Art

Art Collector and Organizer Ashley Cooper Kerns: Her Life, Passion, and Vision

In this post, I speak with Ashley Cooper Kerns, an avid art collector who considers her art pieces “moments in time”, a non-profit organizer, a former lawyer, an intentional futurist and an actual earth angel. Watch the video below or read the following transcript to hear about Ashley’s NFTs, empowering women and artists, amplifying children’s voices, VR, family, health, love, death, and more. Follow @ashcooperkerns and stay tuned for her future projects – including an announcement of her virtual fundraising event in July, hosted by @imblakehotz in Somnium Space. Check out her NFT collection here on OpenSea.

Transcript:

Oly: Alright, so let’s do it! I’m here today with Ashley Cooper Kerns, who is a multi-dimensional being who has experience in a lot of awesome fields and a lot of wisdom – a lot of life wisdom. She is an art collector. She also organizes a lot of non-profit events, and, yeah, I have some questions. I have a lot of questions.

Ashley: Happy to be here. Yeah.

Oly: First of all, since I already gave away a little bit about you, I wanted to start off with an ice-breaker. I know you told me just a bit ago that you’ve been hypnotized before. I’m all about esoteric things – anything out there – and I wanted to hear more about your experience being hypnotized.

Ashley: I can definitely share that. There have been multiple attempts. I am a strong-willed individual, and that probably was part of the challenge for these hypnotists. I was so focused and everything. I always kind of craved food all of the time. It didn’t matter if I was hungry or not – I was always craving it. I just couldn’t break that in my head. I know a lot of people go for smoking and they go for other things, but for me it was food related. 

So, I went and I sat in this chair, and I remember it being this really comfortable chair. I was like, well, if you’re going to be able to hypnotize someone, of course you can do it in this chair. It’s so comfy, right? The one thing that I noticed and I felt like I did leave my body for, was her telling me to like lift my arm and do certain things with my right arm. It had nothing to do with anything else, but I think the focus on that and the eyes being closed, and the feeling like it was just being lifted was fascinating to me. 

Now, do I feel like it made any difference in my mental thinking about food? No, but I know tons of people who have had remarkable success where they’ve walked out of hypnotism and gone, “Well, I don’t crave nicotine anymore. I don’t crave alcohol anymore.” I believe there are people out there that it works on. I was also maybe fifteen, so I wasn’t self-aware enough to let my brain and consciousness separate. That was, I do think, part of the challenge. I do feel bad for the hypnotist, because I’m sure I was really challenging as a patient, but it was fun. It was worth trying. 

I think everybody should try to explore different ways to help them with different issues that may be outside the box. They may not work, but they’re worth a shot. Hypnotism was definitely one of those things that was worth a shot. It didn’t work for me, but I highly recommend people try it because it’s just cool.

Oly: Yeah, it’s always fascinating to me. I’ve watched videos of people totally turning into monkeys and jumping around making monkey noises. I’m just always in awe. I feel like I’m similar in that when I got my wisdom teeth taken out, they tried to put me under, and I didn’t go under. They were like, “We gave you enough anesthesia for two grown men and you still wouldn’t go down.” It probably wouldn’t work for me either, but that’s amazing.

Ashley: Funny you say that, because in procedures I’ve had before I’ve been sedated with really heavy medications like propofol. I literally am communicating in procedure, like I just fight it. I guess I make jokes – I guess I’m very funny. I am always awake before I even leave the OR. As soon as they stop the active thing I’m awake and conscious and I’m like, “How’s everybody’s day going?” I do think that that kind of tolerance for certain things – whether it’s a drug or somebody talking to you – it does work against us in certain ways.

Oly: Definitely, you are a very aware person, very conscious, and I’ve noticed that in your TikToks. There is a lot of very positive energy, and I was wondering if you could tell me more about how you started TikTok, and you have quite a few followers. I love your TikToks – they’re so inspirational. How’d you got into TikTok, and what are you trying to share through your videos?

Ashley: That’s really funny, you know, I haven’t really talked a lot about my TikToks at all. It’s just been something I started just to have an account, because my youngest step daughter from my ex-husband was like, “I want to be able to send you videos. It’s too much for me to text them, so just join- but you’re not allowed to post anything.” I’m like, “okay,” and then I’m watching people have a good time and I had this big surprise for her. She’s down in the Caribbean, so I was flying down and I was going to surprise her and pick her up at school and do this whole thing. It was a belated birthday thing too, so I thought, she may hate that I cut something and put it up, but she may also be so surprised and love it, and she cried when she saw it. She just cried. She was like, “I love it!” 

She knew I was shooting video. I’ve been since she was three, and now she’s sixteen. So, it has been a long time, and she’s used to me always having my camera phone or whatever, so she never thought twice about me doing it for a TikTok. So, I put that up on TikTok just to surprise her, and they way she could show her friends, and as her stepmother and everything I just wanted to celebrate her and also share this moment that was private, but, especially for her generation, these private moments shared can really amplify the magic in a different way. Not everything has to be public, and not everything of all of that was in that TikTok, but the stuff she’d want to share that people would appreciate was in there. 

