***This interview, below, with "A is for Activist" author and illustrator Innosanto Nagara, is the first of a new bi-monthly series at multiple realities: conversations with awesome artist + activist parents. Exciting!***
The intersection of these three is what interests me: art + activism + parenting. How to balance each of them in the tasks of everyday life? How to make these identities cohesive? I wish I had the answers. Since I don't, I love talking with other activist/artist parents about this.
My friend, Innosanto Nagara, is one such activist/artist parent. (Okay, so he wouldn't use the word "artist" to describe himself per se, but you can read more about that in his own words, below).
Inno is a founding member of Design Action Collective, a worker-owned cooperative design studio in Oakland, CA. Right now, he is launching his first children's book publication, "A is for Activist", available for pre-order here.* UPDATE 11/16/2012: the book is now printed, stocked and available! Order yours today right here!
In addition to being kick-ass in so many ways, Inno is a really, really nice person. And an active father to his two-year-old son. I'm so honored that he agreed to talk with me here for the blog.
Jenn: Hi Inno! Thanks for doing this interview for my blog. Okay: how would you describe yourself as an artist and an activist?
Inno: I usually describe myself as an Activist Designer. Activist first. Then Designer. And I’ve generally not used the word Artist to describe myself, because I have a particular view of what constitutes an Artists’ process, and how it differs from what I do.
I’m a founding member of Design Action Collective, and one of our guiding principles is that we avoid “designing in a vacuum”. We see ourselves as playing a “service” role to the movement, and insist that what work we do is driven by organizational and campaign strategies — and not be a platform for personal expression, as such.
That being said, you’re interviewing me today because I just wrote and illustrated a children’s book, A is for Activist, which did emerge from a personal desire to write this book for my son. Apparently other people thought it was something that was missing from our culture too, so now it’s bloomed into something much bigger. And maybe I’m going to have to start describing myself as a children’s book author and illustrator. But that’s a pretty new identity for me.
It’s very hard to say how the artist side has influenced my parenting, especially since my son is just two. Like everyone else in the world, my parents have deeply influenced my parenting, and my father is an artist — so the ways that I value and promote creative exploration and artistic skills development for kids is clearly related to that.
In line with my parent’s values, I don’t in fact have a desire to influence my child to do what I do. I want to offer him the opportunity to select from a broad set of tools, many of which will not be mine. I think that still comes from my upbringing. My father is in performing arts. My mother is in linguistics. I wanted to be a scientist, and both my brother and I ended up cultivating different talents in the “artistic” arena. I’m in visuals. He’s in music. We’ll see what my son’s interests are.
As far as activism goes, I think that’s a bit clearer.
While similar to my views on how much I should attempt to influence my child’s interest in art, like it or not he’s growing up in a family and community where activism is What One Does. He may or may not choose to engage in the world as an activist like the adults in his community do. But the values that shape all our choices — the community we live in, the work we do, the company we keep — are going to be the basis for our parenting decisions as well.
The stereotype is that he’ll reject all of that when he gets old enough. And that’s possible. But as far as parenting goes, we are who we are. And what one would call “activism” in its many forms is a big part of that.
How has becoming a parent influenced your art? Your activism? In what ways do you approach art and activism differently than before you were a parent, if any?
Until earlier this year, my answer would have been, "it’s made me too tired to do anything besides barely keep my head above water". But then I started writing A is for Activist — first just for my son, and then having it blow up into a full-fledged book authoring, illustrating, and publishing project. I would never have done this book if not for my son.
Art (or at least art that is interesting to me) is a form of philosophical expression. Activism is an attempt to influence real world conditions, which is informed by one’s philosophical views. Parenthood is a real world condition that I am deeply enmeshed in. So where do they intersect? In my case, in the form of an A-B-C book!What do you find most rewarding, and/or most challenging, about integrating art + activism + parenting in your life?
The most challenging is of course time management. Art and activism have already merged for me with my day job. So compared to most people, who have to do all three in different time-slots, I have it easy. But I also have to invest time in my community. And in my relationship. And in myself (martial arts being my main activity there). And I only have one child to care for, so I don’t know how other folks do it.
That being said, cliché or not, my son is the most rewarding. So trying to juggle all of this is just what life is.
Thanks, Inno! (And Inno's son!)
To purchase "A is for Activist," click here.
*Jenn's note: I am not receiving any payment benefits from "A is for Activist" book sales. I'm simply promoting it because I think it's awesome.