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Art and Revolution

A Conversation with Cara Deanes

Cara Deanes is the owner and CEO of the ROHO Collective, an arts organization that strives to embrace, support, and nurture artists of color. Chanda and Cara explore the importance of authentic representation and true diversity in the arts. They also examine why art and revolution go hand in hand.

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Souphak Kienitz  00:04

You’re listening to Conversations with Chanda a Minneapolis Foundation podcast that unpacks the community’s grittiest, most vexing problems hosted by Chanda Smith Baker.

Cara Deanes  00:17

My name is Cara Deanes, and I’m the Executive Director of the ROHO Collective. And we are an organization that supports artists here in the Twin Cities. And we do that in several ways. One, with professional development. We have a youth division where we are supporting young people and their journey of creativity, we have our Heals movements. And then we also support artists by showcasing their work as a organization. And as a leader of this amazing organization. We have over 50 collective members in the Twin Cities and beyond that have all sorts of mediums where they work and create. And we really come together as a consolidated voice here to be able to showcase the work of black art.

Chanda Smith Baker  01:03

Yeah, part of my interest in speaking with you is sort of multi-layered. You know, I don’t know your parents well, but I certainly have been around your mother, Eleanor Coleman and around the education space and greatly admire her. And then your father, Greg Coleman, just retired. He’s certainly a local and national celebrity in the in the sports space. And so, I can’t kind of envision what it might be like growing up with them.

Cara Deanes  01:33

I come from good stock. And don’t make me cry this morning, because they just moved yesterday. And so I am all in my daughter feels. But yes, there a lot of people, it’s kind of funny, some people are like, No, that’s those are my parents. And some people are like, I have no idea that was your family. But definitely, I would say proud staples in our community of folks that just do the work, and have been doing the work here in the Twin Cities for a long time. And as much as possible, just keep their head down and grind in community. And that’s where it comes from. That’s honestly where I get it. They taught us to care, and that we’d have to care about other people outside of those in our home. And that’s been from the beginning. So, it’s really something that is instilled in my brother and myself. And something that I just remember, as a family. That’s just what you did, right? Whether it was like, on Thanksgiving, going to homeless shelter and feeding community or participating in events and you know, going to protests, all that stuff. Greg and Eleanor were about it and made sure that we were in tow with a snack with them.

Chanda Smith Baker  03:00

I hear that, I remember my mom would bring me to things like there were times that you know, something might be at a crisis level, like violence, like what we’re faced with now that I remember her bringing me to community meetings, and me observing her. And you know, it’s one thing for parents to say you should care about something bigger than yourself, I think it’s something else for us to witness them caring about people outside of themselves. So, it’s informed your leadership, like how how so?

Cara Deanes  03:29

Oh, my gosh, in so many ways. And I feel like my, my leadership has been leadership and leadership journey and style even has been such a journey. But actually, me and my brother, were talking about it the other day. And one thing I just distinctly remember, is being a young person, I mean, as young as probably seven, eight years old. And my dad would take me to, like functions with him, like dinner functions. And as you mentioned, my dad is an ex-Minnesota Vikings, so there was always all these different things that went along with the territory with that, and just teaching me that I belong in every space that I go into. I belong in every room that I go into. And that was huge for me because I’m like, the only kid there. I’m like, Why do I have to go? You know, it’s uncomfortable. There’s all these, you know, people that don’t look like me. Um, but that was one of the first kind of experiences I remember of sitting with being okay with who I am and allowing people to be okay with who they are. And so that really just kind of set the stage for me, seeing my dad and seeing my mom in these spaces. And I remember one time my mom brought me to Chicago for this conference that she was doing, I think it was Chicago. And much she let me bring her friend, which I was so grateful for. And we were, of course, the only kids there because it was not a conference for families. But being able to see her on this stage, this powerful black woman, in a room full of mostly non-black women, those things really deeply, deeply impacted me as a young person in how I saw myself, and then how I grow and continue to see myself in spaces that sometimes say, you’re not supposed to be here. Why are you here, especially as it relates to the world of arts and in creativity in the professional realm, so.

