Dejha Carrington builds opportunity and community around the transformative power of art
“If art has the power to change minds and lives, we all have a stake in our transformation.” This is how Dejha Carrington encapsulates the democratizing thread that runs through her multi-pronged, multi-organizational work in and beyond, in her words, Miami’s “fertile, promising, and evolving” art scene.
Born and raised in Montreal, Carrington moved to Miami in 2005, back when Art Basel Miami Beach (and Design Miami) were just coming to life. As an arts administrator, she’s had a front row seat to the impact that international audiences have had on the Miami art community. Carrington, for her part, has become increasingly dedicated to interrogating the art world’s exclusionary tendencies, which too often relegate art to the domain of the most privileged among us. Wearing multiple hats and forging new models, Carrington is proposing new systems to empower voices that have been left out of the mainstream art conversation, making the art world more representative of the one in which we actually live.
As Vice President of Strategic Communications at YoungArts, Carrington plays an active role in fulfilling the Miami-based national foundation’s mission: identifying promising young visual, literary, and performing artists around the US and providing them with game-changing opportunities to build their careers. In her separate role as the co-founder of Commissioner—a membership program that invites locals to pool their resources to acquire the work of artists in their communities—she has opened up art collecting to a more diverse and community-engaged demographic while forging vital relationships between Miami-based artists and their art-loving neighbors. Through these two positions (which are not all that she does!), Carrington broadens access to who can be an artist while opening up the possibilities of what arts patronage looks like.
With great admiration, we reached out to Carrington to hear more about her unique perspective on what happens when more people can direct and enjoy the transformative power of art.
On your website, you say that you are an arts administrator. What does that phrase mean to you and to all of the projects that you make happen?
To be an arts administrator is to be of service to artists, ideas, and community. It’s at the intersection of vision-dreaming with artists, elevating our stories, and bringing people together.
Tell us about your work for YoungArts. What are you most proud of so far?
Working in communications at YoungArts has offered me an invaluable opportunity to connect with some of the most brilliant artists of our time and to lead a team of exceptional writers, designers, publicists, and content creators.
Most recently, we kicked off YoungArts’ 40th season by rolling out a new creative identity with astonishing designer Paula Scher of Pentagram. We love how this identity focuses on a wordmark held by a set of brackets, a graphic motif that conveys what is so special about YoungArts—an organization that identifies the most accomplished young artists in the country, invites them into a creative community, and supports them throughout their artistic lives. As part of our rebrand we introduced a new website, officially shortened our name to YoungArts (formerly National YoungArts Foundation), and launched our signature application for artists 15-18 years or in grades 10-12 with a fresh, dynamic look.
As we look toward the future, I’m excited to see where the YoungArts artist community will take us and how our language, design, and storytelling will be guided by their powerful voices. At the heart of my experience at YoungArts is a commitment to elevate artist stories and to center the artist in everything we do.
What was the vision behind Commissioner, and how has the project developed since?
Commissioner is a membership program that connects locals to gifted contemporary artists in Miami. Collector members receive new artwork every quarter, deepen their knowledge about the arts, and visit artist studios, collector homes, and unexpected spaces in the city.
Rebekah Monson and I co-founded Commissioner in 2018 because the art market needs a bold, community-driven overhaul. By mobilizing our community’s collective power to support artists, we have thus far commissioned more than 500 artworks and offered programming aimed to dismantle barriers to collecting art. More significantly, with support from partners and collaborators, , our members have together invested in artists reimagining our Miami. We believe the future of arts patronage is collaborative.
Can you tell us about a few artworks that have been created for Commissioner?
Together with curatorial partner Primary, we approach every artist commission as an opportunity for exploration and learning. As a result, the artists we collaborate with are often diverse in identity, interests, medium, and material, yet share an artistic rigor, urgency, and authentic desire to connect more broadly with locals in their communities.
Season Two artist Johanne Rahaman, a documentary photographer and founder of BlackFlorida, produced a series of 10 dyptics juxtaposing images of carnival in Miami, Goombay in Key West, and life in Trinidad. Morel Doucet, the second commissioned artist of Season Three, created unique ceramic sculptures for each of our members. Embellished in gold, the midnight blue collection titled Night Garden: In Moonlight The Stars Chatter was inspired by a poem he wrote during quarantine, in which the garden is a metaphor for the passing of time and a site of leisure, congregation, and reflection.
Multidisciplinary artists Typoe, Kelly Breez, Adler Guerrier, Jamilah Sabur, A.G., Susan Lee-Chun, Juan Pablo Garza, Misael Soto, Gavin Perry, GeoVanna Gonzalez, Chire Regans, and Pepe Mar have all participated in the program over the years. It’s been a process and a joy.
What does it mean to be a collector in your view?
It’s a pledge of support to artists that says: I believe in your vision and will use my influence and network to share your art as authentically and deeply as I possibly can.
What’s next for you?
Commissioner recently partnered with New World School of the Arts to accelerate support for visual arts students by introducing them to local collectors who are excited about emerging talent. I’m looking forward to collaborating with NWSA Dean O. Gustavo Plascencia—and to kicking-off Commissioner Season Four and YoungArts in the fall.
Lastly I’ll add that as Miami’s artist community grows, it’s just as important that we support that strong arts writing and criticism rooted here. While our story is not yet written, it should be documented, interrogated, and ultimately preserved.
Thank you, Dejha! ◆