Today we’d like to introduce you to Autumn Breon.
Autumn, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I’m a proud Los Angeles native. I grew up seeing very different parts of the city between my mom’s home in View Park and my Motherdear and Grandaddy’s home in Watts. Both of these neighborhoods have such rich histories and tightly knit communities. They equally define my identity as an Angeleno. Our neighborhood library was one of my favorite places to visit with Motherdear. I read A Wrinkle in Time when I was young and after I finished that book, I knew that I wanted to be a scientist. Specifically, I wanted to be a rocket scientist. My family was super supportive and took me to every science fair, Math Olympics, and Robotics Club meeting.
In middle school, a teacher told me to “consider a career more realistic than rocket science.” He told me that my grades were unlikely because of my “background.” I was the only little chocolate drop in most of my classes, but I had never considered that as having anything to do with achieving my dreams. Those words were hard for me to digest and I couldn’t help but wonder what I had done wrong and what I could have done differently to avoid that type of attention. My family’s support was incredibly pivotal for me to make it to the other side of those emotions. They helped me see that I wasn’t the problem.
Their support and my hard work got me to Stanford. I studied Aeronautics and Astronautics and researched aeronautical astrobiology applications for NASA. I loved my classes and my research, but I noticed the same problem from middle school: I was the only Black girl in many of the rooms that I was in as an engineer. I needed to do some root cause analysis, so I talked to other engineers and got to know educators that researched how people learn. I learned that middle school is when a lot of young people lose interest in STEM. I wanted to test out solutions that might solve this problem of inequity. I founded STEMgineers Shifting Gears, a STEM-focused after school, tutoring, and summer program based in Watts, CA. I was intentional in choosing Watts as our location because I wanted to see solutions that worked in my own neighborhood. The pilot was successful and STEMgineers grew and scaled to other parts of the U.S.
I continued my work in promoting educational equity and examining how education fits into the bigger picture of global human rights. That work led to me living and working in different parts of the world including the African Continent. During some of my trips to the Continent, I attended contemporary art fairs throughout the region. I learned so much about contemporary African art and the ecosystem of the international art world. Art has always played an important role in my life in different ways. I enjoyed museums with my family from an early age, I practiced ballet and modern dance for years, and I had even included art in the STEMgineers curriculum. As I was traveling and developing a more intimate relationship with art, I started buying artwork for people. Buying art evolved into me giving advice about other artwork to buy and sharing the stories of new artists that excited me. A friend and mentor opened their own gallery and told me that my love for sharing art with people was a job with a name — art advising.
Has it been a smooth road?
Like most entrepreneurs, my journey has been full of twists, turns, and detours. I’m appreciative of this type of journey. Most of the struggles that I’ve faced in my career were related to the difficulty of attempting to force myself into a single box or definition. It was only when I fully embraced my complex and multifaceted nature that I could reframe my quirks as strengths. It’s a liberating act to embrace your full self. I’m so much more creative and effective when I show up as my full self. I’ve also learned that my best partnerships and collaborations happen when I can show up as my full self. I used to consider my unique journey a hindrance, but my atypical method of reaching this point in my career is actually an advantage. If I had never been an engineer, I wouldn’t have trained my mind to be as analytical and solution-oriented as it is. This type of thinking is extremely beneficial for running a business.
My journey has also taught me the power of not asking for permission. My work has always been about changemaking, which is based on the reimagination of current systems and ways of thinking. Instead of waiting on permission, it’s much easier and more efficient to hypothesize a solution, test it, and then ask for forgiveness. Changemaking is an urgent matter for me.
We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
Autumn Breon Advisory is a full-service art advisory and creative firm that offers bespoke solutions for private collectors, brands, corporations, and institutions. I strongly believe that art is a universal language with the power to transform the way people think, see, and behave. We use a collaborative approach that centers creativity and changemaking as the bridge that brings clients from their idea to a reality. This includes sourcing and acquiring art for both private collections and public spaces, managing collaborations between artists and brands, implementing creative direction, producing art programming, and curating dynamic exhibitions and experiences that are visually and culturally significant.
Art and creativity are the lenses that I use to reimagine global narratives. My work is inspired by freedom fighters like James Baldwin and many of his ideas influence how I approach designing solutions. I love the way that he described his role as that of a “witness.” I’m most proud of how we use art as a method to accurately bear witness to realities. My goal is not only to reveal truths to audiences, but also to go a step further and inspire audiences to take action. A recent project that I’m proud of is an exhibition that I co-curated at the Crenshaw Dairy Mart art gallery in Inglewood. Crenshaw Dairy Mart co-founder Alex Dorriz and I curated the gallery’s first public exhibition, Yes on R! Archives and Legal Conceptions. The exhibition examines the early roots of movement and organizing work between grassroots organizations over a span of ten years. “Part 1: 2011 – 2013” looks specifically at the conception of Dignity and Power Now, Reform LA Jails, Justice LA, and the many public art efforts which entangled these organizers’ practices. When we began working on this exhibition, these organizing groups had successfully implemented Measure R on the 2020 Los Angeles Primary Elections Ballot. The show opened and soon after on Super Tuesday, Measure R passed by a landslide. The success of the Yes On Measure R campaign and the passing of legislation that will hold the LA County Board of Supervisors and the Sherrif’s Department accountable for abuse and corruption is quite a historic moment. I’m grateful to have participated in history. I was able to bear witness through art.
How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
I consider it my responsibility as a native Angeleno to serve as a conduit between my home and the rest of the world. Although I’m no longer an engineer by trade, I still practice the principles that I learned as an engineer. In fluid dynamics, a conduit facilitates the passage of a gas or liquid between entities within a system. I facilitate the passage of ideas by collaborating both locally and globally through art. This is especially important now and necessary as an industry-standard because the world is more technologically and socially connected than ever before.
As we speak, COVID-19 is sweeping through the global community. This virus is leaving an impact that is unlike anything we’ve seen in recent human history. Just like every other industry, art is being impacted by the new reality that this pandemic has forced us to enter. I’m steadfast in my belief that intentional collaboration can create space for folks to radically dream together, learn from each other, and create a human-centered reality rooted in empathy. That type of thinking and behavior is important now more than ever.
- Website: autumnbreon.com
- Instagram: autumnbreon
Akello Stone, Austin Henderson, Jerome A. Shaw