What exactly is art; who defines it; who makes it, and where in Atlanta do poets, thespians, and artists congregate and create? We’ll use this space to catch up with a few for a few…some you may know; others we hope you’ll be pleased to meet their acquaintance.

Nsenga K. Burton

As a true multi-hyphenate, there’s an art to everything Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., has done over the last 25+ years.

Because of the breadth of diversity of her knowledge and experience, Burton has been able to inform and impact many, which includes students at Clark Atlanta and Emory recently, as well as readers at The Huffington Post, The Root, and her very own, The Burton Wire.

And we have her English teacher, Ms. Arkin, at Binford Elementary School in Richmond, VA to thank (more about that below). You may spot her at SCAD FASH or Museum of Design Atlanta when she’s not creating or hanging out at home near Decatur.

If I plotted your career experiences on a Venn Diagram, what would be their intersection – that thing they have in common that draws you to them?

The one thing that draws everything I do together (entrepreneur, writer, producer, artist, activist, curator, professor, cultural critic) is critical thinking—the ability to see beyond the surface, analyze factual data, and produce something meaningful. 

You hold advanced degrees in film and communication, including from NYU and the University of Southern California – when and how did you first fall in love with the art of communication/writing? 

I was a voracious reader. I pulled Black nationalist books from my parents’ bookshelves in middle school, including The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Black Fire, which were game-changing. My mother also bought my sister and me all of the Wizard of Oz books by Frank Oz from a book fair. As for Ms. Arkin, I remember reading A Christmas Carol and A Wrinkle in Time, and it was in her English class, where she encouraged us to write creatively, that I fell in love with writing. That’s where I got the bug. Eventually, my love of reading dovetailed with my love of writing. Practicing one craft makes you better in the other. 

I recently saw a Khalil Gibran quote: “Art arises when the secret vision of the artist and the manifestation of nature agree to find new shapes.” What does this quote mean to you and your work? 

Interesting…I love the work of Khalil Gibran. My favorite quote of his is, “A little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle.” I think the essence of his work is that art and knowledge should constantly evolve and move. If they are moving, they will eventually intersect with nature or the universe to create new meaning.

Congratulations on being named the new regional director of Clark Atlanta University’s National Center for Entrepreneurship. Part of the center’s work is to “support expanded opportunities for Black entrepreneurship through ownership, innovation, and creativity.” You are also an entrepreneur – can you share your thoughts on the intersection of art and/or artful thinking and business? 

Thank you! When many people think business, particularly on college campuses, they think about traditional categories like accounting, finance, economics, or management. Rarely do people think about media or entertainment industries as businesses, even in a city with a $10 billion film and television industry and an iconic music industry that brings in over $1 billion each year. All facets of art and entertainment intersect with business and drive economies, develop the workforce, and have a significant economic impact on local, state, national, and international economies. A lot of the technology that people easily see as business-related comes from these media-related industries; for example, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and even fiber-optic technologies. It is important for people to understand that art, media, entertainment, and culture offer viable opportunities to build short and long-term (generational) wealth while stimulating economies and the mind. 

As a serial entrepreneur who has done well in many areas of art and media, what are your thoughts on what it takes to have a successful business in these areas?

Vision, focus, drive, and resiliency—and I believe it is critical to remind people that there are many ways to be in business for yourself. Some of the most rewarding businesses can be in the form of art, media, and writing. 

Teri Elam is a poet, screenwriter, and storyteller who believes there’s an art to most things. She’s exploring what art means to creators in and around Atlanta.