Monica Watkins wasn’t the type that had fashion magazine clippings taped on her wall as a young teen. She was much more focused on basketball, wanting to follow in her nationally ranked sister’s footsteps. Unfortunately, and fortunately, for Watkins, she wasn’t exactly the best player on the team, so after finding out she would not be on the starting line up of the varsity squad, her mom took her to the local mall for some retail therapy where the 5’10” sixteen year old was spotted by a model scout, and as they say, the rest is history.
Somewhere between moving to NYC and landing a worldwide Nivea campaign, Watkins came to the realization that she needed to give back, building quite the little empire along the way.
How and what inspired you to create Art in Motion? Five years ago I began painting. I donated my first year’s worth of paintings to Housing Works at a fundraiser I produced. Donating my work and collaborating with other artists really sparked the idea to create “Art In Motion”.
Why do you feel art is important to children? At its core, art is about self-expression and I think it’s very important to children especially because it provides them a voice and an outlet to express themselves.
The children we work with in Haiti are different children today than they were when we first started.
How has modeling inspired your decision to have art as the basis of your charity? I wanted to take the things in my life that I was passionate about and use them to help people. I am so appreciative of this industry and have met the most incredible people along the way, all which have greatly influenced my philanthropic platform.
Why children’s charities specifically? The innovative spirit and hopefulness of children, their innate kindness and willingness to believe in a brighter tomorrow is why I do what I do every single day. When I see the newness and hope in children it buoys me to work harder in life to make a difference.
When you travel, do the children understand who you are and what you do in the fashion world? Oftentimes they have been shown pictures and videos of my work and they are always excited to meet me and ask me about my life in fashion. It amazes me how many girls want to be models or want to know about the current trends. I think this is why it is so important to use the fashion industry as a way to create positive imagery for these young girls.
So many designers and models are involved with philanthropic organizations. What’s your insight on this? We are extremely blessed to have this job. So many [models] understand poverty on a very real scale because we travel to exotic places for work. So many of these locations are breathtaking but are surrounded with hunger, poverty and despair. You just can’t close your eyes to this.
I saw a lot of despair while living in South Africa. It was an eye-opener for me and I felt I had to do something to help.
Do you feel you have the support of the rest of the fashion and art community? Definitely. I’ve not only had incredible support from my family in Texas, but my extended family as well; those in the fashion, art and music industries. From fashion photographers to Grammy award winners, they have all supported and mentored me through this journey.
You have 13 organizations under the Art in Motion umbrella. How do you handle all of them and do you think you will continue to have more? It’s challenging to sustain all the projects simultaneously but we view the journey as a marathon rather than a sprint. We try to structure our projects and support to stay active and connected with each of the organizations.
What can we expect for your next project? I am curating an art exhibit along with Marco Callotta and Antonio Oliveira, which will showcase in a 12,000 square foot space in Brooklyn this September. The “For Artists by Artists’ platform will serve as a fundraiser for the BK Style Foundation and The Foundation for Art In Motion.
Artists are donating a portion of proceeds to these charities and because we won’t be charging booth fees, it allows artists to take an active role in the curating process.
In addition, we are featuring fashion icons such as handbag designer Carlos Falchi and fashion illustrator for Christian Dior beauty, Bil Donovan, along with many other amazing artists. ♦
Story and interview by Ford’s Talia Fabrizio