Converge Collaborative - Amy Yoshitsu
Welcome to an exclusive interview with Amy Yoshitsu, a remarkable individual at the forefront of the Converge Collaborative, where the power of innovation and collaboration intersect. In this conversation, Amy will share her unique insights and experiences, shedding light on the transformative work being done by the Converge Collaborative. Prepare to delve into the world of innovation, creativity, and cross-disciplinary cooperation as we explore how this collaborative is shaping a new way of creating.
Can you begin by telling us a bit about how the collective was created?
Converge Collaborative was co-founded in March 2020 by Vi Vu, Jazz Lyles and myself. I also want to acknowledge Won-Jin Jo as having been an important part of our initial team and helping us continue our journey.
I can only speak for myself as to why I was spurred to co-building Converge Collaborative. Immediately before the pandemic started, my time as a co-founder of a VC-back start-up came to an end. In grief (about the world and my own personal losses) and at a crossroads about my next step, I knew I wanted to respond to the reality that creatives, especially those of marginalized backgrounds, bodies and identities, have had limited emotional, social and economic opportunities to match their investment in their craft and artistic skills. Personally, I began this journey in order to unify my art practice and life as a designer, which, until then, had been driven in response to my economic needs and responsibilities of care. I view my work in Converge as a vital part of my creative and artistic practice that attempts to put into action the ideas I contend with in imagery and sculptural forms. In Converge, I am dedicated to using my privileges and technical design skills to mentor others not only about information architecture, Figma navigation and typography but also about my experiences providing design services, client management and having a professional opinion within my body and identity.
It was only through my then-previous work with a team of amazing, welcoming engineers who listened and shared, that I experienced the magic of solidarity possible within a team of people trying to create. With this vision and feeling as my north star, I sought to bring on folks who also shared the desire to contend everyday with the reality of practicing power-with (as opposed to power-over) as we adopted and adapted the framework of a workers cooperative. Since the beginning, we have worked to center BIPOC identities, experiences and histories; actively discussed how learned patterns of and external forces of power and hierarchy permeate our contexts; acknowledged emotional, social and care labor; provided each other flexibility around ways we take in and share information; and placed a premium on balancing solidarity with autonomy.
I hope the other worker-owners have had an opportunity to share what drew them to Converge. I am so grateful to be working along side and learning everyday from Katie, Louis, Michelle, Pat and Rios (in alpha order)!
How does Converge Collaborative integrate the principles of collaboration, solidarity, and equity into its work as a BIPOC workers co-op and artist collective?
All visuals, language and creations of Converge Collaborative have been made through consensus-building and nurturing critique that involves offerings (a term Michelle McCrary taught me and for which I am so appreciative) of feedback, iterations and practices of appreciation. Some projects may be conceived of and led by one or two people. In these cases, the rest of the membership is engaged in support through providing specific thoughts, labor, and ideas. Other more shared projects and day-to-day operations may be shepherded by an individual for clarity but we work consistently and diligently to make sure every voice is included and represented at every stage.
Curious Roots, the podcast created and led by Michelle McCrary, is driven by Michelle’s research, personal experiences, and rigorous passions for history and liberation. The recordings and edits of Season 1 were supported by sound engineer Pat McMahon; everyone else in Converge had opportunities to listen to the work-in-progress episodes and provide offerings about sound levels, the story progress, and more.
Similarly, the workshop Open Exposures was conceived by Louis Bryant III and was co-led alongside Katie Giritlian. Together, they created the curriculum, choreographed the workshop logistics, and always made transparent where they were in their process and how the rest of us could provide support. The first Open Exposures workshop, hosted by the wonderful Oakland Arts & Healing, gave us the opportunity to meet all together in person for the first time in March 2023. Even though the seed for Open Exposures came from Louis’s personal travel and photography experiences, its focus on diaspora, visual language, and community building has become a flagship program of Converge and encompasses the desires, needs and curiosity of all members.
Depending on Converge’s focus week-to-week, we meet all together or in subcommittees for 3-10 hours per week. During this time, we are able to unpack project challenges, design questions, and client emails to strategize together. Each project is like a puzzle in which each person adds a piece that makes the whole more vibrant and clear than any of us could have imagined individually. Through these meetings, and our other communication and documentation practices, we have developed a culture of check-in, consensus building, and thoughtfulness around productive feedback and support.
We come together with the goal of balancing autonomy and solidarity. We respect and actively discuss how our different positions in society, particular lineages, and personal conditions and responsibilities affect our individual and collective views and, thus, the choices we make together. We give grace and space to each other to tend to our creative, psychological, emotional, social, familial needs and understand we are all moving through (thanks for this term, Katie Giritlian!) personal and systemic challenges at our own pace and in our own unique ways. When we meet, we cushion each other by giving space for sharing and witnessing. Context, history and nuanced engagement are consistent within our approaches, practices and creations.