Chanda Smith Baker  05:47

And so as you evolved into an older leader, because I’m assuming you were a young leader in the spaces that you were in, but as you aged, and came into your own voice and leadership and discovered your creativity, how did how did you sort of evolve into that creative space?

Cara Deanes  06:07

You know, I think, as a leader, I have been really blessed with being able to have a lot of powerful women in my corner, and a lot of powerful women that were my mentors and bosses, throughout my life as a, as a young adult. And so being able to watch and be a part of such a group. And having an understanding of how to function in the world, and how to function in spaces, really gave me an opportunity to explore, like, they gave me the room and the freedom to fail to ask questions to lead and spaces that I probably wasn’t ready for. And so, I think, being able to lean into that, and grow from that, and acknowledge those times, and those opportunities for myself, has only developed this really deep passion in me to be able to continue that not only for myself, but for my community, anybody in my world. And when I reference world I reference the the folks that I have influenced with the folks that I do community with the folks that, you know, I do dinner with those folks are the people in my world, and how do we advance as a culture and a people? And then how do we allow ourselves to make room and make space for those gifts that we’ve been given to shed light and to really make the world better? And I know, it sounds so corny, to make the world better. But really, like, we really have to do something different. Right? Um, and so exploring those concepts of how do we do that in a very real and authentic and honest way? Because what’s been happening is not working. It’s not working for our children. It’s not working for us. It’s not working for society. So I think that’s really where such a deep passion lies. That was birthed in childhood. And now as like you said, an older leader, I’ll say, more mature. As a more mature leader, what does that what does that work look like? You know, and I think it’s important that we we explore those things, and we lean into that. ugliness. Yeah, and the hard truth.

Chanda Smith Baker  08:55

Yeah, you know, that sort of the cliche, that corniness I want to make the world better, is like it is sort of corny, but it’s often really where most of our hearts and minds are particularly right now about like, I just want to contribute. I just want things to be different. I just need the world to show up in the way that I thought it was. Yeah, the world just show up in the way that it should have been. I need the world to show up in a more just inclusive way. And for some people, it has been mind-blowing, altering, to see a world different than their experiences. So, you know, the question of how are you is become more loaded. But can we just talk about how’s it been for you over the last couple of years and frankly, even the last couple of weeks have been shitty?

Cara Deanes  09:51

Yeah. Yeah, it is such a like you said it, asking how are you used to be Such a simple question. And answering it used to be a little more simple but trying to be in a space or I’m more honest with first of all myself, because I can definitely be a person. So just keep it pushing, keep it moving, I haven’t really been able to move and function quite the same way. And it’s been like that for a while, and just acknowledging that and that’s just okay, like, I can’t do all of the things, I can’t go to all of the places I can’t, you know, move, how we used to move and how I used to move, um, and just acknowledging the different spaces that we have to navigate through and that we’ve been navigating through. The last couple of years in my personal life and my personal journey, all kind of like everything collided. So three years ago, my husband and I were called to adopt. And so, we adopted four children. And that’s been my way…

Chanda Smith Baker  11:12

Wait a minute, let’s just pause there, like at the same time?

Cara Deanes  11:15

At the same time, okay, we are all siblings. And at the time, the babies came, they were eight, let’s see if I can, eight, seven, five, and three. Okay, two boys and two girls love it. And they are a sibling set. And God was just like, hey, I know you have this plan. I know you said what you wanted to do. But I just need you to say yes to this. And it was something extremely transformative in our lives, obviously. So, and then the pandemic shortly after.

Chanda Smith Baker  12:02

I should not be laughing, I should be praying for you, you become a new mom before the pandemic hits. And now you’re homeschooling.

Cara Deanes  12:10

And now I’m homeschooling losing my absolute mom. It was such a wonderful blessing, like looking back at it. You know, in the beginning, I like had my spreadsheets and my schedule. And you know, the snacks lined up. And I’m like, we got this. And you know, I think after the first four weeks, I was like, no, we don’t have this. Yeah, where’s my mom. But you know, it really gave us an opportunity to bond as a new family friend for me to actually have time to explore, that’s really when kind of the transition of my career was happening at the same time. And my legacy and our legacy became so much more important, right? Because now I have these little people who are looking at us and who are looking at me. And so, it became very real. I would say that that experience of, of becoming a new mom and a new parent, became very real for my husband and I and put it in a very serious way of like, well, now what am I going to do?

