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Picasso Baby: How This Woman Founded A Booming Community For Creatives In Atlanta

Dionna Collins of ComfiArt is changing the game one paintbrush and digital photoshop stroke at a time.

BOSS UP

Press play, y'all. We're getting a little artsy today.

In its current state, visual art has infiltrated our community through everyday influences, music, and ultimately, the overall essence of the culture. A huge component of this is largely credited to the social media generation--where creativity runs rampant and is often highly encouraged, celebrated, and performed. And although art has always been deeply-rooted in black history, it hasn't always been as embraced in the black community as it is now.

But thanks to high-profile entertainers, such as Jay Z's frequent fine art mentions and exhibits like Andre 3000's incomparable Art Basel collaboration, black creativity is finally spotlighting what we have known for generations: we are art.

"Sleeping every night next to Mona Lisa

The modern day version with better features

Yellow Basquiat in my kitchen corner

Go 'head, lean on that shit Blue, you own it."

Come on thru, Jay.

Someone who has certainly cultivated the importance of highlighting artists is Dionna Collins, owner and lead operator of ComfiArt, an artistic ecommerce and community revolution that brings personalized artwork to everyday wear and home decor, by creating exclusive pieces and curated events in collaboration with Atlanta artists. Think of them as an artistry resource network.

Courtesy of Dionna Collins

Showing off her high-energy and welcoming personality, Dionna flashes a nonstop smile. She exudes a fun regalness that rests at the intersection of 'focused'' and 'tireless.' I take immediate note of her enthusiasm as I review her collaboration pieces. Her keen eye for the skilled and unique design is both impressive and satisfying.

As she talks about her day-to-day and we begin to discuss her business model, it's clear that Dionna is the true definition of a boss. "ComfiArt is comprised of three different components: ecommerce, events and business-to-business," she explains. "Being that my main focus is on art, we at ComfiArt like to collaborate with artists to ensure that people are able to afford beautiful artwork in the small pieces that we offer online. Our motto is comfort through art."

Courtesy of Dionna Collins

"Our motto is comfort through art."

Through those collaborations, Dionna is able to offer one-of-a-kind collector prints and event opportunities without the lofty price tag. "Our goal is to make sure that if you aren't able to afford a $5,000 and upward original piece, you can afford original artwork with us."

And ComfiArt is certainly taking a new approach to how they back independent artists. "To me, art is life. Everything you see around you is art. Most people don't think as literal about it and some people think that creators and artists do not need to be paid for their [work]. As part of ComfiArt, I really want to focus on a community of artists and not have consumers have an excuse to say that they cannot afford it."

Totally intrigued, and beginning to review my own personal art collection in my head, I continue to immerse myself in her world. I research further into her arsenal of collaborations and previous works. After a few hours, I can't help but to reference to myself the timeless quote from literary boss, Sonia Sanchez: "The black artist is dangerous. Black art controls the 'Negro's' reality, negates negative influences, and creates positive images."

And the deeper I indulged, the more I admired the safespace Dionna has created for creatives. My curiosity gets the best of me as I ask about her background in relation to ComfiArt.

"I'm originally from Boston, where I lived close to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. I've always loved art and around seven years old is when my mom started putting me in art classes. [Since then] I've always been in the creative space so my journey was more about finding my purpose and learning how to make a living from it," she says.

And as a degreed graphic designer and marketer herself, Dionna has managed to expand her brand from what it was (a website to purchase artist-based home decor) to what it has evolved into: the artistic community it is today.

"In 2016 is when I figured that out and created ComfiArt. I had another company prior to it, but didn't like dealing with the freelance aspect. Me having a Six Sigma Greenbelt--which focuses on processes in a corporation--and knowing how to do web design, graphic design, and internet marketing led me to create my own company. That's where my transition began."

And whether you know ComfiArt from their online pieces, or ongoing discussion series "Design and Muses," Dionna is making her own colorful noise in the industry.

One paintbrush and digital photoshop stroke at a time.

Courtesy of Dionna Collins

So, how does Dionna visualize her brand relevance to culture? Simple. Think of loud, bold, and in-your-face uniqueness.

"The late 90's to early 2000's, that whole era would have been a dope moment for ComfiArt." she imagines. "I remember Missy and her crazy style, TLC and a bunch of other dope artists around that time. What ComfiArt stands for is what that culture was like during that time."

And despite Atlanta being one of the most saturated centralized meccas of black originality, Dionna has managed to find and understand her niche through involvement with platforms such as Essence Fest, AT&T, UP TV, and more. Her passion for her vision surrounds her like an illuminating light. I take a moment to celebrate her as we discuss the process of how artists can work with her.

"Our focus is really out-of-the-box when it comes to the artists we select to be a part of our community, and when it comes to the approach we take in how we strive to appeal to the masses. When I started as a pillow company, I learned that I wouldn't be able to live off of being a home decor business alone, so I had to rebrand to help grow my income and expand my audience." She continues by describing her audience as art enthusiasts, event coordinators, people that love unique items, creatives, home decorators and people who like to stand out from the crowd.

"When I started as a pillow company, I learned that I wouldn't be able to live off of being a home decor business alone, so I had to rebrand to help grow my income and expand my audience."

I reminisce on how far she's come and we take a quick moment to discuss her favorite artists in Atlanta (Miya Bailey, Dr. Fahamu Pecou, Zarinah Dennis and Marryam Moma), her hobbies, and her overall inspiration (her beautiful daughter, Madison).

As for the ultimate vision for ComfiArt? She lights up again.

"Our main purpose is to help artists find alternative ways to build financial wealth and merge the gap between brands and artists.I want to be the company that brands call to find artists, while simultaneously being the brand that artists can come to to find contracted work and expand their experiential realm."

Yass, sis. Picasso, baby.

For more info, email Dionna and her team at info@comfiart.com to join the movement. And follow ComfiArt on Instagram.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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