I met Julia Arredondo in 2018, when I was invited to participate in a panel at Columbia College exploring different tattoo styles in Chicago. I was immediately drawn to Julia’s work ethic, perhaps best embodied by a handmade sticker she gifted me that reads “Side Hustle is Life.” There is a vulnerability to her visual aesthetics and branding, combined with a contagious love of self-taught art practices. Julia was working on her graduate thesis, “Hustlefied: Hustle Culture & Class Representation in Contemporary Art,” during the time we met. As I continued to follow Julia’s multi-hyphenate practice, her tireless dedication to DIY making and artist advocacy deepened. Julia has a gravitational pull and one’s creativity blooms every moment spent with Julia in her element. She sees the excitement and story in a person’s artmaking—sometimes things they are unaware of—and brings them to the surface. She introduces people to a different kind of reliance—faith. She offers sustained support to peers and artists as they come into her orbit. From her online botanica-inspired business, Curandera Press, to her innovative idea to financially fund the printing of her graduate thesis by taking out advertisements in the back of the book in which it was printed, (I was one of many in Julia’s universe who took her up on this community call to buy ads in her thesis paper), her ability to build long-lasting interest and support for her projects is inspiring.
In graduate school, Julia was influenced by the conversations taking place around ethics and labor at the Departments of Business and Entrepreneurship and Fashion Studies at Columbia College. She was moving away from making art she could merchandise and towards conceptualizing projects that could offer a greater sense of financial stability. Her experimentation with building businesses and cultivating audiences set the foundation for QTVC Live! (QTVC), a DIY shopping channel she founded in January 2020 that mimics a public access show.
“During my undergraduate years at MICA [Maryland Institute College of Art],” Julia explains, “it was very taboo to breach the subject of career sustainability in the arts. I feel lucky to have witnessed a perspective shift within the art world where artists independently selling work is more acceptable. QTVC takes it a step further and pushes the sometimes-abstract language of artists into the mainstream format of televised sales. It’s funny and serious at the same time.”
Julia operates both as lead organizer and host of QTVC, using this show to introduce the practices of underrepresented makers and artists while showcasing artworks and products for sale online. “Since everyone I know is creative and an artist in some way,” Julia tells me, “it made sense to start a show that showcases my creative community while allowing me to hype all of my incredible colleagues and friends along the way. Essentially, there will never be a shortage of artists to showcase.”
I feel a kinship with the way that Julia operates within her different communities, the way she builds her world and relationships based around a mutual love of art, skill sharing, spirituality, and play. I was able to watch Julia in her magic-making while we both lived in the small town of Waterville, Maine, during the past year and half, where she met the first three artists showcased in QTVC Live! Season 3.0. While in Waterville, I was helping to build a new fellowship program through the Lunder Institute for American Art, and Julia was invited as one of the inaugural artist fellows for the fall academic semester. Again, she ingrained herself within the community while showing love through her action and service.
Describing her approach to community building, Julia says, “The connections I have with artists and community happen organically more than anything. And if we click, we click. Many of my relationships are based on shared values and as I explore and refine what my value system is, my community adjusts and becomes even more precious to me. Realistically, though, I work with my community. When approaching and establishing new connections, it’s usually through some sort of collaborative project or event. I really do enjoy work and don’t mind labor when it’s not exploitative, so working alongside others is something that brings me a lot of joy.”
Nearly three years since conception, QTVC Live! is hitting its stride in their third season, having recorded a whopping 30 episodes in their short three years. Season 3.0 features both Maine-based and Chicago-based artists. The first three episodes featured Veronica Perez (Episode 1), Olivia Spring (Episode 2), and Annika Earley (Episode 3)—all people who entered Julia’s life during her time in Maine. Julia was the sole curator for these three episodes and chose to focus the episodes on artist-parents Veronica A. Perez and Annika Earley, and to bring the perspective of disabled and chronically ill makers with SICK Magazine’s founder Olivia Spring.
As I watched each episode, I was struck by quiet moments to pause and reflect. Beginning with Veronica Perez, the gentle care of motherhood is palpable in how Veronica moves through life, reflected back doubly in her art practice and the focus on the abstracted body in her sculptural work. The often immersive pieces beautifully balance stoicism and play with the tactility of the materials braided into abstraction. In episode two, The beautifully designed issues of SICK Magazine were highlighted, a publication filled with deeply personal writing punctuated by quotes from writers like Ashna Ali, who wrote, “Our relationships are crucial to our survival.” The experience of rest and care was immediately visible in the episode which took place on a bed and guest starred Olivia Spring’s dog Black Bean. Annika Earley closed out the first set of episodes with her otherworldly drawing practice. I was immediately drawn to her articulation of processing emotions and transformation through the world building of her drawings, a gentle deliberate mark making that echoes across her body of work.
QTVC Live! is currently releasing the second half of Season 3.0, which aired January 14th with Angela Davis Fegan, and the forthcoming episode January 28th with CHema Skandal, and Atlan Arceo-Witz on February 18th. Julia shared with me her gratitude for the folks who aided in the creation of this season, including Nando Espinosa Herrera, John Harlow, Sable Mirelez, and Jet Vong. With additional folks working on this season’s production, Julia was able to show up in her favorite role as a hype person. ”I love hype and love when groups of people can rally behind another to boost their visibility and credibility. It feels good to honor the work of others. It gives me permission to make the work I want, too.” Julia shared what the future of QTVC Live! might look like in the coming years with additional support, funding, and growth: “In my dream world, QTVC Live! would operate seasonally with built in periods for rest and recuperation. Rest only happens right now in a way that reflects exhaustion rather than recuperation.”
On an average blustering, windy night in November at Chicago Art Department, where QTVC Live! was filming the fifth episode in their latest season with Angela David Fegan, I was kindly invited to peek at the behind-the-scenes process. I was greeted with hugs and catered homemade food. Julia checked to see if everyone had gotten something to eat and drink and then she began. There was no rushing around, no immediacy to the filming, but it was clear that people were slowly moving to the film set. Julia and Angela took to a couch, centered in front of a window with towering plants. Julia walked Angela through the filming order. They did a quick rehearsal, marking out the different shots, and then—action. I stayed for a little while, watching Julia as she interviewed Angela. I was struck yet again by Julia’s presentness, her ability to listen with total focus, and her talent to bring forth an artist’s truth and wit.
I leave you with a final quote from Julia and my shared hope for the future of this important show and platform: “Ideally, QTVC Live! would have headquarters in cities across the USA and we’d be built into some sort of alternative broadcast network. QTVC would be able to pay guests a heartier honorarium and we’d even produce collaborative products that are exclusive to the show. That’s the dream.”
About the author: Gabriel Chalfin-Piney is a performance artist and organizer, with a background in cohort creation and public programming. They are interested in making by way of olfactory, gustatory, and tactile experiments, prompting audience members to participate as co-creators. Failure, co-learning and storytelling are central to the projects that they participate in. Gabriel holds an MA in Arts Administration and Policy from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. They are the founder of Care-Full Histories, an Oral History Archiving, Food + Performance Residency.