Creating Art That’s Rooted in Activism:
An Interview with Laci Jordan

Laci Jordan wears an orange outfit, the background is yellow. A few yellow flowers are visible in the foreground.

Change is Brewing is our undeniably delicious Limited Batch flavor created to celebrate a new vision of true public safety that helps everyone thrive. We love it for the coffee from our new friends at BLK & Bold. We love it for the fudgy brownies from our long-time friends at Greyston Bakery. And we can’t stop staring at the joyful artwork on the pint created by the incomparable Laci Jordan.

Laci Jordan is based in Los Angeles and has had her art showcased all around the country and the world. We were lucky enough to get a chance to talk to her about art, activism, and the power of storytelling.

When did you first begin to think of yourself as being an artist or being creative?

My mom is very, very creative. She does all types of stuff, painting, she's big in ceramics. I didn't necessarily register that as being creative, I guess, when I was a kid. And it was also always something that she was doing for work too. So I think I kind of viewed it as work versus being creative. And I think I felt the same way about the things I was doing when I was younger, like playing and reading music. I just didn't register that as being creative. I registered it as just something I knew how to do.

It wasn’t until college, where I found myself taking photos for friends’ fashion blogs or producing various creative projects, that I was like, "Wait, I'm way more creative than I'm giving myself credit for."

What was that experience like?

I was at the University of Alabama studying criminal justice (which actually goes hand in hand with this Ben & Jerry’s project), when I started getting interested in art and design. Fast forward, I ended up finishing my criminal justice degree and then I went back to school for design. So I graduated with a degree in arts as well. I did a ton of internships, and then moved to California for an internship with Disney.

That's where my professional design career started. It wasn’t until later in my career, maybe 2016, ’17, when I really tapped into myself as more of a multidisciplinary artist and felt like this was something I needed to be doing in multiple forms, not just as a designer.

Something that I took away from working in Disney was the importance of storytelling, of telling different stories, telling my own story. They really taught me that with art and design, you can create a different level of storytelling.

What led you to study criminal justice at college?

Well, I definitely come from a family that's like, "Hey, go to school for something that's going to make some money." I saw a lot of financial struggles, not just necessarily in my household but in households around me. Also, I've always been very inquisitive, very much like an investigator, very observant and I always feel I can solve any problem, which is something that worked great for me when I was doing more traditional design work as well. But I was thinking then that I might be a lawyer or work for the FBI or something. I actually interned with the FBI, but that's a different story...and I’m glad I changed paths.

I wanted a job that would be stable but also would allow me to be a part of making change. And I was also really interested in solving problems!

Given your background, do you think there’s a place where activism and art intersect?

I have a few peers who consider themselves art activists and their work is purely rooted in activism. To be honest, that title comes with a lot of grand responsibility and isn’t necessarily for me. For myself, I think of that Nina Simone quote a lot, that art should reflect the times. I think my art does that, whether it's something that is rooted in activism, whether it's something that's just rooted in existing as a Black woman, whether it is something that I'm seeing in pop culture, it all reflects what I'm seeing in my everyday life. Since I am a Black woman and I care, I can't help but create art that is rooted in activism—but for the record, I’m not Laci Luther King!

Art has a way of pushing, shaping, and amplifying ideas in our culture. Do you see a role for yourself in that, in terms of making a particular point or furthering a particular message through art?

I don't think it really hit me until last year, the idea of art being a voice for the voiceless, or a way for people to explain and show how they feel and what they care about without actually having to put it into words. My work has always reflected the state of the culture, but it just registered recently that it also gives others a voice—I realized that it’s much bigger than me.

I think with art, it's an easy, beautiful visual way for people to say, "Hey, I can share this. I see myself in this. I believe in these ideals. I love the message," whatever that may be. I think art makes people feel something and it makes people be able to speak, without having to know exactly what to say.

You mentioned how art should reflect the times. But art can also, at its best, help people imagine something new. Is that part of what you were doing with your design for the Change is Brewing pint?

It's interesting you asked that because when I was given the design brief, it took me a long time to try to figure out what that world with true public safety would look like, without being extremely literal. And so, when I was going through my brainstorming process, I was just writing down words of, okay, if we could abolish all of these different factors, how would I feel, how would I think my friends feel, how do I think family would feel? And a lot of words that came up were like, loving, joyous, happy, bold, free, carefree, unapologetic. And those are also words that I tend to use in my work.

And that's when it hit me that I needed to be able to show what joy looks like and what love looks like. And I think, especially just looking at where we are in society, looking at all the events that happened in 2020 after George Floyd and with the racial injustice exposed by the pandemic and so on, what a lot of people seem to need and want is hope and joy and love. You can talk to anybody on the planet at this moment and they're probably in need of one of those things.

How did the collaboration with Ben & Jerry’s come about?

They emailed me and I was shook because I don't know, a lot of great things have come across my plate over the years, but this is something that I just never really imagined would happen. It was an immediate yes. It was an immediate yes because of what Ben & Jerry stands for. There aren't a lot of companies at all that are really truly taking a stand and saying things and following it up with action.

A lot of companies have been like, with everything going on in our country, "Hey, we never worked with Black people before and now we want to do this,” and that feels kind of icky. So for Ben & Jerry's, I was like, "Okay. This has to work out. This is a match made in heaven." And the closer and closer the project gets to launching, it's just hitting me how important this is for a lot of people, especially thinking about things that kids will see, young Black kids, teenagers, the whole spectrum of people is very, very important.

What you just mentioned speaks to the idea of representation in art, in culture, in business. Awareness of who is seen and who isn’t in our culture seems to be growing. Can you talk a little about what it means for you as a Black artist to do this kind of work at this moment in our history?

I'm super excited about it. I'm proud to be a part of it. And to be honest, I'm just glad that this has arrived now. The other side of that is, like, "Why is this just now happening in 2021?"

With this pint, people that look like me will be able to see themselves in a world of joy. And it is also mixed with the fact that it features ingredients from a Black-owned business and it's ice cream!—something that makes you feel good. Everyone needs to see themselves—and not just during Black History Month or when something extremely disheartening happens in the world. It needs to be an everyday thing.

So I'm hoping that with each step I take in my artwork, and each step that companies like Ben & Jerry's and others take, in terms of who they're commissioning and what projects they're putting out, I'm hoping there's a trickle effect of other people waking up and being like, "Wow, we need to get our shit together."

How optimistic are you about that? Are you sensing that we’re at a tipping point, where lasting change is possible?

I think that culture is shifting and that deserves to be celebrated. And then people who are doing it rightly deserve to be celebrated, but I also feel like, celebrate your wins but then don't sit on that for too long because you have more work to do.

We want to make sure that we're taking advantage of this moment, bringing more people in and giving people opportunities. I go back and forth on this’s important to celebrate our wins, but also it's like, "Okay, what can you be doing next? What's the next thing?"

You talked about the power of storytelling earlier. Could you dig into that a little more?

For me it’s tied to the idea of giving voice to the voiceless. Just before I came to Disney, Princess Tiana came out as the first Black Disney princess and it was impossible to understand how much Black girls needed somebody to look at in that Disney franchise until that story was told. And it wasn't just about representation. When I was a young girl, there was never a princess that I could be like, "Oh, I look like her. And I also feel like a princess." It always felt like cosplay to some extent, like, I'm just dressing up. Nobody I know has red hair, I’m not Ariel. You don't realize what that does for a child, until you tell the story.

So with this pint, this vision is something that we're dreaming to happen. But if the story can be told and it touches you, then you see it and now you're on this mission to try to make a change. So I think everything is rooted in story. And there are millions of stories and millions of stories that haven't been told and millions of things that people can and want to resonate with.

Do you ever stop to think, "Wow, I'm providing some of these stories for people who never saw themselves before, who were never able to dream this way before?"

It's so crazy you asked that, I literally just had this conversation last week, of really understanding the impact that I've made with my art and just by simply existing. Because I think sometimes you feel like you have to have this, I don't know, extremely grand presence in life. I've got to be the president of the United States or something to make change. But when actually, the things I've done just by literally showing up for myself encourage and inspire so many people.

I'm just extremely honored to be a part of this project and to have my art as a part of this story. I'm hoping that this can bring joy to people. I'm hoping that it starts some conversations within households, for sure. And that it just makes people feel good—that people see themselves and people see love and they see an unfiltered authentic joy. So that's it. I'm just happy to be here.