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Nina Yarbough Photo Credit Michael B Maine

Seattle Excellence: Interview with Nina Yarbrough

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Seattle Excellence: Interview with Nina Yarbrough

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Nina Yarbrough is a Seattle artist, writer, poet, consultant, fundraiser, and the Business Development Manager at Central District Forum for Arts & Ideas. 

This spring, Team Diva is shining the spotlight on Black artists (like Nina Yarbrough!) and the CD Forum once again. Central District Forum for Arts & Ideas (CD Forum) is an invaluable Seattle nonprofit. It is Seattle’s ONLY nonprofit organization that is solely dedicated to supporting emerging local Black arts, artists, and ideas. The Central District Forum is based at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute (LHPAI) in Seattle’s Central District Neighborhood. However, during COVID-19, they’ve had to take most things virtual.  

This organization is near and dear to Team Diva. When we first became aware of the extraordinary work being done at CD Forum, it was a wake-up call for us. Many of Seattle’s arts organizations continue to fail to showcase truly diverse talent.

While we should continue to advocate for diversity in these organizations, why not support an arts organization that is ALREADY uplifting Black artists? What if we fully funded a Black artists organization to fulfill their mission?

Team Diva says let’s do it! This year, Team Diva calls on Divaland to join us in supporting Central District Forum for Arts & Ideas during GiveBIG 2021. Our goal is for Divaland to raise $5,000 for CD Forum!

Meet Nina Yarbrough

Seattle Artist, Writer, Poet, Consultant, Fundraiser, and Business Development Manager at CD Forum for Arts and Ideas

Nina Yarbrough photographed by Jonathan Vanderweit.

At CD Forum, every person on staff is an artist themselves, and Nina Yarbrough is no different. Nina first came to Seattle to obtain her MFA in Arts Leadership from Seattle University in 2016. During this time, she was an intern at the CD Forum, and her story as an artist in Seattle is deeply enmeshed with the nonprofit. After Nina started her career in fundraising at Seattle Opera, she was hired by the CD Forum as their second full-time employee. 

For Nina, the CD Forum has been a place of learning and a springboard for her artistic ambitions. It has been a place where she has found people who can support her. She has grown a network of Seattle artists through CD Forum. 

Leading by Example: Behind the Scenes of Nina Yarbrough’s Upcoming Poetry Collection

The perfect spot to write along the water!

“Something Like a Mixtape” is Nina Yarbrough’s debut collection of poetry. (You can read a couple of her poems here.) This book features poems Nina has written in recent years, as well as new works created throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The whole theme of the collection is based around the idea of making a mixtape as a way to show affection for someone. Music was a big part of Nina’s upbringing; her sister is a gospel singer and her brothers are rap artists. And of course, she grew up creating mixtapes for the important people in her life. Each of the poems is like a track on a tape, and the amalgamation of each piece is a type of love letter. 

Nina has been trying to birth this collection of poetry for about 6 years. Between work and finishing her Master’s degree, the book was put on the backburner. But during the pandemic, Nina finally was able to go on a retreat to wrap up this project. She rented a cute little house she dubbed the “Purple Witches House” in northern Washington about 30 minutes out of Bellingham. She rested, she walked to the beach, she went to Bellingham Bay for the first time. In fact, the last piece in the book is a love poem to Bellingham Bay, which is only fitting—Nina is a Pisces and is attracted to large bodies of water. 

“Something Like a Mixtape” by Nina Yarbrough – Coming in 2021!

Nina Yarbrough at Birch Bay during her writing retreat.

Nina’s friend and fellow artist Michael B. Maine is in the process of starting Menrva Labs Publishing, a small publishing arm of his business. Right now, Nina’s in the process of reviewing the layout of the book and putting on the final touches. We cannot wait to get our hands on a copy! The art featured on the cover of the collection is by Rae Akino. The book will be available online in both digital and physical formats. 

With Michael’s help, Nina will also be developing a whole marketing strategy for the book and a book launch event. Her dream book launch party is of course in person, but it might be virtual depending on what’s going on with COVID-19. For updates on the book and info on pre-orders, make sure to follow Nina on Instagram.

Lessons Learned From the Writing & Publishing Process 

There are a few big lessons that Nina Yarbrough learned from writing her poetry collection that other artists can learn from. The first is that it’s essential to have a team of people around you. Nina shares that while the genesis of a project may come from you as an artist, having people around you who offer accountability, encouragement, and support is invaluable. With Nina’s background in theatre, she’s no stranger to collaboration, and she really drew upon this as she worked on her book.

