Francisco at the time when I was based in Chicago, had to perform servicing those hours. And then when I was with Martin, I was in San Francisco servicing hours on the East Coast. Like I said, better still.

Maurice Cherry:
Man, you were burning the candle at both ends, it sounds like.

André Smith:
Yeah. I have a seven-month old, Chloe. So, that plays a role too, and day by day, week by week, month by month, she’s crawling and starting to stand on her own now. Working from home… you’re adjusting on multiple clocks. Hybrid work model, the work from home model as well as the growing baby model.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Talk to me about your agency, Appendix. What’s an average day like for you?

André Smith:
Okay, yeah. I opened up Appendix… Think of it like a boat shop for go fast boats, right? For planning services and future proof strategies. I started Appendix, I want to say February. So, basically right after Martin. And a day at Appendix is waking up around 7:00 AM, watching some Bloomberg, watching some CNBC, spending about an hour on my phone, and then seeing what the algorithm feeds me depending on what platform I start with first. Start the rabbit hole of what I’m researching.

André Smith:
And then my research might lead to me thinking about someone in my network and that might lead to a text. And then that reply will lead to, “Dude. I was just thinking about you.” Or what I say to them., and they said, “That’s crazy. I just had a conversation about that in my Slack.” That’ll lead to leads, right? And getting those leads warm, especially through the network, on a Monday might lead to a conversation about a brief by a Wednesday, and that might lead to paperwork, et cetera, by a Friday. The Tuesday and Thursday are spent holding it down at home, tracking those things and getting other things in the queue.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, your work involves brand strategy, it involves culture research. And it also sounds like it involves some creative development as well. When you have a new project that comes in, what does that process look like? How do you approach it?

André Smith:
My practice area is really… at pure brand wise is really a lot to do with brand purpose, brand casting, just really a lot around inclusion and diversity, branded entertainment and social impact. And as far as brand strategy in particular, it’s really a lot to do with organic social, paid social, social commerce, and experiential.

André Smith:
Where that sits, to answer your question, is it’s a lot more to do with what is the opportunity or the brief asking of my skillset, how do I do design or strategize a vector of what’s relevant and what’s relative for that opportunity?

Maurice Cherry:
What are the best types of clients for you to work with? Because I mean, it sounds like your work really can span a number of different fields.

André Smith:
Oh, certainly. Yeah. Just most recently, I did some brand identity work for Gallery 88. That’s that’s spearheaded by Alex Delotch Davis. She’s an inaugural member of Hennessy’s Never Stop, Never Settle cohort. I do a lot of brand identity work for Kei Henderson. She used to manage 21 Savage. Now she manages Asiahn, who’s the voice of Karma on Karma’s World, on Netflix. And I’ve also most recently consulted for CSOs and CMOs at different agencies. So, working on Cricket Wireless, and Quilted Northern, for AT&T and Georgia Pacific respectively for the CSO of their AOR, likewise at Martin in that way, for Haynes UPS and Unilever’s acts.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, before you were at Appendix, you just now mentioned the Martin Agency, you mentioned Masterclass a little bit earlier. What did you kind of gain from those experiences that you still use today?

André Smith:
The CEO at Martin, Kristen Cavallo, she has a phrase, “It takes tension to get attention.” Of all the amazing gems, I picked up working across $3.5 million worth of marque accounts, that’s the phrase that always sticks out. That’s the phrase I think I draw from, my best memory from working at Martin, and learning that in numerous context, whether that was on the accounts that I was staffed on as the planning director for the social studio, or if it was more project things like AmeriSave or Happy Egg or [inaudible 00:09:14].

André Smith:
Prior to that, the most recent experience Masterclass phrase or takeaway or big thing from that. I think I heard on a Zoom, someone said, “There are different dials to diversity and knowing at least that that’s part of the energy or attitude or thinking,” at a tech company, essentially, was great for me. I think I reflected a lot of what I was most happy about with Masterclass and that [inaudible 00:09:43] feature I did back in February.

André Smith:
And prior to Masterclass, where I was consulting for their CMO, I was in the classroom at UIC. And I think a big favorite quote of mine experience that can be put into a quote or alchemized into a quote is, “Google, and then go outside.” My friend, Andy Deza, said that when he came to guest lecture for me amongst a host of other awesome guest lecturers, like Joe Fresh Goods, Ferris Bueller, Sam Kirk, Midori McSwain, who’s now the AD of a brand strategy at Spotify. But that was, I think, my most favor quote, because that was something that the students would say back to me over the semester and the students who would then take me for other classes.

André Smith:
When I was at UIC, I taught consumer behavior, global marketing and advertising and sales. But the students who started with me in taking me for consumer behavior, who took me for global marketing and ad sales, that’s a phrase that they would impart back to me. So, it was nice to see the ripples in the pond, I guess.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. It’s interesting; sometimes with those past experiences you have to be out of them to really learn or know what you’ve learned from them. Because when you’re in it, it’s a bit of a different

André Smith:
Couldn’t agree more.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s switch gears here a little bit. We’ve learned a bit about kind of the work you’re doing now, but let’s hear more about your origin story. Tell me where you grew up.

André Smith:
I think of myself as a global citizen, but at the end of the day, I’m still just a kid from the North Bronx. I grew up just shy of Gun Hill Road on Burke Avenue in, I guess what used to be very Italian and Jewish [inaudible 00:11:32], ’86 is my year. By the time I was on the scene, right, I came to life, it was predominantly Caribbean. And to this day it still is very much Jamaican, Trinidadian, Guyanese families that historically have occupied these homes. Generationally have occupied these homes.

André Smith:
And my origins, I guess, besides being kid who grew up in the Bronx and still frequently go back, even just to sit in a car in front of the house I grew up in, just to keep that connection, I guess. My origins that I grew up in the Bronx is… Well, a lot of people don’t know maybe about me because they see me in art galleries or they see me in advertising or they see me in the classroom is I started in music.

André Smith:
My mom’s younger brother is a successful music director and bassist. He went to [inaudible 00:12:23] purchase with Amanda Seals, Amanda Diva, Tiffany from Insecure. And short story about him, he had the opportunity to tour with Lauryn Hill and the Fugees’ global thing. It was going to be his first day; it was going to be in Japan, but it was between going on tour with the Fugees and going to college. And my mom was like, “If you get your teaching license and you get your degree, you can tour with anyone and you can also have the backup plan of having other options.”

André Smith:
He was torn about it, but decided to go to school and pass on the opportunity. At the same time, my dad’s older brother had a recording studio in his basement and he would have local acts who end appearing on the halftime show on NYU or City Hall Radio. He worked with [inaudible 00:13:11] or artists like that. And I guess between seeing my mom’s younger brother’s conflicts between the bright lights and the steady road, and my dad’s older brother’s approach of having a steady road, but also having an entrepreneurial spirit because he split the basement with my aunt who had a hair salon. So, the basement of that house was basically all business, right? It was like cash and carry operation.

André Smith:
That had a very big impression on me, I think. Understanding how to keep a main line, but also keep your eyes open for other bigger opportunities. And then talking about looking for bigger opportunities., I was always a ferocious free, even if I didn’t like class and I loved reading XXL, and The Source and Bonsu Thompson, Jason Rodriguez, whether or not… I’m calling them as friends.

André Smith:
But reading their words in those magazines about the artist that I was starstruck by, that played a very big role in my understanding of the music business. So, when I had the opportunity to meet Joaquin Waah Dean, one of the co-founders of Rough Riders, of all places at a Cheesecake Factory. I can’t say I needed the right thing to say, but I think my passion and my sense of understanding was evident to him.

André Smith:
So, short story, I ended up interning on Jadakiss’ sophomore album, Kiss of Death. And that had me working out of Worldwide Plaza. And if you know music, that’s the headquarters for Def Jam and the labels that they distribute for [inaudible 00:14:50]. And I spent my senior year of high school interning on Kiss of Death, and I spent the summer before college going to Morehouse and turning on [inaudible 00:14:57] Purple Haze. I didn’t have a favorite in the verses bible between The Lox and the Dip Set until Jadakiss said, “Cam lives in Miami.”

Maurice Cherry:
It sounds like early on you kind of were more geared towards music because of the exposures from your uncles to recording artists, to recording studio, but you got to Morehouse, you didn’t study music. What’d you study at Morehouse?

André Smith:
At Morehouse, I went into study political science and Keith Hollandsworth told me, “That’s not for you.” And then I heard about Phillip Johnson and then I realized, “Maybe not.” And I thought it was going to be business marketing, but me and business policy weren’t going to get along.

André Smith:
But then after interning at Bloomberg in my sophomore year, I came to realize that my real skillset and my strong suit was really more in comms. And I realized that the sharp edge of the Sabre for me would be English through degree, right? And focusing comms as my way into marketing.

André Smith:
But the road doing music… And the other thing that I really loved about my time as an A&R intern for Alimah Shamsid-Dean, who ironically up would later go on to work at Translation with Steve Stoute. What I loved about the work I was doing, or the work I was learning, coming to understand was where all the dots connected, right? Fast forward, leader strategy. But also, my eye, my ear for product placement, it was always mentioned in bars and raps, but then you also go on to see it in music videos.

André Smith:
And I was wondering, “How’d that get there?” Being a Jamaica kid from the Bronx, when my mom [inaudible 00:16:36] spent time with my granddad, I would always end up in the box with all the James Bond movies, 007. And it was always just like the best product placement. Whether it was the Aston Martin or it was the Omega, or it was the Bright Lane, or it was the BMW, or it was even Avis, talking about cars. But I was always groomed or cured to see where things connect and where brands fit.

Maurice Cherry:

André Smith:
And going into college in Atlanta at that time, 2004, Vote or Die was the brand on campus. Morehouse’s the brand and Spellman is the brand. Not just because they’re the brand and [inaudible 00:17:15], but nostalgically, they’re the brand because you see them in Boys in the Hood. You see them on the Fresh Prince. You see them referenced on a different world. You might see it pop up in Living Single.