How does Converge Collaborative operate as a BIPOC workers co-op and artist collective? Can you provide insights into your organizational structure and decision-making processes?
I think my answer above provided information about how we approach projects and work together.
As an organizational structure, have been working with Cutting Edge Council to become a Workers Cooperative Corporation registered in the State of California. Part of the process of becoming a legal workers cooperative involved collaboratively writing our fifty page Bylaws outlining how we operate cooperatively. This process was extremely collaborative and involved multiple individuals leading on different drafts, many rounds of feedback, independent research taken on by members, and discussion and consensus-building that led to voting each section’s approval.
The Curious Roots podcast and Open Exposures workshops are examples of the creative projects we do within the artist collective layer of Converge. These are labors of love and of community. Their flames were started by the passion of one member and their fires have been then tended by the whole membership. We also have special meetings dedicated to the artist collective in which individuals share creative work and get feedback, we read and discuss texts together, and we work on other collective projects (such as zines, collaborative sculptures, and more).
In what ways does Converge Collaborative view work and labor as sites of creativity, learning, and imagination? How does this perspective influence the services you offer?
Since all members of Converge identify as artists and creatives, we recognize the activities and tasks within labor and work as expansive. Labor is the creation of art, care-giving, the social work of being mindful about interactions and one’s own states and behavior. We make objects, sounds, books, texts, digital experiences, moving images, spaces, etc.; learning and imagining are key aspects of the artistic process. Even though the multitudes of work under the umbrella of creative and care labor are not compensated (the marker of what we are taught as what defines “real labor” inside Capitalism) appropriately by any means, we in Converge collectively recognize and respect them.
With that as the background, we provide clients with designs, strategies, videos, and more that are thoughtful, nuanced and context-rich. We approach client relationships with the same zeal for collaboration as we practice internally. We seek to support thriving relationships and individuals while creating meaningful manifestations of a shared vision. We believe that learning, humility, growth and the encouragement of imagination are the keys to a healthy and productive process and outcome.
Could you share some insights into the partner process at Converge Collaborative?
Not only do we want to build communicative and nourishing relationships with clients, we also love building partnerships as we know no one person or group can do it all alone (nor has ever done it all alone). For example, we are so grateful to the relationships we have built with Oakland Arts & Healing (for partnering with us to make Open Exposures), Cutting Edge Council, Spokeland, and others who have come through our meetings and supported our work and values. To all those who would like to get in contact with us and start co-building with us, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Instagram and Linkedin @convergecollaborative.
How does Converge Collaborative foster an inclusive and diverse environment within your co-op?
As BIPOC folks, we discuss our shared experiences and lineages as people who have intimate and defining connections with diaspora, colonialism, assimilation, and the forces and implications of racial hierarchy, especially within the context of the US. We recognize and engage with the reality of difference based on each person’s positionality within that racial hierarchy and proximity to immigration, US settler-colonial genocide, and the US’s founding with chattel slavery. Layered within that, we recognize and share empathy for the many identities that each person carries regarding gender, sexuality, geography, ability, familial conditions, and more. We work to meet and support each other where we are, especially while recognizing the learned behaviors and beliefs we have all been raised within inside of white supremacist cis hetero patriarchal capitalism.
Are there any upcoming projects or initiatives the collective is working on that you're excited about and would like to share with us?
In the past few months, we launched our full portfolio website at convergecollaborative.com. We are active on Instagram and LinkedIn and have started sending out seasonal newsletter via email. We encourage people to reach out to us, follow us, and sign up to read about what we are thinking about and making. (Shout out to Michelle for leading on all this work, especially the awesome newsletter!)
For the future, we are currently working on Season 2 of both podcasts, Bring Your Full Self and Curious Roots. We are also working towards more Open Exposures workshops, some of which may be online and others which may involve local travel. Updates will be available on our site and social channels.
Most pertinently, we are available to build new partnerships with clients. If you or someone you know would like to work with us on design and engineering projects; multimedia audio, film, photography projects; or marketing campaigns, please let us know.
Lastly, how can an artist get involved and support your collective's work?
To support us, follow us, spread the word, listen to our work, attend our events, and reach out to us. We would love to hear from anyone who wants to support our work and mission.
To get involved, please contact us! We have special online events and meetings to welcome BIPOC creatives who may want to get involved. Email us at email@example.com or DM us!
Know more about the artist here.
Know more about Converge Collaborative here.
Amy Yoshitsu is a designer, engineer, and artist who was raised in traditional Ohlone, Ramaytush, and Muwekma territories (Bay Area, California) where she still resides. As someone with over a decade of experience in software, web and system design, Amy approaches all of their work with empathy and respect for the technical and social complexity present in every project. Amy’s sculptural practice focuses on deconstructing the interconnections between power, economics, labor, and race to illuminate their foundational impact on individual schemas and interpersonal relationships. Amy received an A.B. in Visual and Environmental Studies from Harvard University and then attended the MFA Art program at California Institute of the Arts.