Making Miami Nice

Michelle Ivette Gomez - Founder of Creative Unions sitting with Creative Unions’ pioneer couple Zachary Z. Handler (left) and Nick Horan (right)

Michelle Ivette Gomez - Founder of Creative Unions sitting with Creative Unions’ pioneer couple Zachary Z. Handler (left) and Nick Horan (right)

Hey fellow art lovers and lovers of love!

I AM SO EXCITED! I just flew in from Miami to my second home, Baltimore, and I brought all my neon powered Miami energy to help bring Creative Union’s first celebration to life! I’m typing this from a folding table in Spacecamp gallery watching the “Miami is Nice” curatorial team transform this white wall gallery into a queer paradise where love wins. From October 7-28, right where I’m sitting, this 2800 sq. ft room will be home to 45 incredible artist’s works, 3 public events, and Zachary & Nick’s Golden Girls inspired wedding. It’s been a day of painting, sweeping, and reflections on this 2 year journey. I actually had a bit of an epiphany earlier when I realized that we are featuring 45 artists from around the country at the same time as we grapple with the current 45th President’s attacks on the LGBTQ community. Talk about creative resistance, right?!

“Miami is Nice” is more than just a private wedding that takes place in an art gallery. So much more. In fact, I suggest heading over to www.miamiisnice.com for details on the exciting series of programs for the greater Baltimore community. Hint: one of the original screenwriters for the Golden Girls is joining us for a discussion! And there will be cheesecake! You can also stop by the gallery during gallery hours to play Atari video games or watch Golden Girls episodes with me in your PJs. ;)

I can’t believe it’s been a year and a half since Creative Unions began WERKing on our first art exhibition/wedding. Personally, it’s been a rough month. I’ve dealt with the world’s natural disasters and had to evacuate my home in Miami. Fortunately, my house and family are safe but I constantly worry about my family in Puerto Rico after hurricane Maria. Returning to Baltimore this week has proven to be the most wonderful gift. It has lifted my spirits and allowed me to laugh again, despite the gun violence, climate change, and everything else wrong with this world. I came up with Creative Unions because I wanted to bring more love into my life and this world.

Nothing else brings me as much joy as working with Creative Union’s pioneer couple, Zachary & Nick alongside co-curator Carlyn Thomas of Terrault Gallery to make this art exhibition, series of programs, and gay wedding a dream come true. As I look around me right now, I am so excited to introduce the world to all of this excess :)

Check out my top 10 favorite behind the scenes moments from this past year while working on the #miamiisnicesxhibition below!

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1. N&Z screen printed hundreds of shoulder pads with their wedding logo as part of their wedding invitation (packed in gold envelopes)!


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2. Seeing the postcard and invitation for the general exhibition and wedding! This was the first “IT’S REALLY HAPPENING” moment.  


3. Ok here’s a mini list. These artworks got me way too excited from the moment I first laid my eyes on them, and this is just a tiny fraction of the entire art exhibition. (And yes, that is a glitter toilet seat that will be featured in the gallery’s bathroom! #artiseverywhere)


4. This Miami is Nice sign is everything.


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5. No Golden Girls themed wedding is complete without Elvis costumes and accessories!


6. I met Sebastian from The Lapel Project here in Miami (yes the guy that was featured on Shark Tank!), and he gave me the “Miami Vice” lapel set for the groomsmen, so sweet of him! Check out the video below to see how the his lapels work. These lapels are so great, you can stick them onto any suit to customize your look so your suit is as unique as you! Thank you Sebastian!


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7. A Golden Girls Wedding? YES! Here is a photo of that time we heard Nick & Zachary’s interview on “Out on the Lanai: A Golden Girls Podcast”! (PS- H. Alan Scott is one of the co-hosts and GG superfans for this podcast...he will be moderating a talk with one of the original screenwriters for Golden Girls on Oct 18th! (See www.miamiisnice.com for event details)


8. When Carlyn drove to NY to pick up artworks from artists and took selfies with (most) of them! Oh how I loved getting these in our Whatsapp chat group.


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9. I have weekly Skype sessions with Nick & Zachary. Sometimes I take screenshots of them when they show me the deliveries they get in the mail for their wedding, like this beautiful martinique wall paper donated by Accent Wall Customs for our Golden Girls inspired photo booth, eeeeek!