André Smith:
For me, I distinctly remember in my senior year, I was deciding which school to go to, and I graduate high school with honors, so I had options, but I chose Morehouse for… I think influenced by two big scenes. I’ll never forget there was a couple scenes or episodes of Making the Band where Puffy, who’s ironically from my hometown… I moved from the Bronx, I moved to Mount Vernon, and Mount Vernon’s the hometown of a couple of legacy individuals, most notably DMX Rest in Peace, but also Sean Holmes and Denzel Washington, whose son, John David, went to Morehouse and Denzel’s house [inaudible 00:18:03] from Morehouse.

André Smith:
But seeing Puff in that Morehouse Letterman just always like put something in my head. And I know he went to Howard, I know he didn’t finish Howard, but seeing him wear that, it just puts something in my head. And then there was this one scene in the real world, San Francisco, ironically, as I live here, on the West Coast and the Bay primarily, there was this one scene with [Jaquis 00:18:25] where he was confronted with an instance of racism, and the way he handled it. And then he went to Morehouse and seeing him in the Morehouse shirt, that just left a real big impression on me also.

André Smith:
For those reasons, and as well as the school’s legacy and Benny Mays and Dr. King and Spike and all these amazing people, those are really big reasons why I think I chose Morehouse and going to Morehouse. And doing the internships I did at Bloomberg from sophomore year to senior year, I came to just realized that comms was really my gift, strategy and connecting the dots authentically and organically for brands is another gift that I have. And I’m not going to probably have the best shot doing and delivering against that if I go the traditional road of getting a business management degree or a political science degree.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Because those degrees are pretty common at Morehouse. I just remember, even from the years that I was there, right outside of Wheeler Hall, everyone’s out there in their suits, political science folks, the business folks, I was a math major. We just walked right past them.

Maurice Cherry:
I know what you mean though. I mean, Morehouse itself, outside of all the names and stuff that you mentioned just sort of has this draw for a lot of people, but it’s so interesting because in a way it sort of depends what you end up going into kind of either during school or after school. Because I started going into design right after school, and even working at places in Atlanta where I was not the only Black person. I was surprised how many people had never heard of Morehouse. Didn’t know what it was, didn’t know where it was.

Maurice Cherry:
I’m like, “It’s here in Atlanta.” I remember my first day at AT&T when I had told some of people on my team I was at Morehouse and they were like, “Oh, where’s that?” And I was like, “Well, if you look out the window, you see that green roof way off in the distance? That’s Morehouse.” And they’re like, “Oh, I didn’t know Atlanta went down that far.” I’m like, “Give me a break. Come on.”

Maurice Cherry:
I mean, you had these opportunities for doing these internships. What was your kind of early career after you graduated? What I’m hearing is that you probably had something lined up once you graduated for Morehouse.

André Smith:
Yeah. I could have stayed at Bloomberg and did the A desk, analytics desk thing, but going from A&R to comms, and then looking at analytics just didn’t feel like the best fit. And to my parents, it looked foolish at the time, but I had a vision for the bigger idea.

André Smith:
I ended up, honestly, working for free in Tribeca for Damon Dash and Coodie & Chike. Chike Ozah and Clarence Coodie Simmons, creative control TV and DD172. And I think for free, because it was an apprenticeship in every sense, in the sense that you really have to get in there for yourself. But also the things, you were learning from real masters of their craft. Kanye on [inaudible 00:21:32] was just talking about the degree of reverence and respect he has for Damon, despite whatever issues or bad blood, Jay Z would’ve been remiss if he did not acknowledge Damon in his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech.

André Smith:
So, having the opportunity to be a strategy apprentice to Coodie & Chike, and work on product placement for brands like Pepsi, Adidas, Heineken, Porsche was really, really a great opportunity for me. And it brought future forward that early eye and appetite I had for connecting dots authentically and organically with brands, from when I was a kid watching these 007 movies. And then, from working on Purple Hayes, my summer before college, and then getting a chance to kind of learn from the master, so to speak.

André Smith:
After college was really great to me. In my time at Bloomberg, I worked across ad sales for print, one of their print titles called Markets Magazine. I worked across key accounts at the time when the subprime mortgage crisis hit, I was actually staffed on Bear Stearns. So, talk about learning trial by fire. And then in my last summer I worked event planning for key territories, North America.

André Smith:
And that Bloomberg is stacked in a way of its radio TV and print and, and terminal. And similarly, as I learned in my time working in Tribeca there, they had the gallery, they had the mezzanine for creative control TV, but they also had executive suites and offices and filming space. And they had an event performance space downstairs, as well as the recording studio that was manned by Ski Beatz, the producer who did the bulk of Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt. And I looked at them as two sides of a coin, almost. As parallel learning opportunities.

André Smith:
One was a big global enterprise by a billionaire, even though he was the mayor at the time. And the other was a factory led by the idea engine that birthed two billionaires, speaking about Jay Z and Kanye West. Granted they weren’t billionaires at the time, but it was evident with the way that, from what I learned of Damon’s process, it was a great compliment to what I had learned at Morehouse. Ironically, working on Heineken at DD172 Creative Control led to me working on Heineken at Team Epiphany, an agency owned by a Morehouse alumni, Coltrane Curtis.

Maurice Cherry:
So, during that time, when you’re kind of working as a strategy apprentice, and as you say you were doing it for free, how were you feeling during that time? What was going through your mind during that time?

André Smith:
At the time, I initially loved peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And by the time I was done with that, I hated the idea of paste anything. Justin’s peanut butter otherwise, I was over it. But at that time, DIY, do it yourself, was a new phrase and new concept. Social was still very fresh. And when I wasn’t in Tribeca, I was spending the rest of my time in the Lower East Side at the Alife Rivington Club Courtyard or at Reed Space, found by Jeff Stable, or at Prohibit, which was helmed by Chace Infinite, who later went on to become the manager for ASAP Mob and Griselda.

André Smith:
At the time, I was just always in the mode to learn. I knew there were things I learned on campus and in school. One thing I didn’t mention in my time in Atlanta is for a while, I was an apprentice to Clay Evans, who is the road manager for a lot of successful southern hip hop artists, but notably TI and Travis Scott.

André Smith:
One of the things I really appreciated while running with Clay was there’s a lot of things that you don’t learn in the classroom. There’s a lot of on-the-job learning and understanding and expertise that you have to observe in the moment to get good at the job. It’s like being a page at NBC or something.

André Smith:
I spent a lot of my time, when I wasn’t on campus, I was up in Castlebury Hill at Slice or over at City of Inc with Tuki and Maya. Tuki Carter and Maya Bailey. And at the time, like I said, I was just always in the mood to learn. And what I was thinking and feeling at that is there’s a lot of opportunity for influencers. And later on, obviously that became really true.

André Smith:
But at the time it was just seeing things in motion. Your online presence didn’t matter. People really had to know you outside. If you weren’t getting inside, you weren’t going to make it, unless you knew the right thing to say or you came with the right people. I saw a change coming, but I also just really appreciated the time and the moment when people really had to know each other.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I know those kind of times where, especially once you first start to get out there and you’re not going right into a particular job, there’s so much networking that you have to do. Let’s see. You say you went to Morehouse in ’04, so this was around ’08, ’09 when you were doing a lot of this?

André Smith:

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I remember being in the city during that time. It was a really sort of buzzy time, particularly if you were doing things around design or tech or something like that. It was just a lot of energy and activity going on in the city. You could go down to Octane and end up meeting up with folks or you’d go to some… meet up in some other event or something like that. Of course, now with the pandemic, a lot of that-

André Smith:
That was a phrase. A meetup. The meetup. Event Bright. Event Bright was it. Early QR codes.

Maurice Cherry:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

André Smith:

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. there was a lot of that during that time. And I mean, of course now with the pandemic, it’s not the same, but you certainly had… Oh God, I remember that so vividly, because that was right around the time I was at AT&T and I quit my job and then started my studio. And so I just had free days all the time because I had some clients, but you go, you talk to other creatives, you see what other work you can get into, see what other projects you can fall into. Something like that. Atlanta sort of facilitated that type of creative spark, in a way, to go out to these places and meet people and do things. I mean, in hindsight, it was so easy.

André Smith:
Well, it looked easy. Dave Chappelle talks about expensive experience. I do it in five minutes because you’re paying me for the five, seven years it took me to learn how to do it in five minutes. You’re paying me for the time I did it. You’re paying me for the time I prepped to get it done, at the level as projected and as expected.

André Smith:
But to the tune of Atlanta and training, Jedi-level training, home coming in itself, but then also Market Friday, Wednesday on the Yard, the City, Rocky Road over there by Piedmont Park, Little Five Points. I was just talking to a client the other day and working on some brand identity work and she was referencing her time in the early shaping of Wish, and how it’s now basically a cultural institution [crosstalk 00:28:49].

André Smith:
The whole thing about it is even Little Five Points, you have to move carefully. You don’t know what [inaudible 00:28:56] or what guy would FaceTime… You don’t know who’s who. So, act accordingly. And this is Atlanta in ’04, ’09, 2011, 2013. I can talk about Atlanta today.

Maurice Cherry:
It’s a totally different… I mean, you’ve been to Atlanta recently. It’s a totally different vibe over there now because largely because of gentrification.

André Smith:
Gentrification and decriminalization, I think, and the dual pandemics have certainly played a role in how leadership and community have to respond and adjust for sure.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. That’s true.

André Smith:
It’s also a gold rush at the same time right now. If you’re up, you’re up.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s true. Yeah. You’ve worked at quite a few agencies. You mentioned Team Epiphany, you’ve also been at IPG, you’ve been at Momentum. When you look back at those agency experiences, what do you think was the most impactful based on where and what you do now?

André Smith:
I guess just going off of networking and best… [inaudible 00:30:00] muscle memory, trade craft, right? Where that’s learned, how that’s shaped steel on steel, and how it’s optimized and where that’s applied or deployed. You mentioned Momentum. I’ve done three tours with IPG. Momentum media brands, I consulted for a while with Octagon and Adidas. I just got a text from a Morehouse bro who is now at Adidas covering Atlanta, NY, and ATL and wanted to talk about some ideas. So, look at God, right?

