Settepani brings home-cooked family values to NYC with traditional Italian comfort food and Panettone. This family restaurant and bakery in Harlem serves delicious quality meals inspired by how their mothers and grandma made them.
Since their founding, the Settepani family kept close family ties enduring everything together.
Throughout the pandemic, the Settepani family grew closer with one another and their community through food. This Mother’s day, they have a set menu that celebrates mothers everywhere with dishes inspired by motherly love.
We spoke to Bilena Settepani, the enthusiastic young woman who helps run the show and the daughter of the Settepani family.
Family Values inside Italian comfort food
The pandemic was a hard time for many businesses, including restaurants. Despite the fears of uncertainty, Bilena and the Settefpani family came together to fight those tough times. The family ties can be tasted on their regular menu, including Italian comfort food.
“The beauty of working with your family that is older, is that I learn so much from my dad, and mom and we just all learn from each other”
Their regular menu is a casual and inviting dining experience that makes everyone feel like family. Modern spins on traditional Italian dishes don’t take away from comfort. Each dish is served with simple, fresh ingredients and cooked in traditional ways.
Food is not the only thing that’s comforting. The Settepani atmosphere feels like home. The staffs smiling and friendly manners make customer interactions gentle yet inviting. The overall decors are beautifully casual with a modern finish, making it the perfect in-between for business meetings and casual dining.
“A lot of people are coming into Harlem who had never been to Harlem before, we’re giving an impression let’s make it a good one”
Settepanis Bread and butter is Panettone.
While the Italian comfort food is splendid, Settepani is a bakery first and foremost. Mouthwatering baked goods are Settepani’s bread and butter. No pun intended. Settepani is famous for its year-round homemade Pannatone, a sweet Italian bread typically baked with dried fruit.
Making Pannetone from scratch is a four-day process. A Traditional Pannetone is typically served at family gatherings and holidays. Settepni puts a modern twist to the traditional Italian desserts by adding lots of different creative ingredients every month.
“What made us stick out is that we make panettone all year-round, and my mom is the biggest panettone fanatic”
Ingredients like M&Ms, Nutella, peaches, and anything else Bilena could think of making Settepani’s Pannetone fun and exciting. Each Pannetone flavor of the month excites customers.
You can also find french toast panettone on their brunch menu.
Italian comfort food cooked with motherly love
“For me feel good food is something when I’m eating it makes me happy, so these dishes represents motherly love”
As mothers day approaches, Settepni is cooking up something special to celebrate mothers day. You can find traditional home-cooked Italian comfort foods, such as passatelli in Brodo or Baccala Alla Messinese, and so much more.
The set menu dishes are casual and straightforward that remind you of home. The dishes
I tried the cotoletta di vitello alla palermitana, but with chicken instead of veal. A traditional panfried chicken cutlet seasoned with parsley and parmesan. The essence of Italian comfort. The flavor was transcending beyond comfort. The aroma of the parsley cooked in butter hits your appetite before the flavor does.
The taste is not overwhelming, making it cozy and easy to eat and enjoy. The panfried chicken is not oily. However, it pairs well with the refreshing salad that includes some of the freshest tomatoes you’ll ever have.
“We should never take our moms for granted, they’re the first people to ever know you’re existing, they’re the first people to ever love you, and they’re the first people to give you unconditional love”
The smooth richness of the fried butter doesn’t combat other the flavor of the ingredients. The traditional taste makes this dish a nostalgic experience that earns this the title of being Italian comfort food.
Bilena and the Settepani family celebrate the love that brings their family together every day. Not just mothers day. Delicious home-cooked Italian comfort food and a staff that makes you feel right at home to make Settepani the place to eat in Harlem if you’re looking for something casual.
From 1991 to the present day, we would go from there being zero Asian owners in American major sports to having 6, including one woman. So what changed? We can all look to a little Japan-based video game company that decided to take a big risk.
Businessman and President of Nintendo at the time, Hiroshi Yamauchi, became the first Asian-born owner a US pro-sports franchise when he purchased the MLB’s Seattle Mariners in 1992.
His administration would go on to turn the franchise around with the likes of Ken Griffey Jr. and they even paved the way for the first Japanese star to cross over into American sports and succeed with Ichiro Suzuki in 2001.
That decision paid off too as Suzuki is considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time. He may never have received a chance to showcase his talent on a worldwide stage if it wasn’t for this deal.
July 1st marks the 30-year anniversary of this historic event that changed the game and while they may no longer own the Mariners, Nintendo really did
The presence and influence of Asian leadership have been imperative for opening more doors for the Asian community. These 6 current Asian franchise owners in US pro sports are leading the way
Kim Pegula, Buffalo Bills & Sabres
Kim is a Korean-American businesswoman that was born in Seoul. At 5 years old she was adopted by an American family and needless to say she has flourished into a great success. In 2011, she and her husband purchased the NHL franchise, Buffalo Sabres. And they wouldn’t stop there.
Three years later they would also purchase the NFL’s storied Buffalo Bills. In 2018 she officially became President of Pegula Sports and Entertainment, which made her the first woman president in the history of both the NHL and NFL. Her presence as an Asian-American sports owner is not only helping pave the way for people of color but for women as well.
Shahid Khan, Jacksonvill Jaguars
Shahid Khan is a Pakistani-American magnate. In 1967, at the age of 16, Khan moved to the United States. He would go from washing dishes for $1.20 an hour to graduating college with an engineering degree.
Khan would excel in the automotive manufacturing industry and go on to buy the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011. Upon becoming an Asian sports owner, in 2012 he made the cover of Forbes Magazine as the face of the American dream.
Dr. Edison Miyawaki, NFL & NBA
Dr. Edison Miyawaki was born in Honolulu, Hawaii and was raised in Hiroshima, Japan. He went on to attend high school back in Hawaii and then played baseball at Loyola.
“Doc” has always been a sports enthusiast and even before he became one of the few Asian sports owners, he helped to assist Hawaiian student-athletes to realize their sports dreams.
In 1994 he became the first Japanese-American to purchase an ownership interest in an NFL franchise. He became a minority owner of the Cincinnati Bengals and also invested in the NBA’s Boston Celtics.
Vivek Ranadive is an Indian-American business executive and philanthropist. He grew up in Mumbai India and showed a high level of intelligence at a young age.
He would go on to graduate from MIT with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. Vivek would continue to get an MBA from Harvard Business School as well. In 2010 he became the first person of Indian descent to have ownership of an NBA franchise, the Golden State Warriors.
In 2013 he would sell his share of the Warriors and Vivek and his partners would go on to purchase a majority share of the Sacramento Kings. He currently holds the position of chairman with the franchise as well. It’s wild that he arrived in a position of being an Asian sports owner as he never touched a basketball until after the age of 40.
Joseph Tsai was born in Taiwan and then became a naturalized citizen of Canada. Tsai would attend Yale and go on to become a successful lawyer.
His journey took a random turn and by way of his network, he partnered with Jack Ma and eventually became the executive vice-chairman of Alibaba. In 2019, Tsai and his wife Clara would become the majority owners of the Brooklyn Nets.
