Alanah Nichole Davis: You are someone I consider a multi-hyphenate, someone who expresses themselves creatively through a multitude of ways. For folks who may not know, what are those mediums and how did you come to them?
Sharayna Ashanti Christmas: I’m a cultural worker, but first and foremost I’m a dancer and most people know me as a dancer. I grew up in Harlem going to The Dance Theater of Harlem and dance is still a large catalyst for all of the stuff that I do. I have a ballet school under my nonprofit umbrella Muse 360 Arts called Rayn Fall Dance Studio and have run both since 2004. I’m celebrating 16 years of running both the dance school and the overarching nonprofit and am always expanding as an artist. I feel like I’m always becoming, never being.
Tell me about Necessary Tomorrows and how it was born.
In my aforementioned and always evolved “becoming,” I founded Necessary Tomorrows in 2017. Everything I do usually starts with me saying, “Am I really doing this?” As if I’m not wearing enough hats. In 2017 I was consulting and on the operations team that was opening Ida B’s Table, a restaurant local to Baltimore owned in large part by The Real News Network. I was there from before the ribbon-cutting, all the way until 2019. Early on there were certain aspects of my role that I hated, as I’m not a restauranteur. I did assert that to my team and pitched that I wanted to get more into the design of the restaurant and the artwork, and they immediately agreed. That’s when I began to spearhead an effort to commission artists like Webster Phillips and his late grandfather I. Henry Phillips Sr., Rodney Herring, and Ernest Shaw to populate the restaurant space [with their work]. Then I said to the team, “Well, we have this parlor space in the back, let’s do some shows?” And we did some shows. That’s how Necessary Tomorrows was born.
Why birth Necessary Tomorrows when you did?
I was at a point in my career where I wanted to use my expansive skill set in different ways, to be honest. I wanted to maximize the opportunity to have [exhibition] space. I believed in the future of NT before I even created it. I wanted to create more of a livelihood for artists. It’s fine for artists to just make work and not sell it, and if that’s what folks are fit’na do, I get the connection and intimacy of that. But for me, being at a new restaurant like Ida B’s, I had an opportunity to not only expose the work of artists I worked with but to sell it. I also knew that I could protect them. With the knowledge I have from my business degree at Morgan State University I created a contract and started to do a lot of business for artists. So even though this wasn’t a formal gallery, it became an arts intermediary.
Sounds like a lot of early success with Necessary Tomorrows and a lot more “becoming” for you personally. How has Necessary Tomorrows grown to support artists in Baltimore and beyond?
I have worked with a lot of artists through NT that have been very successful. I saw myself morphing into this—I don’t want to say “curator,” but definitely a person that was creating a space for artists to thrive. Every first Tuesday of the month we would have an opening and it was very, very packed. We would have programming around that. We would sometimes sell 100 percent of the artwork on display, ALL the artwork gone! I created opportunities for people to hear from artists through a series of 13 shows with 27 artists from 2017 to 2018 in Ida B’s, which was crazy. Then I realized that that’s too fucking much… I was like, “Girl (to myself), you cannot do a show every four to six weeks.” I had to take the work down, hang the work, and create a catalogue, it was a lot. But I was in a space of curiosity and I was in the space of journeying. I found out then that I wanted to use my skill sets to help out help Black artists by giving them a platform and making sure that they know that they’re thought of and that they’re seen.
I also created an opportunity for Black businesses to acquire artwork. Those businesses would buy work to furnish their law or doctors’ offices and I used to facilitate those sales and commissions. I was busy. It was great. But then it wasn’t, and it wasn’t great. That’s the reality of it, it’s not something I do to make money but sometimes I just do things to let Black folks, Black artists know that they can bring themselves to swell with autonomy and that they can make a living doing it. I love to give back to the community like that.
How many pieces have you sold in 2019 and 2020?
$42,000 in those two years, eleven pieces from April to August of 2020. Ten percent of those sales usually go back to the Necessary Tomorrows Black Creatives Fund. I don’t take a commission.
Should all Black people be collectors?
What are your thought patterns as a cultural worker and what do you think about day to day? Tell us a little bit more about what’s under the umbrella of Muse 360 Arts.
I’m always thinking about ways that I can use the modality of ingenuity. It’s really about using that ingenuity that we have as black folks to help our community rise up and help our community be seen. It’s not really always about overcoming because those things happen anyway, but it’s more so about how can I do that? With Muse 360 I was able to do that not only with my dance school, but also by creating a study abroad leadership program called New Generation Scholars where we work with young people. We also have Spark of Genius, which is a creative entrepreneurship project for youth.
You’ve done so much to change the arts and culture game for and with others. Where are you situated as an individual artist?
People don’t know all the work that I do cause I don’t like to put myself out there in that way, but I’m starting to now. As an individual artist, I find myself now in the multimedia space. I was actually going to have an exhibition in May of 2020 that got canceled (we know why). That really challenged me to think about all the modalities that I’ve been exposed to and have played with over the last almost 20 years. I now find myself in the space of textiles, sensuality, repurposing movements that are not just dance, but sound pieces and sound movement. Even styling is something I’m getting into because people say I’m stylish and I know I am stylish. I’m not going to shy away from that! [laughs] I am and I’m owning it. I’m just finding ways for all of those facets to play into my work. It will all just completely change the game for me.