We had the good fortune of connecting with Colin Crane and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Colin, why did you pursue a creative career?
Since my final year of college I’ve known instinctively that I was cut out for something with more personal freedom than the typical 9-to-5 path. Throughout my life I’ve always been happiest when I’m creating, and I feel so lucky that I’ve been able to nurture that passion while building a social enterprise whose mission and purpose means so much to me.
When we started our nonprofit organization, one of the most rewarding parts for me personally was the ability to use my passion for visual art in building our brand. From documentary videos, photojournalism, colorful graphic design projects, and other visual storytelling, it’s all helped keep that creative flame alive — ten years later it’s still surreal to call those things part of my job. Another huge thing for me is that the personal freedoms afforded by my career choice have opened up time & energy that I can dedicate to a range of personal art & photography projects that let me express myself and keep that part of my mind nourished.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My life is kind of divided into two separate worlds that I care equally about — my full-time job is my work with The Pulsera Project, a social enterprise / nonprofit organization that I co-founded in 2009, and my side passion is the visual art I create out of old National Geographic magazines. The Pulsera Project started as a pretty simple idea after a trip we took with some family and friends to Nicaragua in 2009. We had met a community of artisans who made colorful handwoven bracelets (“pulseras” in Spanish), and we had the thought to sell some of them to family and friends back home to raise money for the artisans.
I was in college at American University at the time and started selling them around my campus, one of the other co-founders was selling them on his campus in Charleston, and a family friend of ours also introduced them to the elementary school where she taught. Pretty quickly it became clear that there was a high level of interest in not only the crafts themselves, but also the story behind them. After graduating in 2011 we decided to invest ourselves fully in building out the idea, and started a program where students & teachers could sign up to sell the pulseras in their own schools. The idea was basically threefold — we could provide a much-needed market for these artisans to sell their products, we could introduce students in the U.S. to the beauty of Central American culture through a meaningful service project, and then use the proceeds to support the artisans, their communities, and a range of organizations in Nicaragua and Guatemala.
The first year we had 27 schools involved, and little by little the project has grown each year since. As of 2021 we’ve worked with 3,100 schools in all 50 states, sold over 1,000,000 pulseras, and raised about $5,000,000 for the social impact programs we support in Central America. It’s been quite the journey, and even after all these years it’s pretty surreal to see how far that original idea has come. One of the most rewarding parts for all of us has been the ability of the project to introduce students to a new concept of what service or charity is. Much of the prevailing narrative in that world is structured as “fortunate” people helping those who are “less fortunate.” If we’ve learned anything in our ten years of doing this, it’s that people who have less economic resources can actually be so wealthy in the ways that really matter — in human connection, meaningful relationships, sense of community, and the ability to find happiness without the endless pursuit of material things. We encourage students to look at the project as an equal exchange, as an exercise in solidarity, where both sides are getting just as much out of the exchange as what they are putting in.
Outside of that, I’ve tried to keep time carved out for my personal art as well. I have a pretty long background in photography but somewhere around 2016 I had just become so burnt out and uninspired by taking photos. One Sunday afternoon I picked up a bunch of old National Geographic magazines at a local thrift store and decided I’d try my hand at doing some sort of collage work with them. Honestly I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew I needed to explore something outside of my comfort zone and see if I could unlock a new part of my creativity.
After a few weeks of experimentation I feel like I started to tap into something unique — I’ve described it in the past as “something cosmic in the ordinary,” basically taking images of normal life and transforming them with some sort of surreal twist to evoke a sense of timelessness, of the mystery of being alive in this strange, wonderful, inexplicable world. A lot of that inspiration has definitely come from the world of magical realism that authors like Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, Isabel Allende, and J.G. Ballard created in their novels, as well as the melancholy, soul-searching nature writings of Loren Eisely. The photography from vintage National Geographics already has this very timeless feel, so they’re a perfect source material for me.
And outside of the actual creation process, I’ve had so much fun collecting all of these old issues and being transported back to a time when so much of the world was still a mystery to our species — when it still felt like there was endless discovery on the horizon. I’d say I’ve probably gone through close to 300 issues scouring for the perfect images to create with, going all the way back to the 1920s. In the past few years I’ve gotten to do album artwork and promo materials work for a few different bands and musicians, and I definitely would love to see that type of commission work continue in the future. I love that in both my nonprofit work and my personal art that I’m able to express a unique part of myself, to leave a little imprint of my DNA on the world.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I would definitely start with a trip to the Huntington Gardens in Pasadena — I think that is one of L.A.’s most wonderful gems, and I never get tired of exploring the surreal landscapes there. For a low-key park hang or picnic, I love Everett Park off of Sunset Blvd — that’s such a beautiful little slice of green space in the city with a great view of both downtown and the sunset. Obviously no trip to L.A. is complete without a beach excursion…I think for me it’s worth the hour drive down the coast to Treasure Island Beach in Laguna. It really feels like a little miniature paradise down there, with a long palm-lined promenade up on the cliffs overlooking the ocean, little tables to watch the sunset from, and a really unique beach with rock outcroppings and exquisite plant-life.
Hikes are always on the to-do list — I think two of my favorites have been Zuma Canyon and Tuna Canyon, both which elevate you up to otherworldly views of the Pacific. I also love walking around the Hollywood Reservoir and the easy three mile loop up there. Gotta make time for some drinks too! This past year I’ve been partial to some of the city’s wine bars like Melody Wine Bar, Tilda Wine, and El Prado in Echo Park. And some of my go-to food spots are Town Pizza and Bang Bang Noodles in Highland Park. Finally a shout-out to La Teteria Cafe, which is one of L.A.’s true hidden gems, They’re a little cafe in the Piñata District that’s part of a larger art-collective type space with an organic fashion brand (MYM Organics), an art studio, and more. They do tea and coffee tastings and they are just some of the most humble & down-to-earth people. I can’t recommend that space enough once the world is back to normal.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’d love to give a shoutout to my friend Billie Fountain, who was the first friend of mine to move out to L.A. and influenced my decision to end up here — he’s an amazing musician with an incredible debut album on the way, and hopefully some live shows as well once we’re out of this covid mess.
Photos By: Colin Crane (main feature portrait) Edie Sunday (second portrait)