They also headed the group that owns the WNBA team New York Liberty as well as the MLS franchise LA FC. To say Tsai embraces the role of being an Asian sports owner would be an understatement.
Warren Woo is the founder of the National Hockey League’s Breakaway Capital Holdings. In 2007, his group took ownership of the Nashville Predators. A graduate of UCLA and Stanford, he found a love for hockey as he attended LA Kings games in the late 80s.
Warren is a true fan of the sport and supports and advocates the creation of additional opportunities for people of color and for socioeconomically disadvantaged groups. He isn’t shy about being open in regard to his Asian pride.
Shmackwich is taking a New York City food classic and elevating it to new heights by upgrading its ingredients with their signature gourmet wagyu beef chopped cheese.
On the surface, the gourmet wagyu chopped cheese represents New York Cities’ rags to riches story, but beyond that, Shmackwich is the best quality in New York.
The low cost, essential ingredients, and quick deliverability make this an absolute go-to at every bodega. However, Schamckwich is thinking beyond the corner store with wagyu beef.
Shmackwich operates during the day at Solaro on 13th Carmine street in the West Village. This New York City food pop-up creates sandwiches that you can find on the streets and at a penthouse party. The gourmet wagyu chopped cheese is a representation of rags to riches.
“We touching some more money now and we want to upgrade how we live. You can’t put the finest designer on you and not the finest food in your body”
– Jordan DiNoia co-founder of Shmackwich
Cooking from the studio to the kitchen
Like many food ventures, Shmackwich started selling gourmet wagyu chopped cheese on Instagram. Midi, Jordan, and Sib are the minds behind Shmackwich. The trio came from different backgrounds but ultimately found a similar passion for food and culture.
The name Shmackwich came from Jordan’s idea for a cannabis-infused sandwich that would leave diners “Shmacked.” Taking a page from the Pizza Pusha, Stoned Pizza playbook, Jordan wanted to deliver a bougie experience to everyday people. Although their everyday menu doesn’t include a cannabis-infused sandwich, your taste buds will be shmacked
“Food is my church. Its the last real untainted place for human interaction in the world, people can sit at a table and only focus on breaking bread for that moment”
– Jordan DiNoia co-founder of Shmackwich
In his travels and experience cooking, chef Sib was fascinated with Wagyu beef. Sib treats the kitchen like a music studio by composing recipes. Each ingredient built into a gourmet wagyu chopped cheese works together instead of combating each other. Making great food and connecting with people on a higher level is what drives him.
“Food is more than something you need to survive. Its something that creates community and breaks barriers”
Midi bridged all of this together in his studio in downtown Brooklyn. Midi was more than an average foodie. His passion for exploring food and culture was borderline religious.
The way he spoke about food was philosophical and enlighting. He and the Shmackwich mission to push the chopped cheese sandwich as something that can bring eaters together is what makes them an NYC food success.
“The chopped cheese is bigger than a deli sandwich. Its culture, its hip-hop, its late nights in the studio”
-Midi Co-Founder of Shmackwich
What makes a gourmet chopped cheese better than a regular chopped cheese?
The ingredients for a chopped cheese sandwich are simple. Chopped up wagyu beef, cheese, and bread make a New Yorks’s classic sandwich. The Schmackwich gourmet Wagyu Chopped Cheese takes this concept to a whole new level.
Grilled Heritage Wagyu beef is chopped and topped with artisanal cheese. Their home blended spice packet and the secret sauce give the wagyu a distinct personality without taking away from the natural flavor. This is complemented by fresh vegetables in between fresh-baked bread.
The gourmet wagyu chopped cheese solves all the problems the regular chopped cheese has. The traditional bodega chopped cheese sandwich is messy. The meat spills and the cheese is suspiciously watery.
The binding reaction of fresh, thick artisanal cheese with high-quality meat makes eating less hassle with a Schmakwich. The fresh ingredients make the gourmet wagyu chopped cheese-less oily leaving you feeling satisfied.
You can taste how each ingredient works with the other like a beautifully choreographed dance.
“The reason why so many companies are successful is that they focus on their product. The whole thing at Shmackwich is the product, and we never do a wack product”
-Midi Co-Founder of Shmackwich
Collaboration made gourmet Chopped Cheese
The Shmackwich gourmet wagyu chopped cheese is a first-class sandwich for those with a refined palate. Behind the scenes, however, they’re, in every sense of the word inclusive. Collaboration is the ingredient to success.
Shmackwich emphasis on using fresh ingredients is more than just marketing. The gourmet wagyu chopped cheese is, by all definition, New York City food. By keeping their ingredients locally sources, they can keep their carbon footprint low and keep track of where everything is produced.
Shmackwich collaborates with local businesses to provide ingredients for their gourmet wagyu chopped cheese. In doing so they created a metaphorical dinner table where the best New York food establishments build relationships and converse on a common level.
“How we were born was collaboration, therefore how we will live will be through collaboration as well, and how we will die will be lack of it”
– Jordan DiNoia co-founder of Shmackwich
More than just a sandwich
Food brings everyone together. The Shmackwich trio understood that the dinner table was a common space and that dining was a language that all New Yorkers spoke. The iconic New York City food classic that represents struggle is now a symbol of prosperity.
“This is healing, this love food is everything for us. It’s freedom now for us. Before it was sustenance, now it’s allowing us to be who we want to be and be our own bosses.”
ADCOLOR founder Tiffany R. Warren has one mission — diversifying the workplace.
Recently, a California judge struck down a law mandating corporate diversity, a measure many believed was necessary to increase the numbers of underrepresented people in boardrooms. The time for industry leaders like Warren couldn’t come at a better time.
Warren is geared up to quite literally add diversity to the workplace.
Her foundership and presidency of the non-profit community organization ADCOLOR have crafted a whole new vocabulary for the working world, leaving the days of monochrome sameness behind.
“I’m trying to make an army of accomplices so that we can shorten the time for equity,” Warren said.
Warren boasts new ideas in the name of diversity and inclusion. She designed newfound titles like her current Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer role at SONY which allowed her to break the mold within the age-old creative industry.
Have you ever thought about diversity and inclusion?
A question she constantly asks, spotlighting the pressing need for diversity.
But if Warren was going to make a change, she was going to have to start from the bottom up.
From sugar dots to FAFSA forms
“Enterprising behavior is in my blood,” Warren said.
The Boston native grew up with entrepreneurs all around her. She had her own versions of Oprah Winfrey and Jeff Bezos.
Examples of tough love and resourcefulness gave Warren the perfect background to nurture a business mindset just as she entered her teenage years.
Rewind the clock to Warren’s fifth-grader self as she burst through the door boasting her co-valedictorian status. High fives from her cousins didn’t stop her Grandmother’s indifference.
“‘Okay, what’s next?’,” Warren said, recounting the rude awakening.
“I didn’t have a lemonade stand but … she was my greatest teacher,” Warren said about her early days in the business world.
But Warren’s first taste of business training was unorthodox, to say the least.
