Have you ever had the desire to quit everything, pick up your things and run towards your dreams? Tiffany LaTrice Williams did. She left behind the hustle and bustle of New York City and the life she thought she wanted to pursue what her heart truly desired: to paint. For the people that know this dream chaser, her move wasn’t atypical. The University of Southern California graduate is known for being a whimsical yet determined artist who has always had big dreams of creating a life that impacts more than just her.
In 2016, Tiffany founded TILA Studios, a co-working space for creative women focused on developing art. TILA Studios provides women with a safe space to create ambitious art projects, receive professional development and art management services, as well as exhibition opportunities through the company’s on-site gallery. Tiffany’s company is more than just a side project – it’s her heart and soul. It’s her calling.
In this interview with BAUCE, Tiffany shares why she chose to leave the Big Apple to follow her dream, what her ups and downs have been with entrepreneurship, and how she plans to build a more inclusive art industry for women.
Walk us through your journey. What were you doing before you started TILA Studios? Did you like your job back then?
Tiffany: Before starting TILA Studios, I was the marketing lead at a small start-up called NuVizz in Atlanta. To be honest, I liked my job at nuVizz. There was flexibility. The work was interesting as it was an industry that I knew nothing about and everything was constantly changing. I had great co-workers and I got to work with my best friend, Jayne Walton, every day. As I grew with the company, my role began to expand and I took on new responsibilities. These responsibilities left me with little time for my passion, art.
So, I took my last bit of vacation days to go a two-week solo vacation to Hawaii with the intentions of painting and some self-care sessions that included hiking, swimming, and solo excursions. Once I returned, I quit my job at nuVizz, started working at a coffee shop, and enrolled in an eight-week business planning course to make TILA a reality.
We know you’ve always had a thing for art and are extremely talented. What inspired you to relocate to Atlanta and launch TILA Studios?
In 2014, I graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with my master’s in women’s history, left my corporate job at NBCUniversal and ended a six and half-year relationship with my college sweetheart. I moved from New York City to live on a farm in Powder Springs, GA. I did not work for nine months but instead spent every day painting in a private studio. I funded my lifestyle from my savings and honestly lived a very minimal life. I did not do much, did not go out. I just locked myself in the house to paint and create.
After creating a series of work from 2015 to 2016, I applied to shows and galleries in Atlanta only to get denied or rejected. In the process of trying to get my work out there, I was also applying to art school. I wanted to go to Yale School of Art. I received my rejection letter and did not even make it to the second round of in-person interviews. This series of rejections and taking one of the riskiest leaps of faith in my life, I had to ask myself, “What was I doing wrong? What am I missing from my art practice?”
I realized that one of the most critical components of pursuing art as a profession that you need to have your peers and community to critique your work and also have a network that understands your practice to help you get access to institutions. I had neither. When I reached out to other women and women of color, I realized that they all were experiencing the same thing. This is when the idea of TILA Studios started to form, in the spring of 2016.
How has your entrepreneurial journey been thus far? What are the challenges? What are the wins?
Tiffany: It’s been exceptionally amazing and excruciatingly difficult at the same time. When you become an entrepreneur, you think that it is a lifestyle where you can do what you want, when you want. When in actuality, the best entrepreneurs are great social listeners, have their pulse on all things politics and pop culture, invest in their audience and are extremely humble.
One of my biggest challenges is time and delegation. I have a store-front that means that I have to run a business and be the cleaning lady. My network of friends, family, and supporters help alleviate this stress. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength.
Recently, I received the Business of the Month award in June from the City of East Point and C4 Atlanta named me Leading Lady for their women’s history month blog series. But nothing compares to when I host an event or meet a woman who tells me “TILA Studios is what I’ve been looking for. I am glad that you’re here. That you’re doing this.” When I hear that, I’m winning because that’s who I am doing it for.
Is TILA your full-time job? Do you have any other side gigs?
Tiffany: Ha I wish! I recently just got a full-time job at Cox Automotive. I started in April of this year. During my interview, I informed my future boss, now manager, about TILA Studios. Many of you may think I am crazy for doing this but I did not want to hide something that was literally taking up 90% of my life. I explained in the most tactful way possible, that I was looking for work-life balance, something that can financially sustain me and my business, and institution where I can grow and learn. I think my boss respected my transparency and honesty and hired me! I can’t believe it honestly. It’s the perfect job and investment for TILA. The job and my manager has positioned and introduced me to potential investors and ambassadors for TILA.
How do you balance being an artist and a businesswoman? Do you ever feel like these two sides of yourself conflict with each other?
Tiffany: Balancing being an artist and a businesswoman is tough! Recently, I’ve been giving myself two days a week to be in the studio by myself, uninterrupted. I turn off my phone, ignore text messages and just lock myself in the studio and blast some music. Music always gets me going! SZA’s new album is definitely on repeat. A Seat at The Table puts me in the perfect headspace to create. Mainly because Solange took so much time to create the album. You can feel it. It inspires me to be patient.
One thing I do know about entrepreneurship is that there is no perfect schedule. Once you begin to obsess over having a routine or the perfect schedule, you will become anxious and even unproductive. I stick to a plan but allow for flexibility. If I complete at least three tasks for the business and three tasks for myself throughout the day, then I say today was successful! Keeping a three task per day helps keeps my stress down. Plus three times seven is twenty-one, which means by the end of the week, you would have down twenty-one tasks for yourself and then twenty-one tasks for your business! That’s a pretty successful and productive week.
Atlanta has been noted as a great place for people of color to thrive. Would you say this is true for entrepreneurship? Would you recommend it as a city for people of color to go to if they want to start a business?
Tiffany: I love Atlanta! I love Atlanta’s blackness, the rich history and culture, and the endless opportunity. This is one of the best places to start a business primarily because leaders and investors are accessible. The support from the community is real and the community wants you to succeed. I do not think TILA could have started anywhere else but Atlanta. I have close ties with the city of East Point’s economic development office, the mayor’s office of cultural affairs, professional development groups etc. I have been able to form these relationships because the leaders of these groups are willing and open to conversation. I think having the opportunity to do that has been critical to my success and building something from the ground up!
What are your future goals for TILA Studios and for yourself as a woman?
In the next year, I want the studio to offer a fellowship and residency to host women from all over the world. I want to offer artist housing and have a fully furnished woodshop and ceramics studio to accommodate more diverse visual artists. I imagine TILA taking up nearly a whole block where women can fully express themselves and expand their practice into multiple mediums. That’s the 10 to 15-year vision. At the end of the day, I want emerging female artists to look to TILA as their safe space and home for their careers.
I want women creative to know that I see them, that I want them to succeed in their artistic practice and that I am willing to go on the journey with them. Too often we steer young women from taking creative jobs because of “risks” established by society’s expectations of us. I want women to know that an art career is possible and feasible. For the world, I want them to know that women artists are here. Women artists have been here. Women artists are staying and plan to shift the art world so it can be more inclusive.
What is your advice for artists that are seeking to make money from their work?
Tiffany: Know your end game! As an artist, you should always know your end game because this will dictate your career path. We often think of an art career as something unpredictable, based solely on luck. This is not true. Your end game will help you understand whether or not you need to attend an MFA program, consider international residency programs, and the amount of time you spend in the studio. If your end game is to be Mickalene Thomas, that means an unconditional commitment to your studio practice, an understanding that higher education will greatly enhance your visibility and value of your work. Once you understand your end game and study your contemporaries, you will be able to construct a path that best suits your needs.