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Life & Work with Dr. Auburn Ellis

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dr. Auburn Ellis. 

Hi Dr. Ellis, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
Since childhood, I have always been an avid lover of the arts. Before the age of ten, I can recall visiting the Kansas City Black Archives on a field trip and encountering the artifacts and artworks of past centuries, in addition to being enamored by the castle-like architecture of the building. Museums and art-making have always fascinated me. My collegiate studies were focused on becoming a maker and opened a path to having my own space. The original Studio 54oo started in 2012 in Chicago. While writing my doctoral dissertation, I became involved with the arts community and started a body of visual work based on social justice experiences in the local education system. Art became a vessel for empowerment and community revitalization. 

My educational background contributes immensely to the curation and presentation of my work. With a Masters in Museum Education and Doctorate in Adult & Continuing Education, I also specialize in curating workshops and training rooted in the fact that we should not assume that racial tolerance is happening, but rather it occurs through our commitment to recognizing systematic inequalities and dedication to eliminating them through our actions. 

Born and raised in Kansas City, I decided to return in 2017, which prompted the launch of Studio 54oo in Midtown on Troost. When we opened the doors, in addition to teaching yoga, I hosted a myriad of community events including Art Dance Yoga Expo, a free event featuring artwork sales, live performance, and a collective of local vendors. It provided an authentic and organic experience at 55th and Troost, an area that was working to be re-defined at the time. I also founded an event called Art and Yoga Flow, which combines an hour of yoga instruction and an hour of artmaking, 

Fast forward to 2020 and the death of George Floyd, there was an explosion of protests locally and nationally, Studio 54oo decided to shift focus from art and yoga to social justice initiatives. Delving back into my educational background, I launched an Anti-Racism Crash Course for the public and the response was phenomenal. Every month I hosted a three-hour session open to anyone. As a result of the popularity of programming, I picked up several clients both locally and nationally. Local clientele included Evergy and Charlie Hustle. National clientele include Foodbuy and Corepower Yoga. We work together to create unique programming rooted in the multi-racial, multi-generational battle for change. 

Currently, I am working with the Vine Street Sight Studio, located in the Historic 18th Vine St. District. Ironically, it is the same space that housed the original Black Archives from my childhood memories. I am doing educational consulting for an informal collective of Kansas City-based creatives and entrepreneurs. The STEAM Innovation Project encompasses a Film & Audio Production Studio in the heart of the Urban Core. It provides opportunity for local corporations to have access to creative and technical aspects of audio/visual communication. This is an endeavor I am proud to take on to amplify Black business in the KC area. 

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
When I relocated here, it was difficult to manage dual studios, so I had to make a commitment to Kansas City and the growth here. There are always struggles when you are community facing. When launching the Anti-Racism Crash Course, it took a toll on some personal relationships because of my viewpoints on inclusiveness, especially with some organizations I was already actively working in. Despite this challenge, being community-centric is a commitment that I made a long time ago. In all programing, I strive to be authentic and organic and promote servant leadership. 

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I am a ceramic artist, who is very versatile in 2-D and well as 3-D work. My pieces explore the use of traditional mediums for art reflective of the African Diaspora. I see art as a method of story-telling and a vessel for change. Rooted in ceramics and three-dimensional design, my work pushes the boundaries of texture and rhythm. During Master’s studies at the Art Institute-Chicago, my scope of work included shows in Chicago, Prague, Italy, and Post-Doc research in South Asia. I also consider writing a form of art. My recent publications and lectures focus on visual art as a form of advocacy, restorative justice, and community revitalization. 

We’d be interested to hear your thoughts on luck and what role, if any, you feel it’s played for you?
Luck has played a part in recent endeavors. I have always had a mission of uplifting BIPOC in personal and professional settings. With the rise of COVID-19 businesses were forced to quickly adapt to protocol changes for a safer workplace. I presented the challenge to potential clients to prioritize diversity and inclusion with the same enthusiasm. It gave opportunity for businesses to re-open with a plan to address both COVID-19 and DEI&A whether it be in the onboarding process or continuing education for current employees. Luckily, the pandemic has exposed some deep wounds in our culture that people are finally ready to address. 

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1 Comment

  1. Dria'

    November 8, 2021 at 1:08 pm

    I love Dr. Auburn and her mission to empower and educate the community in which she grew up in. Bringing her worldly experiences back to her roots to help plant and nurture the seeds in her home town to grow.

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