In the fall of 2021 the Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy announced funding through the Creative Response Fund for 15 artist-led teams for projects providing creative healing and support to Minneapolis communities that continue to be directly impacted and affected by the stress and trauma of 2021.
Kiya Arkadie and Tamiko French, curator and creator of the The Rock Royalty Experience. Photos by Pierre Ware.
One of these projects was The Rock Royalty Experience, led by artist Tamiko French. This site-specific public healing event was held in September 2021, at George Floyd Square. Three worlds synergized to create an evening of earth science, ancestral alternative healing practices and functional fashion. A runway-style presentation of functional wearable art as apparel paired with semi-precious gemstones designed as healing jewelry crowned the event.
Liz Pangerl, Consultant with the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy interviewed Tamiko French about her healing work in community, what it means and how it will continue to manifest in her work going forward. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work as an artist in the community.
I am a multidisciplinary artist and founder of SoulSpeak Expressions. The Rock Royalty Experience project leans into my talents as a functional jewelry creator, sound and crystal healer. I am accredited with the International Natural Healers Association. As an arts educator, I have been teaching dance for over 25 years and I still teach, but it was in June of 2020 that I decided to make the leap from teacher to artist. I had been making art all along and many of my friends knew my work, but it was still a mid-career shift.
What is your connection to this community? Why is it important to you?
I live in the Powderhorn neighborhood and have been connected to this corridor since 2017. After the torture and murder of George Floyd and the uprisings, I struggled with how I wanted to do my part and show up as a supporter of the movement in a way that felt authentic and as positive as possible – for me. I knew where I was in my own artistic and healing journey and decided to share that part of myself more publicly.
I was honored to connect with the neighborhood and felt welcomed and embraced to share and do my work, and to join community members in their work as well. Connecting regularly conveyed that I wasn’t looking for any photo ops, rather I was there to cultivate relationships and support the environment of healing already being built. When my world was falling apart and my health was beyond my control, I found that nature had another way. It was through this movement and the associated human connections and affirmations that allowed me to get back in alignment and ultimately share my message of healing. I wanted to share and offer that same feeling/message to them. In any small portion that they could find a piece of peace in the middle of this storm we have been in.
What was your initial preparation?
Tamiko: My first step was to set up a vision board meeting with key power players in the community, D’MChelle and “Baba” Onayemi Ogunkoye. Both are elders of mine and artists working in the jewelry and spiritual metaphysical worlds. We understand each other through how we bend metal and how we believe metaphysically. D’MChelle and Baba helped sharpen my vision and mission – then I put the rest of my team together. We had weekly or bi-weekly meetings and we planned out the “three worlds” concept to include earth science, ancestral alternative healing practices and functional fashion. In the first month I focused on team building and then started to think about my collection.
Imagine a crown calling to mind one’s regal-ness, one’s worth, and for one evening being able to embody that essence.
— Tamiko French
What was the inspiration for this project?
My biggest inspiration was in creating the crowns representing grace and regal-ness under fire. I took a welding class to diversify my offerings. I was drawn to the refining qualities of fire and its mesmerizing visual beauty inside the layers that are burned through from the flames. Much of my work comes from a place of passion and discovering the grace inside the raw rugged pieces of crystal or metal I work with, which could initially be viewed as ugly or non-desirable.
Then at The Rock Royalty Experience fashion show, the sight of the models strutting down the runway and wearing crowns shifted the energy and vibration both with the models and the audience. It was a vision of royalty, and some may have thought, “Oh the audacity of walking with dignity, she’s not royalty to me.” But really, she was. Imagine the impact on a young lady who has been to hell and back, who feels she’s not worth much, and then is crowned? Imagine that? So, how could this vibration positively shift my community and where could it take us?
The models wore welded, fire-created crowns or hand-wrapped crowns and hand-wrapped work on their bodies with garments a part of each jeweled collection. I curated a team of designers and jewelry artists to work with me conceptualizing upscale couture. Each garment was created as an expression of everyday royalty. The designers worked with each model to create a very specific story, and then amplified it with semi-precious gemstones designed as healing jewelry. We sought to bring out an element of self-expression with each model. Wearing the crowns inspired them to walk taller, feel exquisite and recognize their value to the community – no matter what was being said or decided for them or being done to them.
The Rock Royalty Experience community members walk the runway in Tamiko French functional fashions and custom designed crowns. Photo by Bruce Williams.
What community were you doing creative healing work with?
For The Rock Royalty Experience project, I engaged with folks who had been working at George Floyd Square and giving tirelessly back to the community. Additionally, supporters of the community that shared space and solidarity with the corridor.
Previously for a different audience, I created an installation of crowns that sat atop high furniture stools, and which represented different elements and essences. I invited participants to take a walk through my “hall of royalty” to recall their own royalty, their regal-ness, their beauty, or whatever part of themselves might have fallen away. I served as a gate-way guardian, a guide and protector of the crowns.
What was the outcome of this project? What made it successful in your eyes?
I witnessed the overwhelming joy in the audience as the models walked the runway and radiated royalty, along with the significance of the volunteers who care for George Floyd Square being in the show. Many who experienced The Rock Royalty Experience for the first time told me they loved what they saw. In whatever way the audience internalized the experience, my hope is that everyone could see themselves embracing functional fashion as an expression of personal empowerment, and as a reminder that truth is mighty and divine. I brought together healing artists in fashion design, jewelry and music, which I had not seen before. A bright spot for me was in showcasing how accessories and adornment can be shared on the same level as clothing.
What does the idea of creative healing mean to you? How do you see this manifesting in yourself, your immediate community and beyond?
Call to mind the different traumas our communities have endured, along with economic stressors that haven’t allowed us to see ourselves as worthy and royal and deserving of that internal higher personal power, because so much has been stripped away. Imagine a crown calling to mind one’s regal-ness, one’s worth, and for one evening being able to embody that essence. I think the symbolic richness of the fashion show was one manifestation of creative healing along with all the entrepreneurs who were part of the healing mall.
William and Leslie Harris perform at the Rock Royalty Experience. Photo by Bruce Williams.
What are your hopes for your community moving forward?
How we live our lives as individuals is all about our perceptions and how we look at things. Our experiences are layered. Even though we are all amazingly human and are in this together, each person’s lens is important and necessary. We need platforms for people to share their perceptions of what happened to our community with the murder of George Floyd. We need to hear what their eyes be-held. We need to listen and be in dialogue so we can unlearn what doesn’t serve our communities greatest good, especially the injustices leveled on our black and brown bodies. The facets of these stories can help us all work towards more connected and understanding communities. The way our community banded together was a beautiful expression of love and hope, and proof that out of the ashes we still rose. My hope is that at every turn we can truly rise to the call of injustice and aid all who have been harmed by this crisis. I know we can.
What is next for you?
I would like to create continuous ways in which The Rock Royalty Experience can develop, build, and create opportunities for our multifaceted community to engage with. The success of The Rock Royalty Experience has inspired me to create The Eye Beholds, which opens March 30th and runs through June 30th, 2022, at the Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center. I am planning special programming once a month featuring a community member, adorned with healing jewelry, seated on a beautiful chair, and sharing his, her or their perspective of events over the past two years. My healing jewelry will be on exhibit and I’m planning a fashion show for April 8th, which will be live streamed.
Through art we will share stories, music and perceptions that go beyond general conversations so we can, hopefully, experience a true shift in what our eyes are capable of beholding.
Learn more about the Creative Response Fund Projects here
Creative CityMaking is a program of The Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy at the City of Minneapolis. Funding is provided by The Kresge Foundation. Arts Midwest is acting as fiscal agent for the disbursal of grant funds.