Za’Nia Coleman’s Tangible Collective, Tangible Impact

A community baby turned community organizer, Za’Nia Coleman is creating space for cultural expression in a way unlike what is typically reflected at the center of the Twin Cities arts scene. The multi-talented creative, though typically behind the scenes, does not lack in terms of creative abilities, doing everything from film, textile printing, costume designing, to artist engagement. This young up-and-coming artist centers her work around amplifying underrepresented narratives, often from the perspective of Black and brown, and other marginalized communities.

The sustenance of traditional and historical practices around love, pleasure, cultural expression, and community building exists as the foundation of the past, present, and future work of Za’Nia Coleman; and is a testament to her fellowship with the Springboard of the Arts this year. “I believe in the power of doing things together, “she says, “and I’ve just seen it be beautiful.”

Born in Minnesota and raised in Georgia, Za’Nia came back to Minneapolis surrounded with the ‘Southern feels’ of warmth, Blackness, and family, which exist at the center of her passions. She is deeply immersed in the magic of Black spaces, bodies, and acts of liberation. The transition of coming from a predominantly Black environment centered in community to the Twin Cities where “Blackness” is suppressed and often isolated, has fueled the community-centered cultural nature of Za’Nia’s work.

Curating space for folks in the community to tell their story – folks that are often unnoticed and unheard – changes the narrative and landscape of our artistic community. Za’Nia does this in multiple ways. One of her most successful projects is Tangible Collective, an organization devoted to millennial Black thought that she co-created with her best friend and collaborator, Ricki Monique. The collective hosts a free monthly open mic night called Tangible Thoughts.

“It was just a regular open mic, a monthly open mic, and that was the only intention at the time,” said Za’Nia. “It grew into this organic arts community. A lot of our peers were trying to be artists and needed a space that affirmed their being in that way.”

The first time I attended Tangible Thoughts I was washed over with inspiration and gratitude as I stood amongst folks that looked just like me, sharing stories I could resonate with. To see Black artists participate in a space that is curated to honor them before they’ve even begun their piece, a space that always ends with an affirming applause – it was clear to me that the standard was set at holding a safe space for vulnerability.

As longtime friends, Za’Nia and Ricki have successfully created a woman-led, Black empowering event that regularly draws 100-200 people. Calling it a “culturally affirming experience” just grazes the surface of what I experienced at Tangible Thoughts’ open mic. It felt like family, which really speaks to how Za’Nia Coleman’s values and intentions are firmly rooted in community.

The Tangible Collective has four connecting components. Aside from the monthly open mic, the Collective hosts an annual Tangible Showcase that highlights and celebrates recurring Tangible Thoughts performers. The showcase, typically held towards the end of summer, is a vessel of communal wealth, partnering with other local organizations and vendors in alignment with the Collective’s values.

Another component of the Collective is the Teaching Artist Cohort. Within this Cohort, community artists are supported in working with youth to offset inequities typically faced by creators of color. Systemically, there are a lot of ways in which Black creators are dismissed or denied the opportunity to showcase their skills as experts, directly fueling the disparities experienced by young artists of color. Through mentorship and community participation, the Tangible Collective’s Teaching Artist Cohort works to bridge the resource gap by connecting local artists of expertise with aspiring youth.

“Our structure of mentorship and teaching opportunities both creates skills in teaching artists of color and creates better, more accessible and relevant arts programming for youth from marginalized communities,” says Za’Nia. “We recognize that artists are the storytellers of the Black community. It is critical during these times of social and racial transformation that youth have access to these storytellers to help contextualize and make sense of their current world.​​”

The fourth component to the collective is a dual platform known as Blackness Beyond Performative. Blackness Beyond Performative centers dialogue around the creative process of Black art, shifting the lens of valuing Black art solely for consumption to an expanded experience that honors the process of sacred creation. Artists participate in a curated showcase followed by a panel, creating space for the performers to go deeper into the process of their work, and allowing the community to engage them directly with questions and feedback. It’s a great opportunity for artists to receive community support and input.

“Blackness Beyond Performative is a space where we are intentional about leaving audiences with a deeper connection to shared work and opening up the floor for community dialogue,” says Za’Nia.

As a whole, the Tangible Collective offers a multi-layered path to integration in the Twin Cities art scene.

“We look for ways to help artists develop practices around sustainability, income, functioning as a full time artist, resources, talking about your work, showcasing your work,” explains Za’Nia. “We really stress wanting to allow artists to develop and become who they want to be within the community and not having to go to outside institutions, especially white ones, to get validation or the experience needed, or the development time needed.”

Though Za’Nia’s contributions to the Tangible Collective are significant, her work doesn’t stop there. Za’Nia graduated college with a film degree with a focus on documentaries; she credits her childhood experiences of tagging along with family members and elders that had connections to the Twin Cities art scene for inspiring her to curate spaces centered in cultural and historical practices.

Being exposed to Black theater artists, singers, and most importantly, engaged community at a young age, Za’Nia saw firsthand the power of intentionally curated Black spaces. This led to thoughts around the ways in which Black liberation could exist, especially through the lens of womanhood and oral history.

“I’m an oral archive. I love to just let people talk about themselves… I love hearing the “why’s.” I love old stories. I love Black stories around love, and Black female stories around love and friendship specifically. I’m really just into older Black women talking about the ways that they found joy and happiness. I think a lot of magic happens in people’s lineage, and I think sometimes it gets lost in this era of “current and modern.” I’m not really into film in a flashy way. It’s more so a means of capturing a narrative. Capturing the story that happened. Capturing a voice, a laugh, a recipe. I had an interview with one of my great aunts, and she passed away. But I have something I can show my nieces now, and they can show their nieces about the women that came before them. Film for me is a tool that I can use to represent tradition.”

Za’Nia is extremely grateful for the Springboard internship which gives her the opportunity to be fully present in her work. Za’Nia exemplifies the importance of Blackness “beyond production,” spending a lot of her time engaging with art just because, and resting as a form of self-care. Aside from engaging the community, amplifying marginalized stories, costume or textile creating, carrying around her big and thoroughly supplied bags, or recharging with pastime hobbies, Za’Nia’s heart exists in the space of a “happy Black woman.” After witnessing many Black women turn angry at the hands of socioeconomic and systemic oppression, no matter what stage in her work, she chooses faith, grace, and rest as self-imposed acts of liberation and looks forward to her future.

“Growing up when I was younger, I used to tell my mom that I’m going to be a happy Black woman because so many of the women around me were not happy. I’m just trying to be an example of a Black woman that I would have loved to see when I was younger.”

About the author:
Jasmine McBride is a Twin Cities-based storyteller and public speaker. Her work is rooted in the exploration of social intersections, amplifying collective shifts of perspective through film, photography, poetry, and journalism.