I never thought twice about it. I thought, this is something she’d be able to share with her friends, and all of a sudden, the comments started flooding in and the likes. I woke up the next day and there were like a hundred thousand views. I was just floored. 

You may notice with a lot of my TikToks, there’s a lot of light and dark at the same time. There’s a lot of the whole worldview. In the one I’m talking about, I said, “I have not seen my stepdaughter in person in six months.” That’s why it was a surprise, and that’s sad. This girl is so close to my heart, and that’s why I made the video, but I realized that it touched on all these really complicated step parent-parent expectations and there are so many young people on TikTok looking for adult figures that would see them. I was overwhelmed by the amount of direct messages I got about that – young 12, 13 year olds, younger, some older. “I wish my mom would do this” and everything. 

I just kept trying to go in there and reinforce that it doesn’t have to be a parent who does this for you. Just trust that in life you’re going to find people who are going to be mentors and be in your life and it’s gonna look different. To continue to expect your parents to be people they aren’t is not going to help you. If this isn’t their love language, they’re not going to do this stuff. I was trying to really navigate that. 

Sadie was like, “You’re now the TikTok stepmom.” It was really hard for me to accept and I just did my best to engage with the kids that were posting, and the parents and the stepparents. I was really moved by that. Basically, parents and stepparents going, ‘I want to do this kind of stuff, but I don’t know if they’re going to want it or appreciate it or whatever.” There’s this desire to do good things for people and somehow it gets held back. That was a celebration of her for me- of our relationship that I feel is so special. 

I do try to model behavior in my TikToks and in my life. I’m very intentional about that, and she is mine just as any other child that I would’ve helped raise would be whether biological, adopted, or step. I also was trying to get people to see that, because having been a stepchild myself or someone, you know- we didn’t really get along. He didn’t really like me and I didn’t really like him. I understand that frustration of wishing for something better than you have. 

Truthfully, it’s this hiccup and this thing about replacing parents as stepparents. I love that I’ve been able to be this whole separate person for her and I can fit in with her mom and her dad, and we can all do this together in a really great way. So, that’s how I started. 

To be completely honest, it became something that was really therapeutic for me. I was going through a lot, and I was starting to get my life back after being sick for ten years and basically bedridden. What I realized is that I missed visuals and colors and light and sound and I just kinda got into it that way. Once the pandemic hit I signed up for this pandemic journaling project for women. It’s the Natural Women’s History Museum I think it is, and I was like, why not? Why don’t I put a little more intention behind my videos? 

So, it became about that, and it evolved, and became about my dad, who was in the dementia unit last year in 2020, and I had to make some really tough decisions that were clear to me, but were tough about supporting his decision to not want to be here anymore. I made these videos then. That’s where a lot of the following happened, and it tapped into something we all were feeling and have been feeling, which is this grief and loss and longing, but it also again tapped into the parent/child dynamic. So many of us spend our whole lives wishing our parents were something else. As much as we love them, we go, “but you could’ve been this – you could’ve been that.” Right? 

Both my parents are fairly complex. He was a very complex man. My mom is a very complex woman. However, the greatest gift they ever gave to me was being human and not pretending to be anything but themselves. Then, it became a celebration of those things and our relationship, and that first video I did that was about supporting his decision to stop eating, and being able to see him in full PPE- that video has around 4.6 million views now. I cut that so I didn’t have to tell the story over and over again to my friends and my circle. I was like, this’ll be the way I’m proud of myself for supporting him as hard as this is, and I’m going to make all these days meaningful and I’m going to be able to always look back. 

The TikToks are for me, bottom line. When I see them resonate with people, it reminds me that we are so connected by those core emotions. We go, “You lost this way, and I lost my parent at 16, and you got this whole life.” Well, I got this whole life, but I also had to manage his care for fifteen years and I had to watch him decline with dementia. It’s not a comparison game. It’s tapping into that core – we all love, we all lose, we all grieve. There was a lot of death perception, but I believe in the cycle of life, and I believe you can make the end meaningful and beautiful if you have that chance – you should always do it. That’s what I did. 

Then, my TikToks kind of took on a different life, because it became about really being in the middle of divorce, in the middle of a pandemic, with my dad actively dying, going, okay, this needs to be honest. On social media, there are a lot of rose-colored glasses videos. If you’re paying attention to my videos, there’s positivity, but there is always an undercurrent of truth, and the crack that lets the light in.

Oly: Yeah, I love that. I love the intention that you started with because there is oversaturation of a lot of fakeness, and the real stuff really shines through – and it’s needed. TikTok is a super powerful medium. The tidbits you can use – the edits – are so short that you really have to get to the meat of your message right away. If you have a healing message like you have, you know, you say you’re doing it for yourself, but you started it to connect with your stepdaughter. Your self-love really imminates through your being. I hope it inspires more people to share. I’m more of a watcher on TikTok. I’ve really enjoyed your videos and I want to dive into your earlier ones. It sounds like there’s some amazing stuff that you’ve shared, and that’s powerful.