From her Grandmother charging her 10 cents for sugar dot sweets, to her Mother that made a trade out of helping Warren’s friends. “[My mom] was a whiz,” as Warren was reflecting on her mom filling out FAFSA forms for incoming college hopefuls.
The realization for the need of diversity in the workplace
The ADCOLOR founder was certainly no stranger to success. The high-achiever was consistently at the top of her class and graduated from Bentley University with a Liberal Arts degree.
Yet Warren’s scholarship was rarely paired with a sense of inclusion, “I had been in rooms since pretty much the fourth grade, where I was one of two people of color,” Warren said.
The business mogul always made sure to include herself in multicultural networks, through roles like her Presidency of Bentley University’s “Black United Body.”
The further up the career ladder Warren went the less diversity she saw.
There was simply no place for Black, Asian, American Indian, and Native Hawaiian leaders and innovators.
So Warren took matters into her own hands.
“That’s ADCOLOR magic”
ADCOLOR has “become a verb and a noun … it’s in the hearts of people,” Warren said.
There’s a buzz going on within the creative industry, pushing ‘ADCOLOR’ into everyday vocabulary.
It’s an organization that’s a testament to the strength, power, and ingenuity within the black community. ADCOLOR brings attention to shining stars and their lack of inclusion.
After ADCOLOR’s 2005 founding, Warren looked to pioneer the inclusion of black and brown workers in creative industries – especially those at the top of their game.
ADCOLOR aims to be the torchbearer of diversifying the workplace
“I have it a lot easier because of Martin Luther King. I have it a lot easier because of Coretta Scott King and Malcolm X,” Warren said with a subtly confident smile radiating across her face at how she herself is going to push the history of black greatness that little bit further…
ADCOLOR is renowned for its annual awards show. Every year they honor newcomers, rising stars, and seasoned experts.
Additionally, their conferences allow critical voices in the creative sectors to rise up.
It’s like a blueprint. “If people can see it then they can be it,” Warren said.
“When I launched, people actually told me that I would run out of people to honor in three years,” the ADCOLOR founder said about the doubt and alarming lack of diversity people believed there to be.
However, 2022 will see the 16th and 17th anniversary of the ADCOLOR Conference and Awards respectively, smashing previous expectations out of the water.
Despite starting out as just a conference, ADCOLOR now boasts several different facets that make it stand out from the rest.
ADCOLOR Futures and ADCOLOR Leaders have innovated the way ADCOLOR operates, leaning into the organization’s motto of “rise up and give back.”
Futures acts as a “true family,” Warren said. The program allows for young individuals at the precipice of their careers to excel.
While the Leaders program is a pillar for the experienced without support. “Even at EVP, I’m still a learner. I’m still curious,” Warren said. The program seeks to give its members even more of what they already have: experience.
All the initiatives behind ADCOLOR add a greater richness to diversifying the workplace.
“When I go back to my office, and I’m one of two, I know that I have a whole army that’s behind me [now],” Warren said, “that’s ADCOLOR magic … it’s like my mantra.”
The grind doesn’t stop
ADCOLOR and the founder won’t stay complacent.
“I create, I make it happen and then I keep it moving,” said Warren.
The mogul’s accolades are tough to keep track of.
From Broadway co-producer and TONY winning hopeful, Warren’s “Thoughts of A Colored Man” graced the stage for 76 shows. Alongside ADCOLOR’s Emmy nomination, where she produced a concert in partnership with CMG and Wyclef Jean.
Warren seems to dominate whatever creative industry she feels like taking a spin at.
Boasting her 25th year in the Equality and Inclusion sector, the SONY EVP is mindful of keeping her humility.
The assignment still remains.
“Staying humble and staying hungry and staying on assignment,” Warren said are her mental go-tos whenever she gets overwhelmed by the success stories already behind her.
Warren is aware of the role she was given.
“I’m not being punched or kicked or hosed,” like her freedom-fighting predecessors, Warren said. Her mission? Diversifying the workplace for all. She won’t be distracted by personal wins and will keep fighting the fight.
Letting go of your baby, or bringing it on stage
Despite Warren’s accomplished portfolio, her biggest success has nothing to do with diversity or business at all.
It’s letting her loved ones shine first.
“My biggest achievement is being a really great aunt,” Warren said. The businesswoman has brought her niece on stage at the end of every ADCOLOR Awards to say goodnight since she was two years old.
“I just love her so much and I look forward to seeing her become the woman I know she’s gonna be,” Warren said.
Letting others take the spotlight always came with ease. Still, letting go of her life’s work wasn’t natural.
“‘I only know what is right for ADCOLOR!’,” Warren said, mocking how tightly she used to hold on to her bundle of joy before she was able to let the micromanaging go.
“[Now] it’s making sure that everybody at the table has a point of view,” Warren said – reflecting on ADCOLOR’s past eight years of passing the torch onto the next set of visionaries.
The Diversity and Inclusion expert now sees herself in the role of mentor, taking inspiration from Tupac, Warren “‘may not change the world, but [hopes to] inspire the person that will’.”
The wins Warren has under her belt have changed the world of diversity and inclusion, but the entrepreneur will not give in.
She will continue to make a change and diversify the workplace.
One classroom, work office, telecast list, and Grammy nomination at a time.
Many are speculating whether or not Doja Cat is serious about retiring from the rap game.
Throughout the years Doja has been killing the game, writing songs true to herself and her audience, however, that soon may end. Doja Cat’s retirement announcement was made on March 25 following several heated back and forths between her fans.
Many of her followers demanded an apology.
Fans accused Doja of being rude, and aggressive in response to the replies on Twitter. Following her performance at the Asunciónico music festival being canceled due to a major storm, Doja took to Twitter heated.
A week after her announcement she received her Grammy for “Kiss Me More” with SZA. In an exclusive with Entertainment Tonight, Doja Cat briefly addressed retiring from music. Focusing solely on having a good night, she dodged the question as best she could.
Is Doja Cat Retiring? She dodged the question in the interview
Doja Cat’s retirement from music says a lot about the relationship between fans and celebrities. Is she done for good or does she need a break for her mental health?
Many rappers before her claimed to retire and even showed signs of how terrible their mental health has developed from the music industry. However, for many emcees, it’s hard to stay away from rap.
What could other rappers who said the same thing can tell us about Doja Cats’ retirement?
1. Lil Wayne: how music can defeat artists like Doja Cat
The exact date for Weezy’s retirement is up in the air. On multiple occasions, due to the controversy behind The Carter V, the rap superstar has announced his retirement.
Weezy’s first retirement announcement came in 2012 with MTV. His commitment to retiring became more serious as he was facing a legal battle with the label Cash Money in 2016.
In a tweet, Weezy has expressed the defeated mental health the music industry caused him.
The Carter V was finally released in 2018, however, this wasn’t the end of Weezy’s music career. He would soon be featured on artist tracks such as Kendrick Lamar and DJ Khaled.
Jay-Z’s retirement story is interesting but not much can be said about the Godfather of rap in this case. Jay-Z retired back in 2003, after releasing The Black Album. This however was a marketing tactic.