Left to right: Michelle Ivette Gomez of Creative Unions, Zachary Z. Handler, Nick Horan and Carlyn Thomas of Terrault Gallery

Left to right: Michelle Ivette Gomez of Creative Unions, Zachary Z. Handler, Nick Horan and Carlyn Thomas of Terrault Gallery

10. When the whole team got together in Baltimore to take this 80’s neon glamour shot!


If you are around Baltimore or DC, I hope you can stop by the opening for “Miami is Nice” on Oct 7, 7-10pm at Spacecamp to say hello, enjoy drag performances, and get your glitter nails done. See you Bmore, miss you.

Yours in 80’s excess and shoulder pads,

-Michelle


ABOUT ME

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Michelle Ivette Gomez is an arts professional with a love for romance and art, and a passion for bringing people together and telling stories through art. She received her MFA in Curatorial Practice from the Maryland Institute College of Art where she focused on co-creative curatorial practice and expanding traditional methods of exhibition presentation in collaboration with communities. As the Founder & Creative Director of Creative Unions Event Design LLC, the first event planning company dedicated to integrating contemporary art into life’s celebrations, she views marriage celebrations as specially curated art exhibitions that bring people together to celebrate and express unique love stories.

Creative Highlight: Jermaine Táron Bell

#TBT to that time I went to Baltimore to see Jermaine and we checked out “Take Me Away To The Stars” a solo exhibition by Stephen Towns. Image by Anthony Summers.

#TBT to that time I went to Baltimore to see Jermaine and we checked out “Take Me Away To The Stars” a solo exhibition by Stephen Towns. Image by Anthony Summers.

I am so honored to introduce you to one of my favorite Scorpios, and arts leaders, Jermaine Táron Bell! Jermaine is the first to be featured in the Creative Unions’ “Creative Highlights” blog series meant to highlight some of the incredible creatives in my community who inspire my work everyday!

Jermaine Táron Bell holds a B.F.A. in Graphic Design from the Maryland Institute College of Art. He is a visual designer who creates kick ass stationery, prints, and pins inspired by the African diaspora. In addition to his visual designs, he has had his hands in the advertising, marketing, and branding worlds doing everything from planning programs that broaden community outreach, to helping artists brand themselves through curatorial projects and social media.

Jermaine and I met at a fellowship program for arts administrators in Baltimore a few years ago. We knew we were going to be friends and #Scorpiosiblings from the start when we bonded over our shared goals while collaborating with our own communities to create art spaces for people of color designed to represent themselves beyond traditional methods. In facing these challenges, we learned it is important to be true to ourselves and not get caught up changing who we are, or silencing ourselves to fit into dominant molds that institutions are comfortable with.

 Read below to see what he is up to, and get a deeper look into his thoughts on Black Queer  Love, art, the institution of marriage, and the importance of intersectionality in LGBTQIA+ spaces. #Blackqueerlovestoriesmatter

Standing next to a piece by  Shani Crowe  at MoCADA museum in Brooklyn, NY. Image by Lauren Van Slyke.

Standing next to a piece by Shani Crowe at MoCADA museum in Brooklyn, NY. Image by Lauren Van Slyke.

Michelle: Hey Jermaine! Thank you so much for talking to me today! I am so excited to get real with you and ask a bunch of questions about art, love, marriage and more. I bet you haven’t talked about relationships on a blog yet, right?

Jermaine: Sure! I guess there is a first time for everything, let’s get real!

Michelle: In my world, all of those things intertwine! But before we dive deep AF into those things, lemme start off with one question...Have you seen any powerful movies lately? I haven’t stopped thinking about Moonlight ever since I saw it. I also just saw the SunDance movie called KIKI, which is about New York City’s underground voguing ballroom scene, and the importance of creating our own systems in a heteronormative world. Both of these movies blew my mind!

Jermaine: I obviously loved Moonlight! It actually reminds me a lot of my friend and frequent collaborator Kirk Shannon Butts’ film Blueprint in that it features beautiful talented black leads and sexual tension, but no actual sex. Powerful!

