The Story, Lessons, and “Luck” behind Tila Studios
In meeting Tiffany Latrice, the founder of TILA Studios, it is not a surprise that luck was on her side. It is said that what you put forth is what you receive, and Latrice has an energy that can be felt the moment walking into Tila Studios. When walking into the workspace, I noticed everyone was greeted with a hug. A hug from Latrice is a hug you didn’t realize you needed, as her passion and genuine nature emanate from her.
Tiffany Latrice is the executive director of TILA Studios. Originally from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Tiffany is a fosterer of the arts, and an artist herself. She is a painter, whose works line the walls of the studio. Painting runs deep in Tiffany's lineage, her grandfather was a painter as well, influencing Latrice’s love for the medium since she was a little girl.
Latrice describes TILA Studios as a visual arts incubator for emerging female artists in metro Atlanta, and a co-working space for artists; mainly visual artists to come and work and share this space, and also use whatever work we actually create in the studio to exhibit in our gallery.”
For a while, Latrice was working in corporate America in New York City up until 2014. Bored with the corporate world, she wanted a change of pace and had to consider what that would look like for her. She changed things around and had the opportunity to live on a farm in Powder Springs. She lived there for two years and rented a small room for under $300 which had a studio upstairs, and worked on her craft. “I wanted to see if I could actually be an artist, and I loved it, and it was so amazing to me,” Latrice stated.
Latrice received her masters in Women’s history in 2011 which caused her to want to research and study women in the arts. “ I came across this woman named Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, and I totally saw myself in her. I loved her, she is such an important figure in art history, and she really was in conversation with Baldwin, Angelina Grimke, and was doing all of these works that were transformative. You could now find her work on Wikipedia linked to all these historical events. So I think understanding our integral role in shaping history or showing histories that are typically overlooked is so important,” says Latrice.
Latrice also pays homage to Frida Kahlo and how she did her self-portraits, in a way that artistically articulated the landscape of Mexico at the time. Latrice stresses that how providing these narratives in our voices, we can revise history in a very inclusive way. “I think women are the only people that could do that because we literally birth nations. We give birth to all these people, so we’re the backbone of civilization. We automatically shape culture and what the future's going to be, so I think that’s what I’m really interested in too.” Says Latrice.
For example, they are working on their Creatives Wanted conference here at TILA in August. Two Dope Girls who are pretty much a powerhouse online and they have their...and I’m sure you know of them, they’re everywhere, at farmers markets, but they don’t have a home. So we’re throwing their two year anniversary here. Doing things like that and identifying people who need space to kind of bring their whole collective, or audience together, under one roof, and that also cultivates TILA too. I like opportunities like that all the time. Just trying to talk to people like “Hey, you want to do this? Okay, just come to the TILA studio.” and I don’t take a cut from it. I let people have their money, and build their brand. To me, you building your brand and getting your foot started is how I started. So why not give back and pay it forward, and investing.
When it comes to the process of attaining the space for TILA to make that space. Latrice describes it as pure luck. Tiffany then went on a manhunt to look for her peers in the art world for conversation and feedback, and she found them, but they were not public, and most of the people dominating the art world were men. “Not saying that we’re not out there, but we’re not out there in a very collective way...So where do we all meet up, and where do we practice, and what do we talk about our work that is very unbiased or sexist, and things like that?” From that question, Tila was born.
“Safe space” is a word used a lot with different takes, with the common idea of s space to express and be oneself freely. Tiffany gives her definition of a safe space with sureness. “I think a safe space is when you can be your true authentic self. Get critical feedback, but not be judged by it, and be able to actually be cared for, and have someone you can actually lean on and talk to and be accessible. A lot of us, me included, I try really hard, and so does my team to make sure we’re very inclusive of who comes into our space. We try to welcome you with a hug. We try to make our space feel safe. Homey, where we have a couch, we have snacks, our food, a place that you can just sit down and work if you didn’t want to go home right away. I think that’s safe too,” states Latrice
The yoga class at Tila was the essence of safety, taught by Toure, a statuesque woman with a robust and reassuring voice, who opted for Tyler the Creator’s latest album, Flower Boy to be the background music of the class. “Some say my instruction is intense...You will always leave knowing what you need to improve on,” says Toure. In fact, the yoga instruction was intense. That you were pushed into learning positions and balances you’ve never tried before, but she will work with you, and although she said her class was more physical than spiritual, it doesn’t seem as though anyone in the class left without a fog of peace, and knowing something they can improve on.