Three years later he would drop Kingdom Come and many more. He found “retiring” at the peak of his career would only make his next few albums more popular.
Jay-Z would end up dropping back-to-back hits, making that 3-year retirement worth it. His fame wasn’t just limited to rap after his return. The Carters would be a household name after marrying Beyonce.
3. Logic: Could Twitch be a new route for Doja Cat in retirement?
Logic is probably the most recent rapper to step out of retirement. His retirement story is also pretty strange. After the release of No Pressure, he left his rap career and became a pro streamer on Twitch.
His personality attracted a wide audience and was a refreshing change from music. With an ecstatic personality, herself could Twitch be a new route for Doja Cat in retirement?
In less than a year he came out of retirement. His announcement came as a nod to Micheal Jordan. Logic’s unretirement letter posted on Twitter is a duplicate of Jordans, modeling the same format and similarly released by their respective lawyers
4. 50 Cent: Found a place in TV
50 Cent’s retirement came unexpectedly after a chart battle with Kanye West in 2007. Leading up to Kanye’s iconic album Graduation and 50’s Curtis, the duo would have heated exchanges where he said he would stop putting out solo albums if Graduation sold more records.
The feud between the two was great for marketing, and fans loved the beef, however, in the end, Kanye’s Graduation topped Curtis.
The rapper never really intended to retire. Losing the chart battle with Kanye didn’t exactly do him any favors in the music industry. In 2009 he came out of retirement and released Before I Self Destruct, which wasn’t exactly competing well with others.
Thankfully he found a place in entertainment as an executive producer for Power. Could TV be a lane for Doja Cat after retiring?
5. Nicki Minaj icon for women in rap
Nicki Minaj is one of the most controversial rappers who retired and unretired. In 2019, Nicki tweeted she was retiring from music, to focus on her family. She left her fanbase the “barbies” freaked out all over Twitter.
She would later clarify that tweet in an interview with The Shade Room. Nicki was only thinking about her future when she posted that tweet.
“So the retirement was kind of talking about my album, meaning like, ‘Do I want to go back and record my fifth album? Where do I stand with it now?’” she told the Shade Room.
When do cherry blossoms bloom? Spring has arrived in New York City and one of the first signs is Cherry Blossom pictures. Also known as sakura trees, these eye-catching plants, sprout beautiful white and pink leaves every year for a short period of time.
The Cherry blossoms are a beautiful representation of New York City’s rich history of diversity. Much like many New Yorkers, the trees are not from the U.S.
What a strange thing! to be alive beneath cherry blossoms”
When do NYC cherry blossoms bloom?
It is difficult to predict when in spring the Cherry Blossoms will bloom. Climate and daylight contribute to when they’re ready to show off their foliage.
Aside from that, the appearance of the sakura differs with each stage of bloom. The best time for cherry blossom pictures is when they peak. Not only that but the trees don’t stay in bloom for long.
Are we outside, tho?
Sakura trees only hold their blossom for 10 days or around 2 weeks. Our friends over at the Brooklyn botanical gardens are updating us with “Cherry Watch” so you know when the right time is.
As a result, you need to capture your aesthetic NYC cherry blossom pictures quickly for your Instagram followers.
1. Brooklyn Botanical gardens
Top of the list is The Brooklyn Botanical gardens. The Gardens pay homage to the trees of Japanese roots in their Hill-and-Pond Garden. Here you will find an authentic Japanese torii or the red arc gate shrine.
In Japan, they are used to identify sacred spots. These gates make a great addition to your cherry blossom pictures by showing respect to the Japanese culture they originated from.
Sakura Park is named after the 2,000 sakura trees planted in New York. This park features the most common type of sakura tree in Japan, the Yoshino cherry tree. The Yoshino cherry trees were gifts planted in Riverside park from Japan.
Blockchain started as a revolutionary technology capable of transforming the financial world, but the decentralization trend has spread everywhere to touch many aspects of our lives. The latest buzzwords in this emerging industry are the non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and the metaverse.
The latest report from Nonfungible.com shows that NFT trading exploded last year by 21,000% to hit $17.6 billion, and momentum keeps intensifying. While 2020 was the year when NFTs got the attention of crypto nerds, these tokens are now going mainstream.
Earlier this month, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced that his mega-popular app Instagram was ready to add NFTs to the platform, although we don’t know more details about the integration as of today.
The metaverse trend is following a similar path. The trend has exploded recently the same as NFTs did in 2020, also thanks to Facebook’s rebranding to Meta.
While it used to be associated with the entertainment industry, the metaverse will touch upon a lot of use cases and is also enjoying adoption among big names. According to US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) filings dated March 9, American Express – the world’s second-largest payment processor – is exploring this emerging trend.
The company is seeking to secure trademarks on software for a virtual environment for entertainment and an NFT marketplace.
While the two trends can be implemented for a lot of use cases, they most often overlap for online games and entertainment platforms. The latest example is Onliners Metaverse, an NFT platform still in development, which will eventually become a large metaverse ecosystem.
What Is Onliners Metaverse?
Onliners is promoting itself as a metaverse of 8,000 so-called Onliners “who are trying to fit in this world.” The ecosystem starts with an NFT collection comprising a maximum supply of 8,000 units, which will define the community for the upcoming metaverse. The platform uses themes and concepts related to the age of the internet.
The NFT collection will feature many different things that “online” people could have or look like. The goal of the metaverse is to let users find look-alike characters and feel one with them. There will be hundreds of unique features, costumes, and gadgets representing online communities, such as crypto enthusiasts, artists, gamers, musicians, traders, students, anime fans, writers, developers, and many more.
The Onliners Metaverse will be launched in several phases, with the ultimate goal to build an interactive ecosystem that allows users to hold NFTs that represent them. Here are the main components of the upcoming platform:
Onliners community – to begin with, the team behind Onliners will build a strong and healthy community to ensure the long-term success of the project.
A powerful community that supports and understands the founding team is imperative for achieving the subsequent goals. Thus, the team, which comprises about six members, will establish a strong bond with the community through AMA sessions, events, and keep everyone up-to-date.
Onliners treasure vault – the team plans to save 15% of OpenSea royalties revenue for various project operations that will encourage the community.
For instance, not everyone can have the digital assets to buy their own Onliner, given the price increase after mint. Thus, the team will use the treasure vault to buy the floor and conduct giveaways for the community, and make some people happy.
Onliners merchandise – the Onliners team wants to encourage the community to feel one with the project even when off-line.
The community will decide on the merchandise they want so that the most voted NFTs could appear on those. Onliners will collaborate with big clothing brands as well.
Onliners charity – while the internet seems to be omnipresent, only about 60% of the world’s population has access to it. Even today, four out of ten people are totally off-line.
It means they cannot enjoy the same tools for communication, education, and entertainment. The Onliners Team plans to donate $50,000 to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) so that people in the poorest countries could buy computers and have internet access.
Onliners season 2 – there will be another launch of new NFTs, traits, and animated characters. Loyal community members will have reserved allocations.
