Design ︎︎ 6 Aug 2017            

Not My Industry, Not My Problem

Coming up in my early career in New York City meant design industry was infused into my bloodstream.

Art Directors Club, Type Directors Club, AIGA, various co-working spaces, conferences, art schools, etc. were available to me as I “found myself” (or tried to) as a young designer (letterer/illustrator). Part of this was a blessing. I realized I wanted to draw typography for a living? I go spend my time at Type Directors Club and the Cooper Type program. I have tons around me who share the same interests and elevate my passion. Amazing. So grateful. However, this also meant that the structures that were set up in our industry were all that I knew. And, naturally, I wanted to be accepted and “relevant” so I strived to fit into them (whether consciously or subconsciously).

I spend my days making art and writing, work with rad people who hire me, dancing in my underwear in 8 inch stripper boots.

My time in New York ended when I moved to LA in 2014. I was burnt out and feeling like something really massive was missing inside me. I felt peaceful when I went to LA, so I went there to find it. I also went freelance full time. My early years in LA were full of tumult, both personal and professional, as most growth periods are. Beyond starting a freelance business on the opposite end of the country, I found pole dancing, my therapist, and a spiritual community that’s helped me foster my intuitive practices. As if “Art Director, Designer, Illustrator, Letterer, Pole Dancer, Witch” wasn’t enough of a title line-up, I then created a set of experimental artwork last fall which evolved into my sex- and body-positive art zine, Divine, which has added titles of “Curator, Creator, Zine Maker, Activist, Nude Model” and “Aspiring Porn Director” to my already-lengthy and diverse title list.

As my Journey of Self™ progressed, my elevator pitch becoming more and more unique, it became increasingly hard for me to relate to the industry that raised me. I was aware there were issues of diversity in our “mainstream industry” (i.e. media or events created to hold space and elevate those doing great work in our industry — conferences, podcasts, publications, and so on). I had seen article on article on Twitter thread debating what conferences lacked diversity, with the Underrepresented pleading with, educating, and eventually (usually) giving the Represented the benefit of the doubt that they will “try harder next year.” I would see podcast conversations and articles and Design Twitter™ threads that continually made me say, “This is not my industry.” And I believed it. Only one problem: By virtue of the actual work I made, I was. So what now?

Working on Divine has changed my view on our “mainstream industry” and the conversations around diversity in it, greatly. All of these Twitter threadsand articles and pleas by women (or any non-white non-male) trying to explain and educate and give these facets of the industry the “benefit of the doubt” hurts me. Because I realize that those of us who choose to hold space for others, be it with a zine or a conference, do so knowingly and with the inherent responsibility of influencing an audience. We are not children in kindergarten spilling our milk. What we do matters. What we do affects others whether or not it was our first or 100th time doing it, and we must live with the consequences of our actions. Whether or not you meant it, not including any women, or including 3 women out of an 18 person line up and patting yourself on the back, makes me — as a woman — feel fucking bad. And you did that. You can say you wanted to include all you want, and list your reasons why you failed. I may or may not listen to them, depending on my rapport with you. But it is not my job to feel unwelcome by your programming and stick around. And it hurts me to see others expending their energy to the point of exhaustion and neglect of themselves, because they have been taught that this is the industry we have to accept, and that we need it to accept us in order to be “relevant.” We are afraid that if we ignore you or tell you to go educate yourself and fix your own conference that we’ll be less relevant, less included, or deemed unkind. Well I’m not & fuck that.

We don’t need women writing articles on the detailed reasons why your reasons for failing don’t hold up. The bottom line is: if you hold space for others and view curating diverse perspectives as anything else than a privilege, you need to stop what you’re doing and figure out why. One more time for the people in the back:

Sharing diverse perspectives is a privilege, not a chore.

And it is hard work to realize your sphere of influence is limited & widen it. Not only for your conference or podcast or publication, but for yourself.

So I hold space for every person who is tired or scared of being cast out. Every person who doesn’t care if Fancy Conference A or Big Deal Podcast B ever knows who they are or invites them to be a part. Every person who wants to not care. But I also hold space for those who own their mistakes and make it right. Those improving in action. And those admitting their shortcomings and quietly shifting. I see you.

I spend my days making art and writing, work with rad people who hire me, dancing in my underwear in 8 inch stripper boots, cheering for friends dancing on stages in their underwear in 8 inch stripper boots, working to fine tune my intuition and myself via therapy, and eating. And I do all of this in a city that is decentralized, and therefore very easy to disconnect. If I want to believe that “This is not my industry” and never engage with it again. I could…in theory.

But in practice, I care. I care about the industry that raised me. I care about the people in it. And I’ve found as I’ve slowly morphed “This is not my industry” to “This is totally my industry and fuck you to anyone who makes me feel otherwise,” that there are so many out there who feel the same. Some are ingrained in and some are on the outskirts of this thing we view as the “mainstream industry,” so holistically swearing it off only defeats the chances of connecting with potential allies. It doesn’t mean I have to aggressively try to change what is on the daily. It means I have to be able to allow. I have to allow those who align to come over and sit with me in the lunch room so that we can form NEW pillars of mainstream. And in this effort to build strong, new structures of weirdos, misfits, and the generally tired…we need as many lunch buddies as we can get.

This is totally my industry and fuck you to anyone who makes me feel otherwise.

So hold your energy as if it was the most precious resource. Withdraw it quickly and without hesitation. Take care of yourself with the utmost passion, and get up from those tables where those kids are wearing you out. Sitting alone is lonely and scary, but it gets easier with time and practice. And in the meantime, bring your Dunkaroos over here. I’m with you. ︎︎

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©2017 Jillian Adel