André Smith:
I guess I’ll talk about Momentum first, since I spoke about Martin. I can talk about Momentum second to that. Media brands, I think that the biggest memory or experience I had with Media Brands was hosting the Super Bowl USA Today Ad Meter Watch Party in New Orleans. That was heavy just because it was post Team Epiphany, post doing some post grad studies at Rutgers Center for Management and Development, the CMD, and being in a room with the CMO of Subway, Susan Creedle, to name a few people. Serious stakes.

André Smith:
And I really credit the Five Wells from Morehouse and so on and so forth with kind of giving me that training and that base practice to know how to move in that room. Talking about moving in rooms, talking about global, my favorite memory, I guess, or learned experience from Momentum is shortly after I had left momentum. I took my first leadership director role as strategy chief at 1stAveMachine, which is actually a production company, not even the ad agency.

André Smith:
But part of my deal with 1stAve is I went with two other partners to come for the Creative Lions. And I bumped into the CEO of Momentum, Chris Weil, on La Croisette. And watching his head spin. I said, “Hi, Chris.” Because he’s used to see me in New Orleans. “What you’re doing here?” And I gave him my answer, but walking down the rest of La Croisette on the way back to Palais des Festival, I was thinking like, “Yeah, what am I doing here?”

André Smith:
You’re hanging with [inaudible 00:32:04], having rose on a pier. And you’re all of, what, 25, 27? It’s dope to even be able to have memories like that. So, when I stay in touch with people, like Bonnie today, whether it’s about anything, I have that memory and that connection or… I don’t know what you call it, what do they call it? A sign of early promise or whatever? As a reference.

André Smith:
So, that’s Momentum, that’s Media Brands, Martin. Yeah, just being there with them for agency of the year at the part where it’s really gridlock in the mud, like any given Sunday, rainy day stuff, answering briefs, when the world’s upside down, it isn’t an easy job. I’ll just leave it there on that. And learning from their leadership, Elizabeth Paul, and the leaders who I report to it’s just a really great experience.

André Smith:
To switch, I think I spoke a bit about the classroom, “Google and then go outside,” knowing that they remembered at through three classes and that some success stories. I have a couple students who… Some of my Padawans who learn some of my Jedi ways, I guess, but they’ve gone on to do well for themselves. And one of them is associate project manager at Fluent 360, AAPR at Nissan. Another student is an account executive for Whirlpool, for corporate orders.

André Smith:
Two of them decided to start their own shop, hopefully gets absorbed by a bigger shop one day because I know they have chops to do it. And I guess before that, in my curatorial space, working as a curator and commissioning private commissions and sales, I would say biggest memory from that… I’d say like the opening day of my first show was… I’m literally doing everything. I’m getting food delivered, buying a case of wine and getting champagne.

André Smith:
And that same day, a review came out written by Antwaun Sargent, who’s now the director of Gagosian Worldwide. And at the time he wrote the review, he wrote it for Vice. And that came out in the afternoon, and before the show closed, I sold my first piece and it was a four-figure photo essay. That was hard to top. But then I topped it by doing a three-month… That No Window Shopping residency ran for five months in Williamsburg. And that was followed by a three-month residency in The Mission in San Francisco later that year.

André Smith:
And the only reason why I didn’t do Brexit… The only reason why I didn’t do No Window Shopping UK was because of Brexit had just hit at the time. But yeah, those I think are my big memories and takeaways, outside of my time in music. And I guess knowing that I worked on Jadakiss’s Sophomore album that hit Billboard when it debuted, and I worked on Curren$y’s Pilot Talk, and I was at DD172. And that made a big debut when it hit Billboard. Those are my memories from those times. And I guess all the rest of them are a blur, lots of late nights.

Maurice Cherry:
You’ve been achieving all the success. After you graduated, you really kind of like made your own way, starting out doing this kind of free apprenticeship thing, and then working with agencies. You produced this No Window Shopping event. And then during this time, you ended up going to grad school. What spurred that decision?

André Smith:
Yeah. I graduated Magna Cumme Laude NYU Tisch with my Master’s in art and public policy, and connecting all of the dots from going to Morehouse and… I’d be remiss if I didn’t credit this.

André Smith:
A big impression on me from my time at Bloomberg was Bloomberg Philanthropies. And I think it kind of groomed my eye to the power and duty of big global interests and those types of firms when it comes to corporate social responsibility, which I guess we now call social impact, for all intents and purposes.

André Smith:
And with my work with social clubs, like Noya House or Soho House, or even co-working spaces like The Yard, [inaudible 00:36:02]. I was always very intent on being accountable for the diversity in the room and the diversity I brought to the room. And in time, being around the four A’s, and ADCOLOR and those types of organizations and initiatives, I just come to see inclusion, diversity and equity and social impact really more married than they’re recognized for.

André Smith:
And a big part of what drew my attention to the art and public policy program is I saw it as a way to bring forward my passion for the arts through music and my experience, and my, I guess, you could say success as a curator. And the way I see the relationship of art, community and artists, whether you call them influencers or otherwise, how that relates to brand. When you look at it, even if you go to the Whitman or the Underground Museum or the Studio Museum in Harlem or the High Museum in Atlanta or [inaudible 00:37:07], whichever institution you want to patron, you’re going to see it’s sponsored by these big brands.

André Smith:
So, I was really interested in that initially, but the real reason why I ended up going to do the program is I found, as I was getting more press in Vice or Hyperallergic or so forth, some of the questions I was being approached with by the writers, and maybe sometimes even the questions I was being approached with by collectors or representatives of institutions I’d meet, who came to my openings, who came to the events that I put together as part of the culture programming to stem my shows or my exhibitions and my group exhibitions from opening to closing, I will be honest.

André Smith:
I don’t like the phrase, “I don’t know.” Coming out of Morehouse, it’s not a phrase you hear very frequently on the yard. And if you do hear, it’s met with raised eyebrows, “What do you mean you don’t know?” Either you’re not invested or you’re not trying. But being approached with questions that I didn’t have ready-aimed fire answers for wasn’t something I was used to, happy about or comfortable with.

André Smith:
When you don’t know, that means you need more knowledge. It just worked out that my academic advisor was the artist Karen Elizabeth Finley in my time at Tisch, and I had the privilege and opportunity to do electives at NYU Stern, NYU Steinhardt. And in that time, I was a teaching assistant to Rosalie Goldberg, the founder of the Performa Biennial and Director Emeritus of The Kitchen, which is like a legacy institution in Chelsea for anyone who knows about the arts from the ’60s and the ’70s and the ’80s.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, you’ve mentioned earlier about… excuse me, about being a lecturer at the University of Illinois Chicago. How did that opportunity come about?

André Smith:
Yeah, that is serendipity. And luck is really just preparation, patience and timing. And you could just boil it down to that because at the time I just finished my Master’s and I had envisioned or fancied myself going to a firm like LaPlaca Cohen because that would be a beautiful marriage of the things that I had done and the interest I’d cultivated and cured to that point with my Master’s program.

André Smith:
In the time I was at Tisch doing my Master’s, I did my graduate field work with Twitter and Creative Time. It didn’t take. And then 45 crushed the endowments for the arts and the humanities with one pen stroke. So, the funding for the things I wanted to do, the pool got a lot smaller. It was going to be limited to fellowships and things like that.

André Smith:
And my wife, Nicole, decided that she wanted to pursue her Master’s degree. So, she got into the 2Y program at Northwestern Kellogg and spent a lot of time in Chicago looking to maybe explore and expand my curatorial practice in that city. It was slow motion on that, and it just happened one day I was at a restaurant and some individual, the lovely lady that sat next to me, this was all pre-pandemic, no face mask required. We started up a conversation and she was sharing about her daughter and her daughter going to Notre Dame and looking to do business and looking for internship opportunities, and I, empathetically, generously offered to say, “Well, if she has any interest in Bloomberg, if she’s trying to start her way in through media, I’d be more than happy to make an introduction. I actually know one or two more house alums who were still there. It wouldn’t be a problem.”

André Smith:
And she gave me her card and we got in touch and I was looking for opportunities maybe with the school. And when she looked up my LinkedIn and she kept me back, she just said, “We should talk.” I was like, “Yeah. I looked at some opportunities on the site. I’d like to talk about.” She’s like, “No, you should teach.” And I was like, “Okay.” I joined the faculty as an adjunct lecturer. Within a semester, I was promoted to visiting a lecturer of culture and innovation in the managerial studies program, the college of business administration at UIC.

Maurice Cherry:
When you look back at that time, what did your students teach you?

André Smith:
Oh, wow. A lot of my students were first gen college attendees. A fair number of them were new immigrants, ESL. They taught me a lot about patience and empathy, but they also taught me, I would say… My pedagogy at UIC was really cured around critical thinking, immersive play, team dynamics and group work. And what they taught me is that this generation needs a lot more help training, coaching, and practice in group work. A lot of, “I, I” focus: iPhone, iWatch, Instagram.

André Smith:
And a lot of the appetite for instant gratification, I think, makes it hard to develop the patience and empathy to be a good team player. That’s why in my two-year tenure at UIC, I passed on midterms and finals, and I ran my classes like agencies. 14-week sprints. And ironically, that was really good practice and training for me, doing sprints for Masterclass and then Martin.

André Smith:
But in the way I ran the classes, or the agency as class, it was to do with your four… Teams are broke up in fours, right? Account, media, creative and art direction. And giving them those, I guess, buckets to play in, seeing how they use that to acquiesce to… Using immersive play to acquiesce to better group work by making it immersive was very insightful for me. And I was not shy about using and applying that to the juniors I managed as a planning director at Martin.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, let’s say someone out here is listening to this and they’re picking up all the names you mentioned and all the different opportunities and things that you’ve done. If somebody out there wants to sort of follow in your footsteps, what advice would you give them?

André Smith:
Besides Google and go outside? I would say, know your power. Leonard [inaudible 00:43:27], he has a show on Comedy Central. He has a book out about knowing how to apply and leverage… The word he uses is privilege. But I feel like that’s a bit cagey. We want to be careful with the teeth on this.

