By Ashley Baker
It was summer in San Diego and Raziah Roushan headed to the bank. The cashier asked her what she did for a living. Raziah replied, “I’m an artist!” She’d been working with a professional mural crew after graduating from Pacific Northwest College of Art. “Oh,” the cashier laughed, “a starving artist!” But that joke didn’t sit well with Raziah, a strong advocate for the arts. Seizing the moment, she quickly replied, “would you say that to a plumber who has their own business? Why is it funny that an artist is of less value?”
Today, Raziah works to engage and uplift the arts community in Beaverton, OR. She shares the empowerment she felt in that moment at the bank by mentoring and collaborating with other artists. In fact, Raziah recently joined the Faculty for Arts & Culture Leadership Incubator that Tualatin Valley Creates is launching in fall 2019.
“Everything we wear, the chairs we sit on, the houses we live in. All of this was designed by somebody who thought a little differently, and that’s what an artist is,” she said.
Her career as an artist began when she had to quickly change course – literally. In high school, Raziah switched electives, picking one that she thought would be easy: drawing. However, it quickly became clear that she had stumbled upon her passion. “I turned my home desk into an easel and would just sit on the ground and pull out the bottom drawer and pull out the canvas,” she said. Raziah began painting every day. When her mom gave her an ultimatum leading up to graduation – go to college, or find a job and start paying rent – it took Raziah about ten minutes to decide. “I was like, yeah, I want to go to college, and I want to be an artist.”
After college, while she was working for the mural company in San Diego, the studio owner asked, “Do you want to do a chalk festival this weekend?” And Raziah said, “Sure!” without a any idea of what a chalk festival entailed. In front of thousands of people, she helped create a 20-by-20 foot recreation of a Tiffany stained glass window using just chalk outdoors directly on the asphalt. “This is the way I get to share my art with all these other people,” Raziah thought. “It’s exhilarating.” Today, Raziah participates in chalk festivals all over the country and is currently organizing the inaugural La Strada dei Pastelli Chalk Art Festival in Beaverton, which will take place in August. It will be the closest professional chalk festival to Portland, bridging the gap between the next closest festivals in Grants Pass and Seattle.
“I had the mentorship of Joni Miringoff, a large chalk coordinator down in San Diego,” Raziah reflected. “I got to watch her and I thought, wow she’s so happy. She loves what she does. I want a life like that.” And Raziah wants that life for other artists in the community, too. Knowing the value of her work – and the importance of art’s role in documenting our cultural climate – helps Raziah mentor emerging artists in best practices for their own businesses.
She recalls working with a young artist who wanted to start painting murals but was hesitant to price her time. “You could sue yourself for not giving yourself a living wage,” Raziah advised her. “You’re worth it.” She finds it rewarding to pay her experience forward by taking artists step-by-step through the financial details of becoming a successful entrepreneur. “I am so lucky,” Raziah explained. “I come from a family that’s all entrepreneurs. When I was seventeen, my mom straight up took me to City Hall to get my business license.”
Currently, Raziah’s creating designs for a chalk festival in Georgia later this summer, but the ideas don’t always come easily. “You can’t really just turn on your creativity,” she explained. “It’s not like, ‘yeah, terrific! Now I’m going to explode with all these ideas.’” But Raziah’s dealt with artist’s block before. Sometimes, it means going to Forest Park and drawing leaves. Or riding the MAX train from end to end for an afternoon, making sketches of other riders.
“We are totally our own worst critic. You just have to shut that voice off,” Raziah said.
Leveraging her classical training, Raziah works across mediums to create her paintings. She explores the collective emotions of society, politics, the complexities of relationships and much more through her visual storytelling. “If something’s working when I’m painting or drawing, I love it. Like I just start giggling,” Raziah explained. “A little glob of paint that gets spilled across sometimes works better than what I had intended or planned. Allowing that to happen, it makes me feel really good.”
Explore Raziah’s work on her website, visit her series of six murals at Cedar Hills Crossing, or attend La Strada dei Pastelli Chalk Art Festival for free on August 10 and 11. Artists and non-profit organizations are also invited to apply to participate in the chalk festival.
About the Author: Ashley Baker
After spending several years developing communication strategies and conducting research for sustainability non-profits in Washington, D.C. and Portland, OR, Ashley has turned her attention to multimedia storytelling and community engagement. She holds a B.Sc. in chemistry from Sweet Briar College and is currently pursuing her master’s degree at the University of Oregon in Portland.