The South Florida Cultural Consortium (SFCC) Fellowship Program offers the largest regional, government-sponsored artists’ grants in the U.S., awarding $15,000 and $7,500 fellowships to resident visual and media artists from the counties of Broward, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach.
Katrina Sarah Miller is one of two Palm Beach County-based artists who won this prestigious fellowship in 2019. Her work is currently on display in the Council’s Sallie and Berton E. Korman Education and Training Center (ETC).
Can you tell us, briefly, about your background and your career as an artist?
Katrina Sarah Miller (KSM): My artistic roots are in the performance of poetry and dance. I lost a poetry slam at 17 for The Justice Conference but received a call the next day from the director of the organization who had created a slot for my poem after the daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke—if I wanted it. My first poetry performance was in the Orpheum Theater (in Los Angeles) in front of thousands of people, reciting “Your Toleration Ain’t My Liberation”—a poem written in literature class after studying the writings of a women who owned slaves, who wrote a metaphor I was required to study about her situation in which she was the slave. I slammed for the next year, winning the Say World LA Finals and joining the team.
My dance background began here in West Palm Beach in the Bak Middle School of the Arts dance department. During aftercare, Ms. Schiller invited me to take a jazz class and it had been more than a decade since I was last enamored by the practice. I will be forever grateful for her assistance in my dance education throughout middle and high school.
Career-wise, I submitted photography to an emerging Floridian artists show two years ago and was graciously accepted to Fresh Squeezed 2 at the Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg, FL. That summer I trained in New York with the Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, completed a residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts (with the most phenomenal group of artists, including Delali Ayivor) and I began looking for visual arts opportunities. I found a mentorship program with Carrie Mae Weems based in Detroit through the Carr Center and somehow made it into the inaugural class.
Carrie took us to Cuba where I premiered my first performance art piece and exhibited photography in the show “The Spirit that Resides” for the Havana Biennial. Upon returning from Cuba, I received a call while in the library about the SFCC award and the opportunity to exhibit in a museum!
This year has been a whirlwind and I am so excited to keep moving.
Give us a short description of your process: from the first idea/inspiration to the final touch.
KSM: I pray for help. I pray for clarity. I pray to be a light. I pray for meaningful work. I pray for deep friendships.
God has granted me 23 years of life so far full of vivid dreams, friendships, opportunities and beauty. He leads me into rooms and places and offers me insight and discernment to honor my ancestors, myself and foremost His presence in all that I do.
Who are some of your artistic influences (dead or alive)?
KSM: My grandmother Enid is the greatest artist I know. She doesn’t have a ‘recognized’ art form, per se, but instead lives her life in devotion to God—a life honoring and observing creation. She wore white for decades as a symbol of God’s purification and is able to recite passages of scripture to this day. She taught me how to make coconut oil, pull weeds without pulling grass and the wonders of aloe vera.
Formally, I love painters. Kerry James Marshall and Kehinde Wiley are masters of the craft. When I see their works in museums, I run to the colorful canvases—sit before their works and breathe deeply.
The artists and writers of the Black Arts Movement—and of course the Harlem Renaissance—carried me through university.
My dear mentor, Carrie Mae Weems, who is full of grace, excellence, and beauty.
I can’t finish this response without acknowledging my mother who has been writing and performing poetry her entire life, now in the form of devotions to God that she performs in church, bringing the congregation to the knees, to tears, and also to God. Nor could I let this response end without acknowledging her mother, Olive May, who speaks the most abundant and powerful prayers, all unique and specific, over her family and her congregation. There is a deep practice of using language in my family that continues through me.
What’s next for you and your work?
KSM: I want to build a beautiful life and experience freedom in all that I do.
How does it feel to be one of Palm Beach County’s 2019 Cultural Consortium Fellows?
KSM: It feels good.
Anything else you’d like to communicate to the Cultural Council, its members or other artists in the community?
KSM: I am always interested in making new connections. Reach out to me to for a conversation, to share a meal or to discuss something interesting! My Instagram is @katrinasarah.art.