Meet Kamra Sadia Hakim, the creator of Activation, an immersive residency experience for new and emerging artists that takes place every September in upstate New York.
Activation’s programming focus is trauma and queer informed activism and healing workshops accompanied by pop up galleries, sets, and performances. This three day residency experience is designed by a queer Black person and is for queer Black people and their comrades.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your background?
I am a Black queer Muslim person who was born in Minnesota and raised in Arizona. I grew up in suburbia with two poor parents and five younger siblings. I sought education as a way out of poverty, and chose to accrue student loan debt to pursue higher education. I studied Global Studies and Gender, which sharpened my world view and got me on airplanes at the age of nineteen. I have been traveling internationally for the past seven years out of necessity. After undergrad, I was awarded the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship. The fellowship granted me a full ride scholarship to New York University and a career as a diplomat. After conducting an FBI investigation, the department revoked my scholarship and position as a diplomat because I had past due medical bills, a traffic ticket, and consumed psilocybin. I was forced to pay back my scholarship, take out more student loans to complete my master’s degree, and reimagine my future. Losing my career opened up space for me to explore my creative capacities and I have since then began playing music, experimenting with movement and sound at salons and other events, and working on building out Activation. I am a Brooklyn resident now and have grown tired of the pretentious clout energy art scenes even in our own communities. I, and many others, need Activation, a space that celebrates queerdos, weirdos and all bodies in between.
How did you come up with the idea to start this project?
I spent the last two years cruising a variety of festivals and experiences. To me, these festivals exist as projections of what reality has the potential to be. Working and volunteering allowed me to shift from being a consumer in these spaces to being an active participant. My first volunteer experience was at FORM Arcosanti in 2017. After the festival, there was community discourse on the festival’s Facebook forum, of which I chimed in several times, critiquing culturally appropriative behavior as well as offering education on how this space can become more inclusive for marginalized bodies and voices.
I was so passionate about people who look like me enjoying their time in these spaces, that I became dedicated to communicating with the creators of this experience about ways they can reduce harm and make FORM more inclusive. I bugged them for the entire year until they took steps to put up community guidelines in the main hall of the festival. When I returned to FORM the following year and saw the words I had written to the creator posted on the wall, “We take respecting our fellow human very seriously at FORM. NO RACISM. NO SEXISM. NO HOMOPHOBIA”… I wept big tears. This experience taught me that in order for marginalized bodies to truly be recognized, respected, and celebrated, I had to create that space myself.
My first paid gig was at Bonnaroo 2018. I was hired to be an Ambassador for Plaza 9, which was a new barn on the farm. My job was the decorate and beautify the space, as well as host a massive concert for Cage The Elephant, and daily activities that encouraged festival goers to engage in community. I was chatting with people, getting them comfortable with doing yoga amongst other festival goers, holding space, and feeding folks. I learned what is means to activate a space. I was given permission to step into my power to make things happen, to create. I took the concept of activating and ran with it. Three months after Bonnaroo, Activation was born. From zooming backstage with tables stacked on top of a golf cart to throwing a party for Cage the Elephant in a barn at Bonnaroo, I absorbed what it means to celebrate a space, to claim its intention and activate it.
Who are some people who inspire you to create and/or do what you do?
My close friends, the person I was at five years old, and people who are not born yet inspire me to create. Music festival culture introduced me to some of the most loving and soft human beings in the industry. My friends have supported and uplifted me in this project, as well as my desire to make my own music. I had to grow up fast, and help my mother raise my siblings. I started working for money at the age of 16, so I never really had the opportunity to step into my creative power. I did a lot of writing growing up, and I knew I wanted to make music but it did not happen until my life fell apart so it could fall together. I want my future babies to live in a world where they do not have to fight for access and safety. It starts with me.
What are some of the obstacles you face as a business owner?
Access to business education and start-up costs are my current challenges. I fronted personal funds for some of the costs last year, and foresee myself having to do the same thing this year without ample support from grants and other funding sources. As a poor Black person, it is impossible for me to pay myself, purchase an LLC and copyright, and enhance the experience without financial backing. In order to cut costs, I do all of the work myself, from booking talent, to reviewing applications, to booking the space and catering, establishing community and waste management guidelines, collecting feedback, running the social media and marketing campaigns, building and maintaining the website, answering emails and taking calls, managing the budget and scholarships, problem-solving, being the sole mediator, facilitator and curator – it is a lot of my physical, emotional and mental labor. I want to book folks like Erika Hart and Adrienne Marie Brown, but I do not have Adrienne Marie Brown dollars or access. Activation applicants regularly cite Brown’s work in relation to Activation and I know this space is carving out something special for our future. Activation is already amazing, and with adequate resource, it will transfer into something beyond my wildest dreams.
If you could offer young girls one piece of advice when it comes to setting goals what would be?
Identify what it is you are passionate about, and then reverse engineer your goals. I knew I was passionate about art and nature and beautiful and sincere people. I wanted to create a space where we could come together as artists and supporters of art to share and hold space. Once I conceptualized my passion, I began reaching out to people in my circle for help. I asked friends where would be a good place to host such an experience. From there, everything kind of fell into place. All it took was earnest effort and dedication to seeing the project through. I used Instagram to tell folks about what I was doing. I implemented an application process to suss out people’s intentions for wanting to occupy a space like Activation. Every passion or desire or idea has a set of goals that must be executed. Executing those goals means bringing your passion or dream to life.
What are some common misconceptions people have about the work you do?
Even though Activation is in its infancy, misconceptions have been that Activation costs no money, and it is longer than three days. Residencies typically are free and longer than three days, however, Activation’s current structure exists as a incubator for what will be a year round residency. By year 5, Activation will be its own 21-acre property where artists and members of the community have to opportunity to be in residency year round at no cost.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part of my work is watching something that was once an idea turn into real, actualized moments in space and time. Seeing folks cry together during Activation as they heal trauma through transformative conversations. Witnessing artists share their work for the first time. Sharing meals with chosen family. Existing in the forest with other folks passionate about this work. The entire experience is life changing and I feel honored to be the facilitator of such a space.
How can our readers find out more about you and your work online?