I haven’t seen KIKI yet, but, I LOVED Moonlight because It’s rare that I see a story that could mirror me or my friend’s lives on a big screen.

KIKI sounds a lot like Paris is Burning. Which is controversial of course because some people feel that Jennie Livingston exploited the people in the documentary, but it’s also instrumental to any young black gay person’s development because the subjects in the film are LEGENDARY!

Michelle: Yes, it is so important that we see ourselves not only in the visual arts industry, but also on the big screen to feel validated, and be heard. The way popular media tells our stories has a huge influence on how others may perceive us. And yes Livingston’s methods were HIGHLY problematic, but the creative team for KIKI seems to have taken a very different approach and actually partnered with Twiggy Pucci Garçon, one of the members of the ballroom scene, to develop the story and guide the process. I’d say the film has a very different and far more socially conscious tone than Paris is Burning. Both Moonlight and KIKI proved to me that it is so important for us creatives of color to tell our stories in new ways, and to keep fighting for seats at the table so everyone can benefit, even if it feels tokenizing in a mostly white industry, like film.

Although you are not involved in film, you do have the power of creating visuals and advertisements as a graphic designer. Other than your role as a designer, how do you define yourself as a creative in the broader sense?

Jermaine: I heard from Leslie King-Hammond, my former African Studies professor that in most African countries there isn’t a word for “art”. And, I’ve had conversations with other creatives of color that felt art school only complicated their relationships to art. Since graduating I’ve worked in advertising, but I also have had several community organizing roles like my current one as an Open Society Fellow where I am working with a local black artist to broaden his programming and marketing at his arts and community centered event space. This all grew from the marketing work that I did alongside my friend Kirk Shannon Butts of Flickeria to help get my partner’s foot into the contemporary art market.

Jermaine wearing his  “Respiration” pin . Image by Stephen Towns.

Jermaine wearing his “Respiration” pin. Image by Stephen Towns.

Michelle: Back to Leslie King-Hammond’s point about how there is no word for art in African countries...I found that to be such a beautiful way to remind us that art is everywhere, art is a part of our daily lives, and that we are all inherently creative (even those who did not obtain an arts education). It seems like every aspect of your life is a work of art, including your relationship to your partner, Stephen. If love was a collaborative work of art, how would you describe your relationship?

Jermaine: I think about Stephen as a sensitive, caring person with a range of feelings and emotions. So, it’s more about respect and tenderness than anything else. With black gay men there is no blueprint for love. We have to define love on our own terms, the same can be said about our art practices. I make mistakes all the time, so does he and we learn from our mistakes and we mend them. We both learn on the job together!

With black gay men there is no blueprint for love. We have to define love on our own terms, the same can be said about our art practices.
— Jermaine T. Bell

Michelle: How long have you two been together?

Jermaine: This July will be 8 years!

Jermaine and Stephen installing Stephen’s 2014 solo exhibition, “Co-Patriot” at Gallery CA in Baltimore, MD.  

Jermaine and Stephen installing Stephen’s 2014 solo exhibition, “Co-Patriot” at Gallery CA in Baltimore, MD.  

Michelle: Sometimes I go to parties, and acquaintances just straight up ask me, “So when are you going to get married?!” Or my Latina friends tell me that their abuelitas or tias come up to them at Thanksgiving and Christmas asking them why they haven’t gotten married yet. Do you ever feel that kind of pressure to get married?

Jermaine: HA! I think that happens far less frequently with gay couples. I feel pressure to “be an adult”. Marriage is not something that really concerns us. Our intersectional lives as black gay men face several challenges before marriage can even be considered. There’s our physical bodies as black men that frighten people. There is being an outsider in the “LGBTQIA+ rainbow” which is largely centered around wealthy, white couples interests and needs. I think when people close their eyes and picture a gay man they see a sassy, fit, wealthy, white man who may not even date a person of color. My personality, partner, and body type may not be what comes to people’s minds when they hear the term “gay man”.

I believe it's because LGBTQIA+ people are still fighting to be seen as “normal”. So all of the other things outside of that scope like an all black, body positive, non-wealthy partnership aren’t top of mind to everyday people. Him and I are more focused on having amazing conversation, fitting in time in every week to Netflix and chill, and being present in one another’s and our friends and families lives.

