St. Olaf College | News

Love art? We do too

Each year St. Olaf College hosts an Artist Series that presents outstanding interdisciplinary fine arts events for students. Last spring’s series, “The Kids are Alright: Art, Culture + Social Change,” featured hands-on workshops, lectures, and a performance by a Grammy Award–winning musician.

The series was organized by Daniel Alejandro Leon-Davis, a designer, entrepreneur, and cultural architect focused on using the power of art, media, and entertainment for social good. He was joined throughout the week by prominent artists Muna Malik, Caliph, and Florian Koenigsberger. “The Kids Are Alright” featured the artists’ work and highlighted the ways that their personal experiences have influenced their art and the ways they use art to create social change. The series of events gave St. Olaf students the opportunity to interact with the artists and get hands-on training from them.

“It was just such a unique experience to have events with these artists who have already asked the questions that I have to ask myself right now as I’m trying to be an artist and trying to make it in my industry and field,” says Aidan Lloyd ’24. “For them to be looking at the stuff I do and be like ‘Wow, I wish that I had it figured out to the point that you do when I was your age’ and to still see how successful they are, it was just an awe-inspiring experience.”

Watch each of the artists share their reflections — and advice for students — below.

Daniel Alejandro Leon-Davis works to share his perspectives as a formerly undocumented immigrant and gay Latino and bring attention to the voices of these communities through his art. He has helped curate exhibits for the Smithsonian and United Nations headquarters, and spent a year researching the impacts of art and fashion on social change as a Civic Media Fellow with the University of Southern California. He led a St. Olaf Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion event in the fall of 2020 on “The Power of Our Stories.”

“Tell part of your story through your work. Because that’s what I found to be so moving and beautiful, and that’s actually what I love about this Artist Series,” he says. “It was an opportunity for young people of color to come and tell their stories — not just verbally tell their stories, but tell their stories through their work.”

Caliph is a rapper, singer, and songwriter from Massachusetts. He works to share the perspectives of Black and immigrant communities and improve mental health, both through his art and his nonprofit and music company SAFE+. He is also the face of the three-time Grammy Award–winning jazz album  “American Dreamers: Voices Of Hope, Music of Freedom.”

“I never imagined being an artist, but throughout my journey and understanding that there were so many things happening around me that affected me, I had this yearn to express myself and say how I feel about this, that, or the third. I never thought that I would end up winning Grammys or touring to universities speaking to students and inspiring them — it was just me really trying to have an outlet,” he says.

Florian Koenigsberger is a photographer and technologist who has worked with Google to lead the Image Equity Initiative, creating cameras and imaging technology that work more equitably for people with darker skin. In 2020 he helped found See in Black, a collective of Black photographers who raised money through a two-week print sale to support Black-centric charities last summer.

“As college students, you have this amazing resource that is time. Using this opportunity to be a little bit maniacal about the things that you’re curious about is what sets the stage for expanding some of that cultural intelligence,” he says. “Being back on a campus to talk about this work, and to be in conversation with friends whose work I really respect and admire, really is just a reminder to me that everything is in reach. And I think it is more in reach when we see more of it earlier on.”

Muna Malik is an artist based in Los Angeles, California. She uses painting, sculpture, and photography to explore abstract ideas of movement, identity formation, and biomorphism inspired by Arabic and Somali thought. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Vogue, and many other publications.

“One of the big things that college students may not realize is that you have access to so many free resources that are actually incredibly expensive. If I could go back in time, it would be using more of those resources, and using more of the resources in terms of faculty. Some of these professors know so much more than you expect. Your professors went to school with people you might want to connect with, and you’ll never know unless you ask questions.”