Collaboration Is Often A Better Choice

The local arts scene would be healthier, particularly for Black performing, literary, visual and fiber artists, if there was greater emphasis on collaboration without the need to try and compete at every turn. Most importantly, trying to compete when you have not mastered basic elements of the competition is setting yourself up to fail because either your presentation is so wack no one will take you seriously, or, you are well-known to be a thieving wolf and no one wants to work with you. And, if you are not in either of the two categories above, then, you are alone, open to being victimized or, at, the very least, desperate at times to survive as you go at it alone.

Collaboration emphasizes a strengths-based approach where those who can DO, and in the process, when you cannot, you are in the presence of those who you learn from ultimately. The thing is, however, is, that those of us who believe in collaboration often attract those who believe in using people. These folks stick around long enough to take and take, but, not to build and contribute…because competition had always been at the core of their motives. I believe collaboration should involve at least three people and, if possible, making sure two of the people are not better friends with each other. Making things as equitable in relations initially is important.

I wish I had followed this advice in my early days. Early in the first years of Liberated Muse when I produced a festival with a so-called collaborator, I learned this person was sliming my name behind my back because people were impressed with the organization of the festival and wanted to offer me, not the other person, paid opportunities to help them plan events. I never heard about these opportunities from the other person at all and from others only years later. Of course, when they came to him about opportunities for both of us or just himself, he would take the opportunities for himself. I remember how he was asked to help with the Fort DuPont Park concert series and introduced himself as producing the festival he and I collaborated on and my daughter, around 10 at the time, turns to me and says, “ Mommy, didn’t YOU organize that?”

Erasure is real.

I had shouldered the brunt of the criticisms regarding the festival which had been all decisions by the other person— from hiring the awful sound crew to offering sponsored performances the last year— without knowing how deeply I was being thrown under the bus behind my back and blamed for these awful decisions that were not mine.

I have worked with all kinds and have witnessed how when lack of equitable collaboration exists, what rises to the top is:

(1) Male-domination and a male-focused idolatry that emphasizes that males are inherently more apt in the art form (the poetry and film scene comes to mind with this),

(2) Opportunities  for middle men (non artistic folks) to begin profiting off of artists instead of creatives producing their own events and profiting off of them,

(3) Funding opportunities only available for certain groups, usually those who have recognized the importance of collaboration and have formalized their collaboration through a government entity (LLC, nonprofit) or created an information portal to ensure collaborators are always informed;

(4) Creatives of color having access to brand name venues, visibility and higher paid opportunities only when in close proximity to whiteness and/or wealth.

In short, collaboration is the ultimate. What makes it impeccable is when it involves those with character, shared mission and the ability to put in what you want to get out of the experience.


Learn more about Khadijah at


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