Sydney Lowe’s list of professional projects speak of a woman with drive. As a producer, she has assisted and collaborated with executive producers, creative directors & cinematographers to produce marketing campaigns for several award-winning HBO series. Think Game of Thrones, GIRLS, and Boardwalk Empire. As a photographer, her pictures have been published in PhotoVogue Italia, Refinery29, Indiewire.
Yet she believes her work and the work of other women creatives is strengthen by a sense of community. Lowe learned this during her time in undergrad at Wesleyan, where student artists found comfort in collaborating and helping one another. When she returned to New York City where she grew up, she experienced an entirely different dynamic.
“I found people that weren’t always as readily interested in helping one another,” she said. “I found myself, often times, the only person of color or woman in some of the more “elite” artistic spaces–all of which felt like a problem that wasn’t a foreign concept to me.”
This led to her very organic launch of Art Girl Army, a collective of young women that strive to create safe spaces where women feel empowered, inspired, celebrated and supported.
I caught up with Sydney, to discuss her work, why it’s important to have a community of artists around her, and how she feels about being honored by the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Manhattan Chapter.
Tell us a bit about you.
I had the incredibly great fortune of growing up in New York City, in between Queens and Brooklyn. Growing up and learning and living in a city that has always felt so organically diverse to me, I now realize, is a huge reason why I am the person I am. Queens is, hands down, one of the most diverse counties in the world. It really did instill in me the appreciation and the understanding of how and why it’s so important to surround oneself with people who see and experience the world differently than you do. We are stronger, better, more vibrant when everyone authentically brings their worldview to the table. Life is better that way. I think there’s a lot of beauty in that.
How did the idea for Art Girl Army come about?
I went to Wesleyan University for undergrad and really enjoyed and learned a lot from the creative community and friends that I found during my time there. To me there was a culture of artists from all different corners of campus ready and willing to help one another create. If there were dancers that needed a photographer, you could find one. Filmmakers looking for musicians to score their thesis? They were there. The theme that underscored all of those connections was, “Let’s make something. How can we do this together?” It was a really important lesson for me to learn. To know that that genuine sense of asking for help and collaboration and creation was very possible. That sentiment follows me to this day personally (I still collaborate frequently with my friends from Wesleyan on lots of projects), and also what inspired me to create to Art Girl Army.
After I graduated, I moved back to New York and was really eager to find a similar sense of creative community. But in some of the spaces that I went looking for that community, to me there was a feeling of very cold competition. I was craving, to be honest, genuine connection. Being an artist, especially when you’re not part of the majority culture, can be really hard. You need people who understand intimately what you’re going through, who are going to empathize with you, and who are going to genuinely cheer you on and celebrate with you. And I knew that there were other women (from all walks of life) out there who felt the same way and wanted that too.
I started having small monthly potluck dinners in my studio apartment in Brooklyn and invited a handful of female friends who I knew were artists. We were pretty much crammed around a crowded table of diverse faces and started having these very honest conversations about our dreams, our fears, our vulnerabilities, our passions. It was intimate and cathartic in a way that was so helpful and reassuring. There was a resounding feeling of, “You are not alone,” and an equally resounding feeling of “How can I help you?” That sense of care and connection, I think, is what makes us special, and what made people come back. Every month we’d get more and more people, (friends of friends who would hear about the dinners), to the point where we couldn’t have them at my home anymore. Tons of really incredible filmmakers, photographers, painters, writers, musicians, comedians and illustrators from all sorts of diverse backgrounds would show up and dialogue with us. It’s always been really important to us that we ALL get seats at the table.
Soon some of the women who’d heard about us began to open up their own homes, creative workspaces and offices from all around the city to us so that we could host more events. We also started to grow online as a group on Facebook to make sure people would be able to stay in better contact with each other. We’ve since cultivated a really phenomenal board of directors, all of whom are talented young female artists that continue to make this work possible–and they do it out of the goodness of their hearts (Cindy Lozito, AhDream Smith, Jessica Best, Olivia K. Harris, Morgan Fletcher & Ebony Hardin). It’s been a really interesting journey !
How does the group create safe spaces where women feel empowered and celebrated?
We really try very hard as a board to make sure that the in-person events and the online space that we manage feel like there is a thread of sincere community and care there. We actively work to champion and congratulate one another when people have accomplishments that they share with us. We try our best to make sure people feel listened to and heard when they share the creative struggles that they’re going through. We send out resources (job listings, classes, workshops, grants) so that the women in our group can keep empowering themselves, especially when they very vulnerably and powerfully ask for help. We’ve also started to host Art Girl Army panels as of last year, in addition to our meet-ups, (with speakers from HBO, Showtime, Atlantic Records, Sony Music, and more).
We know that you’re great and YOU know that you’re great. We want to just keep helping these women to be even greater. We have to “lift as you climb,” as one of my mentors once phrased it to me. That’s such a huge undercurrent of everything that we do.
You’re a producer and photographer by profession, so you’ve worked on several noted projects for HBO (Game of Thrones, GIRLS, Boardwalk Empire, The Jinx, & Bessie). Talk a bit about what you do and how you came to that work.
I’ve always really enjoyed looking at the world and paying close attention to it through a visual lens. In school I was encouraged to think critically about the politics of representation–who was being depicted, who wasn’t, and why that was–and came to see it, in a lot of ways, as an instrument of power. I analyzed a lot of visual texts, and very fortunately got the chance to make my own. I began to see images as holding tremendous potential for transforming culture, society and identity. I have a particular reverence for photography (it’s always been my first love) and am really inspired by the work of Gordon Parks, Rineke Dijkstra, Stephen Shore and Carrie Mae Weems. They tell great, very specific stories, beautifully. I’ve since also found a lot of joy in moving images as well–TV & film are different but similar ways of telling stories in comparison to photo. As a producer for me, a lot of the experience is about finding great creatives that shine brightly on their own, and being the person that brings them together. I’m still starting out, and it’s been a great adventure so far.
Art Girl Army is being awarded the Phenomenal Woman award by the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Manhattan Chapter this month at the group’s annual Poetic Justice event. How does it feel to be getting such an honor?
It feels like a really amazing honor! The National Coalition of 100 Black Women does such amazing work all year round and it’s a wonderful feeling to be recognized by such a talented, hardworking coalition of women. The world can be such a hard, unfair place for black women and women of color. To have an organization that works to combat that by encouraging economic empowerment, facilitating collaboration and furthering the social justice movement, is an incredibly special thing. We’re honored.
Finish this statement…I discovered my own beauty and power when….
I realized that when you start to love and accept yourself for who you are, the rest feels much easier.