André Smith:
But knowing how to learn and leverage your superpowers is really important. I wear glasses, right? I’m a New York kid. I talk fast. There are times I’m in the room where I’m overdressed, there are times I’m in the room coming from another series of a couple of events or meetings where I’m client facing to that audience and I might find myself underdressed, which isn’t really true because I’m always confident about it. I wore a Yankee cap into City Hall, which I’ve actually done before. So, there’s that.

André Smith:
But I’ll use my Yankee cap as a springboard because it’s me being true to myself. I’m from the Bronx, I’m proud to say it. I’m from the same place as Ralph Lipchitz and Calvin Klein, [inaudible 00:44:18]. So, I’ve always been keen to know and not be shy about what my superpowers are. At the same time, I would caution and advise, be mindful of other people’s superpowers and their sensitivities.

André Smith:
But make one of your superpowers curving sensitivities and amping room for empathy and collaboration. One of the big takeaways I also remember from my time at Momentum was the idea of… Really, the philosophy and the practice of co-creation. Answer the brief with the client. Don’t just answer the brief for the client. And likewise in relationships, whether they’re emerging or continuing, be the friend that’s like the therapist, not the friend that’s the friend that people need to see a therapist about.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you think your life would’ve gone if you weren’t doing what you do now?

André Smith:
That’s a really good question. When I was a little boy, I thought I wanted to be a judge. And as I got older, volume two on cassette, I saw myself working in management because I really have a passion for the artists. Evident to any artist who I ever paid a studio visit to, who I ever featured in the show, or even if they weren’t in the show, I featured them in some culture programming I was doing for a social club or a client.

André Smith:
It’s not so much more about like the power trip with judges and lawyers, but about having the power to defend and to represent, for people who might not be best equipped to represent themself or their value. But I think working as a creative, whether that’s a creative strategist or curator or a creative producer, in a lot of ways, you have almost more responsibility and power than a judge because while a judge can set precedent as a creative, you can inform or almost even at sometimes, dictate culture.

André Smith:
And ultimately, culture is the law of the land and it rules the day. It almost rides higher than the law in a lot of cases, which is one of the things that leads to us redrafting and reshaping culture. So, what I just said is basically what I learned in my Master’s program, art and public policy because there’s culture lowercase C and there’s culture capital C. And then their culture is lowercase C. But culture informs public policy and public policy ultimately informs legislative and written policy.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you want your legacy to be? When you look back at your career, you look back at what you’ve accomplished to where you are now, what do you want to do in the next few years or so, something like that?

André Smith:
In the next few years, my big bet is automated retail. And I have a smart answer for that. More coming soon. But I guess when it’s all said and done, a lot of people will laugh and libate to my memory and say, “He sometimes had a long voiceover. And sometimes it was a lot to follow, but it all came with a lot of passion. And if you’re listening, you understand. And even if you don’t understand, he always cared enough to break it down. He was the type of guy who would sit with you for an hour, helping you with a problem. When you asked him for $5 and he was like, ‘You don’t need my $5. I just gave you $5 million worth of insight and energy.'”

André Smith:
And it wouldn’t be bad, I guess, if people say, “He loved hard and he played hard.” Because I think for me ultimately that’s what it comes down to. Frustration is just fun with a lot of filling letters in the middle. And I’ve always, probably why, I guess, I chose English and leadership studies at Morehouse instead of business, marketing or political science is because in those more constrictive spaces, it’s hard to start the tape with, “Let’s cut down frustration. Let’s just get to the fun.”

André Smith:
What does that mean? How does that work? What are you talking about? I’m talking about the answer to the brief, I’m talking about the way to start today’s lecture. I’m talking about a way to get over worrying about the glass breaking on the shadow box and the show starts in a few minutes. Let’s go Banksy with it. Let’s put it through a paper shredder. Let’s see what happens.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you and about your work and everything online?

André Smith:
Dre Powers. D-R-E P-O-W-E-R-S. Dre Powers. Everything’s basically Dre Powers. You can find me on that, and you can see some of my legacy work and some of my latest work on, A-P-P-E-N-D-I-X

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds good. Well, André Smith, I want to thank you first so much for coming on the show. One, just for sharing your expansive career and the work that you’ve done. But I think also it’s good, certainly for people in our audience to hear, like you mentioned, sort of the passion behind the work that you do. Clearly you have a love for this. You have a knack for it. You have an affinity for it. And I’m glad that you were able to really share that with our audience through this interview today. So, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

André Smith:
Thank you for the space and the time.

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When I first heard about Jerome Harris’ exhibit “As, Not For: Dethroning Our Absolutes,” I knew I had to interview him for the podcast. I was thrilled to hear him speak at this year’s Black in Design Conference back in October, and this conversation follows directly after that event.

Jerome does it all — he’s a graphic designer, an educator, a writer, a curator, a DJ, and even a choreographer! We touched on all those aspects in this interview, starting off with talking about his current work at Housing Works. From there, we discussed the trajectory of Black graphic design, and how that guided him through his studies at Temple and Yale and inspired his exhibit. Jerome also shares some of his current influences, and we step into the future a bit and look at what Jerome would want to work on in 2025.

Keep an eye out for Jerome — his perspective and candor are a refreshing antidote to current design discourse, and I think we’ll see a lot more from him soon!

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry: All right. So tell us who you are and what you do.

Jerome Harris: Okay. My name is Jerome Harris. I’m originally from New Haven, Connecticut. Studied advertising at Temple University and I got my MFA from Yale University in graphic design. For the last I’ve been working at MICA, Maryland Institute College of Art as a teaching fellow. So it’s full time faculty with one course taken off of the course load for research purposes. Now I’m the design director of Housing Works in New York City and I’m also a choreographer sometimes. I also DJ sometimes and I like to cook. Oh yeah. And I’m a big gamer.

Maurice Cherry: Sounds like you’re juggling a lot over there.

Jerome Harris: I mean some things take more priorities than others.

Maurice Cherry: Let’s talk about what you’re doing over at at Housing Works as the design director. What is Housing Works first of all? Then walk me through what you do there. What’s a regular day like there?

Jerome Harris: Cool. So Housing Works was originally the housing arm of the ACT UP activists collective from the late ’80s, early ’90s who were advocating for the rights of people with HIV and AIDS during the AIDS epidemic. So Housing Works was just the group of people who were trying to get people with HIV AIDS into homes so that they could … Because they believed that if they had a place to stay they would get better faster as opposed to being on the street or what have you. So that group of people from from this activist group grew into this huge NIO nonprofit organization. We have four health clinics around the city of New York, and then we’re self-sustained by 12, now 13 thrift stores. 14 actually, we just opened a new one. 14 thrift stores around the city. And then we have a bookstore cafe. And in addition to that, we do a four to five huge fundraising campaigns every year.

Jerome Harris: We moved beyond the scope of just HIV AIDS. We help homeless people, people who need to reintegrate into society after they get released from jail, drug rehabilitation, youth services for LGBTQ youth and of course housing, Housing Works. We have, I think, 600 plus units. That might be incorrect, but we have a housing around the city taking care of people with different illnesses, getting them care.

Maurice Cherry: Wow, that sounds like a lot of stuff that you all are doing there. It sounds really impactful.

Jerome Harris: Yep. So a lot of work. It’s all hands on deck. We have a huge team. We have two administrative offices, one in Soho in New York and one downtown Brooklyn where where I work and everybody’s there. Everyone’s down to do the work. It’s a very cool work environment. I mean given the population we work with you have to be empathetic and down for the cause. It’s funny cause a part of the job is were required to take part in civil disobedience as a part of the job. I feel like in your performance review they asked how many protests have you been to this year?

Maurice Cherry: Interesting.

Jerome Harris: Which is cool. I’ve only been to one so far.

Maurice Cherry: You’re slacking. You’ve got to go to more.

Jerome Harris: It’s awesome.

Maurice Cherry: Get out on them streets.

Jerome Harris: It’s only been three months.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. Okay. Okay. All right.

Jerome Harris: However, yeah, I like that. It’s awesome. It’s just the values and everybody there, we’re all working on the same team. No egos. Everybody is just getting work done.

Maurice Cherry: That’s good.

Jerome Harris: And okay, so you also asked about a day at work. Now designing is, I’m literally like three designers right now. We’re also hiring, so when this airs, if we haven’t hired anybody, we’re looking for a designer. I do a variety of things. I work for the thrift shops in the bookstore, so I do all of the marketing for that. So that can be just weekly events, sales signage, in store signage for the store. We do cut vinyl posters. I do motion as for social media, this is across the board, everything for the thrift shops. Same thing with the bookstore, just any of their needs.

Jerome Harris: And then on the other end, I do designs for fundraising campaigns. So that usually means building out an identity in the system for the designer that we’re going to hire and then our production designer to then build our assets for print, for screen, for social media and everything else in between. Like we just had a protest on October 8th in Washington DC for LGBTQ rights in the workplace. So I got to make protest signs and so usually protest signs are these scrappy things that people make them their own, but it’s nicely designed protest signs. It’s really nice to see. A whole coach bus of Housing Works employees went down to the Hill and protested and it’s just awesome. You know? It’s just a cool thing to feel that you’re a part of that, you know what I mean?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. How did you first hear about them?

Jerome Harris: Well, I knew about the thrift stores. When I tell people about Housing Works, they’re usually like, “Oh yeah, I go to the thrift store.” I did know the history, which I liked, but I was contacted by the creative director because they had kind of contracting designers and hadn’t had anybody, a design director full time on the team for awhile. So she reached out to me because of my work, the exhibition, As, Not For, and thought that that would be a good fit for the workplace. And this was like back in January and I was like, I don’t know. I might stay at MICA. I don’t know. Academia was proving, after my second year there, was proving to be a little draining for reasons I don’t know if I want to talk about. I just wanted to move into something that was still fulfilling personally, but I still wanted to give back and I wanted the work to be fulfilling. So I talked to the creative directors. Said I’ll give it a shot. And I interviewed, went through a second round of interview, they gave me a design test and then they pulled me on in June.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. And so I know you’ve only been there, like you said, for just a few months now. What do you want to accomplish going into 2020? What do you see Housing Works becoming in the next year?

