Dasan Ahanu is a notable poet, community events curator, and entrepreneur. He’s a Nasir Jones Harvard Fellow Alum and a member of Grammy-winning Producer 9th Wonder’s Black Jedi Zulu nonprofit organization. He has been an advocate for preserving the arts community in North Carolina and beyond with his philanthropic efforts. It is because of his commitment to his craft that he is consistently curating creative programming to push the narrative of the importance of the arts forward. Take a look at this engaging conversation we had about monetizing with your art.
KK: Tell us about Dasan Ahanu.
DA: I am a professional artist, curator, cultural organizer, and arts administrator. I create art, but I also try to create experiences and opportunities for artists. I try to place art and culture anywhere that they can have an effective impact. So that’s the big part, you know, art and culture are my passion. That’s at the heart of everything that I do. Also, I use my artistic and curatorial skills to help different businesses and organizations with some of the things that they’re trying to accomplish. Then, I see where art and creativity can kind of help enhance what they’re trying to do. I get to live in a creative space, day in and day out. It’s wonderful.
KK: When did you first begin this journey? How did this journey of utilizing your creativity and actually knowing when to monetize with it begin for you?
DA: I got laid off. So what happened, really briefly, is that I got laid off from where I was working. I was in a project supervisor position for a tech company. That led me to evaluate. I was re-evaluating what was going on for me at that time and I went back to school to get a deeper education. I was going to study business, but I dove deeper into the arts community. It was a way to have a flexible schedule, but also be able to pay my bills. I was embraced and fell in love with working with arts organizations. I enjoyed working in the community. Also, being a part of events and things that were going on. That, I never left. So it immediately became a search to figure out, how can I stay there? A part of it was networks and relationships. The other part was doing a self-assessment. It was figuring out what skills do I have at my disposal and who needs them? I needed to equip myself in order to enhance those skills, so they would be marketable, and then just kind of plot my way. So that’s how it all started. It was at a transition point in my life. So when you get shaken out of that kind of comfortable place, you got to start thinking outside the box. The arts community was just waiting there for me, to hold me down. So that’s how I got going.
KK: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in getting started?
DA: I think the biggest piece of advice is to look for experiences. I believe where there are experiences, there are opportunities. I think you will find the opportunity if you are open to the experience. I am curious by nature. So, I have to, kind of remember, that not everybody is. That doesn’t mean you can’t walk into a thing curious, but you just need someone to put that into your head to be curious. To be open and aware when you’re in places, so that you can take in the experience and see what the opportunities are. I believe that what that does is it draws a certain energy towards you. I think it’s really important to artists because we put out energy but because we’re creatives it is a little different. So what you draw back to you is going to be different. The kind of opportunities you draw back to you are different, how people think of you, when they have conversations with you, and how people see you. There are folks who walk up to me and they’ll say they were drawn to me. Also, there’s a thing that happens with us, as artists, we kind of have to open up ourselves but that doesn’t happen to other people. So that’s the first thing, experiences are very important. In a variety of experiences, there, were things that I was curious about. I went to checkout things to get into. Some of those places, early on, were where I made the relationships that ended up really providing me with new open doors down the road. A lot of times, I got credit for being there, just for being in a place. I was curious, excited, and intrigued by what was going on there. That experience piece is big for me.
KK: There are times when we get into passion works or projects as creatives due to areas of pain and suffering. Is there anything you’d like to say about creative people or artists in regards to mental health?
DA: Yes, art is cathartic. It’s therapeutic but it’s not therapy. What I do know is that my art helps hold me together. My circle and the folks who love on me hold me down. That circle can include any number of resources that I feel that I need at any given point and time. I know that I can make it to that resource because I have my art but I can’t rely on my art to be the answer that I need. I think that’s an important thing. There’s so much that art opens you up to. It can be a slippery slope for having that many hands, eyes, thoughts, and ideas involved in your pain, trauma, or healing. That involvement should be vetted. You don’t always get to do that when your art is the place where you go to work through those things. Especially, when your art is also public. I’m just very cautious of that. That is a place where you can go that is cathartic and therapeutic to help but it’s not the end.