Ashley: Thank you. It has been a lot of growth, and I have to say, journaling is something I’ve always had the intention of doing. I do have a box in my garage of journals from fourth grade, sixth grade, eighth grade, and then some in high school, college and law school- like scattered, right?  It’s hard to sit down and write, and have that discipline. As disciplined as I am, there are some days I don’t want to write about how I’m feeling. I just want to feel it and I want to capture it whether it’s a photograph or video – I just want to capture it that way. I can look at that video, and that’s my journal to myself. It really is intentional. 

You and I have talked about this separately, but I also have always had challenges with depression and anxiety and ptsd and all of these different things that so many of us suffer from. I also feel like I work really hard to offer only goodness to the world and gratitude. A lot that I’ve been through in being ill really does give you a different perspective. Anything I put out, any comment, any post, any tweet is going to be about empowerment, it’s going to be about healing, it’s going to be about honesty, and it’s going to be about getting out of your fucking house and getting out of your head and putting yourself out there. 

As I was making these videos, my marriage was falling apart. My dad was locked in a room. It was a really hard time, but I look back at those and I’m so proud of myself because they’re also milestones. I think a lot of times it’s hard for us to look back and go, “Look where I was and look where I am now.” Those videos are that for me as well. Time capsules.

Oly: Yeah, that’s amazing. That’s really cool. Just from what you’ve said, it’s apparent that you really have a heart for people. That brings me to my next questions: I want to ask you about your experience with nonprofits. You’ve done, recently, Draw Together, which is to raise awareness for mental health, and then you also work with Notes 4 Notes. Can you tell me about those and how you got into nonprofits in general?

Ashley: Oh yeah, I can absolutely talk a little bit about that. As I alluded to, I was a lawyer. I did big business litigation and transactional entertainment law. While I loved being educated in the law and I loved understanding the law, the practice of law crushed me. It’s too adversarial. There are people fighting battles and dying on hills that they don’t need to be. You know. We in America are overly litigious. We really are, and I wanted to do something more positive, but as a new lawyer to go straight into nonprofit work is really hard. You come out with all these loans and all this stuff. It’s not feasible, you know, a lot of time. Sometimes, people get there, ultimately, but for me I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and I really thought, “I can be a really powerful attorney. I can really articulate myself.” Then I realized how much I hated it, and then I got sick. Like I said, I had this period of time to really reevaluate my life choices. I went from being this voracious reader and going out meeting people, travelling around the world, to not being able to see well, not being able to cognitively function. I would lay in my bed every day going, okay, if I get my life back what do I want it to look like? What do I want to offer to the world, because I wasn’t doing enough for myself. I didn’t feel like I was offering enough, and I felt like I had more to offer. 

When I started to feel better miraculously, but also (with) hard work and determination, which doesn’t always help with everybody – I still manage my health and everything, but – I realized that I wanted to do something that was impactful for young people to help support them. I had the good fortune of having some really amazing people in my life when I was young and who supported my creative endeavors. My mom gave me a camera and let me have this Pentax and the film and all that stuff. I would just paint. My dad had a wall that I could just draw on and paint on whenever I was with him. There was such great support I got. I do feel that those creative outlets helped me be more articulate, helped me be more emotionally aware, but also understand the importance of having that outlet and having someone support that outlet and going, “It doesn’t matter what it looks like. That’s amazing because you made it.” You know, that’s what I was hoping for more of. 

I thought, I love the arts. I feel really strongly about mental health. It can be really hard to work at nonprofits where the causes and stories are hard to listen to. I felt like I was better serving mental health awareness and all these other things by being on the periphery of that. That’s why I found Notes 4 Notes, which is a music education nonprofit. We have 23 studios nationwide in Boys and Girls Clubs and community centers. We have an in-school partnership going on that’s rapidly expanding and we have this whole digital program which happened because of Covid, but is clearly something that is going to be a part of all of our lives. I started volunteering because I wanted to figure it out, and I was like, I love these guys. I love what they’re doing. They’re putting, not only instruments and technology, and belief and support to these youth in Boys and Girls Club or wherever they are, but they have this human there, and the whole purpose of that human is to go, “What do you want on this wall? Do you want guitar, do you want this, do you want that? Let’s try it.” That’s something not even rescourced people have. That opportunity. You may get the guitar because you have the resources, but you don’t have the instructor, you don’t have that person who’s going to be there and help guide you. 

So, I just fell in love with the organization and what they did, and I fell in love with the cause. I realized that arts, humanities, and nonprofits are the smallest pieces of the charitable pie as far as giving. I believe the arts are essential. I believe that artists are second responders. I believe we had all these first responders, and second responders with artists are helping us heal through all of this. That’s why I fell in love with Notes 4 Notes, and that’s why I realized that, okay, nonprofit work is where I’m going to spend the rest of my life. There’s always going to be something I’m doing. What has been cool is I’ve entered the NFT space, just kind of learning about this, for work – for Notes 4 Notes – because we started accepting cryptocurrency as donations, which was a big move for a smaller nonprofit. We’re also exploring different aspects of this community. 