Jerome Harris: There’s multiple goals because it’s such a scrappy … I keep using that word, but everything moves pretty fast and everybody has to be all hands on deck. So I’m trying to get them to a place, particularly the thrift stores for example, to be in a competitive advantage design-wise with the retailers in the areas of the city that they’re in. They’re placed directly next to places like H&M and J Crew and Uniqlo and stuff like this around the city. And these are stores with huge design teams and these corporations with beautiful design. And so I just try to, even though it’s just me and eventually one other person, just try to give them a visual competitive advantage. They already have a great perception amongst their regular shoppers, but just drawing in a new community through more contemporary design and more slick design that fits into the environment where they exist.

Jerome Harris: And then the other thing is the fundraising campaign in the past, usually because they happen so fast, it’s so much work to do. In the past I’ve just been not completely well thought through, just let’s just get it done. So then I’m trying to really bring in more of the advocate voice into it and then also bringing more contemporary design sensibilities into the work. A little more thoughtful design into the work too. And that way, in addition to convincing people to give us money, make people feel good through the design, gain a better perception from the audience and the donor through the work.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. Now, you mentioned a lot already about starting out a Temple, being at Yale, you mentioned your exhibit, all of which I want to go into of course, but I’m curious the story before all of that. So where did you grow up? I know you’re currently in Brooklyn right now, but where’d you grow up?

Jerome Harris: Yeah, I grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, actually. Literally, I lived the walking distance from Yale as a kid and that was a interesting place to be because I ended up being in a way a benefactor of Yale being really close as a kid. There was the African American Cultural Center on campus and they had free tutoring. So I think all through elementary school and middle school, so I think maybe starting in third grade through eighth grade, my parents couldn’t afford to send me to private school, but they did want me to have some help. Some advantage. They understood the public school system can be a hindrance in some ways, sometimes. And so my parents brought me to the African American Culture Center for free tutoring. I literally went there three days a week for that five years between third grade and eighth grade and just got tutored.

Jerome Harris: I mean it wasn’t I needed tutoring, but I think that they understood that we are in proximity to this place. Why not give our son the leg up, which shout out to my parents for that. And then how I got into design was in high school we had Photoshop in our computer lab and in 2001 … The first thing I designed, which is really funny, in 2001 Aaliyah died. That was in August and 9/11 happened. And so I was so moved.

Jerome Harris: I was like, what do I do? And I made an image. I probably wasn’t using Google. I was probably using like Alta Vista or something like that. I was searching for images of the twin towers and Aaliyah and I made this whole collage of all these pictures of Aaliyah and her choreographer Fatima Robinson and all these people. That was the first thing I ever made. And then after that, that sensibility to isolate figures, which I feel like I most likely got from Cash Money Records album artwork fed into an interest in college and undergraduate to design party flyers. Because after that I got better and better and was using illegal versions of the Adobe Creative Suite back in the day.

Maurice Cherry: I think a lot of us were back then, so.

Jerome Harris: Yeah. No shame. No shame about it.

Maurice Cherry: Nothin’.

Jerome Harris: It became a side hustle. I was a Photoshop guru at one point and I would just design these party flyers. But yeah, New Haven was a really interesting place to grow up because you have the whole disparity. You have the poorest of poor and the most rich and elite all in the same place in almost evenly spread in a way. You get these crossovers of these different moments and Yale students crossing over with locals. And that happens in any college town but in New Haven it’s a particularly special mix.

Maurice Cherry: So I went to Morehouse here in Atlanta and I remember the first year that I was there, this was ’99 and I mean I’m from the sticks. I’m from the country. So it was already a bit of a culture shock coming into a big city, but not a huge one. Morehouse is one of those schools that has people from all over the world, from all different socioeconomic backgrounds and everything. And I remember my roommate at the time, apparently his mom told him that he needed to dress down if he was going to go out into the neighborhood because Morehouse is literally in the hood. It’s in the middle of not the best neighborhood in the city. It’s not terrible, but it’s the hood essentially.

Maurice Cherry: I’m probably fucking that up. But anyway, I remember him saying his mom was like well they told me I need to dress down. Dress in less expensive clothing just to make sure when I go out that nobody’s going to rob me or anything. And I’m like that’s sounds dumb. But if you feel that’s what you have to do, go right ahead. So I know what that odd disparity looks like.

Jerome Harris: Yeah, exactly.

Maurice Cherry: Now, It’s interesting enough because that area around Morehouse has cleaned up a lot. Mainly because the school just bought the land and tore the buildings down and stuff. But yeah, I know what that can look like in an urban setting.

Jerome Harris: Yeah, both of those things are really interesting to think about because I’m being reductive when I’m saying this. I’m just going to let everybody know I’m being self aware about what I’m saying. But there are a spectrum of black people and that was also, besides it being pretty racially diverse and socioeconomically diverse. I would have a group of black friends and some of them would come from money, come from more money, and their parents would be a little more like respectable. So they wouldn’t use the N-word and dressed a certain way. Some of my friends would not be allowed to go to somewhere like the all ages parties I would go to in high school or middle school. I totally understand that, know who that mom is. The mom of your roommate. But yeah.

Maurice Cherry: So you were designing these flyers at Temple. What was your time like there when you were studying and everything?

Jerome Harris: Temple was interesting because I didn’t realize that I wanted to do graphic design. Even when I was making party flyers, I was like, oh, I’m a party flyer designer. You know what I mean? I didn’t realize completely what I was doing. So when it came time for me to choose a major, I was like, oh yeah, I’m going to major in advertising because I didn’t, you know what I mean? For me that was a logical choice. You’re asking a 19 or 20 year old what they want to do with the rest of their life. I was like, okay, I think I want to do this.

Jerome Harris: I think around my junior year or so I realized, oh, Temple has a whole art school. Tyler School of Art. Maybe I should try to go there instead. I got shut shut down because I wasn’t coming from a fine arts background. I didn’t know that ling so well. I emailed the chair photo images of my party flyers. I don’t remember her name, but she said, “This is not graphic design. You can’t take classes here.” I was like, whoa. Then I actually went through the advertising school. There’s all these roadblocks. The art school’s different than the main college. Dah, dah, dah.

Jerome Harris: I was a little bit disappointed. At that point I was self taught anyway, but I didn’t have any guidance. My parents didn’t know what graphic design was, you know what I mean? I didn’t have anybody to say, “This is what you’re doing.” I was just doing it. Temple was cool. I love Philadelphia. I would move back to Philly any day.

Maurice Cherry: So I’m curious about that, that remark, because I don’t know, for some reason that just rubbed me the wrong way about them telling you that those flyers that you were doing were not graphic design. As you look back at that time, do you agree with that sentiment or no?

Jerome Harris: I think, and this goes into my issue with the understanding that modernism is the whole graphic design. Because what I was doing was a trajectory and black graphic design of following in the footsteps of the artwork used for Master P and Cash Money Records and DJ Screw. Artwork made by Pen & Pixel in Houston where they would isolate the figures, have all these affects and blingy texts and stuff. This still is a legitimate method of approaching graphic design. So these are the things that I was sending, but good design is modernist, right? It’s on a grid, it’s aligned, it has good proximity and space and asymmetry and it’s minimalist. Good design only requires a little bit to design. You know what I mean? These principles by the champions of the Bauhaus and Swiss, you know?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Like Euro centric design principles basically.

Jerome Harris: Yeah. Became just the entirety of when you say graphic design, that’s what it is, right? Only. As a 20 year old, I was like, well I’m making money doing this. This is real. This is legit. But I didn’t know how to say that. My feelings weren’t really that hurt because I did see that what they were making in the graphic design program and I was like, oh this looks like what I see in Time magazine or what I was looking at the time. This is how the ads look. When I watch TV commercials, this is how things are designed.

Jerome Harris: It’s really interesting and in retrospect that person, and this is not uncommon, it’s just being a gatekeeper of what graphic design is and what it should be. And I think that’s a large part of what I’ve been writing about and lecturing about recently is about how just making people self aware that that’s not the only way to approach graphic design. There’s a bunch of ways to approach graphic design. It’s easy. Modernism gives an immediate legitimacy to any piece of work. If it looks like that, it’s immediately familiar to people and they’re like, this is good. And yeah. Anyway, I hope I answered your question.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. So, after Temple you went back to your roots in a way. You went to graduate school in New Haven at Yale. What was the design program like there once you were actually in that institution instead of around it as you were before?

Jerome Harris: Yeah, it was interesting from a social standpoint. I was at school, I went to class, but I would go home and do my homework and then go to my parents’ house and have dinner. So it was a weird return back home because a lot of people who came to Yale were from other places as clearly as most people do in school. So their society was just their classmates. I was home. So I was like, “Well, I’ll see y’all later. I’m going to eat this fried chicken. I’ll see y’all later.”

Jerome Harris: And then from a academic point of view, it was literally like the clouds broke and the light shined through because I had never thought of approaching design from a research standpoint. I’ve never had to think about concepts any deeper than, okay, I’m designing for a gay party, so I’m going to put a dude half naked on the front. And it’s a beach party so I’m going to put palm trees. You know what I mean? I never thought any deeper than that. So it was like I had professors who were really pushing me to be more conceptual and really push it and get really weird and then say, okay, have I gone too far? Is this still accessible? So thinking about the range of visual references that you can make and thinking about who’s looking at it and who can access that.

Jerome Harris: And also methods of production. So like I had, for example, I had taught myself HTML and CSS prior to, but thinking about just not even using coding to make a website, but using coding just to make type a graphic form. You know what I mean? Just things like this that sound basic that you would learn in probably undergraduate art school were just new ideas to me and I was like, oh shoot, I like this. It was really fun for me and I had no understanding of how graphic design operated in the fine arts world. I used to go to museums and stuff and just look at this stuff but never thought about it in that way. So just learning the nuances and the subtle choices that designers make and the understanding of how to give people access people through images and texts was really interesting.

