North Philadelphia native Laquanda McCoullum tried to picture a world without art.
“From the designs on the books, to the color scheme in the room,” McCoullum said. “It affects so much that we take for granted.”
McCoullum not only values art, but the people who create it. Last fall, she established Power House Ink, a nonprofit organization. With several other board members, McCoullum aims to promote independent artists.
“Philadelphia has a lot of wonderful actors, dancers, singers, musicians and a lot of people don’t know,” said Lakesha Godwin, another one of Power House Ink’s board members.
Godwin, a social worker who was a singer, actress and dancer when she was young, got to know McCoullum after the two organized several local community arts events together. Power House Ink, Godwin said, will not only strive to help independent artists reach their full potential, but will work to keep them financially afloat as well.
Power House Ink intends to provide financial literacy workshops for independent artists in Philadelphia.
“We want to give people the resources that they need to produce their art, ” McCoullum said.
McCoullum’s adoration for artistry began in kindergarten, when she walked offstage after a performance and was promptly congratulated by her teacher.
“I don’t remember what I did. But I remember her telling me I did a good job,” McCoullum said.
From there, she immersed herself in theater, studying under thespians like Zuhaira McGill, a Barrymore award nominee, and John Graves, who founded a self-named company in Philadelphia. Beyond acting, she explored stage management and directing.
Despite her passion for performance, she took classes in accounting and communications at Temple and the Community College of Philadelphia. It had never occurred to McCoullum that art could serve as a career for her.
“Then, on top of that, most times you see actors and actresses or artists,” she said. “They have a certain look about them and I am not that—I’m not tall, I’m not thin, you know what I mean.”
“And that also became a barrier,” she added.
But life—as is its tendency—got in the way. She was 21 when her mother died.
She married a Philadelphia police officer and the couple had a daughter; gradually, the arts began to fade from McCoullum’s everyday life.
“Life events pushed me to a place where I wanted to be happy for me and not so much everyone else,” McCoullum said. “And one thing that resonated with me was art.”
McCoullum was in her early 30s and working at an international banking corporation when she realized she needed to implement art into her life once again. She remembered an improvisational piece she performed as a 16-year-old in a community arts center. It was the only performance McCoullum’s mother ever got to see.
“She was very proud. And I remembered that feeling also, it was euphoric,” McCoullum said. “And later when I realized that art is what I was passionate about, that moment, you know, came back to me.”
This time around, however, McCoullum added a new twist to her artistic presence: the gift of financial literacy.
“It became a passion in me for people to just have the basic life insurance,” McCoullum said. “Because growing up in the heart of the city, a lot of people don’t have it.”
Power House Ink has a number of additional missions to help artists. Currently, McCoullum is continuing to raise money for a performance and gallery space that the organization can call home. Meanwhile, she plans to open Power House Ink to the public this fall with what she calls “4 the Love of Art.” The competition series in September will dole out financial prizes to theater artists, filmmakers and singers. For the sake of the artists who wish to participate, Power House Ink does not plan to charge submission fees.
“It’s going to be an exciting kick off for the Power House theater,” Godwin said.
Angela Gervasi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.