So, I was spending a lot of time getting to know everybody. And on Clubhouse- a lot of people are spending a lot of time, maybe too much time- I met some really amazing people. I was watching artists. This is something I was talking about early on with NFTs. I was like, Oh my god, this is finally an opportunity for us to globally work together on causes that need all of our attention. Whether that’s having a focus on one country at one time to deal with a disaster, or an ongoing crisis, now there’s this ability with crypto – you kind of take down those barriers and walls as far as getting the support. I was really talking about it and I was excited about it, but I wasn’t seeing artists come together – and then I saw the Drawn Together collective of artists. 

Alex Alpert is the one who came up with the idea. He somehow managed to get 55 individual artists to contribute in I think less than two weeks, because he wanted it during mental health awareness month. It was such a powerful thing to me that I wasn’t involved in the organization of, but I’m absolutely hoping to be involved in the continuation of these collectives, the Drawn Together collective, and helping Alex find other ways to do this. I believe artist collectives are what are going to be the change-makers, just like peer-to-peer fundraising and communities that believe in cause will be the change-makers. 

My involvement with Drawn Together was really putting in the big first bid on the main piece. I did it selfishly hoping I’d get it, but unselfishly wanting to be outbid terribly. I felt one eth for 55 artists together on this really beautiful collective piece was too little, but I had only 1 eth at the time, $2700 usd fiat, so I waited patiently for someone to outbid me. I really did. I really wanted it, but it was great because I was able to join these conversations in these rooms with these artists and talk about mental health and talk about why I made the bid – why this art resonated with me. I started having all these individual conversations with all these artists. Thankfully I lost by 4 eth. Amir came in and clobbered me, and I’ve never been so happy to lose in my life. I was thrilled. I turned around and went, okay, now I can collect 3 individual pieces… We’re all trying to grab these things up now. Sometimes it takes one person to come out of left field. For me, an unknown collector, to come out and put an eth bid down and go, “I believe in this and this is why I’m doing this.” 

It definitely helped with getting the attention, and all the artists involved were really amazing artists. They each were so different, and it was really beautiful to be on those calls all weekend and hear everybody’s stories as to why they contributed. 

I had my mom join the call on Sunday for the final auction while I was waiting and my bid was still sitting there to talk. That’s the thing with mental health. Often we talk about people suffering with it. We don’t talk about the people who love us and watch us ever. So, I invited my mom to that call on Sunday and asked her to be candid about being the parent of, and the daughter of, and the sister of people with mental health problems, and challenges and everything like that. It was really beautifully vulnerable for both of us, and it was hard. I got messages from everyone being like, “Your mom had me crying!” But it was good, because she’s really, as a mother, has suffered watching me suffer. 

I’ve had really dark times, and I know people find it really hard to believe, based on my energy, that I’ve always suffered with severe depression, but I’m one of those people who is a high-functioning depressive. I don’t like to burden everybody else with my really negative thoughts, but if I don’t want to burden anyone else with them, if I wouldn’t do this for a friend, why would I do this to myself? That has been part of this major shift, and I do feel like this space allows more vulnerability and acceptance. 

The stories that these artists shared on those calls over that weekend – they’ll stay with me forever. I dm-ed most of those artists just telling them how much it meant to me to hear them speak about their art, to speak about their care for this cause and the reason for their participation. 

That’s why I reached out to Alex and I said, “What can I do to help you stay as an artist? I can help with organizing, or I help with this aspect, or I can educate you on the nonprofit space as far as what’s underfunded, what’s overfunded, where’s the best impact.” That’s where I’m hoping to be part of it. I’ve been actively talking over the last week with a lot of different charitable people who are looking to come into this space and do things like I’ve been hoping for. I hope to see more of that. It’s a lot to get 55 artists together in one collective. It’s hard to sustain that, but I do feel with the right structuring and with the right collective of artists that maybe rotates depending on the causes, that it could be a really amazing thing and really set a great example of the power of this digital renaissance, and the power of art. 

A lot of people are like, “This is all digital. You can’t touch it.” This stuff is impacting us in the real world, because the artists are going, I’m creating all this art that’s NFT art and NFT art and whatever, but I’m ensuring that the impact is here too. So, I love that, and I will continue to support things that have this digital-physical kind of balance. I do think that all the good we do in VR, all the good we do in digital art and NFT art and all of it – there has to be something for us here in the physical. I’ll continue to support that and encourage that for everybody. 

That’s where I am in the nonprofit sector. I firmly believe in it. I think we need to show more impact. I think a lot of nonprofits really struggle to stay transparent, and so that’s now become my laser focus. Also, just getting us all on the same page about the causes we can all really do something about. That’s where my heart is in the nonprofit sector. I hope to be there the rest of my professional career and after.

Oly: That’s really inspiring to hear. Awareness for things like mental health – there’s nothing more important. You have to bring light to the things that suck in order to do anything about that. Especially Notes 4 Notes has really touched my heart, because I’m a musician, and I was lucky enough to have access to all these things and I have no idea where I’d be if I didn’t. Especially kids who don’t have access to these things – their voices have to be heard, because they’re the future. If we want to make any kind of change we have to listen to the kids who haven’t had access to these things. They’re the ones who need to be heard. They’re the ones who are going to ensure that we have a future better than what we have right now.

