Women Working To Do Good

WWTDG: Negin Singh And cARTel: Collaborative ARTs LA

When you meet Negin Singh for the first time, you become enamored with her incredibly animated personality.  It’s infectious.  And, it quickly makes sense that in addition to being the Executive and Artistic Director of a successful art collective in Los Angeles, she sidelines as a clown.  Negin Singh started her career in the arts as an actress at UC Irvine, where she also trained as a clown under Eli Simon.  After attempting to control all the projects in which she acted, she saw that she was more productive as a producer and director than as an actor.  As an undergrad, she formed cARTel: Collaborative Arts LA under the name Ahimsa Artists (Ahimsa being a term her mother always lived by, meaning: the act of nonviolence through action and thought).  She tells Stephanie Carrie of LA Travelbug: “It started with my frustrations with how hard it was to create art…you know, getting a space, getting the money together, getting the rights. By the time it’s sanctioned, you don’t even want to make it anymore. We said, let’s make what we want to make and make it right now. Great art comes from when you just can’t stop.”

Negin Singh as her clown, Pat-Pat: a 60-something androgenous homeless being who explores the world with its partner, "unicorn"

With an Indian father and a Persian mother, both entrepreneurs of four businesses each (ranging from rice import to running the first ever Persian beauty pageant in Los Angeles called “Negin-e-Iran”, meaning “The Gem of Iran”), Negin learned early on “to be (her) own person, never wait for a paycheck, or ask a boss if she could go on vacation”.  Her parents inspired her to “Make (her) own luck. celebrate (her) own successes, and feel (her) own failures.”  She said that because her parents created their own schedule, they never felt like they were working even when they were working their hardest.  And, fortunately, having family businesses allows Negin to work for her father on the side while she follows her passions in the arts.

Negin’s parents are incredibly proud of their culture and exposed their children to a lot of the world as they were growing up.  She is only twenty-five years old and in those twenty-five years, she’s lived in twenty three houses, from all over California, to Texas, India, and Dubai.  Moving around a lot allowed Negin to learn how to make friends quickly, and art-making became her one constant.  If this is any testament to her creativity, boldness, and producing skills, when she was just nine years old while living in Dubai, she knocked on every apartment building’s door in her home’s vicinity and got every child living in the area to sign up for an “Inter-building swimming gala”.  She organized races and prizes for the swimming event, and made it her passion for the summer.   And, at just seven years old, she dressed in full Indian garb and won a Ms. California pageant.  She says she was never embarrassed that she looked different, and even used her multi-cultural heritage to her advantage.  In fact, when the judges announced that she had won, she was already backstage because she expected success.

Negin Singh and her Mother

Negin’s confidence comes from her family being very proud of their culture and diversity.  However, it wasn’t always easy to be Indian and Persian in the places they were living, like Texas.  Negin was often teased, but her parents always reminded her to be grateful for having experienced more than most children had been able to.  Her mother would take Negin to every temple imaginable of all faiths and always told her: “There is always a choice and all paths lead to good if you’re a good person.”  This philosophy informs Negin’s multi-perspective artistic practice that “there is no one way side” to anything.  The fact that Negin’s mother is incredibly caring has also informed Negin’s sense of hospitality.  She always tries to make people, from strangers to her collective members, feel like they’re cared for, that it’s not about her, “It’s about us.”  Negin and I sat down for an interview and she served the most amazing tea with some tasty scones from her boyfriend’s company, Whim Kitchen.  In the video above, we talk about what cARTel does, and how it is influential in the Los Angeles art community.

I met the talented Negin Singh at Sound/Stage: “Unplugged in the Amazon”, a 1920s-style radio show she directed, written by Kit Steinkellner and produced by Dan Halden for Negin’s art collective, cARTel: Collaborative ARTs LA.  The evening was glamorous and it took place at the historic restaurant and flamenco bar El Cid, which appropriately was an old converted soundstage built for D.W. Griffith.  Everyone was dressed to the nines, signature drinks infused with organic jams were served, and the guests were seated at long tables so that conversations with complete strangers could be had.  The performers were incredible, the story was engaging, and a live soundtrack performed by vocal geniuses Dakaboom created the atmosphere of the Amazon in such a clever way.  The night was a full EXPERIENCE that appealed to ALL my senses and left me feeling so inspired.  To top it off, I got to be photographed on the red carpet at the end of the night and enjoy some free cheesecake by Vijays Cheesecakes.

