Danielle Cowan: In Conversation

More Art’s 2023 Engaging Artists Fellowship

More Art
5 min readJul 14, 2023

This month’s featured Fellow is Danielle Cowan, who joins our Fellowship Leader, Sarah Esmi in a conversation on the joy of sharing, creativity for sleeplessness, and reclaiming your neighborhood.

Sarah Esmi: Because I’m always curious, what are you reading these days?

Danielle Cowan: I love finding recommended reading lists to learn about different experiences and issues but I have so many books that I had to bring some system to the madness of choosing. Sometimes I stick to the theme of the month like I alternate between indigenous-written fiction and nonfiction every November so now my Pride pick was Fiebre Tropical by Juliana Delgado Lopera. It’s hilarious and I’m so happy I got the audiobook because I’ve always loved hearing Latina authors read their work from the moment I listened to a House on Mango Street.

SE: What are you working on?

DC: My project for the fellowship is called No Shade Show-and-Tell where the vibe is just to put the hood back in childhood by cherishing the cheer that can only exist in hood households even when we can’t choose to show it in schools. And I want to use this project as a place to love on those of us who were kinda left out or expected to fend for ourselves by the educational system. I’m also really hype about this six-week workshop series where The Harlem Library and Roundabout Theatre integrate their plays and primary texts from the library because I’m coming in with no clue what I want to create which I haven’t done in awhile.

SE: Sometimes, coming into a space with no clue what you
want to create is the best thing! I’m excited to follow up with
you to hear about the ways in which you might surprise
Why do you create? What motivates you to create?

DC: I’ve had trouble sleeping since I was like 7 so I’d summon up some ship or small town under the covers and each limb lived in a specific section. There were mad crossovers and corniness but it was better than counting sheep (trust me, I tried) so I create when I can’t sleep because whatever’s on my mind is too big for blanket forts.

SE: Counting sheep never worked for me either. What themes are you most interested in exploring in your artistic work?

DC: I guess we staying on a kid kick because sharing and my work wouldn’t exist without cleaning up the shards of that statement. Like who gets to decide to share and who gets stolen from? What’s going on when we decide where to share certain sides of ourselves? And most money-making for my therapist, why is it sometimes so difficult for different identities and desires to share a body?

SE: What rituals or traditions keep you most in creative flow? What fills your cup?

DC: Oh I love trying new things and I make sure I do it at least once a month by treating myself to a self-date. I’ve done everything from drum circles and contact improv dance classes to cooking Chinese water spinach. I’ve heard when I get old my bones will bully me into not sitting on my floor anymore but I hope not because it’s my literal grounding for writing or listening to good music after a less good day.

SE: All of those sound so grounding. Speaking of cooking,
what’s your favorite comfort food?

DC: Lasagna, Maduros and burritos with bomb ass guac basically anything that’ll get me ready for a good comfort nap.

SE: Tell us about your relationship with New York.

DC: I’m a daughter of two Great Migrations—my mom’s family was promised work coming from Puerto Rico and my dad’s was from Georgia where geography and blackness weren’t meshing well. There’re actual factual scholarly books saying my ancestors in the South Bronx started coming up and claiming what was theirs throughout the city in Black/Puerto Rican coalitions. It feels special like I shouldn’t have learned it so late because it’s the closest thing to a legacy I’ve got. But I grew up hearing that the city is gross and you got bread and clout when you get yourself out to some house in the Hudson Valley. And yeah, if you stay in the section oppressors said you should as they systematically make it less supportive, but we’ve been good at scouting what works and willing it to where we are. So I will continue to enjoy estimating the hour-and-a-half left of my workday when I hear students shooting hoops, free opera, gardens, new favorite songs coming from car windows and the camaraderie of native New Yorkers as my no to red-lining, gentrification or whatever synonym we saying next.

SE: Who are artists (this includes writers!) whose work you return to often? Why?

DC: NYC rappers will always know my heart so along with listening to a lot of Jay-Z on my journeys into writing about and processing the past “Motivation for the Youth” by Jay Critch has been my vibe. I’m giving out secrets now but I like to send out art as a bit of a vibe check when I’m getting to know someone. So if you don’t laugh at “Whiteness Walks into a Bar” by Franny Choi or tell me that this textile piece called “Absicion” by Francisco Echo Eraso is more beautiful than depressing you’re probably sus.

SE: Any shoutouts you want to make? People you want to thank? People you’re thinking about?

DC: Huge shoutout to Sarah for asking great questions. Shoutout to you if you read all of this and didn’t get bored, it fills me with faith for my future long-form written work that will exist one day when I don’t get bored while writing it.

Danielle Cowan is a blind, queer and Blackarican native New Yorker dabbling in organizing, performance and poetry. Her art comes from fascination with A body or place to hold multiple sometimes conflicting identities and playing with ways to write within shared histories and trauma. Her work has been published in Causeway Lit’s Revolution Issue, Mobius: the Journal of Social Change and elsewhere. She was an artistic investigator for Rattlestick Playwrights Theater’s Block by Block Project and was a spring 2022 Office Hours Poetry Workshop fellow.

More Art’s year-long Engaging Artists Fellowship is designed to help emerging NYC artists and community organizers develop and sustain a socially engaged and public art practice. The Fellowship program curriculum includes mentorship, peer networking, access to programming opportunities in New York City, and workshops and artist talks tailored to the interests/needs of the cohort. The infrastructure and laboratory provided by More Art allow selected emerging and underrepresented artists to gain a deeper understanding of the history and vitality of public and socially engaged art and encourage artists to expand and develop social practice.

Visit moreart.org/projects/engaging-artists to learn more and follow us on social media and join our newsletter for more Fellow features!



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More Art collaborates with artists across their careers to catalyze social change by producing participatory public art for a broad audience.