If Davinica Nemtzow were ever going to get a tattoo — even though her parents would be none too pleased — it would say “tikkun olam.”
The responsibility of repairing the world has influenced Nemtzow throughout her life.
She’s doing her part to repair the parts of her own world that she felt needed a gap filled: art and philanthropy.
Through the completion of the 2018 Tribe 12 Fellowship, Nemtzow launched Creating United Empowerment (CUE), a charitable online art gallery found at cue.community dedicated to representing women and genderqueer artists.
The nonprofit — a project of CultureTrust Greater Philadelphia — was born out of Nemtzow’s experience as a student at Moore College of Art & Design, an all-female school where she received her BFA in illustration and creative writing.
“After I graduated, I didn’t have that all-women’s art environment anymore,” the 24-year-old said, “and my art and my activism — and especially my feminist activism — went two different directions.”
As a botanical illustrator, she added, there aren’t many opportunities to express her activism through art, so she wanted to find a way to bridge that gap.
The initial idea was to create a community for Moore alumni and sell feminist art from female-identifying artists. However, she began hearing from artists who went to other art schools who were interested in getting involved.
“We had to really think about what this was going to be if not an alumni group,” she said, which led to making it a nonprofit. “We didn’t know what it was going to look like, and we didn’t have an exact goal in mind other than the fact that we knew we wanted to use art as a vehicle for philanthropy.”
A year and a half later, she celebrated the launch of CUE with a party at the James Oliver Gallery on June 6.
A key piece of CUE is that 40 percent of sales benefit various organizations that support survivors of sexual/domestic abuse, LGBTQIA+ women, and women of ethnic and racial minorities as these are issues that are close to her heart.
As a survivor of sexual violence and a member of the queer community, Nemtzow was influenced by her own experiences, which she purposely includes in her bio, and wanted to use it to empower others who have faced similar trauma.
“I very strongly believe that if we support our most vulnerable communities of people that that’s how we’re going to build everyone else up,” she said, noting that the sexual violence survivor and LGBTQ communities often overlap.
In creating CUE, she also wants to show survivors that leadership positions are possible.
“It’s taken many years of hard work for me to get to a point where I’m able to share about my experiences, and my story has value,” she said. “I have been told throughout my life that I am worth nothing and that’s not true. I had the power to survive everything that I’ve gone through and then I took that trauma and turned it into something good. I’ve used my experience to help others that have gone through something similar because I know exactly how they feel. My ability to do that makes me stronger than any person that has ever abused me and that’s why I’m open to sharing my story.”
For her, it also ties into her Jewish identity and her commitment to tikkun olam. She grew up in an interfaith home in New England before moving to Philadelphia, and Judaism did not play as large a role in her life besides Chanukah celebrations every other year following her parents’ divorce.
She decided when she went to college, she would join Hillel and be involved in the campus’ Jewish community — which proved difficult once she got to Moore, as it had a tiny Jewish population. Instead, she found Tribe 12, where she interned in college, and Moishe House, where she lived in 2015-16.
Commitment to tikkun olam has remained influential.
“The idea it’s our responsibility to repair the world is such an important thing,” she said, “and it’s one of my mantras and when CUE is especially tough, I have to remember this is my job.”
CUE’s name came from three paramount values in her life. She knew from the get-go the word “empowerment” had to be incorporated somehow, and as an artist supporting other artists, the idea of creating was also critical.
A moment from the 2017 Women’s March inspired the “united” factor. A poet read a call-and-response piece in which the audience in unison repeated back, “united resistance.” It stuck with her since.
“We’re entirely about empowerment in every aspect of what we’re doing,” she said. “It was less about what was marketable and more of what was the power behind what we were doing.”
As she continues to receive submissions from artists on the website and curate the gallery, she hopes that CUE will become the main association between art and philanthropy.
Until this point, it’s been her “crazy project” she’s been working on, with whiteboards everywhere around her apartment.
“Now it’s real and it’s launched and orders are coming in and we’re making a difference,” she said with a beaming smile. “It’s so exciting to see it actually happen.”
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