Chanda Smith Baker  13:17

Your husband’s a creative too. So, I have I have this envision of you all sitting at a table like creating stuff all six of you. Is that what it what it looks like? Or what?

Cara Deanes  13:27

It’s what Friday nights look. And there’s glitter everywhere. And there’s paints on my beautiful table where I don’t want it to be. And I’m like who did that? You know, my husband is an educator for the public schools and an artist as well.

Chanda Smith Baker  13:43

So, around this time, is this when the ROHO collective also was born? Or can you give us sort of the story of the ROHO collective and I think I read what ROHO means, but can you share what that means?

Cara Deanes  13:57

Yeah, ROHO first of all, is a Swahili word. That means soul and spirit. And ROHO really started? Oh my goodness, 10 years ago, when we got our nonprofit status, it was much later in 2015 2016. But ROHO really started with a group of artists here in the Twin Cities that really just wanted to collaborate together, unify, they did different shows together and things like that. And my husband, being an artist was one of the original members. And that’s like, right when we started dating almost 10 years ago. And so, he’s like, I have to go to this meeting. You want to come and then we can hang out or you know, whatever. So, I always feel like I’ve been a part of the whole collective organization. The organization has been around for about 10 years. And then some years later, them realizing they want it to become a 501C3 and nonprofit, they got their nonprofit status. And has always been just a small collective of artists here in the Twin Cities doing amazing work, figuring out ways how to support one another, support their work, and really bring bring voice behind the black art scene here in the Twin Cities. And they had amazing leadership that really worked as a volunteer on a volunteer basis. And we really got to a place as an organization where leadership needed to change for several reasons. And then we really wanted to take the organization’s new level. So, what does it mean for a ROHO to be, you know, beyond this, this group of folks, what does it look like? How do we mobilize? And what is it that we really want to do, and what’s important for artists of color, and so as we kind of expanded that vision, I took on the role of board chair, and was working in that role for a while, and then the previous leader needed to take a step back. And at that time, and in my life, I had put in my resignation at my current job, which I loved. I absolutely loved my job and loved what I was doing. But I knew that there was something more at the time not knowing that ROHO was it. But I was going to be moving into more of a consulting direction with some other passions in my life. And ROHO was like, Hey, it is you, my dear? Yeah, what do you think, and we accepted the role. And it just has taken off, it’s just as applesauce absolutely taken off, for several reasons. But that’s kind of the journey behind behind ROHO. And the organization. But really, what we do as a whole, is really try to do whatever we can to support artists of color. And what does that look like? And so the first thing is the business development. Most artists have no problem being creative, and you know, with their art form. But how do we teach artists how to be sustainable, off of their craft, right? So developing workshops for them. So how to do your taxes as artists, how to write and look for grants as artists, how to do social media, and mass communications as artists to get your work out there. So that’s one piece of it, and then really figuring out how to have artists showcase their work in front of the audience that they want to. And so how do we break down kind of these silos in the art world, where normally folks of color have not had a place? And so that’s the real, that’s the real work. That’s, that’s what gets me up in the morning, is really working with this diverse group of folks. And like, Okay, where can we knock some doors down? To do the work.

Chanda Smith Baker  18:09

You all had an opportunity to have a space inside of the IDs. I actually bought a pair of earrings there yet this week. I went in there looking for some stuff. But how did how did that space come about?

Cara Deanes  18:24

Yeah, so we don’t have a flagship store. We really operate off of our partnerships with community. And the IDS space is just one of those spaces that we’ve had occupancy in. And we actually did it last year, and IDS as well. But then COVID hit. So, we just ended up doing window displays. But we have a relationship with a downtown Council, and Chameleon Shops that is a nonprofit that supports organizations in the downtown corridor, and developed a relationship with them. And in that space, in the IDS building, we have over 32 local artists, selling work representing their work doing all sorts of different events, paint, and sips and all kinds of stuff in that space. So, we’ve been there since Thanksgiving, and we will be there until the end of March. And it’s been such an awesome relationship and an awesome opportunity for us as an organization to be able to explore having a retail space and having a spot where people can go and be and the response has been so beautiful, so overwhelming. So many different people from so many different walks of life coming in the space and being completely overwhelmed just by the beauty and people are always like it’s all this really local? Like yes, all of this work is from local artists, and from local folks that are right in your backyard. So being able to give voices It’s amazing. It’s amazing.

