We had the good fortune of connecting with Tré Borden and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Tré, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
My perspective on work life balance is more focused on making space for myself than delineating work time and personal time. I have also been deeply influenced by this recent chaotic period of the pandemic.
As background: I realized very early on in my career that I would not succeed professionally, or personally, by showing up as different versions of myself to suit other people. I’ve worked very hard to become comfortable with being my Black, gay, nerdy, creative, irreverent-ass self, and I need to be me at all times. God please bless the code-switchers! It couldn’t be me.
This is a freeing way to operate, but it also makes working in a corporate or hierarchical environment really challenging. I never flourished in those types of roles. Initially, working for and betting on myself seemed like my only compelling option. After almost 10 years I now view entrepreneurship as the best way to enjoy my life, make the impact I want in the world, AND earn a good living. I have been able to build a successful creative company working with clients who are aligned with my values, and with artists and collaborators who I genuinely love and admire. Collaborating with friends has also blended my personal and work relationships, and as a result socializing and working and networking overlap. On top of this I’m a very outgoing connector whose life motto seems to be “never stop doing the most”, and this has often led to periods of exhaustion, financial stress, and a failure to identify and prioritize my own needs. It seems obvious, but I’ve only recently learned how much better everything is when I take time for myself and can operate at full capacity.
The pandemic was the first occasion I have had since I began my career to truly stop. This was not by choice, of course, and I was deeply concerned about what would happen to me especially because I’d only moved to LA in late 2018 and still didn’t feel like I’d hit my groove. I do not want to be insensitive to the massive amount of suffering we saw in that time (and still see now), but that break was just what I needed. I leaned into the opportunity to actually spend time with myself and not be worried about how to maximize every moment. When you move to a place like LA, as I did, to chase opportunity, you feel a lot of pressure to go to everything, meet everyone and feel like you’re really taking advantage of every possible chance for a life-changing encounter. It can start to feel really thirsty and low-yield and by March 2020 I was exhausted by it despite a lot of really great things having happened for me and my business.
This is turning into a therapy session, but I really did need to be reminded that I already had enough: enough talent, enough people who believed in me, enough opportunity and enough certainty about my values. What I didn’t have enough of was time to sit down and think about what I wanted. I made so many changes as a result of this restorative and contemplative period, and I am now much more confident in my intuition about how to move myself and my business forward. I had the energy to generate ideas that put me in the creative driver’s seat, and the clarity to pivot my business to suit the constraints and freedoms of this unprecedented era. The practices I developed in that time have really helped me achieve a level of personal and professional balance I was badly in need of.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I think one of the most important parts about my company, Tre Borden /Co, is the practical ethos that underpins it. Almost 10 years ago I began working with artists because I was impressed by their process of thinking about the world, translating it through their practice, and using the result to motivate others to do something meaningful about how we treat one another. It can seem like a small change to create a single piece of artwork, but one piece can influence so many people deeply. Creating opportunities to have more art in more places can make a massive difference especially in lieu of some of the things we see every day, or don’t see, that sap our belief that change is possible. Our society is in desperate need of this creative and human-centered interpretation of the world and its problems. If we can see things clearly and talk to one another we can better focus our mass movements for progress and visualize solutions we’ve never imagined. Unfortunately, it is still the case that much of the general population overlooks artists’ potential for creating change. It doesn’t help that the art world remains less than welcoming to artists outside of the typical pipeline and to the public. I’m very glad I started this work fairly ignorant of the usual guardrails in my hometown of Sacramento where I could experiment with artists without asking for, or often needing, a lot of permission.
I wanted to make art more present in ordinary people’s lives and reposition it as a legitimate way to create and change communities. My tactic was to translate the potential of artists’ most ambitious ideas in order to influence people and organizations to rethink how they used their spaces, power, and resources. Initially this meant partnering with individual artists on one-off projects and gathering community buy-in to execute them, and it was very difficult at first to convince people this was a more worthwhile way to approach community building than traditional methods. Over the years, and with so many compelling examples of this work becoming more visible across the globe, I have been able to gain more traction with a portfolio of public art projects, temporary installations, private commissions and even media projects. It has also “helped” that the stakes have risen so obviously and dramatically in recent years that people are more open minded than before about new strategies to change how we are living.
Tre Borden /Co is an art consultancy, production team and media lab that seeks to put creative people at the center of community engagement and social change. I have been able to hone my ability to work collaboratively with creative people and demonstrate how our projects can meet the needs of all sorts of companies, organizations and public spaces.
In terms of lessons I can pass on: one of the principles that has helped me along the way is recognizing who NEEDS to say yes and making them partners from the beginning. Sometimes waiting until you have the right person on board is all you need to signal to others that this new idea CAN happen, and that helps get even the most unlikely project off the ground. It also helps to give them some input so they have skin in the game, and usually if they’re necessary for something to move forward then they’re also going to have some insights that help the project out the gate. When Studio Tutto and I began formulating a plan to install a 70,000 square foot mural on the underside of a freeway in Sacramento, the first people we met with were at CalTRANS before we had a design or a dollar. It took two years for them to approve the project, but in the process we developed a pilot program together that is now the template for freeway artwork for all of California. It was so crucial to have them on board from day one, and it is the only reason the project was able to raise the money it needed and get the city on board to eventually agree to maintain it.
The lesson is to be smart about how you go about tackling unprecedented things as there is so much already going against you. Your coalition is your most important resource, so shore that up first. Don’t panic if it goes slow. Having patience is important, but so is insistence when it matters and never compromise the values that make a project worthwhile in the first place. Lastly, Don’t be afraid to learn by doing, but also recognize that there are many people who know better than you do who will tell you what you might need to succeed. Ask them.
I think it’s important to note that I didn’t train formally as a creative, and in fact I had just finished business school when I started working with artists. One of the things I heard a lot in business school was the importance of specialization. It is considered ill-advised to try too many things lest you be hard to categorize in the marketplace. I think that for some highly-technical jobs this may hold true, but I don’t think this is applicable in the art space. Being well-known for one thing can lead to a clear brand and perhaps a lucrative (if monotonous) career, but it can also constrain you and prevent you from pushing into new directions. I work with artists to develop creative projects that are responsive to what is going on in the world and how best to get people engaged. The ways we devise to do that are constantly adapting, and we are often executing ideas we’ve never done (or seen done) before. It is so inspiring to be fearless and know that with the right idea you can attract the talent and resources to get it done. People get excited to help an idea that is worth realizing!
I also think it is important to be transparent about the fact that I had zero debt from my very, very expensive education (as the result of a unique scholarship not from family wealth) which is a huge advantage when deciding to start my business the way that I did. This relative financial freedom was an important motivator to find something I really cared about since I didn’t have the constraints that many of my peers do. I think the art world, and society in general, often glosses over how some people are able to move how they do, so the least I can do is illuminate why it was possible for me.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
For starters, let’s just play a little game where we are not in a global pandemic because honestly I think we need it. Removing that relentless and exhausting constraint here’s some ideas of how we’d spend our days. I usually like to combine my two favorite passions: culture and food sometimes with some movement thrown in! So let’s do that in some of my favorite areas of town.
DTLA: Broad Museum (free but need timed tickets) – Walt Disney Music Hall (you can walk around inside with a tour or outside for free) – Grand Central Terminal (so many food vendors of every kind) – Walk through Chinatown to CA State Historic Park where you can see some great views of downtown and see art curated by LA Nomadic Division (LAND).
ARTS DISTRICT: Hauser & Wirth (An outpost of one of the biggest galleries in the world with a diverse exhibition calendar of blue chip artists including Lorna Simpson, Amy Sherald and more) – Manuela (a delicious restaurant in the courtyard. ORDER THE BISCUITS!) -Soho Warehouse (very hip but with a private membership. Find a friend to take you they get three guests!) – Walk around the district to see street art and stop at PieHole for dessert (then walk for 2-5miles depending on the slice you get).
