"Even in this moment with mass inflation and unaffordability, so many people feel that an art purchase is frivolous. It is not. Bringing art into our home that we love centers us and keeps us whole."
It's impossible to talk about the Seattle arts and culture scene without Elisheba Johnson's name coming up. She has contributed to the local and national arts sector through her work as a poet and visual artist and has served as an administrator, advocate, curator, gallery owner, and all-around arts organizer. Elisheba's career has from day one, been dedicated to creating space for emerging and BIPOC artists to create and showcase their work. She currently co-manages Wa Na Wari, a Black art center in the Central District whose mission is to create space for Black ownership, possibility, and belonging through art, historic preservation, and connection.
Who is Elisheba Johnson? Share a bit of your personal background and how it led you to your current occupation/role?
I am the daughter of an artist. I grew up in a home that championed the power of art to transform the world. I suffered from severe depression in my teens and poetry literally saved my life. And after that I fell in love with contemporary art and became the Black, female pied piper of the visual arts. My current role is using arts and culture to fight the displacement of Black people at Wa Na Wari. I am 1 part curator, 1 part convener, and1 part troublemaker.
When did you first feel comfortable calling yourself an artist/creator?
Ha! Somedays I feel comfortable saying it and other days I feel like a fraud. I think it must be part of being an artist to question if you are an artist. My people can be quite existential.
Who are some of the artists in Seattle that inspire you? What else inspires you?
The artists in Seattle breathe life into me every day. They give me hope and I fangirl on so many.
Tariqa Waters, Inye Wokoma, Jazz Brown, C. Davida Ingram, Rachel Kessler, Henry Jackson-Spieker, Michelle Kumata, Erin Shigaki, Henry Luke, Jessixa and Aaron Bagley, Kimisha Turner, Christopher Paul Jordan, Jill Friedberg, Jourdan Keith, Anastacia Renee, Danni Tirell, Randy Ford, David Rue, Barbara Earl Thomas, Marita Dingus, Juan Alonso-Rodríguez, Minh Carrico, Kalina Chung, Lisa Myers Bulmash, Hawo Ali,Carina del Rosario and so many more. I could go on for a while.
What arts projects are you excited about right now?
I am currently programming the next few years at Wa Na Wari and our Walk the Block fundraiser. I am having so much fun meeting with artists, hearing what they want to do and create for the space, and daydreaming with them.
You are not only an artist and arts champion but a passionate art collector. Can you provide some recommendations to our readers on ways to start an art collection on a budget?
Well, when ARTE NOIR opens this summer they will have artworks at multiple prices that will work great for a new collector. The biggest hurdle I find with new collectors is believing “they deserve art.” Even in this moment with mass inflation, and unaffordability, so many people feel that an art purchase is frivolous. It is not. Bringing art into our home that we love centers us and keeps us whole. Learn that you deserve it. Unprogram the part of you that says it's only for the elite.
To hear more from Elisheba, enjoy this two-part interview featuring her and her father, Charles Johnson, on the doubleXposure Podcast!