Tell us a little bit about how and why you started.
I moved to New York in the mid-2000s to attend design school, FIT [Fashion Institute of Technology]…And once I got to New York…it wasn’t an option [not] to be engulfed in art. But, once I did, my whole train of thought changed…So, once the recession hit, [and] I had to come back to Delaware… I started gravitating more towards art on my own… And, I started actually on Instagram… I would see an art piece and then I would see some type of fashion reference that was similar. I would compare the two and talk about those on Instagram. So, I started doing that just trying to merge the two things that I loved. And, people started gravitating toward it, and interest was building. Then I realized, “Okay, what is this going to look like for me as I became come older?”And so, I decided that when I retired, I’m going to be an art curator… I literally started manifesting it out…I think in like 2017…The more I started putting those things into the atmosphere and on Instagram, [the more] people started gravitating to it and…contacting me. They started asking me for advice, art advice, and pricing advice. And because I had been studying it, now I could answer those questions. So, I started managing an artist here and then another artist reached out to me and…asked me to curate his first exhibit. And it just started. It just started snowballing… [A] lot of [the artists] wanted to be in places and institutions that they weren’t able to get into here, in Delaware. And so I took a gamble. I was like, “Okay, let me test to see if this is really real”. I started asking questions, I actually wrote some proposals for exhibits that artists wanted to be in. I helped them …and what I realized—they were telling the truth. There was not any inclusion here, when [it] came to artists here in Wilmington. And I was upset…So from that, I said, “I will create my own space that is going to be built around inclusion…”
“I said, ‘I will create my own space that is going to be built around inclusion…’ ”
Is it still hard to get into the more prominent museums and galleries, today?
Yes, I would say so. I would they’re a little bit more receptive than they were when I first started. Just speaking to a couple of different people in both of the main institutions, which are the Delaware Art Museum and the Contemporary, there has been a small door opening for artists. There’s still work to be done though, for sure.
What do you think is the next step towards an inclusive art industry?
I think that the people who are in charge of these spaces have been in these places for a long time. And I don’t necessarily believe that they have the background or…experience in some type of art culture that would happen in another place to bring that here. Like we have had situations where we brought people contractors from other states and other cities to do things here in the city of Wilmington, to make it a better place or whatever the situation is they seem to avoid and they brought him in. But there are people who have those types of positions in those in those areas that will sit there till they retired. And they are put in that position, but they necessarily don’t have what it takes to bring it to the next level.
Who do you consider as someone or an institution that’s doing it right?
There are a couple. I really follow… Margaret Winslow at Delaware Art Museum…And like, she’s not officially a mentor, but when [we] talk it’s a lot of jewels that she drops. She’s cool to talk to. She’s been doing this for a long time, and she has her feet in the door, and she’s receptive to change and ideas… So when we do see each other…we bounce conversations, often different things, and I watch what she does. So I like watching Margaret in her spaces. As far as anyone else…there is a young lady named Mirage, she is [a partner] in a gallery in New York…The Bishop Gallery. We met through Clubhouse and we just kept in touch. We’ve been able to meet in Baltimore, down in … Miami, and we are two young black girls, in a world of art, just trying to figure this thing out. She’s…more connected than I am… because she’s in New York…but she’s not like, I’m here, you’re there, [we] have really good conversations about the art world. And, just us being able to understand that we have a long way to go because it wasn’t set up for us to be able to be in the space, but we just pushed through…as women. [So] those are the two women that I’ve been able to pull a lot from. And… before I talked to either one of them, Google was my best friend.
“Whatever your gift is don’t let anybody talk you out of it.”
If you could go back in time and share one piece of advice with your younger self, what would it be?
I would absolutely say, whatever your gift is don’t let anybody talk you out of it. And I think that’s where I’ve seen [that] I could have gotten to this stage a little bit quicker, a little bit sooner. And, it just comes with the time in the 80s, that could have been just it… However, everybody’s so involved with social media and all the influences that can happen. If you have a gift, and whatever it is, don’t let anybody tell you “You should be a doctor”. If you want to be a color psychologist…I actually found one… She’s a teacher FIT now. She’s a color psychologist… I would say it is really hard when you are a child, but once you know what it is don’t let nobody change your mind. And another thing: don’t go into debt for college…And also, here’s another one. Don’t just be an artist be a business person.
So what’s next for you?
This year I really had to take a step back and…evaluate some things. I wanted to be more intentional about who will be exhibiting, and how I formulated and curated what’s going to happen. So [I’ve] left some space open this year for a program that I was working on last year…the youth program. I partnered up with Newcastle County libraries and The Route Nine Library which is on Newcastle Avenue. We had this conversation, I think it’s 2020, and… it came back around last year, where they wanted to have an art space in the Route Nine Library. I already had the idea. And from that, the art space was just for the teens to take some classes…. When we came back to the table last year, [I said] these are the two things that have to be implemented. We have to make a way for these teens to get paid for their time. [Having listened] to what my son said, in 2020, it [made] sense. To hold their attention, they want compensation for their time. So, why don’t we use this as an apprenticeship? Number two…these kids are digital, we need to push them in the area of digital art as well. So let’s make sure they get their foundation, which is the foundation of drawing [and] the foundation of painting. [So] it’s a 12-week program., and…the last four weeks is digital art…[The other thing is] there are expected to be two exhibits this year, in the gallery.
Nominated by Erica Jones
“Being only one of two Black woman-owned galleries in the state of Delaware, Nataki creates many opportunities for artists in the community, such as myself. She curates art shows, hosts pop-up shops, and offers free paint sessions for the youth.”
Why Nataki Oliver is On this List
“Thankful that Jenn gave me first pick to interview, Nataki was high on my list. It wasn’t until the interview itself that I realized how similar we were in wanting to bring people together — and that curating is an art form in itself. Her drive is a thing of beauty and I admire her greatly. She’s out there doing it.”
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