Sound/Stage Event Thrown by cARTel: Collaborative Arts LA, photos by Justin Baker

What seems like just one well-produced night is actually one of many in cARTel’s repertoire.  For three years, cARTel has continued to produce live art, theater, and film events, while also teaching clowning, playwriting, movement, combat, and juggling workshops to high schools as well as New York and Los Angeles residents.  Negin says that cARTel is a “large umbrella” where she feels she can accomplish whatever she sets out to do.  Her goal is not to make money, but rather to create a community that she can care for while making quality, full-fledged art experiences of every kind.

The cARTel Ensemble: Back row: Hillel Smith (RentFoodBroke), Robin Chopra . Miles Marsico (Technical Director) next row: Sean Lewellyn, Aaron J Sussman (Webmaster), Omid Singh , BJ Allman, Jeremy Slome, Colin O'Brien-Lux, Anna Schumacher, Matt Chester, Noah Silverstein, Lauren Smerkanich, Peter Berube (Artist Coordinator), Jack De Sena, Lisa Bierman, Cambria Beilstein, Shani Roftkowtiz (RentFoodBroke), Laura Cheek (Graphic Designer/PR associate), Andrew Pearson, Rachel Walker (PR Director), Negin Singh, Leigh Zeichick (Secretary)

Although a name with usually negative connotations, cARTel has made art extremely accessible and affordable to its supporters.  Not only are workshops set at an extremely low price, they are taught by highly trained professionals with credible backgrounds.  Negin prides herself in connecting with well-known artists to participate in her events, as well as forming relationships with independent businesses that can enhance the cARTel experience.  For example, because Negin revels in truly connecting with people and helping other companies, the Santa Monica Co-op sometimes donates refreshments and food to their events.  Six01 Studios has provided space for their affordable concert festival BrokechellaBedrock Silverlake provided them with sound equipment, while the Hayworth Theater provides cARTel with free rehearsal space for their theater projects and workshops.  Visual media companies like ShutterEYE and Brownies and Lemonade donate their time to make trailers and videos, while Showbiz Studios helped provide prizes for their No Budget Film Festival.  Most importantly, RentFoodBroke has offered resources like access to free healthcare, discounted food, and career advice.

Negin Singh’s goal with cARTel is to connect with as many people as possible and to motivate them to question or come up with ideas that can fuel cARTel’s future projects.  Guests that have come to cARTel’s events are encouraged to contact cARTel with art, film, or theater program ideas, which cARTel will attempt to produce or incorporate into their large events.  I asked Negin how she keeps her ensemble motivated enough to keep working as artists in Los Angeles, and she told me that she makes sure her group knows that they are respected and that their time is appreciated.  Like her mother taught her, she feeds her fellow artists.  Negin’s future goals outside of cARTel are to consult with companies of all kinds and teach them how to create warm, open environments where employees can feel cared for and valuable.  For now, cARTel is her number one passion and although it is a challenge, she says that challenges are fun because the people she works with love what they’re doing.

If you want to support cARTel, “Like” them on Facebook, Tweet them, check out their site and email them, or donate!  Their next big event is The No Budget Film Festival, and they’d love to see your submission by July 15th!

Women Working to Do Good is a series that Hello Giggles and the White House have been collaborating on. We will bring you stories of women in communities across the United States who we think are stars in their own right. Whether they are young entrepreneurs, active community organizers, or making a difference in a single life or community, we think these women are amazing and want to share their stories with you! Each story will also be featured on the White House blog, and we are working together to bring more strong female role models to the forefront.

If there is a woman in your community who you think should be honored in this series, email us at wwtdg@hellogiggles.com!

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