Jerome Harris: Also how to expand my thinking. How to broaden the way that I think about designers. That was more the takeaway from me being at Yale because I literally knew nothing that they had to offer. Whereas a lot of my classmates had an understanding of fine arts and graphic design and conceptual thinking and the heroes of graphic design. My heroes, I didn’t even know who they were actually. I was just reading Vibe magazine and Ebony magazine. Looking at music artwork for Hot 97, which is a hip hop station in New York. Hot 97 mixed tapes and Cash Money Records. All these things, that for me.

Jerome Harris: … cash, money, records, all these things. That for me it was graphic design in my black life as a youth.

Maurice Cherry: I would say it’s still very much is still graphic design. When we look back at it I think that’s the case. It’s interesting though that it sounds like Yale was the nexus point where you realized that, what I’m doing actually is valid and I can apply and explore different things through the work as opposed to like you said before, using the work on its face.

Jerome Harris: Yes, exactly.

Maurice Cherry: Let’s talk about your exhibition. It’s titled ‘As, Not For: Dethroning Our Absolutes.’ I heard about it last year. Someone sent me a link to it on AIGA’s Eye on Design. It was a whole article about it. Can you talk about the exhibit and where the notion came from to curate all this?

Jerome Harris: It’s really funny. When I was at MICA, we were required to do a research project and I had two topics that I wanted to do and I was actually leaning away from doing black design because I was a little bit exhausted with the notion of being a mascot for the race in a way in graphic design. I was like I don’t know if I want to do this.

Jerome Harris: And so my other topic, because I’m a gamer, I’m really interested in the maximal really saturated colors and compositions and if you look at a still of a video game and bring in that level of overwhelming-ness over into graphic design and communication standpoint. That was my initial idea and I was interested in fantasy worlds, but then I started going down both paths and researching both. I already had done a little research into Buddy Esquire. He designed hip hop party flyers during the rise of hip hop before it was even called hip hop. I think I just had the thought, “There has to be more people. They got to be out there.”

Jerome Harris: I felt like a detective because I started with nothing. I had him. I knew I had Cornell’s hip hop archive and I was like, how am I going to find anybody else? So I’m emailing people, asking people. I did an extensive search. I found out about Aaron Douglas who did illustrations during the Harlem Renaissance, but he wasn’t really a graphic designer. And I think I accidentally stumbled upon Emory Douglas, who was the Minister of Culture for the Black Panthers. And then Emmett McBain who had his own McBain Associates in Chicago. He had a black ad agency. I don’t know how I found him. And through him I found Leroy Winbush and Eugene Winslow all of which were black men who had advertising agencies in Chicago.

Jerome Harris: And then Archie Boston was out there. AIGA had written about him a bunch. So I kept stumbling upon people and I was feeling optimistic and at the end of that semester, that was my first year at MICA. We had to do a presentation of our research. And I did the presentation and my chair at the end of my presentation was like, “Why don’t you make this AN exhibition?” And I was like, “Okay, I will.” And I did.

Jerome Harris: And it’s a very graphic designerly exhibition. It’s 47 posters. It’s not like things. Of course a graphic designer would make an exhibition of posters and it went up. MICA asked, the communications office, was like, “Do you want to put together a press release?” And I was like, I don’t care. I was just trying to fulfill a requirement for my fellowship to be honest. I wasn’t thinking about it any deeper than that. And it really took off. People received it well. I think a lot of people were like, I did not know this was needed. And I was like, me neither. I didn’t know either. I just wanted to do this.

Jerome Harris: It was more of a selfish endeavor, more than an endeavor of trying to do some diversity inclusion initiative or something like this. It was just a black man searching for his history in graphic design. It’s really been received well. The show went to Virginia Commonwealth University. The students in a design research class are actually writing an addendum to Philip Meggs A History of Graphic Design, because he wrote that book while he was at VCU. So now they’re writing an addendum. I was told that they were going to do this through the class to include these designers and his history in that book, which I didn’t know that would happen.

Jerome Harris: And then the show is also at CCA, California College of Art in San Francisco. And the letter form archive is out there. And they found out about Sylvia Abernathy, who’s the only woman in my show, unfortunately, sorry. She had these beautiful record sleeves that she designed for Delmark Records for jazz music. They found out about her through me, actually acquired copies of the record sleeves for their archives, and then did an exhibition of design and music. So when I was out there I went to the exhibition and they had Joseph Albert, who was the first chair of Yale’s graphic design program. He had done some record sleeves for jazz music next to Sylvia Abernathy.

Jerome Harris: And that was one of those moments, I didn’t know that I wanted that. I didn’t know that I wanted to see this person who is highly celebrated next to this underdog on the same wall doing the same work for the same thing. Those moments are like these surprises that come up along the way. In addition to short conversations that I have with young designers who are like, “Thank you for doing this.” And I was like, “Well, it’s accidentally at the service of you, so you’re welcome. But you do something like this. You do it now. Continue the work.”

Maurice Cherry: I’ve seen some of the posters in the exhibit. It hasn’t made it to Atlanta yet, nor have I made it to where the exhibits are. But I’ve seen a couple of photos. I see that there’s album art from Def Jam, the record sleeves that you mentioned from Sylvia Abernathy, there’s movie posters from Art Sims who did a lot of work with Spike Lee. And I’m sure that like you said, you get a lot of questions about it. It’s getting a lot of feedback. Is there one question in particular that you hate answering about the exhibit?

Jerome Harris: I can’t necessarily put it into words, but I think that I always get caught up in some question about buzzwords like representation, diversity, inclusion. These catchall terms that when you see a person who’s not citizen white, they are fit into these groupings. At this point, me touring the show and doing workshops and stuff. Now I’m working at the service, but out of service of the field in a way trying to shake things up a little bit, because I see there’s the need. But initially, no, it was a selfish endeavor. I just wanted to know.

Jerome Harris: I needed to know and I needed to be able to defend my work and talk about my work, which came from a lineage of black designers and be able to defend that when people ask me about my work or why things look the way they do, et cetera. And so something about that feels a little reductive. Let’s just say, is this a diversity inclusion thing? Because what happens is if there’s something, dealing with the queer community, then you’re still put in a marginalized group. This is a queer thing. This is a black thing. It’s not, it’s a graphic design thing actually, and it’s been neglected. Just normalize it. Thanks.

Maurice Cherry: With revision path and I know that feeling that you’re talking about, because I started revision path honestly under part selfish part I guess petty I guess. And I’ve told this story on the show before, but I initially had the idea to do this way back in 2006. I had this event that I had created called the Black Web Blog Awards and one of the categories was for best blog design. And it’s interesting you mention vibe and album covers and stuff like that, because I knew who those designers were. I knew the people that were making those designs and they were not getting any level of recognition. I’m not talking about an interview here or there. Nobody knew who they were. Nobody was mentioning them. Nobody was talking about them. No one was asking them to speak anywhere or anything like that.

Maurice Cherry: And I wanted to do something around black design back then, but I was doing the Black Web Blog Awards, I was in grad school, and I was working a full time job. So I was like, I don’t have time to do all this. It wasn’t until seven years later after I had stopped working for corporate America, started my studio and was five years in on that. I was like, I have time to do this. So I really honestly did it as a selfish/petty thing, one to put my thumb in the eye of graphic design in terms of the graphic design community to be like we’re here, you just don’t see us for some reason. I don’t know. But then also to do it because I wanted to see more of us out there and I felt like, I don’t know who else is really doing this, at least on a level that is picking up any level of visibility.

Maurice Cherry: So I’m just going to try to add to it. I knew I wasn’t the first to do it, but I also hope that I’m not the last to do it too. So I get that feeling because what ends up happening is that as the project gains steam and gets out there in the community, it gets out there in the world really, other people start ascribing values to it that have nothing to do with why you started it. So like with revision path, people will say that it’s for people of color in the tech industry. It’s for black people. You can say black. You can say that. You don’t have to to codify it in that way. You can say it because that’s what it is. Or they’ll say, it’s only for African Americans looking to get into Silicon Valley.

Maurice Cherry: No, it’s not. I talk to people all over the world, not just in Silicon Valley, not just trying to get into tech. And I end up having to do a lot of clarification because people want to ascribe their own values to it because they see it, or at least they’re using it as a resource for diversity and inclusion. And that was never my initial goal for it. It was really just I want to see more of us out there and I want to celebrate what we’re doing and what we’re contributing. I’m not doing this as some sort of a way to highlight a deficit. I think AIGA already does a great job of that. This is no shade by saying that by the way, but they do the design census. They point it out every year so that’s a fact.

Jerome Harris: That was also problematic too, because people who are like me who are self-taught designers are not filling out that survey because they don’t know about it. They’re not a part of the AIGA. They’re making the things that they make. There’s a website called seven days, seven nights, which does nightlife in the New York City area and around the United States in general. But the pen and pixel aesthetic is still there. They’ve definitely pushed it forward. None of those designers are filling out that survey, because it’s Latino and black parties, I’m pretty sure it’s Latino and black people designing those things. So I feel like there’s still work to be done because there’s a whole batch of people who are making good money doing that kind of work and are not being included or their careers are not being acknowledged.

Maurice Cherry: And one interesting footnote on the whole pen and pixel style. I really love that style. For those that are maybe not familiar, go to Google images, look up Master P, Mia X, Silkk The Shocker, Juvenile. It’s the gilded cera font with the baguette diamonds for text kind of thing. And I think it was the art directors club or the type directors club or someone did a version of that for their young guns. I might be completely getting this wrong, but I remember the backlash from it from people saying, honestly it was mostly from black people saying, “I can’t believe that you would represent design in this way. It looks so ghetto. It looks so hood.” And I’m like, it looks like it’s design. Granted the way they did it, it did kind of make it look like the guy was a pimp inside of the art director club image with gold teeth and he had a forefinger ring. It wasn’t the best I guess presentation, but I got where the inspiration was coming from.

