The Roman Issue
Last year, Emily Rose Antflick was completely burnt out of a teaching career, and facing emotional and mental depletion. In a volunteer leadership position, she found her stress levels causing her mask of positive capability to slip.
When Emily told her volunteer team that she was struggling, she was startled at how quickly they were to validate those feelings, and to support her by galvanizing themselves into getting the work done.
That experience in part led Emily to found Shecosystem, a Toronto co-working space that places feminine values at the centre of productivity, catering to female entrepreneurs who crave a workplace that allows growth, ownership, and connection through vulnerability.
“21st century skills are empathy, vulnerability, empathic leadership, collaboration over competition. I wanted to provide a space where those are at the core.”
During my visit to Shecosystem, Emily and I curl up on cozy sunlit armchairs in the wellness room, where the space’s wellness practitioners see clients. When we got to talking about the intent behind Shecosystem, Emily explains, “We have this big trend, you’ll see it in Forbes and Harvard Business Review, saying 21st century skills are empathy, vulnerability, empathic leadership, collaboration over competition.”
“I wanted to provide a space where those are at the core,” she says. “Where the idea of showing up emotionally, authentically, and vulnerably at work is validated and supported.”
The warm intentions of the space are replicated in its ethos. The cozy kitchen is stocked with large, friendly mugs, and the walls are brightly coloured. The desk spaces are simple, comfortable, and unassuming. An airy practice room, where larger gatherings and classes are held, finish up a Friday afternoon yoga session as Emily and I chat.
“It’s really cool, the kinds of connections the space has facilitated,” explains Emily. “That’s my favourite thing about coming here, looking out and seeing how different people are interacting with each other, and watching them starting to collaborate more and more.”
Emily practices what she preaches, letting the space’s members in on her moments of struggle and vulnerability.
Shecosystem’s values also manifest in the daily practice of opening and closing circles, where members share a thought, intention, or update on their working life. Emily practices what she preaches, letting the space’s members in on moments of struggle and vulnerability she’s had in the months since opening. Though always frightening and trepidatious, reaction to that openness has always been affirming and positive.
“It’s been really interesting how I’ve been able to redefine leadership,” says Emily. “I know that I can still be a very effective leader through being vulnerable and showing up in a very real way, in that brave, yet tentative way. Like, yes, I have no idea what the fuck I’m doing, but I’m still going to do it.”
When I ask about the feminine influences behind the space’s name and structure, Emily outlines a vision that opposes the ways women are typically expected to spend time together.
“Part of why I created [Shecosystem] was in reaction against how society tells us women are supposed to gather,” says Emily. “We get our nails done, we get our hair done, we go shopping, we go for martinis, or we cook for each other and have each other over in our homes. It’s generally about beauty, consumption, or domesticity.
“I wanted a space that’s not about that,” she continues. “That’s a positive space for women to gather.”
When it comes to Shecosystem’s ecological roots and future growth, Emily intends to allow the space to unfold how it may. Coming from a background in permaculture, a discipline that strives to create human systems that mimic natural structures to create abundance, she’s determined to observe first before deciding what Shecosystem will ultimately be.
“A year from now, it might not even be a coworking space,” Emily muses. “Maybe desk space is not actually what people want . . . It’s kind of a space for us to fill in however we want to, and see what emerges.”
Interview by Alison Roach
Maitejosune Urrechaga is a multi-disciplinary artist and teacher, working and creating in Miami. She makes up part of the band Pocket of Lollipops, a posh-punk outfit first created when Maitejosune and her husband, Tony, picked up instruments as part of a visual art installation. We caught up with Maitejosune on her process, bringing her art to the classroom, and how Pocket of Lollipops is creating a unique artistic community in South Florida.
Babe Rally: Tell us a little bit about how you were drawn to the arts and music.
Maitejosune Urrechaga: In high school I always did art, I did photography and stuff like that. I also went to see a lot of bands and shows but I actually didn’t play music until really late in my career. I was already teaching, and then all of sudden I did a music performance with my husband for an art show of one of our friends. I picked up the bass and they wanted him to play drums. So for three months I practised and then I did the performance. From then we’ve had shows every weekend, up until now.
BR: How did you find that your work as an artist in other practices has informed your musical work?