Chanda Smith Baker  20:02

Yeah. So, tell me so you know, I love. I love art, and I have a lot of art in my home. It has been really like I’m wanting new pieces. And I think I even saw an interview that you did where like often I’m going to New Orleans, I’m going to other places. I’m going to Atlanta where I could dependently find black artists to purchase from like a selection. Yeah. So, when outside of ROHO, and I’m assuming this is why you did it. But I want to just like make the point I have a new understanding is, are there dependable places that are retail for people to go and find? Black art?

Cara Deanes  20:48


Chanda Smith Baker 

How can Minnesota, How can Minneapolis right, the home of so many art spaces and places Yeah, be be void of this type of experience and opportunity of showcasing retelling and supporting people from the city that are diverse.

Cara Deanes  21:08

Yeah. That’s that’s the sole reason why we exist. I feel like that’s the sole reason why we’re here is that there has been a lot of and not to discredit the work that other folks have tried to do, that have included artists and artists of color here in the Twin Cities, we mainly we have expanded our folks to beyond visual artists, to now we have dancers and musicians and poets and writers. But how do we collectively bring voice and have that space that you’re talking about my husband, Christopher and I do the same thing like we intentionally go to Chicago, we intentionally go to Atlanta, we intentionally go to all of these other spaces to find and discover and see and feel what the black art scene is there. And you can find it. It’s so beautiful seeing all of these different businesses and ventures blossoming in our community from people of color. But still in the art scene in the art world where Minnesota is one of the key cities in the United States. That’s known for its art, like the Walker is a national museum, MIA, people come from all over the world to see that MCAT like College of Art and Design. Right? So where is that scene here? And to be truthful, there was not one, there is not one. And so to have an organization like ours, to collaborate with all of these different organizations and businesses, is really where we have as an organization found such a sweet spot of really guiding the work, right? Because really, what happened is that George Floyd happened here. And revolution and art go hand in hand, and art exploded here. With all of the different murals with all of the different tags. And, you know, after the uprising, and when the ashes came down, what was on the borders, what was on the, on the walls, what was tagging our city was the art and how we’re feeling and how we’re processing as a community. And so, it really opened people’s eyes up to say, Okay, we do see that art is healing, we do see that art has a place, we do see that it can really lead the way in conversation. And so, taking that road and really plowing through that here in the Twin Cities and beyond and making a voice is, is the work that we’re doing.

Chanda Smith Baker  23:58

Art and revolution go together is a point that I don’t want to have missed. And you often think about, you know, pain, or I guess what I’m reflecting on right now is something that people have said but most recently I heard from Mauri Friestleben over at North as those kids were experiencing a tremendous loss. And on that Friday, the day after they experienced the loss of one of their peers on Dee Hill. They had a black history program that was scheduled. And what she communicated to them, in short, was the Middle Passage when you know Africans were being brought over to be enslaved. And even in that, that horrific journey. There were hymns being sung and music being made as a way for them to survive that moment or you see other sorts of terms I think things are the civil rights movement and the songs of the movement that come out, right? Like the things that connect us and bring us hope and inspiration during really dark times. And it does include other mediums of art. We know it more in terms of the music that emerges from that, but we have seen in our city, and you know, Philando Castille’s mother, Valerie, receiving art, artists from around the world, bringing her art, and then having some of that art displayed at MIA, MIA. And after George Floyd having art being displayed, and many people are wondering, like, Where will these murals go? Where will this art go? How will these artists be encouraged? Do you know where those things will be collected? After George Floyd?