KK: Are there any upcoming programs or events that you would like people to know about? Are there programs or organizations that you are currently working with?
DA: Yes, I’m an artist-in-residence at the Hayti Heritage Center. My work there is centered around the Jambalaya Soul Slam, which is a monthly poetry slam series that’s been at the center since 2005. It’s a home for poets in the area. It is a competitive event, but it’s also a place showcases the work by the poets for competition. It’s just a fun thing, a fun element to utilize to be able to bring the audience and poets together. There’s a monthly workshop series, that’s also a part of the programming that I oversee. Each month we provide a writing workshop for anyone in the community who wants to participate. I am the Co-Founder and Managing Director of a theatre company called Black Poetry Theatre that is also in residence at Hayti. It brings together spoken word, poetry, and theatrical productions. It’s a black-owned theatre company and a big part of my work. We’ve got some really interesting and exciting things planned for this year with the poetry slam and theatre company. Folks should definitely check that out. I worked with Carolina Performing Arts as a program director for a grant-funded initiative called Creative Futures. We are in the final year of that grant initiative. We have some amazing artist fellows who will be doing some beautiful things in Spring 2022. I want people to know and be able to look out for that job from a presenting organization at UNC- Chapel Hill. Then outside of that I continue to create. I’m a playwright working with North Carolina Central University and Duke University to present ethnic dramas to the community to raise awareness around critical health issues, especially health issues facing minority communities. That’s another thing for folks to be on the lookout for. We are in our third year of presenting these productions. This work is really important to me. It’s just ongoing creative work. I love to create, that’s a big part of what I do is thinking of ideas and creating. I really like the nuts and bolts of things. So that’s how I got into the presenting and organizing administration but the thing that really fills me is creating.
KK: So tell us where can we follow you to find out about these amazing events and programs?
DA: Yes, so the first stop will be my website, which is https://www.dasanahanu.com to see all that I am involved in. The poetry slam website is Bullcitypoetryslam.com . The theatre company website is https://www.blackpoetrytheatre.com/. Then there is the Hayti Heritage Center website which is https://hayti.org/. The Carolina Performing Arts Center website is https://carolinaperformingarts.org/. My social media is Dasan Ahanu across all social media.
KK: My last bonus question for you is, how important is it to you to make sure the business aspect of what you learned about being an entrepreneur and a creative is known?
DA: You know, understanding the business aspect is extremely important. I have a business degree and then I have an arts degree. I went back and I got a certification in arts management strategies. I was out and active as an artist so that pushed me to dig deeper into what is, the business of it all. Both in terms of how to manage me and my finances? What does it mean to be an independent contractor ? To be involved in gig culture, but also to understand the business on the other side? So it’s looking at who is hiring me and what do the contracts look like? Well, behind their scenes, I can understand what environment I’m walking into. Also, how to build things because you can’t rely on other people to be able to provide you what you need. If you’re going to build it, how do you build it in a way that it works? Does that encourage collaboration, so that those other organizations and entities see what you’re doing? They also see the way that it is built and are drawn to it so they will want to work with you. They understand that you know what you’re doing. So that aspect is extremely important to me, and even now, I’m also working in operations for a nonprofit that does provide financial support for Black and Brown women identified founders. Supporting Black and Brown women entrepreneurs allows me to get an even greater understanding of what it really means to be educated and literate about the business of things. What got me there is my skill sets that I developed moving into the art and cultural communities. Being able to build structure and capacity there led me into this position, which is leading me further into the business of things. It’s beautiful, because artists are entrepreneurs. The startup industry is not just services, not just products, it is also creative. It’s so important for all of us to be as equipped as we can for what it means to navigate business wise. You can create beautiful things. To continue to get beautiful things from you, then you have to be able to sustain, maintain, and be able to have a quality of life that works. Whether it’s family responsibilities or getting food on the table to keep the lights on. So that’s important. That’s why the experiences are so important, you can gain a greater understanding of what it means to monetize. That is where there are potential opportunities for you and your artistic gifts and for your art. As long as you remember that you deserve to be paid for doing so, you’ll find more places to be able to find the financing that you need to sustain yourself.
Stay Connected: @DasanAhanu – Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter