Rebel With A Cause: Tracy Hiner of Black Crow StudiosAuthor:Abigail Stone
Black Crow Studios, founded by Tracy Hiner in 2010, is more than just a wallpaper brand. Time and again, the avant-garde, art-driven, custom wall coverings company, perhaps most well known for their exuberant watercolor designs, has broken the mold, mixing custom paint colors to match a particular color story or photographing flowers fresh from the flower mart and turning the design into something transcendent.
BMoving beyond the beautiful or the merely pretty, in 2017 Hiner launched a bold program through Black Crow Studios, donating 50% of her personal income from all of the collections in her line to the charities she believes in. Entitled “Rebel with a Cause,” the “give back” program started with the Caliber Collection. Working with the Caliber Foundation, a charity which funds gun buyback programs across the country, she was able help get illegal guns off the street. “It represented a new way for me to continue making art while also making a difference,” Hiner explains of her reasoning for starting the project. “By dedicating each of my wallpaper collections to a different charity, and donating 50% of my personal income from each sale to specific causes that are dear to my heart, I feel that I can not only make a difference to the charities that I support, but I hope also to be an example to our industry as a whole, to encourage others to take a stand for causes that matter to them.”
Now, she’s expanding that program with her latest collection, Dystopian Opulence, which funnels the beauty of nature through the technology with which we now experience it. The proceeds from this collection will be channeled to two different environmental charities: SeaLegacy and The Natural Resources Defense Council. We sat down with Hiner to learn more about this shift in the focus of her business and why it is important to her.
Tell us a little bit about the inspiration and visual evolution of Dystopian Opulence.
As an artist, I am always influenced by what’s happening in the world. This collection is a manifestation of all the despair, frustration, and, sadness of where the world is going along with the beauty and majesty of the Earth and what she can create. I actually did a mineral-based collections years ago in partnership with someone. We parted ways years ago. So this was me revisiting my original idea, and the way I worked at the time, then pushing myself and my team to explore how far we can take it. I was revisiting the same subject matter but seeing it in a new way because of the growth I had done as an artist and as a person and the world we are living in right now. I had been struggling to figure out what I was trying to express with this collection. I found a couple of artists that really kicked off the darker interpretation and the idea of Dystopian Opulence for me: Alice Potts and Tyler Thrasher. Seeing their work brought my idea into focus and I became very clear on the direction I wanted to go.
Certainly the world of minerals and nature seems like a 180 from Caliber, your last collection.
Subject matter-wise, yes they are complete opposites. As an artist, I love to experiment and try new things, to work with something – medium or subject matter – I am not super familiar with and see what I can come up with. When I have a strong idea in my mind, I usually have no idea how to get from where I am to that idea being realized, but I love that challenge. Sometimes I lose interest before I ever get it figured out and abandon the concept all together. One of the things I truly embrace is a lack of control. I cannot control what a mineral looks like – I love the cracks and crevices, the imperfections in the pieces. The Caliber Collection and even The Soft and The Bold Watercolor Collections have a complete lack of control in the process of developing the art. There is a loose idea of what I am trying to do, but the actual result is completely out of control and a surprise, good and bad. You just have to let go and let what happens, happen. It is a freeing way to work. I have a really good eye for finding the moments that are incredibly beautiful and building from that.
It’s unusual to pair a product as ethereal as your wall coverings with the uncomfortable need we have right now for social change. What prompted this shift in your work and what makes it important to you?
In all honesty, this has been coming for a long time for me. It is that uncomfortable need for social change that made me finally do this. I was feeling very torn and disconnected. I would work on these incredible projects in this high-end market and I love that. I love the work I do and the people I get to work with on a daily basis, but then I would go home and watch the news. It has been distressing to watch what is happening in the world today and I would be upset and angry about so many things–to me, wallpaper was completely insignificant. I love what I do so it was an internal struggle. I started thinking–what can I realistically do? I don’t have any expertise that could be of value for these particular issues, but what I do have is a growing business. So I decided to divert a portion of all sales to give to these causes each year. I can get money to the organizations that do have expertise on the issues and are out there fighting. It was also important to me to align with the causes that support issues I am deeply passionate about. I don’t want to dilute what I am supporting for fear of upsetting someone and give to organizations that are very neutral and non-controversial. The things upsetting to me can be very divisive topics, but I believe in standing up for what you believe in.
Which comes first for you, the cause or the design?
The designs come first for me and then those align with causes I deeply believe in supporting. I wrote down all the issues I wanted to address in some way and then looked to see what collections worked with that. Dystopian Opulence was already an idea when I decided to start this giving back initiative and so it made sense to have that be tied to environmental issues since it was using minerals as the basis for the collection. That is the idea I built off of. The Cuffhome Collection is going towards women’s causes because Cuffhome is owned by 2 women and Cuffhome and BCS both have only women employees. Our Maison 21 designs, created by Christian May, are supporting the LGBTQ community. I tried to find what made sense, when possible, for those collections and the causes being supported.
Any custom designs we do that don’t fall into a specific collection are going to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation for scholarships to allow people who can’t afford addiction treatment get into rehab. That is deeply connected to me personally because my ex sought treatment at there. He watched as many of the people seeking help would have to leave after just a few days because insurance wouldn’t cover them any longer than that. Most people cannot afford to pay out-of-pocket, so I want to do what I can to help. I have seen firsthand that treatment can change your life and how for many it can be life or death.
I will be sharing all the organizations I am supporting and the reasons behind each on my website over the next few months.
What did you discover from your experience with Caliber that made you decide to continue the “give back” impulse with Dystopian Opulence?
With Caliber it was scary in the beginning to commit to giving 20% of the sales back to charity, but I felt it was a worthy cause. Gun violence is such a big issue and I obviously don’t know how to solve it, but it felt like I was at least contributing to something that was important to me. Since then, I had been thinking about how to do more, there are so many causes I believe in and want to support, but it scared me to commit to giving more away. I am not a big company, I don’t have huge reserves of cash, this is significant to me and impacts my life in a major way. I am taking the leap – committing to give more – with the hope that the universe, and the design industry, will be there to catch me and support this. It is terrifying to take this risk and have the trust it will work out, but I tend to lean in to my fear.
Going forward with “Rebel With A Cause,” what can we expect to see to see in the future?
Rebel with a Cause spans across every design and item we create, so you can expect to see us talking about the different charities and causes we are supporting. We are going to be releasing Limited Edition prints to benefit each cause as well. Most importantly this is going to be a continual effort and I hope it will inspire other companies to do the same and to not be afraid to stand up for what they believe deeply in. Think about all the products being purchased in this high end market – if all of them (especially the big companies) gave a small amount to charity – it could make a HUGE impact.
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