Jerome Harris: I’m not going to go too long on this, but the owner, Sean Burch, I don’t know how to say his name. He’s contacted me twice about including the work from pen and pixel in my exhibition. In fact, I can open the email right now. He made the point that, my studio was not a black studio. He basically didn’t want the public to think that pen and pixel was a black owned business. I can even read the email right now.

Maurice Cherry: This isn’t an expose is it?

Jerome Harris: No, it’s not an expose. I really don’t care because pen and pixel doesn’t exist anymore. It hasn’t existed for a really long time and it’s been featured. They’ve been getting a lot of press. People have featured them. But the work that gets featured has been, even in Sean Burch’s own words, was art directed by Master P, Baby Slim, DJ Screw. These people came in and said, “You know what I want? I want a Mercedes. I want a photo of me bent over the Mercedes. I want two lions on the side. I want diamonds in the text.” This is the work of an art director. For me and you pen and pixel is working more as a production designer because not all of their work looks like that. And I tried to explain that to him clearly. We had a long phone conversation and he pulled out the, “I have black friends.”

Maurice Cherry: Wow.

Jerome Harris: Anyway, he emailed me a picture of his employees with his one black designer on the team. I was like dude. I was like do you know this is racist? Do you know?

Maurice Cherry: Listen, I’ll add a little something to the anecdote, not necessarily pen and pixel related, and I’m not going to name names here, but there a certain show that comes on a certain streaming service that highlights designers. They just had a new season which came up recently. And the people who create that show for example had made sure to reach out to me and mention that they had two black designers this year. Am I supposed to be doing cartwheels in the street over that? Okay, fine, wonderful. Thanks, that’s great. Because the first season they only had one so progress.

Jerome Harris: I do have to say, I try to listen to other design podcasts but there’s such a ubiquity. I’ll listen to the person and look at the work and I’m like yo, you keep interviewing the same person over and over again. There might be a shift in medium, but the work all looks the same and it’s really boring. And that goes back to the stupid modernism thing. It’s like you got to love a little sans serif typeface. Y’all love their modernist principles. Just build another Bauhaus. I’m honestly sick of it. There’s so many other ways to do a piece of graphic design to approach in any medium. Anyway, that’s not your podcast.

Maurice Cherry: Present company excluded.

Jerome Harris: The people you interview are very diverse and it makes me very happy. I’ve been listening for years. Shout out to you, Maurice.

Maurice Cherry: Thank you. I’m curious, do you think that your exhibit would have gotten the same visibility if it weren’t at MICA? Let’s say if it was at the Lewis Museum? For people listening, the Reginald Lewis Museum, it’s a African American History and Culture museum. Do you think that this exhibit would have gotten the same level of reach to white design spaces?

Jerome Harris: I don’t know. I want to suspect. I think no. But what ended up happening and MICA, they asked me, they were like, “You want us to put out a press release?” I was like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” Because that’s the thing, once it started getting press, people were like, “Oh shit, there’s a black show. Let’s go see it.” And not just white people, but everybody was like, “We should go see this. This looks cool.” And so I don’t know if the Lewis Museum put out a press release if it would have been received the same way. I don’t know that. And also like I said, I didn’t expect anything for the show. Thought it was going to up for two weeks to a month and I was going to take the posters down and throw them away.

Jerome Harris: I can’t answer that question, but I suspect the perception of the institution did help. I suspect so. I don’t know though, because also the reception of the show was such that people did respond well regardless of what, so it might’ve. The show itself might have also drawn people to the Lewis Museum had it been there. Let me also say this though too. I have not shown at a black institution yet. I would like to. I’ve been trying to, so if you’re listening to this and you’re the HBCU or a white gallery or museum I would like to show my show there. Thanks. Bye.

Maurice Cherry: Bring it on down here to Atlanta. We got a few of them. We got Hammonds House. Actually Hammonds House is in my neighborhood. Hammonds House, Spelman has a art museum on campus. So just putting that out there. I’ve seen the exhibit also been referred to as incomplete. And one thing that you mentioned a little bit earlier in the interview is that there is only one woman in the exhibit, Sylvia Abernathy. Now that it’s on tour, are you planning on supplementing the exhibit with more designers as you discover more about them?

Jerome Harris: No, because I don’t have time, because I work full time and the exhibition. When I was teaching, I was teaching a two, three course load and that first semester when I was teaching two classes, that time off was the time I would use to research. I literally was taking a part-time job load, maybe 20 hours or so a week just dedicated to the show. And I just don’t have that time now. I know there’s more people. The curator of the Lubalin Center at Cooper Union put me on to an article in Idea Magazine, which is a Japanese design magazine from the ’70s and apparently somebody else did an exhibition of black designers in Japan and I looked at the spread. It’s in Japanese so I don’t know what it says, but there’s like 50 plus black designers that were featured, African Americans. And I was like, who are these people? I think the only one who I knew was Georg Olden and the rest of them I was like, I need to look these people up. In addition to Michelle Washington, she knows everybody. She also did a-

Jerome Harris: She knows everybody. She also did a show with Flo, I’m saying her name wrong.

Maurice Cherry: Fo Wilson.

Jerome Harris: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Fo. And back in the back, I need to see documentation of that, too. I didn’t know that until we ran into Fo at Black in Design. I was like, “Oh.” Michelle hadn’t mentioned it to me. Then I also met other black designers who had done their thesis. I met this guy, Steve, in San Francisco, who did his thesis at RISD back in the 90’s on black designers and the representation of black people in design. So, it’s been happening. It’s just hasn’t been a thing that has gotten traction.

Jerome Harris: I think maybe the advantage for me is that, my show is kind of a research guide in a way. When you go to the show, in the didactics, you can see what archive I got the work from, the name of the work, the name of the archive, the city that it’s in, it’s almost like encouraging everybody to go ahead and continue the work themselves. If you go to the archive and look at the work or if you go to a digital archive, you might respond to the work differently than I did. So, it’s like a traveling archive, as exhibition. I mean, that’s the only thing. I would like to celebrate these shows. I don’t know. So, I would like to include those more into my work as well, somehow. I just haven’t figured out how yet.

Maurice Cherry: So before you mentioned, Vibe magazine and other publications and things, that were influencing you when you were first starting out, who are some of your influences now with your work?

Jerome Harris: It was really funny because, I’ve actually been looking at fine artists more than graphic designers, in addition to video games and things that are not graphic design. Let me see if I can find… You know, like Lorna Simpson for example, her collage’s. Or thinking about how Lorna Simpson’s work and then thinking about how Carol Walker isolates the figure and about how I was doing that. In reference to pin and pixels work, finding those those formal connections and thinking about different ways of applying that formal gesture in different ways, if that makes sense. Aaron Douglas for example, in his work, he uses a hand drawn type face, which looks like an art deco typeface, but he does it the same way on all of his illustrations. So, looking at this artists painting type, in a way.

Jerome Harris: Who else? There’s a bunch of people that, fine arts, I look at. Laila Ali, definitely. Glenn Ligon was a huge inspiration on my poster because he has the, I am man, with the notations. I forgot what it’s called, The Inspection Report or something like, This Quality Inspection Report, something like this, where he was pointing out the flaws in the poster. And that led me to do the markings. That and also looking at BASCA and doing the markings on the poster that advertises the exhibition itself.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. That’s a really dope poster, by the way.

Jerome Harris: Thank you. I appreciate that. And so, it’s this idea of searching, but also mark making. And me, I had a very, very messy notebook where I was making connections and I was like, “Oh shoot, all three of these guys are in Chicago.” Okay, sorry. That was a long ramble. But, yeah.

Maurice Cherry: No, no. As I was saying, I really liked that additional poster. It’s very rare… Actually, I wouldn’t even say it’s rare. I’ve never seen Jackie’s Back on a poster like that. When I saw it I was like, “Ooh. Are you serious?” I was like, “I got to interview this guy,” after I saw that.

Jerome Harris: There’s a couple-

Maurice Cherry: I don’t know if a lot of people that know about the classic, that is, Jackie’s Back. That movie is a classic.

Jerome Harris: Jackie’s Back is everything. [crosstalk 00:04:25].

Maurice Cherry: It’s all on YouTube, too. The whole thing is on YouTube.

Jerome Harris: Yeah, it’s on YouTube. Jennifer needs to get her money. So, anyway. For those streams. Yeah. I have, I mean whatever, this is going to be controversial. It’s kind of like, as, not for, and it’s kind of, moments in black pop culture that are as meaning, like just existing as your natural blackness or meaning, making yourself presentable or respectable or palatable to white people or something like this. So, in the top I have Spike Lee and then I have Tyler Perry crossed out, but that’s going to be a little controversial. Then I have Jackie’s Back, but then not Sparkle. Because Jackie’s Back was mocking a blaxploitation film, where Sparkle was a blaxploitation film. Then I have Richard Pryor, after he comes out behind The Wiz machine and then I have him crossed off as The Wiz machine. I guess all these little black pop culture gems that I put in there because people who get it, get it.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, exactly. Right. Yeah. So outside of design, you mentioned you choreograph, you DJ? You’re DJ Glen Coco, is that correct?

Jerome Harris: Yes, yeah.

Maurice Cherry: What do you spin?

Jerome Harris: It’s a very specific reference. If you get it, you get it.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. Well, what do you spin?

Jerome Harris: Oh, mostly black ass music. I play cookout music. So, it’s Evelyn Champagne King, Love Come Down. Luther Vandross. There was this moment between disco and the 60’s and 70’s and then house music and the 90s, when black people were making this dance music, but it wasn’t a specific genre. It was just kind of like The Whispers. I don’t [crosstalk 00:52:23]-

Maurice Cherry: Oh, I love that genre.

Jerome Harris: I don’t know what that’s called. But, that’s what I play mostly and house music and disco and contemporary stuff that sounds like that. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry: I’ve heard the music called… So, I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Axle F Party. Have you heard of this?

Jerome Harris: No.