MU: I used to listen to a lot of music while I was painting. I started off as a painter. I did a few installations. Now when I do an art show I think about how everything sounds, involving more of the senses, even scent when we do the installations. Maybe music opened me up. The only big difference is that when I did art before I did music, it was only me. I didn’t think about anybody else. But when you’re in a band, and even when it was just my husband and I when we first started, we still had to share ideas and concepts. Which was easy, because we were married. Having to create with someone and actually listen to them to create, it was different. I would say I’ve also been more open in my artwork, listening to people.
“When we became a band, both of our separate artistic careers went full speed ahead at the same time.”
BR: What is it like to have that artistic and personal relationship with your husband?
MU: It’s been cool. We didn’t plan it, from the beginning. We’d been together for many years. We both did art. We were married and did our art practice, but our art practice didn’t fully flourish. When we became a band, both of our separate artistic careers went full speed ahead at the same time. Which was interesting, because he was writing books and I was having art shows, and also the band was going. There have been times when I’ve been tired, or exhausted, like “Oh my god, we have a show, and then we have an art show, and I have this book I have to finish.” But I think we’ve managed to balance it. Like, I’ll sleep a minute, and you’ll work on that.
BR: How do you create moments and spaces for intimacy in a creative partnership like that?
MU: I’m very good at knowing when work is done. You have to take breaks. It is hard, because we have our studio in our house. I’m very good at knowing when we need to do nothing. Like, let’s get in the car, wake up early, go have breakfast, go to the beach, take the dog. I think you need to force those things to happen, because we work so much. Actually, I’m not going to say force, because they are there. Sometimes I remember when we were just a duo, thinking of adding other people, we were like, “Wait, that means I’m not just going to be able to practice sitting in my house.” At one point, we thought it was an intimate moment when we would practice, and now there’s other people who are there for that. I didn’t know if they would be okay with that. And honestly it’s been super easy. But I also think the intimate moments wrap themselves up when we are creating.
BR: How are you influenced by other women in the arts?
MU: I don’t want to categorize pop culture and say it’s a negative, because it’s there and needs to be addressed. But I guess some of the women I’ve looked at, you look and go, okay this can be achieved and you don’t have to go this particular route of being a female singer. It all being about just your look. I’m not saying I have a problem if I look pretty. But knowing that that’s not the only important thing when it comes to the message or what it is we’re trying to get across. There are other people out there who have a message, and it’s not just about what they visually look like. Some have obviously addressed it artistically. Some people address it where you don’t even see them but know their music. It’s been easing in the sense that you know it’s there, and that you can achieve it.
“I don’t want it be full on about what my body looks like. I’m not saying I won’t wear something nice, I won’t be stylish. But I also know what I don’t want to show.”
BR: How have you tried to stay true to your own sense of femininity or womanhood, with that pressure to be a certain type of woman in music?
MU: There are things that I’ve seen that I definitely don’t want to do. I don’t want it be full on about what my body looks like. I’m not saying I won’t wear something nice, I won’t be stylish. But I also know what I don’t want to show. Also, being an educator has forced me to not be very provocative. There is the fact that I’m a teacher. Kids know that I’m a teacher, but they find me and some of them find the band. That’s been a bit of an issue, because I teach high school. I’m fully aware they know the power of social media. I know everyone knows how to Google now. Sometimes I would feel like that hinders me, like I can’t do what I want to do.
BR: How do you define femininity?
MU: I don’t feel like it should be in a box. I don’t feel like I should be fighting for it. It should just be there. I should be allowed to do anything I want to. It doesn’t matter if it’s work or not. I don’t feel like any guy wakes up in the morning and sits there thinking about this. And I want that. I don’t want to have to think, “Oh, is this feminine enough?” Having to worry about how I look. I don’t think men have the same thoughts. And I want to wake up and not have that thought. I think that’s the goal that most women are trying to get to. I don’t know if categorizing it helps. And that’s the hard part. Are there people who are very feminine compared to how I am? Yes, of course. Do I disagree with them? I’m not going to say yes and I’m not going to say no. Because for them, that’s their route, and maybe that route will actually help to get to the route where I want to be. Where I can wake up and not think about this.
BR: How do you stay out of the box?
