The Dallas Creative Whose Workshops Give Everyone a Seat at the Table
When the Iman project hosts a flower design workshop, expect peonies and greenery on the farmhouse tables. Rose glasses sparkle in the background. And Bree Clarke, the organization’s founder, takes center stage to demonstrate the art of arranging.
The mood was different during last week’s virtual workshop. Clarke’s normally strong and clear voice wavered. Her hands were sweating and her chest was tight. She spoke to the participants as she repelled the tears.
“The past few days have been tough,” said Clarke. “Seeing our community and loved ones is hurt and saddened by what’s going on. It reminds me why I’m doing this.”
Clarke’s beautiful workshops grew out of a place of pain and exclusion. For years, Clarke had tried to integrate into the creative community of Dallas, taking part in courses, networking events and panels for influencers and artists. Despite her warm personality and perseverance, she never felt welcome. “Nobody spoke to me. Nobody looked like me. I’m an oversized black woman … I felt like I didn’t belong. “
When she wasn’t welcome in Dallas’ existing creative community, Clarke decided to create her own.
In 2017 she founded her lifestyle brand. She called it the Iman Project. Their goal was simple yet ambitious: to form a community in which all creative people are welcome, regardless of age, race, religion and area of life. The Iman project hosts workshops, events, gatherings and more.
“I started [my On The Table workshop series simply] because I wasn’t invited to the table, ”says Clarke. In the past three years, Clarke has hosted more than 85 workshops. Each has a specific focus, such as floral designs, woodworking or calligraphy. Each attracts a diverse crowd of around 25 North Texans.
“No matter who you are, where you come from, where you are going, your background, your height, race, religion, age … you will feel like you belong to you,” she says.
“Racism is a trigger. It makes a lot of people uncomfortable. [As Black individuals we are sometimes taught] If you don’t think about it and don’t see it and don’t listen, you can shut out that sadness. “
While participants are initially drawn to the creative aspect, the workshops serve a larger purpose. Clarke envisioned them as safe spaces “for having awkward conversations” about diversity and inclusion. When participants work with their hands, they begin to open up and talk freely to each other, says Clarke.
However, if the past few weeks have shown something, there will be a lot more awkward conversations.
In previous workshops, Clarke liked to talk about diversity, not racism. “Racism is a trigger,” she said. “It makes a lot of people uncomfortable. [As Black individuals we are sometimes taught] If you don’t think about it and don’t see it and don’t listen, you can shut out that sadness. “
That sadness, says Clarke, is impossible to ignore. “I am disappointed in myself because I was hiding [how racism affected me] so long, ”said Clarke. “I am disappointed that I have to play it safe so that I don’t lose my support [from white followers and customers] because I made them uncomfortable. “
On the rare occasions that Clarke took the floor, she was referred to as a “hostile, aggressive, or crazy black woman,” she said. (She created a highlight on the Iman Project Instagram account that records some of these comments.)
A few days ago, the Iman project’s “Wine and Design” virtual flower workshop was featured on an Instagram account highlighting local events. The problem? The Iman project was never mentioned, and neither was Clarke. In the meantime, both the florist and the wine seller have been tagged and mentioned.
Clarke commented, sharing her disappointment, and asking to be tagged and recognized for her work. “We’ve taken so much from ourselves, so much recognition that isn’t being given,” said Clarke. “And then we have to be silent about how we feel because we don’t want to rock the boat.
“If [the account] knew why I created this series, they would understand why I am so passionate when my name is mentioned. “
Clarke becomes a voice for justice and change. She goes to her Instagram Stories every day to share dull, honest, and painful reflections on racism with her 52,000 followers. She has pointed out abusive or exclusionary language on social media posts from local businesses. Nor is she afraid of posting popular reports that have shown racism in the past.
“[These companies] I won’t do better until you know better, ”she said. “When I comment – and it’s hard, really hard– I try to speak with compassion, not anger. “
Your eloquence has not gone unnoticed. Clarke is now recognized as the leader and voice for the Dallas black community. Last week she went on the air with the WFAA. Today she was invited to attend a bold talk panel hosted by Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks at Victory Park.
“It’s like Pandora’s box,” she said. “[The fight against racism] can’t just be this week or next … we need to talk about it We have to find out. And we have to see what needs to be done. “
The next virtual Wine & Design workshop of the Iman project will take place on June 21st. The tickets are almost sold out. You can buy one here. When it is safe to resume in-person workshops, they will take place in the Iman project’s two bohemian cottages, which serve as event venues and creative studios. Scroll through our gallery and take a look at Little House on Routh and Little House of Bishop Arts.