Artist Nik Ridley is a 45-year-old father of five. The grey in his beard is good for business; folks want to collaborate with experience. He’s from Fort Wayne (most of the Ridleys we profile in the Ink Spot are), lived in Colorado for 17 years, but has spent the last two years in Arizona, a move the professional, full-time fine artist (painting, entrepreneurship) couldn’t pass up. “I had to go where the watering hole was,” Ridley said. “We are transient by nature.” A nice paycheck is cool but opportunities for multiple revenue streams will feed you for the rest of the year. Ridley found those ways.
What has worked for him over these past 20 years is the time he found to create and the resources he has surrounded himself with. Establishing relationships. Generating output, always. The web and social media are huge for him, and there are a lot of potential, higher end clients out in ‘Zona.
Ridley has done it really without having to compromise his art, accomplished, in most part, by being his authentic self since day one, creation one. The key is to establish your voice from the get go, he said, and find those opportunities that allow it to breathe. Black voices have got to be mindful of that.
A good chunk of Ridley’s opportunities developed out of his love of teaching children. His long-game vision…from day one…is to open a SELF-FUNDED performing arts school in Fort Wayne, something like what was portrayed in the movie/TV show “Fame” from the ‘80s, for wayward youth, bolstered with a mental health component, proper diet initiatives, and entrepreneur direction.
As for today, Ridley is the resident artist (visual and performing arts) with the Phoenix Center for Arts and its youth director for six to nine-year-olds. In the last month or so, he was awarded another residency, a collaborative teaching artist program sponsored by Arizona State University Gammage and the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, DC, to teach youth how to sell their art (created through the program) online. “Being a black man working with kids,” he said, “you got a pretty wide market.”
Ridley’s instruction is not theory based, it’s real-world application stuff. You make it, you sell it. “That’s why it works, showing [them] how to use the tools and the platforms that are available to them, other than creating,” he said. Stuff like taking a pair of Converse shoes, painting them cooler, and selling them.
These are six to nine-year-olds so we’re talking, content wise, design variations of flowers, a cactus…superheroes. But if a political statement comes out through the creation, oh well, let it be out. “I don’t want to stifle creativity,” Ridley said. “We need to see more beauty that makes us feel good, let’s give more of that to the world.”
Ridley, who’s been teaching kids since 2001, estimated that 80% of his personal art produced has come from his work as an instructor in the school systems and the nonprofit. He taught music production and computers, but only recently has starting teaching painting. Teaching itself was born from being an artist in the public eye…those previously mentioned relationships. Someone curious and influential saw Ridley’s work, asked him if he wanted to teach kids. “And it snowballed from there,” he said.
When Ridley was 23, living back here in Fort Wayne, he was working with youth at the Weisser Park Youth Center, Euell Wilson Center, and the African/African American Historical Society & Museum of Allen County. Before that, he was at Purdue University, serving as the school’s NAACP President, studying management and African-American studies while he wrote for a theatre troupe. He got into music production; when he shopped some cds of his music around, one of his songs was picked up by a production company and was played in a movie. Background noise to warm a scene…a presence, like a prodigal away from his hometown, noticeable when it’s gone.Nik Ridley’s work, including products and merchandise, can be seen at ArtByNikRidley.com
I run Scrambled Egg(s) Design and Productions, based out of Northeast Indiana. In addition to producing in-house company projects, I also create advertising materials for companies and organizations, with an emphasis on interactivity.