MU: I think because I play this role as a teacher in my day job, my students have their own paths. I teach art, so I get the opportunity to be with kids who maybe have more liberal thinking, are more creative. But then I also get some kids who maybe never had those thoughts, then they open up to thinking differently. Being in the classroom, it’s weird to see how much it’s guided how I feel or look at things. I’m the art teacher, the weirdo already. That’s how it’s categorized in any school. But even me knowing that, sometimes I listen to students, how they perceive things, and it makes me go, “Oh, maybe I shouldn’t see things this way, or try other things.” I even do new things with my own medium because of them. I also don’t believe they all need to make art the way I make art.
“Of course I’m going to teach them art techniques and all that, but I like the fact that they’re in this setting together, being creative, opening up their minds.”
BR: What do you try to impart on your students?
MU: My whole goal is for them to maybe think differently, not just about the art practice, but how they view a lot of things in life. How they view the person next to them. I do a lot of what I call ninja infiltration of how they think. A lot of the time they think they’re just coming in for art. And of course I’m going to teach them art techniques and all that, but I like the fact that they’re in this setting together, being creative, opening up their minds. I also bring in a lot of music that maybe they wouldn’t listen to, because it’s definitely not mainstream. Sometimes I bring in local music to play. I do a lot of stuff so that they’re becoming more aware. I’m cool if they don’t like it, I’m cool if it’s not their thing, but I think they need to be aware of other stuff.
BR: What sort of mediums and practices are you drawn to right now?
MU: I’ve been playing cello, the last few months. My goal is to write a ballet. My sister was a ballerina for 25 years. She can’t dance anymore. But I played the cello for her and told her she’s going to choreograph it. That’s my plan. She’s going to choreograph it and I’ll write it. I’m getting ideas of the story and concepts. I’ll play parts with people that I invite over, a friend who also plays cello, somebody came over and played piano the other day. And as we’re playing, the storyline comes to my head. Like, my dog has these big ears. I saw a bat, in black, pointing and the wings opening up and very intense cello. I have to figure out the storyline, but I know it’s there.
BR: What are the insecurities that you’ve had to work through to get to a place of freedom of expression?
MU: Image is a thing. I’m fully aware when I’m performing that people are looking, people are taking photos. Personally, do I care? No. Yet, when I see the result of the photo later, I might be like, “Oh, that colour looks so bad on me.” Does that hinder the creative process? Not too much, but it is there. When you get into being creative and making music and art, I guess some people are just nasty people. When you meet people along the way and they’re like, “Why are you doing what you’re doing?” I’m so happy to meet other artists and musicians. I think it’s such a great thing. Some people aren’t like that. Maybe it’s because I’m not a competitive person. I just do what I do, and if people like it, cool, and if people don’t like it, that’s cool too.
BR: It seems like community is a big piece in your art and your creativity. How do you create that community?
MU: We have a little label, Houndstooth Cottage. We started recording other bands besides ourselves. One for the learning part, but also that whole community aspect of hanging out with other artists. It’s not supposed to be competitive. I like your music, let’s record it. I like listening to you guys. We write totally differently, I’m not here to copy your stuff. Maybe I’ll write a guitar track for you and you’ll sing on my stuff. The Lop-Off Sessions happened because we had the opportunity to do something in a gallery, and we didn’t just want to perform. We like performing, I love it, but sometimes we like to do other stuff. So what we did is create a compilation where people can watch the band perform one song in thirty minutes, and then what we do is release that compilation and people can purchase it. Tony and I really like the idea of the interaction, meeting people, seeing how other people create. For me, that’s the best part.
BR: In terms of mental state, how important have you found it is to destress before stepping into a creative space, of the classroom?
MU: Definitely for creative, for music. It’s funny, I don’t like to talk before we play, like an hour before. I sometimes don’t even like to hang out. Tony is totally different. The bandmates, they seem to be okay either way. But I just want to sit in a corner. I know I can’t do that because it looks like something is wrong, but I’m just like, I don’t want to talk. So I try not talk a lot, and stay calm. For the classroom, I’m definitely the one who keeps the peace. People come there, it’s the sanctuary. I’m controlling that for everybody else who’s coming in. My room is the sanctuary, and I have to make that happen. If it’s the lighting that day, all the materials are ready ahead of time. And for me it’s also kind of meditative.
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Roman Muradov is an Russian illustrator based in San Francisco. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Paris Review, The Wall Street Journal, and Vogue. In his own words:
“I get intensely bored the moment I feel fully confident with a style or a medium, which is why I switch around so much.“
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