Welcome to my simple, creative life.

Creativepreneurs: Kathryn Buford

Kathryn Buford is the co-founder of Live Unchained.

I met Kathryn Buford around 2006 when I was a student at UIUC.

I have had the pleasure of following her journey and creation of Live Unchained, a site that highlights women artists across the African Diaspora.

Being one of the sweetest people I know, Kathryn graciously agreed to be interviewed about her art, inspiration and creativity.

What type of artist are you and what is your creative work?

I'm a writer, curator and entrepreneur -- I consider all of these arts.

How would you describe your inner artist?

I would describe her as communal. She most comes alive from the support of kindred spirits. Even if I'm not working directly with someone on a project, just sharing my ideas and getting encouragement to take risks inspires me to create.

How do you prepare to do your creative work?

It's a mix - there's no standard formula for me. I've learned to love the experience of a good creative flood where ideas just come rushing in, I get tingly and have to write on whatever used computer paper, napkin or receipt is nearby. The thing with this is, in the moment you feel confident, but later on, you can second guess yourself. When I prepare to do work after an episode like this, I get really easy on myself and recognize that I may not use it, I may have to tweak it, but I'm going to at least acknowledge it.

More recently, I've just started to think more strategically about what do I want this article or event to communicate and what's the best timing.  

What does it feel like when you’re in the groove with your work?


What do you hope to inspire or accomplish with your work?

I hope to show that you don't need to come from a certain background or have been well-connected to be a successful artist. I want to show people that with the right outlook and strategy you can realize your highest creative self. It certainly takes more than affirmations and positive thinking - though that is essential - it's about understanding the field in which you work so you can master it.

Will Smith once said, "It doesn't matter how talented you are, if you're not skilled, your talents will fail you." What I wanted to accomplish with Live Unchained, where we've feature more than 100 interviews with artists from over 16 countries, is show that even accomplished artists are still grinding, honing all types of skills - people skills, interpersonal skills and trying to be better people.

We focused on black women because I wanted to be an intervention in the media. Too often, dominant representations don't reflect the diversity of our perspectives, experiences and even nations we come from and languages we speak.

kathryn buford
kathryn buford

What artists have influenced you?

Every artist I've featured on www.liveunchained.com. I think the reason people respect us so much is because our sincerity shines through. We've only featured artists who truly resonate with us.

Do you have a tribe? Who are they and what do they look like?

I'm definitely an inter-tribal woman. But, currently I feel drawn to the tribe of quiet doers. I have slowed down output with Live Unchained to work on the next direction we'll take with our recent grant and from new funders. I'm taking my time, thinking things through with my team and getting things in order for a solid re-launch. I say all that to say this tribe of mine is made of the people who know you don't need to peak to soon and don't just want to take pleasure in having accomplished dreams, but in the journey to realize them. We are the people with active goals, we don't dream of having done something, but doing it with visionaries that are just as committed. We know we don't have to choose between the two, but we'd rather play the long game and be relevant than have instant success and be popular.

What are your dreams and goals?

One of my favorite media experts, Ryan Holiday, is also my new favorite philosopher. His thinking on work and life is simple: "Be a good person. Love what you do." The big dream and only goal is to be able to do the good I want through my writing, curation of exhibition and events and any collaborations life wants to surprise me with. I want to love what I do so it doesn't feel like work until the check comes in and I realize how well-compensated I am.

I've already lived out my dreams of working with friends and interviewing artists, activists and intellectuals who inspire me. I'd really like more of that on a greater level - working more closely with the mentors who have become my friends and more interviews. I just want to get better and better at my craft, I want to be put in positions to learn as much as I can.

kathryn buford
kathryn buford

How do you practice self-care?

I have a life coach whom I love. Whenever I reach a roadblock she helps me think of ways to rethink the situation and move forward. I consider meeting with her, someone who has my best interest and success at heart, with no judgement or agenda, a form of self-care.

What does spirituality mean to you and how important is it in your life?

I think spirituality is the practice of honoring your spirit. It's essential everyday because it's how I protect myself from doubt and criticism - whether it's coming from me or someone else. Recognizing that my soul is all peaceful, has infinite knowledge and can never be harmed helps me remember that whatever challenge that's going on in front of me isn't all that's going on.

What advice would you give women trying to discover their inner artists?

This is an interesting question because it reminds me of how I answer the question: "What does it mean to Live Unchained?" To me living unchained means having nothing to prove and nothing to hide.

My advice to someone on the creative journey is this: Don't worry about impressing people with your uniqueness, rich friends, snarky wit or number of Instagram followers. Always do your best in creating and marketing your art - if you have to market it yourself step up to the challenge and learn how to do it well. If you want a meaningful career, this is a marathon not a sprint - take the time to hone your skills.  Don't compromise your integrity for fame. When you make a mistake, forgive yourself as quickly and completely as possible. You have nothing to prove and nothing to hide.

Connect with Kathryn Buford and Live Unchained. 

My favorite quote was, "When you make a mistake, forgive yourself as quickly and completely as possible. You have nothing to prove and nothing to hide." What was yours?

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