Artists Respond Q&A: DejaJoelle

In 2021 the City of Saint Paul launched the People’s Prosperity Guaranteed Income Pilot program, and Springboard for the Arts launched a Guaranteed Income for Artists pilot program to go alongside the City’s pilot. To deepen the impact of these pilot programs, the City and Springboard partnered on Artists Respond: People, Place, and Prosperity, a cohort of artists creating public projects that demonstrate the root causes that lead to the need for guaranteed income, and the impact of guaranteed income on families and communities. In these Q&As, hear from the artists about their work!

DejaJoelle, a healing artist and cultural healing curator, produced a short, thoughtful video as part of the Artists Respond: People, Place, and Prosperity cohort. DejaJoelle was born and raised in the Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul, and the video was filmed at the Ananya Dance Theatre space off University Avenue and Lexington Parkway. It features dancers Zion Davis, Zariah Alexander, Aneka McMullen, and Kenna Cottman, with sound design and videography by MMYYKK.

Hi, DejaJoelle! What is your project, and how does it connect to the People’s Prosperity Guaranteed Income pilot?

I wanted to create a mini-commercial that was teetering on the border of a meditation, to subliminally let people know that they deserve rest. I wanted people to see children, teens, adults, just slowing down. Dancing, smiling, resting, loving, and connecting. And 45 seconds later, you’ve meditated, or you’ve taken some time to rest and slow down. I feel like that’s what guaranteed income did for a lot of the families who received it.

The visuals were shot by Mychal Fisher, who is also an artist, who also did the sound score. MMYYKK will always be kin; MMYYKK is a genius. We been in each other’s orbit since we met. Working with MMYYKK with music has been more than I can ever imagine. But also, with the video, he knows how to reflect people. He knows when to slow down. His lens is very important. I’m 5’3”, and he’s gotta be like 6’2”, and when I’m in video sessions with him, he reminds me, “Think bigger. Pan out bigger. Take up more space.”

What interested you in this opportunity to create a project around guaranteed income?

It was my way of giving to St. Paul, representing St. Paul. And it was my way of saying, “Yeah, us.” Not only is this program in St. Paul, but also, I’m from St. Paul, and who else to reflect St. Paul than a St. Paulite? When I think about this program, I think about my family and the people in my community that actually need this, and I’m extremely grateful.

How did the cohort experience influence your project?

I always love being in communion with people, even if it is a Zoom call. Especially on something that’s as important as guaranteed income, I’m so down to talk.

Hearing about other people’s projects was amazing. It allowed me the same thing that MMYYKK told me: to dream bigger. To say, oh, there’s other artists. And this whole ecosystem of art can exist and reflect our communities and help and engage.

This program is about narrative change. What dominant narrative do you believe your project might counter?

We live in a world now where we feel like work is the thing. But it doesn’t really make any sense when we’re not taking care of ourselves or our families the way that we want to. It’s a lie that we have to work ourselves to the bone to be successful, that we have to die in exhaustion. That our children don’t get to see us that much because we have to work two jobs.

My project; our project; community’s project is to resist that narrative by doing the opposite. By actually resting. By taking deep breaths. By spending time with our children or telling our supervisors, “No, I cannot cover that shift.” We deserve everything. Not some good, not a little bit of good, but all good. And we’re gonna get it without breaking our backs.

I work for myself, so there’s no excuse for me not to take care of myself. If I’m not working to my purpose, I’m wasting my time and energy. My body will buck up on me. So where I find rest in work is making sure that I’m checking in, saying, “Are you doing what you said you’re going to do? Does it bring you joy? If it’s not bringing you joy, maybe there’s an alternative way to do it. Or if not, ok, maybe this isn’t for you.”

Lately, I think more people are becoming aware of their body. Like: “I was numb. I was just going to work and doing the routine things.” But what COVID did, and the murder of George Floyd did, was allow people to sit down and be still. And that’s when their body began to say, “Wait. I’ve been trying to yell at you for so long and let you know that this is not for me. I really want you to just breathe for a second and reevaluate your decisions.” So not only am I reevaluating what work looks like — which equals purpose, which equals lifestyle — I feel like the world is doing that as well.

Learn more about DejaJoelle’s work and the Body Prayer Aesthetic:

Learn more about Artists Respond: People, Place, Prosperity and Guaranteed Income: