August 7, 2020

With vision for inclusive spaces, ASU grad creates community for BIPOC, LGBTQ artists and activists

Arizona State University graduate Kamra Sadia Hakim is an artist and entrepreneur with a vision to create inclusive spaces for marginalized communities through Activation Residency, an artist residency and cooperative based in New York. 

Hakim first became inspired to create change while earning a bachelor’s degree in global studies in 2015 from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“My program at ASU was fantastic because I was all over the world by the age of 18,” said Hakim, who uses they/them pronouns.

“I pursued global studies because I knew that I wanted to make a global impact, but I didn't necessarily know how that would take shape. My service learning trip in Johannesburg (South Africa) and Zambia with the ONE Campaign set me off to be a worldly person early on in life by expanding my capacity for human interaction, cultural adaptability and inclusion."

In their sophomore year, Hakim added a minor in social transformation and became exposed to issues on topics including feminism, the patriarchy and white supremacy.

“To wake up to all of that information at a young 21 — I was taken aback. Having access to queer and feminist studies really started to change the way in which I moved through the world. It also gave me access and more permission to my own personal queer and trans identity. From a fundamental level, ASU definitely equipped me with the confidence that I needed to be able to do this work.”

Kamra Sadia Hakim

After ASU, Hakim earned a master’s degree in global affairs from New York University and pursued several internships and roles, including as an arts professional development coordinator at Columbia University. 

In 2018, Hakim created Activation after being moved by the experiences they had at music festivals and creative retreats, and seeing the lack of creative opportunities available for Black, Indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC) as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) individuals.

“By frequenting these festivals and retreats, I was really inspired by the level of community involved and the feeling of coming together around the arts,” Hakim said. “I found that a lot of healing experiences happen when folks come together for something that they really care about to share wisdom, knowledge, talents, expertise and gifts.”

Initially, Activation was promoted as a weekend-long residency for working class and underserved artists. The original group of 20 artists gathered at the Outlier Inn, located in Woodridge, New York, sharing meals together and leading workshops based on their practice.

After what Hakim said was an overwhelmingly collaborative, heartwarming, emotional and transformative experience, they wanted to expand the program’s reach. In the second year of the program, Hakim served over 60 artists through the residency program, this time partnering with community organizers to incorporate programming and conversations around race, class, gender and sexuality. 

Geodesic dome at the Outlier Inn. Courtesy of Activation Residency. 

“People got to grapple with white supremacy and internalized homophobia while being in a community space that felt safe enough to have those difficult conversations,” Hakim said. “We had a conflict around race come up in real time and we had to come together as a community to create solutions for those problems, which is something that you don't really see in this work.”

Over the years, Activation’s mission has remained the same but has grown exponentially with the help of successful online fundraising and community support. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and an increased awareness of the injustices BIPOC and LGBTQ individuals face, Hakim has received a recent influx of support. Since the end of May, Hakim has raised over $150,000 to support Activation projects through social media fundraising.

Hakim also launched a co-op fund this year that has raised over $10,000 since the end of April. Funds from the monthly-contribution program are redistributed to community members in need.

“Folks really love Activation and the work we’re doing. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we had around 1,800 followers on Instagram and now we have more than 9,000,” Hakim said. “I think the conversation around funding and redistributing wealth has rapidly changed.”

When protests against the killing of George Floyd began, Hakim collected funds for necessary supplies like water and hand sanitizer and passed them out to protesters in New York. After experiencing an influx of new followers and an increase in monetary support, Hakim took what they felt was the necessary step forward, and created online workshops and other digital programming to expand Activation's impact.

“The big thing has been figuring out ways to keep the Activation magic alive online,” Hakim said. “We've had some really beautiful Instagram live and Zoom programming, which was kind of unexpected for me. Online programming can be tedious and the Zoom fatigue is real. I just didn't think it was going to work, but we ended up recreating that soft and healing but challenging and rigorous atmosphere that Activation has in real life in our online programming. It has been so touching to see the human to human connections we've been able to achieve in the virtual sphere.”

The funds raised over the past few months will be used to host Respite as Resistance, a care and healing program for BIPOC, LGBTQ, disabled and immigrant activists, organizers and artists. The fall program will incorporate COVID-19 health and safety precautions including physical distancing, required mask wearing, gathering in outdoor spaces and small cohorts of eight to 10 people.

NK and Asha Grant lead a Praise the Lorde Sunday in the dome at the Outlier Inn. Courtesy of Activation Residency.

“I think folks are being galvanized to go hard and fight for the struggle without realizing that part of moving through oppression is caring for ourselves,” Hakim said. “I feel like my job in the revolution is to center care and provide folks with the opportunity to care for themselves and be cared for by other community members.”

Hakim hopes to continue to increase Activation’s reach, and is fundraising for a variety of ongoing projects, including Farming Futurity, a permaculture farm and healing space on 15 acres of land in upstate New York that will provide short-term residencies for artists and community members who want to explore transformative justice healing arts.

“As a Black person who grew up poor and is also trans, this is the kind of liberation that people like me have fought for forever and ever,” Hakim said. “So in a lot of ways, I feel like I'm living my dream and that is a motivation enough for me to continue to do the work.”

Top photo: A group of artists sit on the ground in anticipation of a Family Constellation at Activation Residency. Courtesy of Activation Residency and Tonje Thilesen. 

Emily Balli

Communications Specialist and Lead Writer , The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences