Alumni Spotlight: J. Johari Palacio

Alumni Spotlight: J. Johari Palacio

Photo credit: J. Johari Palacio (

Photo credit: J. Johari Palacio (

I was honored to have had the opportunity to chat with Interdisciplinary Arts MA alum J. Johari Palacio, Perpetual Rebel, about becoming, being, and looking into the future as an artist. Johari’s work is inspired by Hip-Hop culture and his beginnings as a street artist in L.A., and has been given a place within the AfroFuturism movement here in Chicago.

What is your “art form”?

My art form is truly interdisciplinary, (mixed media, multimedia, creative nonfiction) and steadily growing. I’m seeking to expand new levels to ascribe to. Even as a graduate candidate in the program, I’ve conceptualized projects to engage that are just now beginning to physically manifest. My art form at the end of the day is to stay creative and manifest imagination…whether or not it is a random or very focused and intentional thought, I just want to think and cause reaction.

What year did you Graduate from the InterArts Program and what made you decide to enter the graduate program at Columbia?

I graduated from the InterArts program in the summer of 2013. I’m an Armed Forces veteran, and served 8 years in the US Navy as a weapons systems technician and returned to school (with the Post 9/11 GI Bill) after leaving a pretty well paying bio-med engineer gig. I was bored out of my skull with it as well as working 70+ hours a week, and couldn’t see myself doing that for another 10-20 years of my life. I originally received an undergraduate degree from Columbia College Chicago’s AEMM (Arts, Entertainment & Media Management now called Business & Entrepreneurship) program, majoring in Music Business Management. I enjoyed the educational experience at Columbia so much, that I wanted to explore a grad program there. In addition to that, there was no GRE requirement. I came across the InterArts MA program and was quite intrigued about the opportunity to explore different “genres” of art and practice (Movement, Sound, Visual, Drama, Word). It was one of the best experiences of my scholastic life.

What has “professional” life been like since graduation?

“Professional” life has been very interesting. While still in the MA program and taking Graduate Teaching Seminar with Mimi Schaer, we received a guest lecturer from CCAP (Center for Community Arts Partnerships) which eventually landed me a part-time gig working in social media and content management for a grant funded arts education initiative (TEAM). I’ve taught art in an alternative charter school on the south side. I was a music researcher/editor at large for Chicago Artist Resource/Chicago Artist Coalition (CAC) and did programming for panels around various endeavors dealing with music and business. I’ve recently landed a new contract with the Center for Black Music Research (CBMR) as a web content manager for their new blog Free/Phase. Worked on several collaborative efforts with CCC Book & Paper alum Krista Franklin (which were exhibited in the Washington Park Arts Incubator, Logan Center and featured in Afropunk). I’m a resident tough guy (bouncer) at the Skylark bar in Pilsen. I have 3 separate DJ residencies in the city as well as manage a very promising hip-hop artist named Vic Spencer. I’m on the board of advisors for a non-profit operating in East Chicago, IN. On top of all of this, I recently opened a solo art show with over 4 large scale detailed pieces and 12 smaller ones complete with a 15 minute multimedia aspect. At the end of the day, I’m a hustler and I take my craft seriously. Nobody is going to hand me anything. I have to go get it.


Visual Art.  Photo credit: J. Johari Palacio (

How do you feel your art and craft has developed and evolved since completing the program at Columbia?

I feel that the Movement: Theory and Practice course taught by Nana Shineflug prepared me for anything I have to do in the art realm. I was completely unprepared and very uncomfortable expressing myself in that fashion as it was very foreign to me. At the end of the semester, we had to provide a performance to the public…which was something that I had to dig deep and will myself through. After that experience, the feeling of accomplishment despite adversity permeated my approach to the craft. As an artist, you have to try something new/uncomfortable, experiment with iterations and present them to the public for critique in order to have some growth in your practice. I really don’t ever plan to do another movement piece, but who knows what the future holds in the journey to push my craft to the next level. In addition to that, I have formed an unofficial “creative posse.” At times, I’ve relied on their expertise to help with formulating concepts and execution as well as helping them out with the same.

What do you feel would be important skills to bring into the profession of “Artist?”

One important skill is to balance the outside information you receive versus your gut feeling about your art. Once your imagination gives birth to a tangible manifestation, not everyone is going to get it. Sometimes you have to trust yourself in showing the work. Things that you think might not translate well, works out…and vice versa. Another skill that is equally important is the skill of networking. Every one of the positions that I’ve been employed in was based off a personal relationship, backed by my credentials and experience. At the end of the day, people work with you because they like you. Saying thanks and please goes a long way.


Photography. Photo credit: J. Johari Palacio (

Are there any other insights you have developed that would be important to be aware of either for someone new to their creative art, or someone who will soon be graduating and entering the world as an artist?

As an artist, you are going to hear the word “no.” People won’t show up to any of your events. Your family might not understand, nor support you. You’ll be broke. You’ll be doubted. You’ll be underestimated. Your judgment will be questioned. You will not get championed immediately…maybe never. Being an artist is a lifestyle but I don’t think that you have to be starving or struggling. Stay on the cusp of being edgy and different. Do research and practice your craft. Not everything is going to be palatable for everyone. Either you fully embrace it and respect yourself as a creator of things who needs to be marketed, branded and approached in a business-like manner in order for you to sustain the pursuit of being creative…or get your degree and walk into the 9 to 5 sunset.

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