Metaverse – finally, the NFTs will act as a gateway for the upcoming metaverse, which will represent an online virtual game where one can use his/her NFT as an avatar, with custom attributes, strength, and abilities. There are more plans for the ecosystem that will be announced as the project grows.
There are three ways to get your own Online NFT: you can get whitelisted through giveaways or by supporting the community on Discord, join the public sale, or purchase the NFTs after being listed on OpenSea, the largest NFT marketplace out there. The date of the launch will be announced soon.
Shoe tutting is a unique art form and one Filipino-American dancer, Jeremy Tiongson, is looking to make it a staple of dance culture.
Jeremy Tiongson’s unique combination of incorporating shoes with a dance style known as “tutting” has become an entertaining and innovative form of dance. He is hoping to make shoe tutting a more prevalent form of dance.
What is tutting, tho?
Also known as @Angles_TV, the Filipino dancer’s shoe tutting has helped make a name for himself in the viral dance community. Luckily his grind over the years of perfecting this craft prepared him for this moment. Now he plans to capitalize on it.
The response from the dance community was extremely positive. Mario Lopez even took notice and interviewed him on Access Hollywood.
Ever since Jeremy Tiongson was a kid, he had a passion for both shoes and for dancing. As he mentions in our interview, he would go as far as to save his lunch money every day until he had enough money to buy new sneakers.
Now, Jeremy is focused on continuing to innovate and level up. To make this possible, he needed to develop a love for the art first. The Filipino dancer is hopeful the popularity of his niche content will continue to grow. He hopes that his shoe tutting will eventually land a sneaker deal.
But it all started in his early days when he first started dance battling.
As he got older, Jeremy discovered the dance battle scene in the Bay Area. He was inspired by the top dancers and their ability to grow such a large and loyal following.
Jeremy was committed. He would travel across the country to pursue his passion and participate in battles. Some that didn’t even pay the dancers. He was spending entire paychecks to travel to battles and compete for free. Experiences like this would help the Filipino dancer find more supportive audiences.
“Back then, what I was doing was more accepted on the east coast. They embraced what I did. This made it easier for me to be a part of that culture and community out there. It took a while,but a lot of different opportunities popped up.Working with other dancers started to get me some more local support which is something I have always wanted.”
The Only Constant is Change
Society, technology, and dance are always evolving. It is important to stay true to yourself, but you also need to evolve as well.
He needed to transition to taking his focus from battling to content creation. He found that it was more advantageous to be able to do things on your own terms. This is how shoe tutting was born.
“I’m really into innovating and pushing this tutting style to where it’s not a sub-style. I want it to become a main style indance. To a point where it’s okay for people to want to become a tutter.”
Smooth Seas Don’t Make Strong Sailors
Although Jeremy has experienced lots of growth and success, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. Today, so many people experience several internal struggles, from mental health to finding purpose.
The same is true for the 27-year-old Pinoy dancer from Daly City, California. In today’s world of dance, tutting is still not as widely used. During our conversation, The Filipino dancer stressed the importance of not quitting the things you love to do.
“Keep doing what you’re doing. Try not to let the outside opinions of other people affect you or get you off your path.”
He continued, “When I was 17-20 I was being told that what I was doing wasn’t real dancing. It was very hard to hear as a kid. Stick with what you love, and everything you want will all come. Just stay true to yourself and keep doing what you’re doing.”
Tough Times Don’t Last. Tough People Do!
At one point in his journey, he had taken a step back from dancing. He almost gave up on it. The pandemicaffected everyone — physically, emotionally, spiritually, and financially. After losing his job, Jeremy was lost and in need of a new direction.
Many people can relate to this and have experienced something similar. The key is how you respond and how you can pick yourself back up after you’ve been knocked down.
The Filipino dancer showed the world you could get back on your feet by putting your shoes on one hand at a time… Chris Brown even took notice of the shoe tutting sensation.
Jeremy isn’t close to reaching his final form yet. He is looking forward to growing with other dancers and becoming a more consistent content creator. Outside of dancing, he would like to be able to help others with their social media strategy and content creation.
“I would love to push tutting to a broader audience so people could see it for how beautiful it is.”
Jeremy does one-on-one private lessons from time to time. In the future, he plans to start his own dance studio and even host battles. Everyone will come to a crossroads or a hurdle along their journey. Remember, you just have to do what you love and follow your feet.
Who would’ve thought MRIs, audio, and music would cross paths? How do you ease the worries of a hospital patient strapped inside of a whirring, radioactive magnetic tube?
It’s a puzzle that MRIaudio CEO Spencer Howe set out to crack as a bright-eyed college graduate in his parent’s garage just over a decade ago.
The pieces have since fallen into place, and the Carlsbad-based entrepreneur has swept the fruits of his labor into the imaging rooms of over 1000 hospitals and health clinics worldwide.
After a statement year that put MRIaudio on the map with its patient-driven technology, the intrepid entrepreneur spoke of the values and experiences that road mapped his entrepreneurial journey to success.
MRIaudio joins the mix
Spencer Howe’s MRIaudio is making strides in a niche of medical technology focused on improving patient comfort.
Once a solo act without a dime of venture capital to his name, Howe now presides over a multi-million dollar company that posted $3,500,000 in revenue by the close of 2021.
MRIaudio has sold more than 3,500 units of its flagship technology to a clientele of leading health service centers including Sharp & Children’s MRI Center in San Diego, Scripps Memorial Hospital, UC San Diego, and Rayus Radiology.
A marquee partnership with GE Healthcare over the past year alone tripled MRIaudio’s business “overnight”, Howe says.
More significantly, for the Carlsbad-based founder, the numbers represent the realization of decade-long efforts to improve the quality of patient accommodations in an industry already rife with tragedy and life-changing moments.
“MRIs are considered to be an uncomfortable procedure. A lot of patients get anxiety and claustrophobia,” Howe said. “The presence of music and communication help alleviate that stress when a patient is undergoing an MRI scan.”
Magnetic resonance imaging is one of the most frequent procedures done by diagnosticians across the country. The average MRI center may scan anywhere between 10 to 20 patients per scanner.
“If you assume that each system we’ve sold helps 10 people per day, we help 30,000 patients each day complete their MRI scan and reduce the number of patients that require a sedative,” Howe said.
MRIaudio is not the first or only company to tackle the issue of integrating audio systems into MRIs. However, up until now, delivering audio to patients has come at the cost of sound quality due to the engineering challenges involved.
“An MRI at its basic level is a giant magnet. Most traditional headphones use magnets to create sound. So traditional headphones are not MRI compatible,” Howe said. “Most other companies that make MRI sound systems use piezo ceramic speakers which are MRI compatible because they are non-magnetic, but they only produce high frequencies.”
“This compromises the sound quality the patient hears,” he said. “I wanted to create a system that produces a full frequency response: high frequencies and low-frequency sound, bass.”
Howe consulted with a career audio expert who had plied his trade at Bluetooth speaker company JBL Audio. The pair sifted through ideas before settling on an older piece of engineering: tube television.
“Back when tube televisions existed, the magnetic speakers on the sides of the TV would interfere with the picture,” Howe said. “As a solution, the engineers building these tube TVs actively shielded the speakers.
