Step into the dynamic world of Legacy Leadership Executive Oronike Odeleye, a visionary force in the realm of arts and culture. As the current artistic director of the prestigious National Black Arts Festival and former festival director for One Musicfest, Oronike’s journey has been an inspiring tapestry of creative excellence. Oronike’s resounding belief in Black art as a catalyst for self-determination and liberation shines through her work, offering profound insights into the multifaceted dimensions of Black culture, politics, and life. Her unwavering commitment to creating art encounters that not only entertain but also empower and inspire, underscores her vital role in championing the richness of Black artistic expression.
Meet Oronike Odeleye:
As the current artistic director of the National Black Arts Festival and the former festival director for One Musicfest, I bring a wealth of experience in the realm of arts and culture. Additionally, I proudly served as the co-founder and managing director of Creative Currents Artist Collaborative. My passion lies in creating interactive, educational immersive experiences centered around the art of Africa and the Black Diaspora. Through these initiatives, I strive to foster meaningful ways for people to engage with Black art and recognize its profound significance in shaping Black culture, Black politics, and Black life in all its diverse forms.
I love and believe in Black art as a tool for Black self-determination and liberation. It is central to who we are and how we see ourselves as humans in the world. I’ve dedicated all of my life and work to the promotion of art because I think it’s so important to us as humans and how we function. This deep conviction drives me to create art experiences that not only entertain but also empower and inspire individuals to embrace the richness of Black artistic expression.
Currently, my role as the artistic director for the National Black Arts Festival revolves around creating all of our public-facing programming. This entails curating experiences that directly connect the general community with our organization and Black art. While we do organize special events for more exclusive audiences and youth programming in Atlanta public schools, my main focus is on the experiences that are accessible and free to everyone. I was brought into the organization to help return it to its roots of hosting a full-fledged arts festival, which it had stopped doing some years ago in favor of smaller year-round programming.
Legacy Leadership Executive Oronike has Big Goals Ahead
My big goal is to bring back the Biennial Festival by 2026, a large-scale event encompassing all aspects of Black arts, including dance, theater, literature, and visual arts, welcoming thousands of attendees. To achieve this, I am currently working on building our organizational capacity, seeking funders to support the festival, and reintroducing the organization to the Atlanta community, which lost touch with us when we stopped hosting the festival.
Reconnecting with the community is vital because a successful festival requires hometown support. Thus, my focus over the next couple of years is on building our programming, ensuring that people know who we are or reminding them of our presence. With community support, we aim to unveil an extraordinary festival that will be a game changer for the city, the artists involved, and the communities we touch. I have a deep personal attachment to this endeavor, as NBAF’s festival had a profound impact on me as a child, igniting excitement and anticipation in my family.
Ultimately, my overarching goal is not just to revive the festival but to make it sustainable for the long term. I want NBAF to be able to host this celebration of Black arts year after year, leaving a lasting legacy for generations to come. Building a vibrant, sustainable future for the National Black Arts Festival and its impact on the community is what drives me and motivates my efforts in this role.
The Lola community has been an incredible support system for me since I joined. Prior to discovering this community, I didn’t believe such a place of female solidarity existed within the co-working space. My previous experiences with co-working spaces often felt male-dominated, focusing heavily on aggressive entrepreneurship and relentless pursuit of profits. While those spaces offered ample networking opportunities, there was a distinct contrast in the atmosphere.
What sets The Lola apart is the genuine sense of partnership and support that prevails here. The connections I’ve made within this community have been centered around helping each other rather than solely pursuing individual gains. It’s refreshing to meet people who are genuinely interested in what I do and eager to offer their assistance or find ways to collaborate. — Legacy Leadership Executive: Oronike Odeleye
In The Lola, I have found a wonderful opportunity to engage with like-minded individuals who truly care about one another’s success. They are not only interested in knowing what I do but also enthusiastic about discovering ways they can contribute to my endeavors or collaborate with me. This spirit of collaboration and mutual support sets The Lola apart from any other co-working space I have experienced.
Being a part of The Lola community has not only enriched my professional network but also provided a nurturing environment where partnerships are fostered, and genuine connections are made. I am grateful for the sense of camaraderie and empowerment that The Lola offers, making it a truly exceptional and impactful space for women in the co-working arena.
The main benefit of building a network and support system as a professional womxn is the invaluable community of resources it provides. As women, we often find ourselves juggling multiple responsibilities outside of our entrepreneurial and professional lives. Having a strong support network is crucial in such scenarios as it not only offers a pool of resources but also acts as a safety net.