“We fall into the trap of needing to do it all by ourselves… but no one artist did it by themselves,” says Nina. Most artists have a partner or a patron offering space, guidance, mentoring, etc. Just think of Beyoncé—yes, she’s a powerhouse. But she has a huge team of people behind her making it all happen! 

Another big lesson Nina learned from creating her book is that you need to embrace progress over perfection. You have to just DO it. It’s never going to be perfect. “While incubation is important and keeping things close to your heart is part of the creative process, you can’t let perfectionism stop you,” emphasizes Nina. 

And finally, Nina has learned that you have to be your own hero. This is deeply tied into self-compassion and self-love:

“You have to love yourself enough that you know that your work is worth it as a creative person,” shares Nina. “It’s a lesson that’s becoming more and more clear to me.” 

Her poetry book isn’t for anybody and everybody—it’s ultimately for her, and a result of feeling compelled to get her work out there. For even more savvy advice, read more from Nina here: “Discomfort is the new black: 7 ways to prioritize discomfort so that you can learn to be a better human — for yourself and for the world!” 

How Can Artists Get Connected with Central District Forum for Arts & Ideas? 

The Central District Forum For Arts And Ideas
Support Black Artists in Seattle: The Central District Forum For Arts And Ideas

First, check out CD Forum’s programming! Attend events (online, and in person when the time comes), watch videos on CD Forum’s Youtube channel, and connect on Facebook and Instagram so you stay on top of what’s happening at the org. Get a sense of who the people at CD Forum are, and see what they produce. 

Then, you can reach out via their website to see how you might be able to get involved. Sometimes artists will reach out and have a very clear idea of what they want to do. Sometimes they’re not sure (which is fine, too!). Just keep in mind that they receive a ton of submissions, and with it being a pandemic and everything, they’re not always able to respond to everyone. Their main goal right now is to support their current roster of artists. 

What’s Next at Central District Forum for Arts & Ideas? 

CD Forum works with and for Black artists. They also want to build relationships with other BIPOC organizations, but their mission is to support Black artists first. With the pandemic, CD Forum had to slow down a lot of their production. They’re continuously working on how to engage with their artists and support them. They’re also working to support themselves as Black people who are going through a really traumatic event with the pandemic. 

CD Forum is excited to get back to in-person productions, events, and programming. However, the city owns the building they operate out of and they share it with two other nonprofits. So they are having an ongoing conversation about safety and everyone’s comfort level. In the meantime, CD Forum continues to engage with artists and their community digitally. 

Give Big Like a Diva – Let’s Raise $5,000 Divaland for the CD Forum

CD Forum Give Big 2021

In the coming months, CD Forum has a few very exciting events and programs on the horizon. The GiveBIG 2021 fundraiser is just a kick-off for their big, super-sexy fundraiser happening in August 2021. This is not just an event to raise money—it is an event about celebrating Black pleasure as a form of resistance. How can we center Black joy over Black pain? How can we continue to emphasize the intrinsic value that the arts have in society?

The money we can raise for the CD Forum during the Give Big campaign will help underwrite their larger campaign this summer. Our ultimate goal is to have this organization have $100,000 cash to pay their staff, provide grants to emerging artists, and do the work they are destined to do. But we can only do this if 100 people in Divaland commit to donating $50 during the Give Big event.

Donate now!!!! Divaland let’s raise $5,000 for CF Forum!

Thank You Nina Yarbrough For Sharing Your Seattle Excellence with Team Diva

Nina Yarbough Photo Credit Michael B Maine
Nina Yarbrough Photo Credit Michael B Maine

We are so thrilled about Nina Yarbrough’s upcoming book of poetry, “Something Like a Mixtape.” Be sure to follow Nina on Instagram for updates on pre-orders and her book launch party. You can also find Nina’s writing at CommunityCentricFundraising.org here (and learn more about the CCF movement here). 

Catch Up On Other Stories of Amazing Black Artists and Business People in Divaland

Together we can make Seattle a super incubator for Black artists. We need to band together and make this our mission. Let’s not hope for a better world. Let’s build one together. In the effort to support CD Forum’s mission in supporting artists just like Nina Yarbrough, we’re calling on Divaland to donate to their GiveBIG fundraiser! Our goal is for Divaland to raise $5,000 for CF Forum!

Team Diva

Team Diva

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