Cara Deanes  25:54

You know, there was a few different collaborations. And to your point, artists, art is a piece of history. If we think of like you said, the songs, and the visuals that come to mind, it’s artists and photographers that capture those moments for us. So, it’s a way for us to be able to track and keep our history. And specific to the art that enveloped in our city, from George Floyd, there’s a few organizations that I’ve heard, that are doing work of capturing those things. And so some of the work that we did, as our organization, went to Minneapolis, public libraries I know of Minneapolis Speaks is a book that was produced that captured visually, all of those things. But you know, for us, it’s like, once we capture those things, what are we? What are we doing? Right? What are we doing still? And how artists are represented in our city? And then what are we doing? And how are we using our voice and our creativity, to continue to create change. And for us as an organization, being out there, on the street, on the ground level, really developed our leg of our organization called Art, Heals, and kind of different to what some other folks were doing and individual artists, all of our works around a community. And it was artists putting some stuff up and being like, no, let’s interact together, let’s open the door of conversation. Let’s open the door of expressing how we feel on this canvas, and then taking those elements and really being able to impact community. So it started a movement for us, where we then you know, went north side and did it where we went south side and did it where we went into neighborhoods and communities like North Minneapolis, where they’re losing young people at a dramatic rate. And we’re working with those young people, helping them express their feelings and their emotions through art. So, our organization is very multifaceted, but with a lot of amazing artists and creators and educators who are also doing this work of healing. As we impact the justice system.

Chanda Smith Baker  28:25

Is one of those artists, I believe is Sean Garrison and Sean, look, I’ve seen his live art all over social media. Yes, my fellow polar, a friend, friend to us here at the foundation as well. Sean Garrison, so he did a live art piece. And so that was an interactive experience.

Cara Deanes  28:47

Yes. Amazing. Just absolutely amazing. And that just goes to speak of, of the quality and, and how, you know, I loved how Sean used his work and his passion as an intersection for talking about in representing young people and speaking about justice in the inequities that have happened in our city and continue to happen and how do we as a young people involved, I mean, as a people involve youth who are the most impacted by what’s happening, and giving voice to them, I just think it’s so brilliant. It’s so brilliant, what he’s doing and what he has going on.

Chanda Smith Baker  29:31

Yeah, for sure. The other thing I think about so Kenneth Caldwell is another artist that I know you have on display as part of the collective in the IDS building, I know he’s part of your work. What’s coming up for me now is a movie where they you know, and all of us from that movie that will go and talk about well, you don’t have no black people on your walls, you know, like no art on your walls that represent the people. And so you We’re starting to see that show up more and more. And I remember going into Martin Patrick over in North Loop. And seeing Kenneth Caldwell’s artwork and Sean Garrison’s artwork, and I walked in, and I immediately felt more at home as a result of that. Yeah. And you know, there’s so many places and spaces in this community that have walls, that have an opportunity to be more inclusive and how they use those walls, whether or not it’s to tell the history of how they came about which I understand the family business is very informative, to understand the history and the journeys and the legacy that brought them to this entrepreneurial space to contribute to our city. But there’s also places that have an opportunity to showcase and to communicate the brilliance that exists and our richly diverse, talented residents that live and give and contribute here. And I know Martin Patrick is certainly one of those spaces, you know, I have you been at all sorts of supporting that work? Or if there’s people listening that that haven’t, they have a wall, there might be some opportunity to think differently about what they have on that wall. What would you say to them?

Cara Deanes  31:21

Yeah, well, Martin, Patrick is a is a great partner of ours. And they helped host one of our very first largest Art Heals events. So we’re so grateful to them and their allyship, and how they work with us and build community. And just like you said, that just you going in that space, and seeing art that’s on their walls, that’s representative of you and your family is, is so important. And it’s so amazing. And it just developed this really cool relationship. It’s so interesting, because literally every day, I get a call from an organization or a space that wants to connect with us, and our artists in that way. And so I think it’s great as we’re building these relationships, and I think what’s interesting is that we’re all learning how to take this journey together. And most of these spaces, it’s never been done that way before. Usually, especially when we’re talking about the corporate spaces, it’s, you know, the architect or somebody on the building team that’s just selecting art out of a book that they think fits aesthetically, with the building, right. And so it’s just mass-produced work. But I think we have a real cool opportunity here in the Twin Cities, and folks are looking at it differently, and saying, well, maybe we could get local artists to do this, maybe we could get, you know, some public art on our walls and not have our building look just the same way that it’s looked for centuries. And so, these relationships are developing and happening in real ways. And what we keep going back to as an organization, is how do we help drive and put our artists in positions where they can grow economically, and where we can have an impact on not just families, but our city. So when an artist is able to work as a full-time artists, in their creativity providing for their family, there’s so many wheels in motion that drive these partnerships in this relationship. So it’s happening. And I think it’s happening in a good and authentic way. And we’re happy to help lead that charge.