Ashley: This is a generational thing and this will continue to happen as we move through the world. Just like there are a lot of people older than me, I’m a Gen X person, who don’t understand any of it – they’re not even paying attention to any of this space because they don’t see the value in it, right? Just because you don’t see the value in it doesn’t make it less valuable – it just means that you can’t see it… It’s like when there were hippies and then you had the boomers going, you can’t live that way. This Gen Z versus Millenial versus… that happens every time there’s a generational shift. What we need to realize is that just because we’ve been here longer doesn’t always mean we know better. We’ve been in the same habits, and just like, you know, we may celebrate Fourth of July, we may celebrate all these holidays and these people historically, would I want the founding fathers to apply their way of thinking to the modern world? Absolutely not. 

A lot of the time, people who are older and feel like they’ve seen it, whether it has been war or some other really anchoring event to define their generation, feel like they have really strong opinions and that the young people just don’t get it. We need that passion. We need all those youth going, this doesn’t make sense. There’s a better way. Do I support burning it all down? No. I do believe that we can work together if we’re all really smart about it. It’s not a kumbaya way. We all have to accept each other’s differences. It’s a challenge. The more I see this affirmation of younger generations by older generations, it doesn’t need to happen as a validation. Gen Z should do what they’re doing regardless of what the rest of us are saying, but that affirmation is important, just like an affirmation from a friend and affirmation to yourself is important…

I’ve been hyper-focused on connecting with younger artists, younger people, and realizing that I have the chance to be a source of good, an outlet, and a mirror to people especially in their twenties. The twenties are really hard. I’m finding as I talk to artists who feel frustrated, unseen, lost, and overwhelmed, burnt out, and all these things – this is where self-care comes in. It can’t be all about creating. That’s not all the care that needs to happen. Also just “where you’re supposed to be in life” – all that stupid stuff. I started a whole new career at 40. I think that’s what we all need to be more open-minded about and see the value of what everybody has to offer. We all need to be at the table. 

Oly: Exactly. I know you’ve been an art collector for a really long time. You talked about bidding on the Drawn Together piece. Can you tell me more about how you got into art collecting, when you got into art collecting, and the pieces you have and why they stuck out to you.

Ashley: I had the good fortune of being the daughter of two people who loved art. While my dad’s taste was not always necessarily consistent with mine and there were some pieces my mom got that I was like, eh, but they taught me there was value and that I needed to appreciate that. I got taken to museums a lot when I was younger and I had some really amazing friends who were artists. I watched my mom collect these pieces and I watched her intention. 

There was a very specific gallery called the Peter Fetterman gallery which is in LA, and I’d go in there with her and I’d watch her look at these and really dissect what she was looking to have, right? I thought, how cool is that? I went to Peter Fetterman, and I said, “I really want to collect my first piece.” I was sixteen. There was no reason I should’ve been in a gallery like that when I was sixteen. I was a hostess at a restaurant called Rosty, a chain restaurant in LA. I said, “I really want to do this. I really want to start. I feel this piece.” I’ll explain what it is, but because my mom had been a supporter of his and a collector, he let me pay in installments. He let me collect my first piece, and he let me collect my first piece that was way out of the price range I would’ve been able to do, because I loved it so much. 

It’s a tango dancer, and it’s from the back. His positioning is from the back, and there’s so much pride and beauty and composition in how he’s standing even though I can’t see the woman, even though I can’t see them moving, it’s just so much passion in all of it. I love dancing. I’ve always been a dancer. I’ve never been great at tango, but mad respect for people that are. That was my first piece. 

It was funny, because I was looking at my art just the other, which I often do. Everything is kind of a moment in time for me as well. When I collect my art, they are really time capsules. That was the beginning of me figuring out what I wanted to do with dancing and what I wanted to do – loving art and being creative and whatever. I went to New York and I went to NYU and took swing-dancing classes and I took ballroom classes and I did all this stuff, and it was because I looked at this piece and was just inspired by it. It was funny. 

The next piece was these two young girls joking around dancing on the street, dipping each other. They’re probably nine, ten. There was something so innocent – so lovely – about this. All this judgment about how you should be with each other as friends and gender and sexuality and all that – this is just great. Every time I look at it it makes me happy. Two little girls just having a great time dancing in the street – their socks clearly worn out and sagging on their ankles. 

They are just moments for me. When I collect a piece it is the piece and it’s the art – I never actually collect going, is this going to be an investment? It’s never a question for me. I’ve actually never looked to see what those photographs are worth now, because I’m not selling them. I don’t care – they’re worth a lot to me. Those were kind of larger items as far as photographs… I did travel a lot, and I just decided that every time I travelled to a new country, I would buy some piece of art. It might be a little piece – it might be small – but a painting or a sculpture or something that would remind me of this moment in this country and this beauty. 

There’s this beautiful little square portrait of a black woman with this beautiful hat-head-thing on – I don’t know the terminology- and this dress, and I love it. I found it in an open air market in Cape Town in South Africa. I look back at that and I was with my dad. Now, behind me, with a bunch of my other art, I see that and I remember us walking through that place in Cape Town… I remember this day. I remember this moment, and so, I will also only buy art when I’m being intentional about it. I do always try to collect something from every single place I go.