LITTLE TOKYO: Moca Geffen (There is an unmissable installation there until June by Pipilotti Rist I’ve been taking everyone to. VERY DOPE!) – Azay for a meal (Asian French Fusion very good, but check the hours as they vary)
MID-CITY: Underground Museum (Closed now but will reopen in January with an amazing show from the late founder Noah Davis) – Reparations Club (an amazing Black owned bookstore and community gathering space) – Surfas Culinary District (an amazing restaurant supply store/gourmet food shop with a great cafe for lunch. I hate going there because it is impossible to leave empty-handed), and obviously LACMA (They currently have the Obama Portraits, but just as compelling is the Black Portraits exhibition which is up until April and is fantastic).
CULVER CITY – Walk around the historic arts district in Culver City and pop into some galleries or take in the street art – Destroyer for lunch (it is very bomb food on a cool block near Venice Blvd).
SOUTH LA – CAAM ((The California African American Museum) is an amazing Black-led arts institution with rotating exhibits and community events. It’s also next to the new soccer stadium, the Natural History Museum, the California Science Center, the highly anticipated Lucas Museum of Narrative Art and the LA Coliseum which are all cool to see) – Simply Wholesome (Black-owned natural health store with an amazing restaurant which is vegan friendly and with a Caribbean vibe). – Also Kenneth Hahn State Park and the Baldwin Hills Overlook (you’ll recognize from INSECURE) are great ways to walk off the meal right in the area! Another food option is Earle’s on Crenshaw which has dope hot dogs and other classics and a wonderful vegan selection with bomb desserts and a friendly matriarch who will talk to you about the neighborhood.
DTLA is also home to so much beautiful architecture from the late 19th and 20th century and makes a great walking tour. One of the most iconic examples is the Bradbury Building on 3rd and Broadway, which many will recognize from Blade Runner, and has a magnificent atrium open to the public. If you can, go up to the 2nd floor and sit at Neuhouse’s new Wyman Bar which just opened. A beautiful place to rest your feet or take a meeting!
Other Art Tings: UTA Fine Artist Space, Residency Art Gallery, Crenshaw Dairy Mart, Kordansky Gallery, Commonwealth and Council, Night Gallery, and the Getty Museum (it’s the architecture for me, not the art) and the Academy of Motion Pictures Museum (next to LACMA).
For the more nature-oriented you can’t go wrong checking out: Huntington Gardens, Griffith Park (with a stop to the observatory), Elysian Park, Expo Bike Path, Silverlake Reservoir, Descanso Gardens, LA Arboretum, Santa Monica Pier, Malibu.
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?
Without a doubt the person who has influenced my journey and life the most is my late mother Carol Borden who instilled in me an appreciation for the arts as well as a commitment to uplift my community. She was the one who encouraged me when I was just getting started, opened up her priceless rolodex of community leaders and who was my biggest fan and supporter. I miss her terribly, but I know she is so proud. I grew up watching her work tirelessly as a volunteer, arts commissioner and community organizer in Sacramento often working all on her own if necessary to get something the community needed done. I saw how much it wore her down as she had an actual job on top of her numerous community commitments. I really wish she’d been able to find a way to blend her career and her passion for community uplift as it may have meant she had a bit more time to rest. It is important to me to build on her example by having a business that can provide me and my collaborators with the type of income we need to feel secure in our creative practices and that reflects the value we provide to our community. Artists are so often exploited and underpaid, and it is vital that we pay creative people fairly who contribute so much to what we all enjoy about living. I would like to be an example to people that you can be creative, leave behind a better world and live well.
In addition to Mom I would like to thank the many artists, funders, curators, designers, clients and friends I’ve worked with who have taught me all I know about art and how to grow this business one step at a time. Their patience and friendship is inextricable from any success I have had or will ever have. Y’all know who you are, and I am forever grateful.
I would also like to especially thank my LA brother Tommy Nakanishi who truly welcomed me to this scary and exhilarating city and has shown me so much of what makes this region great in just three short/extremely long years. Love you friend!
Instagram: @treborden, @trebordenco
Chad Davies Studio, Tutto Nedahness, Rose Greene and