The Lola community is unique in its commitment to helping each other avoid falling and providing support to stand back up if needed.
It is a space filled with women who genuinely care about one another’s success and well-being. This type of support and encouragement is vital for women who often face various challenges and pressures in their personal and professional lives.
Feeling like we have a safety net and a group of women who are there to catch us when we stumble is empowering. It helps us regain our confidence and assures us that we are not alone in our journey. In times of doubt or difficulty, having a network of supportive women at The Lola has been a game-changer for many.
By fostering these connections, The Lola offers a space where women can lean on each other, share experiences, and offer assistance when needed. Such a supportive environment empowers women to move forward with the knowledge that they have a community behind them, cheering them on every step of the way.
Building a network and support system within a community like The Lola had provided me with a powerful sense of belonging, empowerment, and encouragement. It offers a safe space where I can share my challenges, celebrate my achievements, and support other women in both our professional and personal endeavors.
Legacy Leadership Executive Oronike Odeleye has pivoted in her career Before…
I tell people all the time I got into activism by accident.
I had not done anything like that before starting the #MuteRKelly Campaign. One day, while working alone in my office, a news story caught my attention—the Savage family was imploring the police to conduct a wellness check on their daughter, who they had not seen in years since she had been abducted by R. Kelly.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, R. Kelly was situated in the Metro Atlanta area. The realization struck me as I recalled hearing about Aaliyah during my youth. It became evident that he had continued his alarming behavior pattern. Witnessing the Savages on television discussing their ordeal prompted me to delve into research: Why was he here?
My investigation unveiled a multitude of cases spanning from the time I was 15 until that moment. Families were coming forward saying the same thing: my daughter has basically been abducted and I haven’t heard from her in years. They had been abused, had been raising the red flag for police and nothing had been happening. It infuriated me that all the time as I was growing up that we were allowing this to happen and that we were celebrating this man at every turn as though these horrific things were not happening.
My activism in that moment was born out of a moment of rage. I was pissed because it underlined the fact that nobody cares what happens to Black girls at all. If these were White girls he had been doing this to, this would have been stopped forever ago. If this were Black boys he had been doing this too, it would have been stopped a long time ago. But because it was Black girls, they were blamed for what happened to them. And life went on.
We played this man at our weddings and our graduations. We gave him awards and we acted like none of this was happening. And it really, really pissed me off. So the #MuteRKelly Campaign started with me just saying, you know, I’m not big or important enough to get this person arrested. But, maybe I can get the radio stations to stop playing him.
Atlanta’s number one in the nation for child sex trafficking. He has moved his operation here for a reason. We as a community need to stop supporting it. So how about we say we’re just not gonna play his music. And it kind of started and snowballed from there.
Oronike on Designing a Life and Career that benefits you personally..
After going through a period of burnout, I made significant changes in how I designed my life and career to ensure personal support and balance. I decided to close my graphic design company and transitioned away from freelance work with creative clients. Instead, I focused on projects like One Musicfest and smaller ventures, allowing me to streamline my workload and prioritize my well-being.
One key aspect of this shift was setting clear expectations with the organizations and clients I work with. I adopted a model where I trained them on how to work with me, rather than the other way around.
Building trust with my clients was essential, and I made sure to communicate my availability for meetings and established efficient processes and procedures. This approach granted me the flexibility to work remotely from anywhere in the world and merge activities I genuinely enjoy with the work that sustains me financially.
By taking control over my work schedule and responsibilities, I have achieved a balance between my professional and personal life. I am not striving for excessive luxuries but rather a sustainable lifestyle that aligns with my values. Maintaining expenses at a reasonable level allows me to avoid overwhelming pressure and prevent burnout.
In essence, this intentional design of my life and career has led to a sense of harmony, where work and personal fulfillment complement each other. I have successfully created a lifestyle that supports my well-being and prevents the recurrence of burnout, enabling me to pursue my passions and professional goals with renewed enthusiasm and energy.
Looking back, I wish my younger self had known how remarkable the qualities and abilities I possessed were.
I would have encouraged my younger self to believe in my capabilities and embrace a strong sense of confidence from an earlier age. Working in the entertainment industry, especially as one of the few women in the room, I now understand the challenge of asserting myself as an authority without succumbing to imposter syndrome.