Chanda Smith Baker  33:48

Good deal. Is it happening in the corporate space? Is there a particular sector that is more engaged in that than others?

Cara Deanes  33:54

You know, what’s been interesting is that we have a relationship. One of our first relationships started with Mortenson Construction. And that started shortly after George Floyd and they really have many spaces, especially in that Lake Street corridor, and all over the world, their national, of course, but especially in that corridor, of wanting to reach out in a real authentic way. And from I didn’t see the letter, but I heard shortly after their executive, their CFO wrote all of their staff a letter and said, we have got to get more engaged. We as an organization have got to get more engaged, and I can have nothing but respect for that. So gave a lot of their senior staff of color, a lot of liberty to bring organizations to them to help build these new relationships that they had never had before. And we were blessed to be one of those organizations. So, we had some RFPs that were created between us and Mortensen that went just to ROHO collective members. So, I think that’s a way that corporations have gotten involved. We’ve also been working with United Properties on some special projects, they’re putting up a, they own a bunch of new buildings, or buildings and property in the Twin Cities. And then the new four seasons that’s going up downtown is theirs as well. So, there’s all these different opportunities that have been created, especially with people that own spaces and have the access to spaces to be able to put up art, we get so many lawyers that come in the IDS because there’s so many buildings around, so they’re like, okay, I got a budget to be able to buy some art for our building. And I’m like, okay, let’s, let’s do it. Let’s make it happen.

Chanda Smith Baker  35:47

So, I, you know, I walked in there. And so, you know, we’re kind of in that space, too, of needing to rethink our art in our space at the Minneapolis Foundation, you know, if there are if there is a need, and if they don’t see what’s available, or they don’t see sort of a fit that’s in that space? Is there an opportunity to have art commissioned? Is there an opportunity to be in discussion? Are there places we can go and say like, I like this, this artist’s aesthetic. I like how they, it feels like it would fit this piece maybe won’t fit. It’s not the right size, it’s not the right color, but could we maybe talk to them about something that’s available?

Cara Deanes  36:26

Absolutely. A piece of what we also do is just helping to represent our artists, right. And so that’s happening and continues to happen, that folks will come in and be like, oh, I really love this artists work, but we have a really huge wall, would they be able to do something bigger or smaller. So, all of those conversations are happening and connecting you with those that are a part of our collective membership. So, I think it’s just a beautiful way to support the work of local artists and beyond and what they’re doing. So, the answer is always yes.

Chanda Smith Baker  37:03

The answer is always yes, I love it. We’ve talked a lot about black artists. And I’m curious on whether or not there are other diverse groups of folks that also are challenged to sort of have places and spaces for their art to be represented. So, is this scenario of not having places to go in and find artists in the native community? Like is this consistent across all communities of color, where artists are sort of challenged to find space and opportunities to be seen.

Cara Deanes  37:37

I honestly think Chanda is that in all perspectives, communities of color, in every area are always struggling to find space for their voices. I don’t think it’s an easy task, whether you’re an artist, or whether you’re an entrepreneur, or whether you’re an engineer. in a corporate setting, I don’t think it’s ever an easy task for us. But I think particularly in this field that we’re in, and in being in the field of creativity, in the field of art, the voice of our people have really been tried to be shut down, whether it’s, you know, with this new thing within the education realm of not being able to share our story and not being able to read our books, to the makeup shelves, to not being able to have colors that represent our skin tones, there’s just, there’s not an area that you can find where I think people of color are accurately represented. But where I do find hope, and where I do find joy is us being able to create our own pathways, and to validate our own selves and to validate our own work that we’re doing. And so that’s where I feel like, even if there wasn’t a space before, we now have a little bit more access, to create those spaces. And to do it well to do it in excellence. And to do it in a very loud and big way.