Oly: That’s awesome. I really believe art is a reflection of us as humans – of who we are. If something resonates with you, the inspiration that comes with all different forms of art, is a utility in and of itself. A lot of people are like, “art and everything needs to have a utility!” Especially people who are looking to make a buck and looking to trade what they’ve purchased as soon as it goes up in value. I think that’s what they’re missing, just the creative utility of it. Art is like looking in the mirror, showing you who you are and also what you can be. I think that’s beautiful that you’ve collected pieces that you resonate with without being like, “I wonder how much this is going to be in ten years.”

Ashley: I can talk about why I started with NFT art, but for me, the value of art is how it makes me feel and the nostalgia for the moment that I collected it. If I get to learn more and conversate with the artists themselves, and I get to understand why they created something and I get to share with them why it resonated with me, and there’s this conversation that happens – I mean, that’s just magical. NFT, this whole thing, this whole world – I started seeing so many beautiful NFT art pieces, just standing and going, “God, I would love to do that, but I work for a nonprofit. We just don’t get paid that much.” I was just longing for this one piece and I wasn’t sure. I was like, someone’s going to snag it. 

That same day, a check showed up, and it was a life insurance check from when my dad was briefly in the air force, that I totally didn’t know about. This check was not large, but it was enough for me to put half of it to a memorial placard for him in central California in Cambria, a place that we went all the time, and the other half, I went, okay, my dad, I called him Papi, if I bought something I needed, he’d be so pissed at me. He’d want me to buy something I want – not something I need. 

He was a man that knew technology. I had the first game console – I had a Neo Geo. We had the first nav thing in the car – it was, like, massive. We had the first car phone – literally, like a payphone in the car. Massive, right? The first home video camera – on your shoulder. He always believed in technology and knew technology. 

That’s what NFTs are. It’s just a new technology and new way to distribute art, or distribute these images or ideas. It is oversimplifying it, I know, but I just went, oh god, this is why this check showed up today, and that’s when I bid on Nanu Berk’s “BTC Girl 1/1” piece. I had been kind of dm-ing her just really wanting to know about the piece, because I loved it. She and I were talking a lot, and, you know, whatever, and we met and we did a live interview because she wanted to get to know me more and I wanted to get to know her more. 

It was a really beautiful thing, because I realize, this is the first time – aside from buying a piece of art from a street artist, which I always do every time I’m in New York, I buy something from someone- I’m getting to have a conversation about her whole process and what made this come to life… “BTC Girl” is a self-portrait of Nanu – her trying to figure out this new world of Bitcoin – and she was one of the original crypto artists; her first NFT was in 2017 that she sold- there’s something really remarkable about it. It’s almost this scribble art – I’m sure I’m using the wrong term – that makes up this portrait, and when she explained it to me, she’s like, “Molecules” and all this. You want to know what I looked at that and thought? That’s how my brain operates. That scribble – that’s how my brain is wired. That is why this piece means something to me. I look at it and I see a visual representation of how expansive my thoughts can get. 

So, we had this really crazy bonding moment over this thing that she had been creating and building for years, to finally have a collector go, “Oh, yeah!” It was a very interesting moment. She actually surprised me. There was another bidder on this auction piece, and he was in a different time zone and all these things so it was kind of delayed. I don’t like games where people wait to make their bids until the last minute. I just think it’s tortuous for the artist – I just think it’s cruel. Optically, I understand it adds a level of drama and all of those things, but this is someone’s livelihood and heart that’s being bid on, right? 

Always, I see a bid come in and I bid on it. I wrote to her, I said, “Look, I can go up to this much, but I’m going to have to bow out.” I was very honest about that. I didn’t want her, you know, kind of wondering. In the middle of the interview she was like, “Can you check your Opensea? Mine isn’t working…” She had accepted my bid that was lower than the other bid was going to be… to surprise me… I was so emotional about it. It just touched me in such a deep way that she wanted me to have her. It comes with a physical sculpture piece. It’s like a painting almost, because it’s, like, a flatter sculpture, but after meeting me, she put it in the shadow box and added an AR element, so now I can scan it and I can see the NFT as well. Talk about the most beautiful introduction into this space as far as an auction, and how fortunate I was to meet Nanu.

I know, for her, for the first time felt like she was really appreciated by a collector and seen. She and I have had this great friendship that has blossomed from that. I’m actually going next week to drive to collect this piece of art, because I couldn’t bear the thought of her shipping her to me, right? So, we’re going to get to spend this time together, but that is what got me into it- this random check showing up, and going, what would my dad want? 

This is where I’ve slowly been able to spread this out. I hope to continue collecting, but I’m intentionally only collecting from women artists, or men who are empowering women- collaborating with women- or NFTs for social good. That is my focus. There are plenty of opportunities to make money in this space. That’s not why I’m there. Like my physical art pieces, each one of these NFTs that I’ve collected represents a moment in time for me as well.

I feel very fortunate that I have fifteen NFTs now… There are a few from the same artist, but, generally, they’re all different. There are some new artists; there are some OG artists – there’s the gamut. I love that! It’s so fun to be able to share that collection with everybody, because I can go, “Look at this. Look at those amazing female artists. Look at this social good that’s happening- this movement.” 