This means using an opposing magnet as a shield on the speaker which significantly helps cancel out the magnetic field.”
The perfect fit
It was a perfect fit for what MRIaudio wanted to achieve. A test run carried out by a speaker manufacturer confirmed that the engineering was sound.
“As it turns out the lower frequencies produced by the actively shielded speaker did a much better job masking the cacophonous sounds produced by the MRI,” Howe said. “With our MRIaudio system, the patients could better hear the music which reduced their awareness of the loud noises produced by the MRI.”
The breakthrough on full-spectrum audio delivery to patients during MRIs has garnered plaudits from the medical community.
Radiology Supervisor at Mount Nittany Medical Center Sherry Piper says that her staff at the facility’s Outpatient MRI center has “not stopped raving” about the system’s effectiveness and breadth of functionality.
“This system has proven to be the best MRI system that I have used in my 30-year career,” Piper said. “It provides adequate volume, even for people with hearing issues. It provides a vast selection of music including Pandora, I-Heart, Tune-in Radio, and Podcasts.”
The veteran radiologist was also impressed with the service provided by Howe and his team.
“Spencer was extremely helpful from the first phone call to the end result,” Piper said. “The pricing was excellent and they worked with our schedule to complete the installation.”
Service is the golden rule for MRIaudio
For Howe, customer service is the lifeblood of his company and his identity as an entrepreneur and founder.
“I joke with MRIaudio team members that we are a customer service company that just happens to make MRI sound systems,” he said. “Quality customer service means delivering what you promise and continuing to take care of the customer after the sale is made.”
MRIaudio provides a 30 day trial period for customers weighing whether or not the audio system is the right fit for them.
“If a prospect decides not to keep the system, the invoice is voided,” Howe said. “The only customers who move forward are the happy ones.”
The company also offers complimentary installation. Howe was frank in his assessment of the policy.
“We don’t make money off of installation, but it makes the customer’s life easier,” he said. “Our motto is to make the customer’s life as easy-as-possible.”
Howe has made it a point to make every aspect of his customer experience as convenient as possible. MRIaudio will also replace a broken component after warranty expiration overnight for free, for example.
“It is both satisfying and promising to hear a customer say ‘wow are you serious, that was so easy, thanks!’” Howe said. “And the next time they need to buy another MRI sound system, they call us.”
Howe says that customer service is an underrated tool to garner success as an entrepreneur, especially as a means to subvert catastrophe and create winning opportunities.
In one incident, a trusted customer — a mobile MRI distributor who outfits his fleet with MRIaudio systems — had been working with a major Boston hospital that had already been set back by other technical issues.
Tensions had already come to a head when the hospital reported that their MRIaudio system stopped working. With his reputation on the line, the distributor contacted Howe directly.
The CEO immediately helicoptered to Boston later that night to personally troubleshoot the system.
“The only issue with their MRIaudio system was that one of the cords had become disconnected,” Howe remarked. “It took me less than 10 seconds to fix it.”
Every single second paid for itself in dividends.
“That same very large hospital in Boston was so elated… that they bought 7 more MRIaudio systems,” Howe said. “Even though I knew I could help repair the system with phone support, they wanted me onsite. I obliged and showed up with a positive attitude — I consider this to be a win/win deal.”
It’s one of the five core values that Howe has hammered into the fiber of MRIaudio’s identity.
“When you walk into MRIaudio’s office the first thing you see is our company logo and our 5 core values,” Howe said. “Every employee knows these core values and they are an integral part of decisions we make.”
Win/Win:“Every deal should benefit both parties whether that be with a customer, a supplier, or internally.”
Teamwork:“I am a huge believer that if you want to go far you should go together. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. Working as a team keeps everyone aligned and aware of what is going on outside their department.”
Simplicity:“I believe that the easier a product is to use and a procedure is to follow, the more it will be used. We try to make all of our products as easy-to-use as possible.”
Positivity:“Having a good attitude is critical to being successful. We spend most of our time at the office — we should enjoy it. That’s not to say there aren’t hardships at times, but facing a challenge or an obstacle with a positive attitude helps improve the quality of work and increases your chances of crossing the finish line.”
Celebration:“I believe that both big and small victories should be celebrated. Whether that be a high five, a company barbeque, or some other form of acknowledgment. We have a Gong in the office that people are encouraged to ring; for example when a sale is made or a big order is shipped.”
Each value goes a long way in fulfilling the basic requirement of customer service that has been the bedrock of MRIaudio’s story. Howe hopes that the wider corporate culture will one day adopt similar standards of customer care.
“Personally, I often feel disappointed with the customer service I receive and I don’t think I am alone with my feelings on the standard of customer service we’ve gotten used to,” Howe said. “I think often as companies grow, they try to cut as many costs as possible to increase their bottom line. I imagine they mistakenly see cutting customer service costs as an opportunity.”
Customer service satisfaction has been dropping since the start of the 2010s, according to a report by the American Customer Satisfaction Index.
“I think that skimping on customer service is short-sighted because you will eventually lose your customer base and damage your brand. I would argue that current customers are more important than new ones.”
At the end of the day, the experiences of customers or patients are a direct representative of the trials and tribulations Howe had to overcome to build MRIaudio to what it is today.
A trip to the University of Wisconsin was enough to assure Howe that what he had set out to do was worthwhile.
“I was on-site while they were scanning a patient. The patient successfully completed their scan and thanked me afterward for installing an MRI sound system,” Howe said. “She was extremely complimentary of how the music helped her complete the MRI scan without needing anti-anxiety medication.”
“To me, this is confirmation that the product really helps patients and serves its purpose.”
The founder is already thinking about how to further improve the patient MRI experience. The company is working on an MRI-compatible display so that patients can watch video entertainment during scans.
Going it alone
Amidst the whirlwind of his company’s recent success, Howe loathes to forget where it all began: the nebulous days when even selling just ten audio systems seemed like a distant impossibility.
Reeling from a dissolved partnership and working without venture capital, Howe had very little else to rely on other than himself while navigating through the genesis of MRIAudio.
At its conception, the company flew under a different moniker. Global Imaging Source, Inc, was founded as an MRI parts brokerage company by a college friend of Howe’s at the University of Colorado Boulder.
It had seemed like a perfect union. The pair was on a balcony of a mutual friend’s wedding when Howe’s friend made the proposal to work on a new business idea together. Intrigued, Howe accepted.
The idea of an MRI audio system drew them together, but after several disagreements, the pair decided to part ways, with Howe plowing ahead with the project despite having no experience in the medical sales industry, he says.
The young entrepreneur was left with just an idea, a machine, and an open room to work with.
“Every day was hard and uncertain at first,” Howe said. “I had to figure most things out on my own, without damaging a multimillion-dollar MRI machine — fortunately, I never did — I had no capital and was building the systems in my parent’s garage.”
Despite the novelty of the challenge, he was determined to prove that he had the frame of mind to plow through. “I have always had an entrepreneurial mindset — MRIaudio is not the first business I started,” Howe said.