Jermaine T. Bell sitting underneath a painting by  Stephen Towns . Image by  Rob Ferrell .

Jermaine T. Bell sitting underneath a painting by Stephen Towns. Image by Rob Ferrell.

Michelle: Yeah, it proves that conversations around the whole institution of marriage is so heteronormative and white. Philadelphia recently released a PRIDE flag that included a black and brown stripe to represent the inclusion of people of color.

Even though you do not feel pressured by others to get married, do you ever imagine getting married as a way to celebrate your beautiful relationship to Stephen with those you love the most? If you were to get married, what would be the ideal way to celebrate your union if you were to let go of all those dominant, heteronormative and eurocentric traditions?

Jermaine: I mean the flag thing just proves that we are a minority within a minority. If the LGBTQIA+ really is accepting and malleable, then what's wrong with the new stripes?  As for a  fantasy wedding, mine would be very short on ceremony and big on food!! To satiate the Type A Creative Director in me, I’d do something like unexpected food pairings... like my mother’s baked macaroni and cheese with a complimentary expensive red wine that would make some of my bougie friends AND my truck driving dad and brothers expand their palettes, and hopefully enjoy it. That’s a curatorial project that needs fine finessing right there! I just think that as gay men when we decide to have a wedding, which is traditionally not designed for two men, we have to be creative and tailor it to fit our lives. I can’t afford a destination wedding, or to feed 100 people, so I won't! But at the same time our celebration will have a lot of detail and love put into it. I don’t undervalue what the occasion marks, but, I can't adhere to heteronormative standards either, simply because it isn’t who we are! Basically it'd have to be unique to us in every way and still be bad & boujee.

“Respiration” pin designed by Jermaine Bell.

“Respiration” pin designed by Jermaine Bell.

Michelle: That sounds beautiful to me! Sounds like a curatorial project to me, with “juxtapositions”! (Art School inside jokes). I can imagine your dream wedding naturally being creative, especially since food is a culinary art. Like you said earlier, there is no term for art in African countries. Your whole life is art and your wedding sounds like one big piece of social practice or performance. You are utilizing your creativity to create your own way of doing a wedding outside of heteronormative standards. This is one of the main reasons why I developed Creative Unions, so that people can authentically tell their stories, in their own ways, through “art” that brings everyone together! #youdoyouboo!  

So, what’s next?

Jermaine: I just want to keep working to get more retailers for my stationery and pins. And, basically get to the level of success of a typical character that Anne Hathaway might play in a predictable romantic comedy. I want a modern kitchen in a spacious brownstone in a leafy, urban neighborhood. I just want to be less basic, which I can do pretty easily since I’m a black gay man, and my road to that brownstone will inevitably include lots of hard work!
 

Michelle: I am confident you will get that brownstone in the near future, especially since I know you always work so hard to get what you want! Thank you so much for your real AF interview, I know you will inspire others to speak their truth! Keep imagining. Keep creating. Keep thriving.

Jermaine: Thanks for having me!

 

And that’s the 1st of our “Creatives Highlight” blog post series. I hope this interview inspired you to watch Moonlight and KIKI if you haven’t done so. I also hope you continue creating your own systems and ways of doing things. It’s what creatives like Jermaine do best: they utilize their creative problem solving skills to innovate and dismantle the world’s boxes in order to be the change they want to see in the world, while doing what they love best. You are the tastemaker. 

To stay updated with Jermaine’s bad and boujee journey and creative practice, follow Jermaine on Etsy and Instagram @jtbeezwax.

Featuring Jermaine Táron Bell. Image by Lauren Van Slyke.

Featuring Jermaine Táron Bell. Image by Lauren Van Slyke.


ABOUT ME

Michelle Ivette Gomez is an arts professional with a love for romance and art, and a passion for bringing people together and telling stories through art. She received her MFA in Curatorial Practice from the Maryland Institute College of Art where she focused on co-creative curatorial practice and expanding traditional methods of exhibition presentation in collaboration with communities. As the Founder & Creative Director of Creative Unions Event Design LLC, the first event planning company dedicated to integrating contemporary art into life’s celebrations, she views marriage celebrations as specially curated art exhibitions that bring people together to celebrate and express unique love stories.