Chanda Smith Baker  39:12

Well stated, aside from all the obvious challenges, right, like, you’ve talked about inviting four new children into your life at the same time, as a pandemic. Was that ignore adding our way? Yeah, and creating space for diverse artists and community that doesn’t always see or appreciate or create opportunity, aside from the those things right. And even with those things, you’ve been able to move forward, as you stated in excellence. Have there been other barriers that you’re navigating that maybe would be less obvious that we should know?

Cara Deanes  39:53

You know, I think it’s interesting what we have gone through and where we see ourselves as an organization, where I see myself as a woman leader, where I see myself as a black woman in these spaces, I wouldn’t really say the word barrier, just because I think to be a woman, a woman of color, and some of these spaces to really look at where the doors are open. And what women like yourself, have opened the door for us to be able to do work in new and different ways. And so, my mindset is, if it even feels like a barrier, or like a barrier is looking at the back door of how to get in. And if I can’t get in, how am I going to keep the door open? And so, I think that’s the one part of just me personally, in my journey, where, man, if we were to look at those things, like if, if our ancestors And our grandparents were to look at and call such things, barriers, we wouldn’t be in these positions. Yeah. And so, I have to look at it in the same way for my children like, no, how are we going to get through this? How are we going to collaborate and work together? Because that’s the best way? But how are we going to show one another, that we’re all valuable? And there’s room for all of us?

Chanda Smith Baker  41:26

Yeah, I was, I was in a conversation yesterday, and we were talking about I don’t know, if people really understand sort of the, the issue of disparity and his full extent, right. Like, I think sometimes I’m in conversation, and I believe what I’m hearing or talking to, with someone who thinks it’s individual choice, that led a family or a community of people to this circumstance. And so, you know, when you insert history, which most people don’t get the real understanding of history, but if you don’t get that, right, like thinking about my grandmother, who was born in 1915, in Arkansas, so I’m like, okay, she was born into segregated south. Yeah, right. Not long after, you know, sort of enslaved, like, you can reach slavery. Yeah. And education wasn’t accessible. Right, there was still, you know, cotton picking and sharecropping happening, right, there was a migration, you know, happening and around the 40s, up into the north, for people to find economic opportunity. Think about Brown vs Board of Education. And, you know, in the 50s, or school districts that closed down, completely closed down in like the early 70s, you know, on the east coast, because five black kids wanted to go to school. And that would have been my mother’s generation. And I just, I just sometimes think that where we are, is not that far from where we’ve been, and the tenacity to your point of those ancestors that were able to survive some really deadly encounters, yeah, right. Or encounters that could have been deadly. If you would have just smiled wrong, or looked someone in the eye, or just requested your rights could have landed you in a grave? Yeah. Right. For me to be able to touch that with actual relatives of mine in my lifetime, and to be in conversations around access and disparities. I’m always trying to figure out how to have that conversation in a way that honors the history. And I hope that we can actually get to a point in our state where that history is embraced so that it’s understood, so then we can get to the types of solutions that we need to get to. But if the solutions that we’re creating, excludes that history, then I just hope people know, then you’re excluding the best, the best responses to what has occurred.

Cara Deanes  44:11

Absolutely. And I mean, you know, the statistics better than I do, because of your work in that area. Right. But not only the history, but where we are currently, Minnesota still has some of the largest disparity gaps out of the country. And in education and economic development in home ownership. In all of all, yes, absolutely. Like I said, like you you know it back because that’s, that’s the world that you’re living in and working to change every single day. And we appreciate that and we stand with you in that work, first of all. So just to give that personal shout-out and watching you being so passionate behind the work that you do. I’ve been a fan from afar from a very long time. And I’m like, who is the sister in here doing the work? And it’s just so it’s really important. And we need folks like you on the front lines who have that heart and who know that importance of, of history no matter what facet that we’re in, right, like, my railroad might be art right now. And it was youth before that, and it might change again, but all of it is important.

