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Alanah Nichole Davis: ‘You have to be unafraid to be different’

Alanah Nichole Davis is a marketing consultant, writer, performance artist, and an emerging leader in Baltimore’s art scene.

Her path to becoming a leader, and respected artist, wasn’t always easy. She’s overcome expulsion from high school at 16, having kids at an early age, and bias against her gender and skin color.

Born in New York, Davis moved to Baltimore at age 8, and it’s where she came of age. She’s pursuing her master of arts in Social Design at Maryland Institute College of Art.

She spoke with The Daily Record as part of a series of interviews aimed at continuing the conversations started during the newspaper’s “Young, Black, Homegrown and Leading in Baltimore” webinar. The interview below has been edited for clarity and space.

The Daily Record: How do artists, particularly minority artists, view Baltimore?

Alanah Nichole Davis: The artists here in Baltimore, a lot of us see Baltimore as a spirit, as something that is possessed by us all, something that kind of goes through everybody, even people who visit, or people who have lived here for a short time, can see that it’s a very, no pun intended, Charming City. It’s just one of those places that’s going to stick with you.

People talk about the big (arts) cities like New Orleans, the L.A.s and the New Yorks, and I’ve been to some of those places, but none of them has that grungy artistic spirit the way that Baltimore does, especially its (Do It Yourself) scene.

You know, I love shows where the bathrooms are bad and that type of thing. So, yeah, we just rock out in a way that’s unmatched.

TDR: Tell me about how that DIY attitude, which exists within the arts community already, could be shared to help the city embrace (an ethos) of, ‘We can do it on our own.’

Davis: You just start somewhere. You start anywhere. That’s what you do as a creative in Baltimore.

I’m always thinking of new events. I think of an idea every day. I’m always like, ‘I could do this. This rocks. This idea is really great,’ and then I just do it.

I might call two people who I need as collaborators. I might not. Sometimes you just do it by yourself, but I think you don’t really need much.

As creatives in this city, we’ve always been working at a deficit far before the COVID-19 pandemic.

There’s always a shortage, especially for women of color, artists of color, queer artist, the LGBTQ+ IA community, everybody has been working in a lack. Having to do with nothing, and creating things from nothing, and creating something really big. You don’t always have a budget for that.

So, as far as the city goes, the notes that you could take from that are you don’t need much, you don’t need a lot of people to believe in what you’re doing right up front.

You just do it.

TDR: What would you have said is the biggest obstacle (prior to COVID-19) to allowing these artists to flourish?

Davis: There’s definitely different layers and barriers that artists are facing as far as just really popping. But, you know, there’s micro and there’s macro.

On the micro level I could tell any individual artist, ‘It’s really you.’ That’s just a self-help thing. That it’s really you that’s getting in your way.

If you don’t believe that you can do something then you won’t do it. If you believe that you can then you can.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve pushed myself as an artist, as a writer to get out there more. It’s really just something within you that’s blocking you.

You could blame the city. You could blame the organizations, the philanthropic organizations, who won’t give you money.

But sometimes you have to go through a little bit of a pressing in order to yield that oil — in order to get a product through — and sometimes you have to work a little bit harder.

So that’s just for the independent artists out there.

As far as the institutions that are in Baltimore, who are overarching over the art scene, it’s a lot of … this theme of exoticism … they always want to look outside of the state (for artists).

I’ve worked with organizations … right here in Baltimore pulling in artists from overseas in order to do public works of art, or festivals, etc.

That angers me because there’s so much talent right here. Whether you’re in Mount Vernon or in Hampden, it doesn’t matter. The (local) artists are all talented, and all worthy of having that financial backing.

TDR: You’ve mentioned preconceptions about working with black women. But you didn’t let those stop you from seizing the mantle of a leader. If you were talking to a Black girl, say 13 years old, what would you tell her?

Davis: It’s all about question asking, kicking down doors, (and) being at tables that you’re not supposed to be at. In theory, all of those barriers, all of those glass ceilings are not real.

That’s what I would tell that girl who’s looking to get into leadership, who’s looking to take charge in whatever she’s looking to do.

Whether she’s playing the violin, or she’s making cocoa butter, I don’t care what she’s doing, (her) ideas are valid, (her) thoughts are valid.

I’ve always been the youngest person. I’ve always had the darkest skin, the biggest hair, all of those things. You have to be unafraid to be different. To be something that someone is not.

A lot of us, in just society, and just in life, strive to be alike, or strive to look like something else, or to feel like something else.

We all look at that old high school nemesis’ page on Instagram and think, ‘Oh, I wish I lived in Miami Beach,’ or whatever.

Whatever you have right now is what you’re supposed to have, and you’re in the right space. You’re in the right time. You’re going through things in your own way.

I’m fortunate enough to right now be going to MICA, (but) I was expelled from high school when I was 16. I didn’t graduate the regular way. I got my GED. I thought I was done then.

I had kids when I was 19 and 21. I thought I was done then. I wasn’t done then. I thought I was done when I got divorced when I was 24. I wasn’t done then.

I thought so many things about myself. I had misconceptions about myself. So I was my own greatest enemy.

Whatever you believe in, if it’s God, if it’s not faith-based, if it’s yourself, if it’s Yoda, I don’t care what it is, believe in that thing.

And try not to lean on your own misconceptions … of what you think you’ll be, because you’ll be it.

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