Like Toure’s yoga session, Latrice admits starting Tila wasn’t and isn’t easy. “Some days I’m like crap, what the hell did I get myself into?” According to Tiffany, the space that Tila Studios used to be was an eyesore, with puke green walls.
When it came down to the final location, she pulled up to the front door in November, certain it was the space she viewed online ”Somebody let me see it, and it had carpet everywhere. It was a mess. I could see this vision of what it could be.” says Latrrice.
The next weekend she met with the building manager and made it clear that although she had no money, she had an idea. “I literally had zero dollars. Mind you; I’m trying to pay for a house and make ends meet. At this time I was living by myself... literally pinching coins, can’t even barely put gas in my car. So this was so stupid, but I just thought I’m going to pitch this idea and see where it goes.”
She met with him that Sunday at 5 o’clock, and pleaded with him that her idea was something special. So he dared her to put on the Tri-City’s networking event in three weeks. Relocate the event to East Point, remodel the space, and host the event like an art show, and raise money at the art show to fund her business. “He just gave me this challenge, and this is a test. I could either be like ‘No I can’t do it. I need more time’, or I’m going to show him I can do it,” says Latrice.
She called the City of East Point’s office which resulted in moving the event, already planned in Hapeville, to East Point just for Latrice, without a business license or a logo. “So my logo that you see was made in thirty minutes. Sent to the city, and it just stuck. So that happened, and everything just kind of happened haphazardly, and it’s just been like that since."
Latrice reflects on Tila’s beginnings “I think being put under pressure like that, you have to be very decisive, and very certain in yourself, and I think that’s helped me as I had to learn how to pivot during difficult times In the first six months of business.”
Tiffany’s main goal is to build a robust network of emerging artists that are practicing their work, and growing their career--mainly a launching pad. “I think the biggest thing of TILA is giving people the opportunity to do that a platform. Not necessarily being at your expense just to charge you to be in here, but exposure in a way that gets you on. It’s a very DIY culture...People are missing space. So they’re doing it online, they’re doing it on social [media]. It’s something very special to see someone, touch them, interact with them, like me and you. I think I’m very blessed for having the space that can offer that opportunity for people that are mostly online or digital. An actual physical space to showcase their talents, especially women,” says Latrice.
More than anything Latrice looks forward to TILA’s first year anniversary and to know how she can better serve women artists and having more of a pulse of what you all need in terms of space. Right now a lot of TILA’s financial resources are going to art supplies and trying to figure out what is the best way to support artists by having a collaborative workspace “I think the future is turning this whole space into something that is ours as women. Like, this is our base in terms of coworking, and our gallery...It’s all focused on art workshops and professional development, and mental wellness. So a very holistic space, that will obviously enable you to be very successful as artists,” says Latrice.
One thing that makes the process a bit easier is location. Atlanta has had a boom in DIY culture, mainly due to their openness to try new things. Atlanta’s doing really good with collaboration. It’s become an internet meme like “let’s link, let’s collaborate,” but in actuality, it can be seen as a window to southern hospitality and the southern nurturing that Atlanta has in its arts scene.
“That’s the one thing that I knew why I could build here. Because it’s a collaborative city, and people actually want to meet with you... I think that accessibility of people and influencers, entrepreneurs, is critical, especially to people of color building businesses from the ground up that don’t have the framework. I have been super blessed sitting with people who have built brands, and them share with me their secrets. TILA couldn't exist in New York at this stage. In Los Angeles, Tila would be closed, just because...and that’s something that I would absolutely adore about Atlanta. That’s why I’m so excited to be apart of this community and build here, even though I’m not originally from here. I love it!
“Honestly, it was luck. I believe when you have a really sincere heart to do something that helps people, the stars align. I probably need to take a lot more time, to be completely honest, Naya.” Says Latrice. Although from an outsider’s perspective, luck has less to do with TILA in comparison to the heart put behind it.