He first ran a business earlier in his college career as the owner of a house-painting franchise for College Pro Painters.
Keeping the faith in MRIaudio
“I didn’t make very much money, but I did get a firsthand education of how businesses worked,” Howe said. “This motivated me to start another business. I was actively seeking another opportunity.”
And so with no capital and a steep learning curve to scale, Howe set to work to make the most out of the opportunity he had.
Howe used whatever he could get his hands on to build his first MRIAudio systems. An old computer speaker. An amplifier. A bundle of standard cables. A desktop microphone. Whatever he couldn’t salvage, he built on his own, though he was beginning to discover the limits of his resourcefulness.
“The primary system component is called an audio transducer which I had to custom design,” Howe said. “I built the first transducer out of pinewood. I knew a hospital would never purchase it and that it needed a more professional appearance.”
Bridging the gap in manufacturing quality was a necessary step, albeit an expensive one for a company without any venture capital.
Howe pinged his collegiate network, hiring a student from ITT Tech career services to design a CAD (Computer-Aided Design) speaker box. With the blueprints in hand, he pitched his project to roughly 50 different manufacturers over the internet.
Scrolling through quotes ranging up to $50,000, he began to feel discouraged. Then he spotted a $5000 quote from a family-owned factory in Tecate, Mexico. Howe grabbed his passport and drove down to the Mexican border from San Diego.
“One of the brothers picked me up and drove me to their factory about 10 minutes away,” Howe said. “I explained my situation and that if this product worked I would continue to order and we agreed on a total price of $3,500 for ten transducer speaker boxes.”
The deal was on after he field-tested the system’s compatibility in a local hospital. With the product coming together, Howe began to tend to other elements of his business, doing whatever he could to save funds along the way.
He spent late nights on his website to bridge the time difference working with a web developer based in India. He tapped a fellow student to design the company logo and used vista print to print business cards and brochures.
Sensing the markings of a proper business coming together, Howe turned his attention to cold calling and traveling to trade shows over the next year. The process, however, proved to be one of the most harrowing experiences of his entrepreneurial journey.
“Cold calling was free and I had plenty of time,” Howe said. “Anyone who has made cold calls knows it can be discouraging. The idea of starting a business was extremely exciting, but my initial sales proved to be more difficult than I thought it would be.”
In its first year, MRIAudio posted just $40,000 in revenue. At that point, Howe had little to no established clientele or feedback to gauge whether or not his efforts would come good.
“I spent almost all my time in my first year in business making cold calls. There was so much uncertainty whether MRIaudio would be successful, or whether I was wasting my time. I didn’t know if I priced the equipment properly, I believed I had designed a good product, but that wasn’t confirmed by any customers,” Howe said. “I had faith it MRIaudio would be successful, but I was so discouraged at times that I felt like giving up.”
Howe attributes many of his hardships to the intrinsic difficulties of ‘bootstrapping’ or starting a company without any outside investment or venture capital.
“In a lot of ways bootstrapping is a harder road,” he said. “If an investor would have offered me money when I first started, I probably would have taken it, although I would have regretted it now.”
The entrepreneur says there are plenty of upsides to bootstrapping, although he admits that the perks aren’t necessarily immediately clear.
“When you bootstrap you don’t have money to do all the things that you want to grow your business,” Howe said. “You carefully have to decide what is absolutely necessary and allocate your money to that cause. Because of this, I probably didn’t waste as much money as I would have had an investor given me $100,000.”
Living at his parents’ home also left Howe with fewer financial obligations, which created easier conditions for him to bootstrap MRIAudio. Now living independently, Howe admits that having investors would go a long way in terms of being able to have steady income if he started another business now.
Still, Howe swears by the financial liberation of forgoing venture capital.
“If you can get through the growing pains of starting a company organically, bootstrapping is a beautiful thing,” he said. “You don’t owe anyone anything, you don’t have a board to report to, so you can focus on long-term strategy instead of worrying about short-term earnings.”
With just over a decade worth of experience building MRIAudio in the rearview mirror, Howe offered a word of advice for the next entrepreneurs.
“Nothing is ever as good or as bad as it seems,” he said. “There were a few times where I thought I was going to be an overnight millionaire, that did not happen.”
Howe likened his journey to a steady upward trend with lots of ups and downs. “Most of the time things aren’t as bad as they seem,” he said.
The founder encountered his own fair share of bloopers, each seeming just as catastrophic at the time.
“I had this idea for these electrostatic headphones that were MRI compatible. I thought these were going to revolutionize the industry and invested most of my money into them,” Howe said.
When the move didn’t pay off, he was initially gutted. “They didn’t work at all, but it wasn’t the end of the world, I got through it.”
Howe also recounted a test run for an MRIAudio-compatible microphone that would let MRI technologists speak to patients.
“Unfortunately, on very rare occasions the microphone became live without being triggered,” he said. “This led to a few patients hearing the MRI techs saying things that they weren’t supposed to hear.”
Howe was horrified. “I immediately resolved the issue but at first, I thought my business venture was over,” he said.
Howe says that similar potholes will always come up, but that it’s important to continue to plow through. The entrepreneur invoked his own journey from humble beginnings and overcoming roadblocks to that point.
“Problems usually aren’t as bad as they seem. You can work through them and find a solution and learn a lot in doing so.”
Aiko Tanaka is a Brooklyn-based filmmaker creating powerful imagery for BIPOC creatives through her docuseries I Don’t Camouflage. She’s originally from Tokyo, Japan. Tanaka spent her time between Toronto, Canada, and Tokyo which informed her about cultural awareness of the world around her.
Her college years were spent at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, and Rutgers University in New Jersey. There she majored in Social Sciences mainly studying media literacy and race in film. She moved to New York in 2005 where she earned her Masters in Arts and Cultural Management at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
In 2011, Tanaka went on to found the community-based documentary series I Don’t Camouflage. The series highlights the migration and patterns of creatives who dare to stand up.
Tanaka currently features Japanese creatives who migrated to New York, to find themselves and comfort in their identity expression. In terms of creatives making space, Tanaka is a champion of building community through the arts.
In terms of BIPOC creatives making space Tanaka is a champion of building community through her powerful imagery and filmmaking. She began an educational program for a non-profit, where she facilitated workshops with international recording artists on issues of immigration and identity.
Tanaka has done amazing work thus far and is so inspirational, to say the least. I found myself enveloped in the diverse experiences of the individuals she highlights through her docuseries.
We should all take a page from Tanaka’s book and uplift the BIPOC voices of those in and outside our communities to create awareness and promote our differences to find community and understanding through powerful imagery.
Feeling like an outsider and how to cope
Jade Rogers: I was watching some of your videos. I really loved the way you are giving BIPOC creatives a stage to talk about their experiences leaving their place of origin and coming to the states through powerful imagery.
I was watching the one about Sophie the makeup artist, and how her experience was vastly different. As a multiracial artists and the experiences she faced before moving to New York. Could you talk about getting started in videography and what that journey has been like?