I’m able to also expose people who don’t get any of this. They look at this and they’re like, “Oh, okay,” and they start to try and understand it. It’s also just really useful to be able to say, “Go to my Opensea. Look at my collection.” It’s great… Normally, you have to come to my home… and I have to walk you around and everything. This is great! I get to share my art and the things that resonate with me with people. I know that artists I’ve collected from have gone to my collection and have said, “I’m really honored to be part of this collection in particular because I can see what you’re doing.” 

Oly: Yeah. I love how NFTs connect artists and collectors globally. We really need each other. That way you met Nanu sounds almost predestined, like you guys were supposed to meet, and where else could that have happened? How else could that have happened without this technology? It’s beautiful. Thank you for sharing that use case. It just shows how powerful this all is. 

Ashley: It is. I’ve got to say, you know- this is how I’ve tried to encourage artist and collectors alike – if there’s a piece of art you see – period – and you have an opportunity, whether it’s throwing it out into the Twitter-verse, to let this artist know what it meant to you, or as an artist, to let this collector know.. If you can do that, you connect with people in a really different way. I’ve dm-ed all of the artists I’ve collected from before collecting from them or after, and have had the most amazing conversations and the most amazing friendships that have blossomed. A lot of the NFTs I have, their first sales were very early on, so they felt, like, affirmed- like they were on the right path. This connection point, and this desire to connect that’s there is really beautiful. 

Also, yes, there are a lot of artists in this space, but that has always been the case. You just couldn’t see them before, right? What I love about this too is that it’s allowing artists who were really starving to try and make a life for themselves through art. They just wanted to survive, and this may give them a chance to thrive. It doesn’t mean that they need to be in the MoMA. It doesn’t mean that they need to be in all these different things. It just means they need to have so many collectors who believe in them and support them and follow their career, and that’s something.

We’re superfans of people already, and we just don’t realize it. Now that I know this one artist, if I continue to support her work, I know that if she has a thousand people like me, she’ll be able to have a really good life, make art, and offer it to the world. That’s the other thing that I think is really great about this – people being able to monetize their talents in a really direct way. No middle man… Yes, there are galleries and all those other things, and it’ll get over-complicated at a certain point. Everyone’s going to have to decide how they want it to go, but, yeah, they’re finally going to be able to be compensated for their work. That to me is something that’s really invaluable. 

A lot of people spend a lifetime never being seen. How many artists have we heard about who died before they were well known, and now we just endlessly talk about them and we use their art as inspiration to make our own art? They never got a chance to be appreciated.

Oly: Yeah, I can definitely relate to that as an artist, because I’ve always had a full-time job, if not multiple. People don’t really think about how much goes into art – how much energy, time, and work goes into art. The NFT space has really made it possible for me to go into art for the first time in my life. The reason I got into it was out of desperation, and not having a full-time job anymore. The pandemic has been so many different things to different people, but for me, I’m glad something good came out of it. It’s so good to hear all the success stories from people, despite all the bad things that have happened. There is some silver lining. I don’t want to be unconscious saying that. 

Ashley: I hear you. I may have said this to you in the past. It is what I’ve been saying to everybody when we all locked down and it became pretty clear, as someone who has been immunocompromised for a long time, there was going to be a long while that I wasn’t going to be outside – regardless of what the rules were. I was going to have to be really safe. 

After the bubonic plague was the Renaissance. Isolation and devastation is horrible, and humanity has gone through a tortuous time, and the only way to make this suffering worth it is to take that isolation and all of this creative powder keg, all these emotions that people were wrestling with, and to embrace it and let this digital Renaissance be what the pandemic caused. I do think it’s what caused this time we’re in now. 

Was it worth all these lives being lost? No. That is not even close to what I’m saying. What I’m saying is to make the suffering not in vain, to really celebrate what came out of this. It is the silver lining, but it’s also going, okay, we’re going to carry on and we’re going to make this world beautiful for all the people who can’t see it now because they’re gone, but now, we’re going to appreciate it even more because we lost so many. 

Oly: Yeah, it just shows the resiliency of we human beings. We’re here to connect. We’re here to make something beautiful out of the weird matrix we find ourselves in. We’re making sense of it together. 

Thank you so much for your time, and for doing this interview with me. I do have one last question. I know there was a little bit of discussion about a future event that you’re having, maybe a digital event – I don’t know what you can share.

Ashley: Yes, I can definitely share about that. Thank you for asking. You made the introduction to Blake Hotz, who is a really phenomenal, young, passionate guy that I met through you. I had one video call with him and I was like, well, I don’t know what he’s doing. I don’t know what his vision is, but I believe that he can achieve it. He had a parcel in Somnium Space, one of the metaverses – you have a VR club there too. I really do like Somnium Space. I’ve spent more time there than anywhere else. I think, visually, it’s very captivating – the weather events and all these other elements, the avatars. For me, there’s a lot there, right? 