Maurice Cherry: Okay. So, Axle F Party is this party in DC where they play all this music. It’s from ’77 to ’87. It’s Jheri curl funk, champagne soul, laser boogie. Those are the terms that they call that genre of music. If you’re in DC, you got to check it out. Even looking at the flyers and everything, the flyers are very much in the style, I wouldn’t say in the pin and pixel style but, I think even if you look at the flyers, you’re like, Oh, you can tell that they are pulling this inspiration directly from that time period. That music that mixes R&B with synths and vocoders and other electronic things of the time. I mean, I love that genre of music. It’s so good.

Jerome Harris: Yeah. That whole moment for me is, I don’t know, it’s something about it. If I’m at the grocery store and I hear, Patrice Rushen’s, Forget Me Nots, I can’t stay still. I’m like, How do you listen to that and stand still? You just can’t. That whole moment is maybe, my favorite little moment in music history. It’s just, nobody ever decided to call it a thing. Which is okay, I think I’m okay with that.

Maurice Cherry: I call it the shoulder music. Sometimes, you got to just like-

Jerome Harris: Ooh, I like that.

Maurice Cherry: You got to hit it with the shoulder, sometimes.

Jerome Harris: Cookout music is the closest. When you say cookout music, black people are like, “Oh, yeah. I get it.”

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. You definitely got to have some Frankie Beverly and the Maze in there. Some Earth, Wind & Fire. So, yeah. Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Do you have a dream project that you’d love to do one day? That maybe melds all of these things that you’re passionate about?

Jerome Harris: I have two and knowing me, I mean, if you’ve known me since I was a kid, I was always doing, at least, three or four things. In high school I ran track, I choreograph for the dance team, I used to sketch and I was also part of a youth organization called, City Kids. We used to do youth empowerment. I did a lot. So, this is just who I am.

Jerome Harris: But my two dream things, dream projects are, I want to start a dance company. I don’t want to dance, I want to start a dance company. And I want to represent African-American design, street dance, things like this, on a concert dance stage and tour. I think that would be awesome, just black dance all the time on stage and get paid for it.

Jerome Harris: The other thing is I would like to start a nonprofit research organization for marginalized American aesthetics and design methodologies, because outside of the neglected history of black design, I know everybody else has their own history, it’s also been kind of shunned as well, and something that’ll bring those to the forefront… In my head, it will help to transform the trajectory of design, moving forward and maybe, help diversify the way that things look. There was a article even on my Medium today, I get a Medium Digest every morning and it was, why do all websites look alike? I was like, exactly.

Maurice Cherry: Oh my God. I brought that up. Actually, I read that article. I brought it up in an interview I did recently about how all websites have the same hero image, three column whatever, parallax scrolling thing. Yeah, I saw that article.

Jerome Harris: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, it’s a thing. I feel like a lot of other people are sick of it, too. It’s a trickle down effect and I feel like it happens every couple of years. I feel like people in academia and culture write these essays and do exhibitions and talk about a thing enough, where people on the ground who are designing, all have this acknowledgement and say, “Oh, shit. Maybe we make a shift.” Then the shift happens. So, I feel that we’re in this moment now, and there’s a lot of folks in the design world, like Ramon Tejad at RISD and Silas Munro at… Have you interviewed Silas?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah, episode 85.

Jerome Harris: Oh, shoot. Okay. I have to go back. Silas at Otis. I feel everybody’s tired of… Ramon and Silas have a thing called, Throw The Bauhaus Under The Bus, which I love. Questioning the Bauhaus, not shitting on the Bauhaus. Because they did have a huge contribution to design, but just also questioning it. Then as far as queer representation goes, Nate Piper and Nicole Kilian. They’re thinking about publishing and black publishing is not [inaudible 00:12:06]. So, everybody’s doing really cool shit. I feel like something’s happening right now. I mean, even thinking about your podcast and being a part of that as well. Because you get the conversations, not the neatly tied up essays and lectures.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. I try to add a lot of diversity into what could be seen as a monolithic set of people. I try to get not just the top designers, captains of industry in Silicon Valley, I talk to folks in New York. I just spoke to a young lady yesterday in Fayetteville, Arkansas, about the UX community there, which, they have a UX community in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in case people didn’t know about that. I talk to people in the Caribbean, throughout Europe, throughout Africa. I’ve interviewed two people in Australia. I would love to get a black Brazilian on the show. I would love to just know about what the design scene is in Brazil, since it’s the largest country, but just in general.

Maurice Cherry: So, I try to add a lot of nuance and diversity into that, because I think people can see black designer and think just one thing. Also sometimes, and this is, I’m not trying to take shots here, but sometimes, especially with black media, when the term black design gets thrown out, it often ends up only being kotumb to the realm of fashion. They’re not looking at the web or graphic design or arts, in that way. It’s like, Oh, black fashion designers. We’re like, “Well, what about the rest of us?” So, yeah. I get that.

Jerome Harris: Also the same thing with my exhibition, it’s the same sentiment. You can walk in and say this is black design, but then you have hip-hop party flyers and Black Panther, newspapers and Marlboro advertisements by having Emmett McBain and Cey Adams, The Violator, artwork from ’99 and Sun Ra, Sun Ra’s poems from his book, The Immeasurable Equation and Sylvia Abernathy’s jazz. It’s such a diverse group of work, that when you walk in, you’re saying these are black people, but there’s no monolith there. And each one has its own history. Sylvia Abernathy with the Black Arts Movement. Amiri Baraka and Cey Adam’s huge contribution to hip-hop and the Black Panthers influence. It’s so many moments in history through this [inaudible 01:00:51] that you can’t walk away from this collection of work thinking about black people in one way.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. So speaking of black people, and I think also, just speaking of the future, we both were at a Black In Design. This year the theme was Black Futurism 2019, we are now at the end of the year, we’re at the end of a decade, we’re really going into the future. When you think of years that sit in pop culture as the future, there’s 1984, 1999, 2020 not just a news show, but you think of that as a future, ahead. When you look ahead, let’s say it’s 2025, what is Jerome working on?

Jerome Harris: That is a good question. I think that might be my planning phase for the next step. I would, right now, want to further build my portfolio in arts and culture and nonprofits and working with artists who speak up for marginalized communities. Louis Flemings project, like the queer in black communities and build up that set of work. And then with that sort of work, start doing my dream, one of my dream projects.

Jerome Harris: The research nonprofit, most definitely, is a huge… For me, it’s something important because I don’t know if anybody else is doing it. I have to do my research to see if it’s happening and if it’s not, then I definitely want to exploit that opportunity and really try to shift the dominance of the way things look right now. Like, all websites look alike. And if not that, if I get tired of design, I’m kind of tired of design, in a way. Because I feel like I’m fighting hard and I feel like I work really hard. I feel that all designers might feel this way. You do a lot of stuff, you’re staying in front of your computer for hours, you’re arguing with vendors and then you finally get a poster or a website or something. People look at it for two seconds and walk away, you’re like, “Okay.”

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. I mean, digital design can be very, well it is, very ephemeral in that way. We spend so much time on something which has such a very short half-life, once it’s out there in the world.

Jerome Harris: I feel design itself is not, for me, not very important. It’s a set of skills. It’s a set of tools to get to essentially, help people. Right? You make things for people. So the thing itself is not really that important. I think that the reasons and the implications and the intentions behind what you do, is the more important thing. I feel like a lot of people should stop designing because they’re just making bullshit and wasting time.

Maurice Cherry: That’s a bold statement.

Jerome Harris: I mean, for real. It’s a lot of stuff out there that doesn’t need to exist. Especially with the condition of the world right now. You’re privileged by default to sit in front of a computer and make images all day. So, why wouldn’t you use that position to do something?

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Yeah. See, that’s really what I like about the… To bring up the Black In Design Conference again, what I really like is that these are people that have design skills, clearly. But they’re using them in ways that are affecting and impacting the community. I first went in 2015 and it was about how do we affect the physical space from the neighborhood, to the city, to the state, to the region. Then in 2017, it was around spaces for organizing and for protest. Now this year, it’s about really, black people in the future, black justice black, black-

Jerome Harris: Wakanda.

Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Wakanda, basically. Black utopia. How do we take these skills and use them to ensure that we are in the future. So, I totally agree with that. Yeah. Well, to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you and about your work, online?

Jerome Harris: I pretty much have my CV on my… My website’s pretty much an interactive CV, at this point. My website is and that’s also my Instagram. So, and I also have an Instagram for my choreography that I do here and there. It’s @32counts. @32counts. The number’s 3-2, don’t type out thirty-two and that’s really it. If you want to give money to Housing Works, comes on to the fundraisers and yeah, that’s it. That’s really it.

Maurice Cherry: All right, sounds good. Well Jerome Harris, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. I mean, one, I think for an enlightening conversation about the work that you’re doing or the work that you done through your exhibit, but also, to show that… It’s interesting how even with the advent of technology design, or at least entry into the design industry, still seems to be roped into these particular narratives around, you have to have went to these schools or done these things or all this sort of stuff. I’m a self taught designer, too. I didn’t go to design school, so to be able to use the talents that you have, to not only, one, make a living for yourself, but also, to showcase others that are doing this, to help change and rewrite the canon of design history. I mean certainly, I empathize with that, because it’s what I’m doing with Revision Path. So, I applaud anybody that’s also walking that same path and making sure that more of us are being celebrated. So, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Jerome Harris: Thank you. This was awesome.

Facebook Design is a proud sponsor of Revision Path. The Facebook Design community is designing for human needs at unprecedented scale. Across Facebook’s family of apps and new product platforms, multi-disciplinary teams come together to create, build and shape communication experiences in service of the essential, universal human need for connection. To learn more, please visit

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If you’re ever down in Miami for Art Basel (or otherwise), then there’s a good chance you’ve experienced Mikhaile Solomon’s influence. As the director of Prizm Art Fair, she’s helped curate and exhibit cultural activities from the African diaspora for the past five years.

Listen as Mikhaile talks about how she began with Prizm Art Fair and shares what makes the Miami art and design scene so unique. We also talk about her recent travels throughout Africa, the beauty of Ghana, the controversy behind the Whitney Biennial, and more. I love that we can have these kinds of conversations here, and thanks to Mikhaile for helping bring this culture to the masses!

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