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Conversations With Creators: DJ Always
A new photo story featuring Louisville's DJ Always
How You Create is your favorite creatives, favorite podcast. And when we’re not releasing a new podcast episode then we’re going to be publishing photo stories here in our newsletter with rising creatives. We’ll be providing visual images and conversations with these creators that explore their motivation, inspiration, and process to creating.
Our first conversation in this photo series is with Louisville-based artist and teacher Albert Shumake or as many call him, DJ Always. Inspired by art at an early age, Albert quickly discovered a sense of purpose and passion, leading him to explore different mediums and outlets of creativity. Recently, I visited Albert in his home studio. Here are some images from my visit and a glimpse into my conversation with him.
For those who aren’t familiar with you, how would you describe yourself and the work you do?
I would describe myself as an artist, creative, and original, someone trying to mark their path and stand out, like a peacock. I want to show not only my greatness but the greatness of the people who fed into me and have influenced me.
I’m a colorful person and I think my art is colorful, and I want people to see the influence of culture and the influence of creativity from the other people in my life on my art.
In addition to being an artist and a teacher, you’re also a DJ. Where did the name DJ Always come from?
I started Djing about ten years ago and my goal was to not have a trendy name that would evaporate or get corny after five years. My name is Albert and I wanted something in my DJ name that reflected who I was and it took me about six months to come up with the name. I went with “Always” because I wanted to have “Al” in my name.
I’m a colorful person and I think my art is colorful
I have numerous nicknames amongst my friends and didn’t want people coming up to me and calling me something so personal. The “Always” was timeless, it was serendipitous. I wanted something that would last and that’s what it did. Where are we without love? I think that’s the most important thing. From a branding standpoint, my tag became Love DJ Always and it was very much unintentional, but it’s perfect for me because I don’t have to make designs or fight for people’s attention, love is something needed in the world.
Take us back to the roots of your creative journey.
I was introduced to art and creativity in elementary school. My mother enrolled me in the children’s free art classes through Louisville Visual Arts so I always knew I wanted to be an artist. I remember writing a short story, “The Kid Who Loved Art”, and that was a story about a kid from the hood who used art to get himself up out of the neighborhood because my home situation was tumultuous.
My parents dealt with substance abuse, weren’t able to keep a job, moving all the time. So art was the thing that gave me a place of normalcy. Music and art were the things that made me feel like I had a place in the world. It was at the Boys and Girls Club where I got my formal training in cultural arts and that’s where I learned to do cross-stitching, paper mache, things like that.
Music and art were the things that made me feel like I had a place in the world.
Mentorship has always played a part in how I participated in art. As a preteen, because I was playing drums in the drum corps, taking art workshops, and learning how to make jewelry, I got thrust into a position where I was eventually asked to teach. All of these things put me in a position where I was a teaching artist from probably twelve years old.
In college, since everyone didn’t have a computer and everyone didn’t know how to use the software, I was like one of the early adopters to that movement. And then I sold bootleg CDs, so I would spend all night filling up my disc wallet, and then I’d go to the cafeteria and sell all my music. Because I loved it, I introduced so many people to so much music, so it was almost a no-brainer when it came time for me to become a DJ.
What do you feel is most unique about your process?
I’m impulsive. If I think it, I don’t plan it, I just do it. A lot of people fear jumping into something, and I don’t worry if it’ll be perfect or not, I just do it, and it’s accumulated this body of work for me. I’m just adventurous, that’s my thing. I throw caution to the wind and try to make it happen.
What are essentials that you always carry with you or use when creating?
Fabric string, pencil and paper, and some good music. I just need Music and something to put my hands on.
What advice would you share with someone who is early on in their career, aspiring to do what you do?
My advice for anyone who is aspiring to live a creative lifestyle is to find somebody who is doing what you want to do and build a friendship, build a relationship. Find a mentor. For me, someone was always there helping me to cultivate this talent that I had and this lifestyle I wanted to live.
I’ve seen the shops up in the hills of Kentucky where all the Amish craftsmen make their clothes and utensils and furniture, and being exposed to that opened my mind to say, “oh yeah if I want to make silverware or plates or bowls, I can do that.” A lot of people don’t know they can do that because all they’ve seen is what’s in the department store. It’s hard for kids to even see a live band nowadays.
What's one of your favorite creations to date?
My Little Homies is one of my favorite creations. It came to me when my daughter was about to be born, my car had broken down, and I either had enough money to get my car repaired or start working towards a new car. I had these dolls I had made trying to make an easter bunny, but I didn’t put the ears on, and I’ve sold hundreds of them at this point. Now people associate me as the DJ that makes the dolls.
When considering what it means to leave behind a legacy, what would you say you want your creative legacy to be?
My creative legacy will be the number of artists I inspire that end up making art and living past my life, whether that be my daughter or my homies kids, with who we spend concerted effort and time to make sure they see us doing stuff with our hands.
My furniture and the fixtures on my walls, the art, are all made by people that I know. I want them to know and believe that if they want to do any of these things, that they can because they saw us do it, and if they take it to the next level, then that's the legacy that I want to leave.
Thanks for reading this week’s Conversation with Creators photo story. To keep up with DJ Always, check out his Instagram.