When I saw that Blake had put up these VIP scrolls, I kind of looked at it – and he did five of them – and it was so you could host a monthly event at his parcel. It’s basically like a timeshare concept. I don’t have to buy the whole parcel – I don’t have to build it out – but I can be there once a month and do something. Blake called me, and I didn’t tell him I was going to do this – he called me on the verge of tears, like, “You just met me! How?”

I was like, “I believe that you are going to do good things, and I don’t know what I’m going to do with this day, but I believe in you and I want to support whatever this is.”

He and I spent a lot of time talking and I was like, “Oh, I can use my monthly thing for nonprofit and charitable causes, and I can do NFT art displays where there’s a charitable gift bag – whether it’s Notes 4 Notes or another cause, because there are a lot of causes that I care about. 

So, I am actively planning a fundraiser in Somnium Space in July where I will be featuring several artists that I’ve connected with since coming into this space. I don’t want to give anything away about who those artists are, but there are some collaborations between artists who are phenomenal, and I cannot wait to see what they do, and some artists who are new and haven’t created. I really want it to be inclusive, and I want it to be something that amplifies artists and supports charitable causes. Those are the two things, right? 

I hope that this event is the beginning of something that will continue, where we can continue to amplify artists and bring each other together for good things… We all need to get paid, but a charitable give-back where you feel like you’ve created something, it brought beauty to the world, a collector now has it and there’s now a nonprofit that has more resources to do better – to do more. My hope is, with a monthly event, to continue that. The first will be in Somnium Space at Blake Hotz House, and it’ll be probably late July, and we’ll see where it goes, but I’m hoping to continue it so it’s a monthly fundraising event – whether it’s Notes 4 Notes, or other causes.

Oly: Awesome, that sounds really exciting. I’m super pumped about that! 

Ashley: So am I. I’m excited too. I think it’s going to be really cool.

Oly: I’ll definitely be there.

Ahsley: You’ll be there. You may be dj-ing. I just think the metaverse is going to give us a lot of opportunities to do things that we wouldn’t be able to do with you where you are, and me and people spread out… We can all come together and have these kinds of events and celebrate each other and the world that we’re in- virtually or in person. It’s a beautiful thing, and I feel really honored to have this opportunity to do that… I feel so lucky. Blake was like, “I’m lucky that you bought my NFT,” but I was like, “I’m lucky because I met someone I believe in and I wanted to do this, and it had nothing to do with anything else except for believing in you. Now there’s going to be something really beautiful that comes out of it.” 

I hope that’s how this space continues to work, and I know that there’s going to be change like there always is, but I think if the artists and collectors who are in this for that and the connection – if we can stay really clear about that – the rest is noise. 

Oly: Yeah, I love what you just said. I definitely think this is a special time being in the early stages of this whole metaverse world and universe. There’s a lot in store. I just think being apart of this now is such a blessing, because all of the people involved right now, they’re really in it just for community and just to believe in each other and be affirmed. It has really blessed me. Living in an immune-compromised household during this, and even during regular times, I’m not able to travel the world. I’ve met all these cool people, and it has really inspired my art and I’ve felt so much support. Meeting you has been such a blessing too. I can safely say I’ve made a really good friend and you’ve been valuable to my life.

Ashley: Thanks, Oly, and same here. I think the VR and the metaverses are going to help us all in a mental health capacity as well as people who are immunocompromised and not able to live full lives for whatever the reasons are. There is this judgment about being in a headset and not connecting, and I’m here to say that you’re not even remotely close if that’s what you think all that is… When I was sick, I used to dream about if I had a VR set – this was 15 or 10  years ago… I used to go, “God, if I could just be somewhere else for a little bit.”

Now, I’ve talked to people who have physical challenges, or emotional can’t… and they can go into these spaces and they can feel like they’re part of a fuller life again. I hope that we support that, and support the kind of connections and the mental health aspects that are offered through being able to participate in life – even virtually. It’s just as valuable. If that’s someone’s only option, don’t judge that. Report it, in fact, fund it! That’s what I’m hoping to see. I’m hoping to see more VR-related health support and care. That’s my other long-term goal.

Oly: It’s going to be part of the future. It’ll be a very good part of the future, and you’re helping make it happen! I appreciate you. Thanks for doing this interview. I’ll let you go. I know you have a shipment coming and your dog needs you. 

Ashley: I know, she’s like, I need attention right now. It has been thirty minutes… I’m touched and honored that you would want to interview me. I know I’m relatively unknown in this space still, and I’m fine being that if I can feel like I’m supporting artists and people who are out there being known and making big changes and big impacts in the world that are good. I am fine being behind the scenes for the rest of my life if I can support people – like you, and Blake, and Nanu who are doing things. I’m just not an artist that way, but I just want to be around people like you with the same values, the same soul, the same core… I feel very touched and honored and lucky that we crossed paths and I know that we’ve got a long future of friendship.

Oly: Definitely! Thank you so much. You’re definitely a creative beast. We need each other and our different thought processes to make all this happen… 

Oly is an interdisciplinary musician, writer, gamer and explorer.

Follow her on Twitter and watch her new music video, “Just Like This”, filmed in Somnium Space VR with her Ready Player Me avatar!

Check out her other projects at solo.to/olysounds.

Categories: Art, Culture, People

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