Featured photo: The DOSE Collective aims to be a supportive space for young, up-and-coming creatives in Winston-Salem. (courtesy photo)
Taja Seafus knows all about the post-college blues.
As a trained scenic designer with a degree from UNCSA, Seafus knew what it felt like to have an arts community when she was on campus. But after graduating in 2019 and setting out on her own, she found that working siloed, alone, was a jarring experience after the collaborative environment of school.
“I didn’t like the disconnect of being a designer,” she says. “You didn’t have to be in the same room as anyone; there was no collaboration. It was nerve-wracking for me.”
As she tried to navigate what it meant to build a career in the arts, she saw her classmates go on to New York and California to chase their own aspirations.
“But I would talk to these people and they’re not happy there because they think, This is the only place I can do my job; I’m stuck here,” Seafus says.
And then the pandemic happened.
That’s when Seafus, who grew up in Holly Springs, decided to try and create that same sort of community within Winston-Salem.
“I want to curate spaces for people to be safe and to be the creative person they want to be, however that transpires,” Seafus says.
Her first project was INBTWN, an immersive art project that was kickstarted by Seafus’ desire to bring to life a script she wrote about what it’s like being a nonbinary person of color wrestling with mental health.
“It was a reflection of myself,” Seafus says. “It was something that I felt like needed to be shown.”
But the project was short-lived. There wasn’t enough funding, and as a for-profit entity, INBTWN just wasn’t sustainable. Pivoting, Seafus turned the business into a nonprofit and renamed it the DOSE Collective. Now the organization has 11 board members and a new downtown gallery space — named the INBTWN — on Trade Street. They’ve even secured funding from the Forsyth Arts Council to pay for the space and DOSE’s two additional employees.
The mission has changed, too.
Now, rather than immersive experiences, the goal of DOSE is to bring together other creatives, usually younger people of color who feel like they have no place in the city, to create on a regular basis. One of the organization’s most popular events is its monthly arts showcase called the Lab that is hosted in the parking garage under the Sawtooth School of the Arts. It’s pay-what-you-will and all of the contributing artists are paid through the arts council’s funding.
Everyone from dancers to musicians — singer-songwriters, hip hop, you name it — to artists selling their goods, set up in the car park for an audience of about 80-120 people every month.
The turnout shows how needed this kind of community was in Winston-Salem, Seafus says.
“DOSE is for up-and-coming artists,” she says. “As soon as you graduate, you get disconnected from the school community. I don’t think that’s talked about; you’re just ripped out of it. You’re left wondering, How do I meet people? How do I make structure for myself? DOSE is to meet other people who are like minded.”
As the city that touts itself as a hub of arts and innovation, Seafus feels like the former is being left behind to promote the latter.
“The arts part has been the university and really nothing else,” she says. “The city needs to choose one of them and I feel like innovation is where they are going and I fear that art is going to be left behind.”
When asked about long-standing institutions like SECCA and Reynolda House and how those play into the arts community, Seafus acknowledges that those spaces exist, but that they don’t always feel accessible to everyone, especially younger people of color.
“That’s my disconnect, too,” Seafus admits. “I’ve only really been on the UNCSA side [of the city]. I rarely go to Reynolda and SECCA. Money does have a factor in playing into how people interact with things. Reynolda is a very money-heavy area. If I’m going based on my fears, I feel like if you’re rich, you probably don’t like what I look like.”
In the past few years, both institutions have worked to directly reckon with this dynamic. In the aftermath of the 2020 racial uprisings, SECCA hired its first full-time Black curator, Maya Brooks. Reynolda installed its first exhibition that delved into its past treatment of Black workers.
But it’s still important for places like DOSE to exist, Seafus says, because at its core, the mission is focused on burgeoning artists rather than those who may already have built a name for themselves, kind of like what Zach McCraw at Culture is doing.
“It’s just needed,” Seafus says. “I feel like it can happen here because Winston-Salem is one the most malleable places that can accept the process of something like this happening within its city. There are places like New York that don’t need this because they already have it. Because of how much the majority of Winston-Salem is for an inclusive environment, this seems like the best place to do it.”
In addition to the Lab and the gallery space, which spotlights different artists every month, DOSE offers free programs like a songwriter’s workshop, writer’s circle, open jam session and a houseplant-care class. In January, they plan to start the Lawn, an intimate show in which bands who perform get recorded so they can use the assets to promote themselves.
Looking further into the future, Seafus has more ambitious goals. She wants to venture into experimental theater and rent out a bigger space. She’s also passionate about affordable housing and would love to create an art hub that supports local artists. Anything and everything to create a support system for creatives.
“Sometimes I hear from people that have a fear of, ‘Why didn’t I know about this sooner? Have I been missing out on this?,’” Seafus says. “But this literally just started, you’re at the beginning.”
Learn more about DOSE Collective at doseartistcollective.com. Follow them on Instagram at @dose.inbtwn.ws. Their next even is 4 UR LP, a night of listening to music, on Dec. 12. The next Lab takes place on Feb. 5.
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