Interrupting a male colleague or speaking up with conviction can be daunting, but I have learned that trusting my voice is crucial. However, gaining that level of confidence took time and experience. If I had believed in myself and my knowledge sooner, it would have saved me some unnecessary hurdles in my journey.
Nonetheless, I acknowledge that everything eventually falls into place as it should. Despite the path I took, I now stand firm in my abilities and have the courage to assert myself in any situation. Embracing my worth and trusting my voice have become essential aspects of who I am today. Moving forward, I aspire to empower others, particularly young women, to believe in themselves and recognize their true potential. — Legacy Leadership Executive: Oronike Odeleye
Art plays a central and vital role in activism, particularly within the context of African American movements.
Throughout history, Black activist movements have consistently placed art at their core, using various art forms to convey powerful messages. It extends beyond visual art, with dance and theater also playing crucial roles. Take, for instance, South African protests during apartheid, where dance served as a significant means of expression.
The essence of art lies in its ability to engage people and encourage them to explore complex and challenging ideas. Artistic expressions, such as murals, protest art, plays, and dance performances, can prompt individuals to contemplate issues from fresh perspectives. Unlike straightforward conversations, art has a unique way of conveying messages, making it an essential tool in activism.
Supporting artists and protecting their right to free speech is of utmost importance. They possess the ability to address and experiment with concepts that might otherwise be difficult for the general public. Art has the power to entertain and captivate audiences, allowing them to immerse themselves in an experience that provokes emotions and thoughts. Whether through a three-hour movie or a captivating theater performance, art can evoke profound reflections that might be more challenging to achieve in a traditional classroom setting.
In the context of African American activism in the United States, art has proven to be exceptionally influential and transformative. It serves as a catalyst for social change, raising awareness, and empowering communities.
Embracing art’s significance and supporting artists in their creative endeavors is pivotal in the pursuit of meaningful and impactful activism.
My advice to young artists interested in using their craft for social justice is simple: Just do it.
Embrace your unique life experiences, perspectives, and opinions, and channel them through your art as a powerful tool for making a difference. Not only will this journey positively impact your career, but it will also foster personal growth and creative expansion.
For instance, if you are a visual artist passionate about addressing issues like police brutality, start by researching other artists who are already engaging in this conversation through their work. Learn from their approach and understand the existing dialogue. Then, find ways to contribute your own distinct voice and ideas to the conversation. Perhaps you have a fresh perspective or a unique presentation that can bring new dimensions to the topic.
In every career, it is essential to learn from those who are already making strides in the field. Take inspiration from established artists while striving to push the boundaries further. Avoid redundancy and aim to add to the ongoing conversation with your fresh insights and opinions.
The world needs new voices and diverse viewpoints to tackle social justice issues effectively. Your art can be a powerful medium for amplifying important messages and influencing positive change. So, trust in your artistic vision and use your talent to create a meaningful impact in the social justice space.
In 2021, being honored by One Musicfest held great significance for me. Having worked with the festival founders for nearly two decades, they have become like family. Being recognized and appreciated by them for my work was truly special and rewarding.
In 2019, I received multiple awards for my involvement in the Mute R. Kelly Campaign including OkayAfrica’s 100 Women 2019 for disrupting the status quo, the Visionary Champions Award from Resilience’s Evening of Impact, and the Activist Impact Award from Breakthrough Inspiration Awards. It truly was a humbling experience because I embarked on that journey without seeking recognition. I never expected the impact it would have. Receiving recognition for the campaign’s impact on various organizations across the country was truly amazing.
Moreover, taking on the role of the new artistic director of the National Black Arts Festival is a tremendous honor. This organization played a pivotal role in my artistic growth during my youth. Now, having the opportunity to shape the artistic programming for the organization is a truly amazing honor within itself.
Why Legacy Leadership? Why Now?
The Legacy Leadership program couldn’t have come at a more opportune moment for me, considering my recent transition into a leadership position within a new organization. The opportunity to connect and network with fellow women leaders while acquiring valuable skills to strengthen my own leadership abilities has been incredibly crucial at this juncture. Previously, I have predominantly held strong supporting roles within organizations, but now, as the face of this new venture, I find myself leading people in diverse ways with staff under my supervision. Many individuals within the organization look to me to set the tone, agenda, and oversee operations and programming, which has been a significant shift. Thankfully, being part of this community of women has provided me with an invaluable sounding board for ideas, a platform for learning and growth, and essential support throughout my personal journey. I truly believe this program aligns perfectly with my current needs and aspirations. — Legacy Leadership Executive: Oronike Odeleye
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