8 bars with: lynne toye

Our guest is artist, curator and chief administrative officer at Harlem School of the Arts, Lynne Toye

8 bars with is a series on educated guesses where we offer up 8 questions to a special guest for them to ponder and freestyle on.  The questions aren't necessarily questions as much as they are prompts or linguistic ink blots meant to stimulate thought.  The responses can be short and pithy, long and loquacious or somewhere in between.

Lynne Toye is an Artist, Curator, Entrepreneur, Mother, Wife, and Chief Administrative Officer at Harlem School of the Arts.

She is a dynamic arts professional who combines her passion for culture with her strong business acumen.  With an extensive background in Marketing, Management, Entrepreneurship, and Strategy, she thrives at the intersection between creativity, innovation, and business.

Toye began her career in financial services, spending time at JP Morgan Chase American Express, and Bankers Trust Company. She has taught Management and Entrepreneurship classes at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, worked in the Executive Education Division at the Stern School of Business at NYU, and served on the Innovation Management Team at SUNY FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology).

Toye is a successful entrepreneur having established businesses in the areas of interior design, education, and fine arts.  She spent 5 years as an interior designer and curator, running her own retail enterprise and gallery for private interior design clients before returning to higher education and the arts. She is fiercely committed to supporting young artists of color.

Toye holds a B.S. in Systems Engineering from the University of Virginia and an MBA in Marketing and Management from The Wharton School of Business.  She resides with her family in New Jersey where she enjoys reading, travel, contemporary art, film festivals, oil painting and a very competitive game of Scrabble.

1. Art Therapy?

There is nothing like seeing art in person.  My heart rate picks up. Seeing a photograph or digital image cannot replicate the feeling.  A huge void for me during this pandemic has been the closure of spaces where art is shown and admirers gather.  I miss it more than I thought I would.   It has made me appreciate the art that I have collected over the years, which I enjoy daily.  The lockdown has also afforded me more time in my studio, to get back to my easel and paint.

In my free time and when I travel, I prioritize visiting galleries to see art.  I love going to openings and meeting artists. I am absolutely fine going alone if my family prefers to opt out, which is often.  I frequently roam the gallery districts in New York and recently, art fairs have become an intentional reason for travel. I journeyed to Miami for Art Basel, to London (Frieze and the 1:54 Art Fair) and to Venice for the Venice Biennale.

Black artists are having their say right now and I am here for all of it. I collect their work and hope it is a part of my legacy.  I have encouraged like-minded friends to do the same.  I launched a new venture during the pandemic, to create a platform for collectors to learn about black art from the African Diaspora and participate in the fine art market – a space where we have historically been absent.  Check it out @art_unpacked.  

2. Harlem on my Mind?

I have worked in a lot of places around the New York metropolitan area, but there is no place like Harlem.  It has So. Much. Flavor.  The rich cultural history of the Harlem Renaissance, the natural beauty of the North Woods, the spirited black and brown people on the streets, and the tremendous creativity with which people live their lives… all of it inspires me every day.  I have a tremendous sense of purpose as Chief Administrative Officer of Harlem School of the Arts, both as a supporter of young artists as well as a professional role model.

My favorite part of my commute is getting on the A train at 34th street, and watching the complexion of the riders change as we head uptown.  The express train goes from 59th street all the way up to 125th street before it stops again.  In the morning, a crush of people push and shove their way off the subway at 59th and it’s pretty much us black and brown folk that stay on, lost in our books, music, and thoughts, headed uptown.

3. 8 minutes and 46 seconds?

I was completely unprepared for George Floyd’s murder and how to respond to it

I felt sick when I watched the video footage for the first time and I haven’t been able to watch it since. I feared for  my sons, worried about my husband, and worried about our collective mental health.  What do we do with the anger?  I stayed quiet and still for days.

When I found out they were painting a community mural in Harlem, I didn’t hesitate to volunteer.  I felt it was a way to use my painting skills in a meaningful way. 

Before the community commenced painting they asked us to put our fists in the air for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.  My arm began to shake after two minutes… At five minutes I had to lower my arm a bit to keep my fist up.  At 8 minutes I could hardly wait until the signal that time was up.  It felt like an incredibly long time to have my arm raised. I cannot imagine the anguish George Floyd must have endured during the last minutes of his life.

4. If I had a girl…?

As the mother of two sons, some assume that I wish I had a daughter.  I have the best of both worlds.  I feel called to a very special responsibility being blessed with two boys. I was “chosen” to mother and nurture them to become the kind of men the world needs right now.  I have always been intentional about cultivating their sense of history, family, integrity, and culture.  They make me proud every day.

I am fortunate to have two nieces nearby and I have a chosen “ art daughter” with whom I share a passion for contemporary art.  She is finishing her MFA in painting this year. She is my art “ride or die”.  As artists, we challenge each other and share a very special bond. We  enjoy outings to museums and art openings to see the work of emerging and established Black and Brown artists in the gallery district of New York City, followed by good meals and great gossip.  She is absolutely going to be famous and highly collected in a matter of a few years. 

5. Two rockers on the front porch?

Since we have been on lockdown from the pandemic, I have enjoyed being outside. My husband and I are working full-time, remotely.  I am amazed by how infrequently we can take breaks at the same time.  A front porch symbolizes sheltered outdoor space, which I cherish.  As for having a companion in the rocker beside me, I am reminded daily that spending time together doesn’t happen without planning and prioritizing it.  Even though we are “together” every day. 

6. Money No Object?

If money were no object, I would use it to make memories.  Whatever our earthly belongings, they cannot bring us happiness and we sho’nuff can’t take any of it with us.  Yes to more laughter, simple pleasures, reading, painting, travel, and time spent with those I love.

7. Bend it Like Beckham?

I love this film.  The protagonist is a young woman who was an excellent soccer player, whose parents did not encourage her.  They had limited expectations of what she could be.  Her world changed when she found a like-minded friend.  The film speaks to the power of believing in yourself no matter what. 

My younger son has had laser-like focus since he learned to walk.  He told himself he would become a professional athlete, and he never had a “Plan B”.  He put in hour and hours of extra time honing his craft, alone and away from any coaches or fans. Keeping one’s composure when a game is on the line takes incredible mental toughness and he is as touch as they come.  Having watched him grow up and realize his dream, I can attest that the mental journey is at least as important as any physical training.

8. The Crisis Revealed in Me?

The crisis revealed in me that I had too much “stuff”.  That applies to material things, people, work, extra work, draining friendships, non-reciprocal relationships and obligations.  COVID-related anxiety is a great excuse for saying “No.”

I trained to be an interior designer and had a business designing residential interiors for 5 years.  In the interior design profession, there is a concept called “editing”, which is a polite way of saying get rid of the junk that takes up space and doesn’t bring you joy.  It translates beautifully to how I want to live.  I’ve been thinking a lot about this, as it is brought clearly into focus the things, people, habits, and pastimes that bring me happiness.

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