Aiko Tanaka: Thank you for watching. I had a wonderful experience getting to know Sophie and filming her and her aunt, April Walker. She is a strong, passionate, and powerful woman and I was very inspired by her. I couldn’t believe that she was only 17 years old, she is so mature for her age.
When I started videography I wanted to create content for I Don’t Camouflage (IDC). Using video was the most powerful tool to tell stories. I was able to tell stories of people from marginalized communities who were embracing their individualities.
I couldn’t afford a crew for every shoot so I had to figure out how to do it myself.
– Aiko Tanaka
When I was in Japan, I felt like an outsider in Canada and an outsider when I came to New York. I didn’t fit in. It led me to struggle with my identity. I am what is called a “Returnee”, which refers to Japanese kids who returned to Japan after having lived abroad for several years. I lived in Canada from 5 to 10-years-old.
My parents used to recommend that I not talk about my life in Canada, because I could be bullied. I began to forget English and it felt like a part of me was disappearing.
Until college, where I met a lot of people who were more open and accepting of me. I started watching foreign films and listening to foreign music so as not to forget my English and learn about other cultures and society.
Aiko Tanaka uses her craft as a space for Healing and telling the stories of BIPOC creatives through powerful imagery
JR: Did you feel as though building that community was a healing process for you?
Yes, because when you connect authentically, it heals you.
– Aiko Tanaka
AT: IDC helped me heal myself. It became my healing journey. I connect with the subject because I can relate with them and sometimes, they might express their feelings and that translates my own feelings in a way I did not know how to. Which oftentimes brings me to tears. I hope it heals others too.
JR: That is an incredible feeling of understanding and healing through your craft. I would love to go into depth about your process of creating powerful imagery for BIPOC creatives. As well as some more background on how you got to this point in your creative practice.
AT: In terms of process, I film, direct and edit myself. Since it is just me, I am always thinking about traveling light, so I fit all my equipment in my suitcase. Having a crew would be nice, but just having myself on set also creates a very intimate dynamic and I think that is special.
How I got to this point goes back to the day I was working in the music industry as a marketing person. I wore many hats, meeting/networking with artists and industry professionals every day and night. I became good friends with some of them. When I first got here to New York, I can admit, I was a weirdo, as I tried to figure out my identity.
I also faced stereotypes that I didn’t really experience when I was a kid. All the friends around me accepted me for who I was. They treated me like family.
– Aiko Tanaka
I didn’t have family in New York, but they were my family. I wanted to show people the personal side of these artists, that a lot of people didn’tknow about. That’s when I started to record and interview them.
I did not go to film school and I had to teach myself how to film and edit, but fortunately, I met great people who helped me with my career along the way and IDC led me to different opportunities in the film, TV, and media industry.
Be Bold… Don’t Blend In
JR: Dope. I love that you used the connections you made to kick start your docuseries. Thinking about your choice of titling for the project, “Camouflage”, it really made me think about visibility, powerful imagery around BIPOC creatives, and that you’re emphasizing this idea of being seen. Can you speak to the decision behind that?
AT: I Don’t Camouflage means not to blend in, and be who you are. Don’t disguise yourself wherever you go and be vivid. It was important to find a name that is visual, like the camouflage patterns, and something that has layers of meaning to it. So that’s why I chose I Don’t Camouflage.
JR: Yes. That does have a very visual aspect to it. I enjoy the meaning behind I Don’t Camouflage. It fits the theme of the work you’re making. Also, I noticed that we’re both Pratt Cats, I love hearing about Pratt alumni in the art world and what they are up to. Especially since you got your master’s at Pratt. What was your experience like going to all these different institutions?
AT: The Arts and Cultural Management program that I was enrolled in at Pratt was only on the weekends. I had the whole weekday to myself and most of my classmates were already working.
So, I built more with the people I met through the non-profit organization I was at during the week. The organization used international hip-hop as a tool for social change. We organized International Hip-Hop festivals and I began an education program for international students. This program had a similar dialogue to IDC. BIPOCs talked about blending in through this educational workshop.
What does the future look like for I Don’t Camouflage and creating powerful imagery for BIPOC creatives?
JR: Incredible. You were able to accomplish so much during that time. What other events were you able to work on? Also, what’s something you might plan to do beyond videography with this work?
AT: I threw an “I Don’t Camouflage” event back in August 2013, sponsored by Mocada Museum. It was hosted by M1 of Dead Prez and it was a music showcase where some of the artists I featured in the interview / docuseries performed live on stage.
The place was packed. The audience was wearing patterned outfits, enjoying the performances, doing step and repeat. It was beautiful. I would love to do more interactive events where people can feel unity and celebrate themselves.
I enjoyed the creation of more engaging spaces where people could have an open dialogue about identity issues in the future.
– Aiko Tanaka
JR: Absolutely, I think that’s a crucial factor for sure. You want to be able to reach people on a more personal level that goes beyond surface level interactions.
Building these bonds and creating powerful imagery to foster stronger communities of BIPOC creatives or any type of community really. In terms of, when you worked within the music industry did that in any way inform your practice?
AT: I worked in the music industry, as a marketing person after graduating Pratt. Record labels would hire my boss to produce “The Best of” mixtapes for their artists, as a way to promote their official album. The mixtapes were more like an audio documentary with lots of great sound bites, and I believe it influenced me, come to think of it.
As I was more involved in the business side in music, I wanted to be more hands on in the creative process of the storytelling. That is also another reason why I started I Don’t Camouflage.
When you have the tools to do what you love…
JR: Did you ever use the events you attended to practice your videography work? During that time was your camera always in hand?
AT: No, I didn’t have a camera on me. Well, sometimes I would take pictures of the behind the scenes of the events. That wasn’t my role per se. I was always serious about film and media. While I was in college I enrolled in the social sciences but I focused on media literacy.
Which is about race, and more specifically how the Japanese race and culture were depicted in film throughout history and how certain races are depicted in film in general. I was always curious about it, but I didn’t get a chance to learn.
When a camera became more accessible to me, I decided to use that as a tool.
– Aiko Tanaka
JR: It comes through in your work, the embracing of culture. I am incredibly connected to your work because of that. As a Black woman and thinking about what goes on in my community, I feel a kinship to your films.
In thinking about community and understanding those who have shared experiences with you. Your medium is film and mine, photography. Though I have these deep feelings and, in a way, see myself in the people you interview. Which I think again is why I love the way you’ve just opened this space for conversation.
AT: I feel like you know, you’re a photographer and I’m a filmmaker, and we both work behind the scenes.
We all have different perspectives and it is important to share our visions through our lens to the world, now, more than ever.
– Aiko Tanaka
I am happy to hear that you feel kinship to my films. Also, I find that when I feature female and non binary artists, there is a very different energy than when I work with male artists. I feel more empowered.
JR: Absolutely. Also, just the pure Girl Boss energy that’s circulating right now. It’s always beautiful to see more women in the film industry. I don’t personally know a lot of women filmmakers, but I just love when I find out about them. It’s such a badass job and I really do appreciate you speaking with me about it. You create such beautiful work and powerful imagery around BIPOC creatives.
AT: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me. I appreciate you too. Please keep me posted with your work.