Chanda Smith Baker  45:37

And our, you know, allies, if that’s the word, I think, I think we get to say who our allies are, I think, you know, I’m not sure if you can call yourself an ally, if you’d haven’t been called an ally. But, you know, for our allies, right, like the Mortensen’s, Dave and Kate Mortensen and their family, and they’re in that company that have been intentional about how they want to be more inclusive, how they want to contribute to justice. Right. The downtown business council, there are people that are making intentional decisions. And that is always been the case. That has always been the case. And I think that those relationships work best in an allied relationship when they’re supporting me, by my definition of support, not necessarily by their definition of support.

Cara Deanes  46:32

Yeah, I appreciate that. I appreciate the allyship. And I think we’re real change for, especially when we’re talking about businesses of color, entrepreneurship, the nonprofit sector is those hands being able to see and not say, well, this is where we think you need support. But us being able to have our own voice behind. Well, actually, this is what we deemed more important. And here’s why. And being able to have this kind of more level playing field of exploration, and access to funding and how funding is being distributed. And that built, built, and can grow our economic wealth or development, and how we function and then support our own communities from within. So, then we can keep that history going, we can keep sharing our own stories, and continue to build on that. I think that allyship is so key and so critical right now. And I think those of us that are in the work can see who’s coming from a place of truth, and continuing in longevity with it, or who’s just using the hot topic words right now, and saying, oh, well, we want to collaborate and do something. You know what the people because there’s a difference.

Chanda Smith Baker  48:05

There’s a difference, there’s a difference? Well, I want to thank you for being the difference. And for your leadership in this space. That is certainly a gift to all of us. I cannot even express again, the excitement that I had when I saw I saw it in the IDS. And it was like I think they were doing inventory or something. The doors were locked. And I was like, what me I need to be in this space, like right now. And so, I think just, you know, bringing visibility into a space that hasn’t been as representative as it could be just certainly warmed my heart, and to have artists like Sean and Kenneth and Charles and folks that I know. And folks that I don’t know are seeing from a distance, I just really appreciate sort of the intentionality of the space and social media that I’ve seen. The awareness that there are, there’s a broader creative community that is diverse and just as talented and capable and needed. And so, you know, an invitation to those listening to just pay attention to a broader swath of artists and out in our community right now. So, thank you so much for being in this conversation with me.

Cara Deanes  49:27

Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me. ROHO is so excited for the future. And we are looking for space and honing on that soon for permanent space. So, we’re excited about that in our expansion and growth just to continue to bring more lights love and soul to our community through creativity. So thank you.

Chanda Smith Baker  49:50

You are welcome.

Souphak Kienitz  49:52

And that’s Cara Deanes and our host, Chanda Smith Baker. If you enjoyed this episode, please let us know @ChandaSBaker or @MPLSfoundation on Twitter or Instagram. Thank you to Sarah Gillund, John Cuoco, and Darlynn Benjamin. This is Souphak Kienitz. Thanks for listening.

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About Our Guest

Cara Deanes

Cara Deanes is a cultivator, activator, and curator of mind, spirit, and soul that aims to create spaces and opportunities for individuals to become all they are created to be. Cara’s professional career started in youth development and has grown. With a strong mind for business, she landed in the development field, doing, grant-writing, fundraising and donor relations, and building strong community partnerships. With this skill set, Cara began offering services to friends and community members that were trying to start and or scale their businesses and plan events and entrepreneurial ventures. Cara thrives in community grass root settings that are organic and with people who want to create a genuine and relevant impact that will be a positive force to make our world better.

Currently, Cara is the Executive Director of the ROHO Collective, a nonprofit arts organization that works to empower and strengthen artists of color. The future vision of ROHO Collective is to find a home base for Minneapolis’ first fine arts gallery, which will showcase artists of color locally and nationally.

Cara is married to artist and educator, Christopheraaron Deanes, and is a mother, which is her most important title.  Along with her family, Cara continues to volunteer her time and support community as a proud Northside Minneapolis resident.