The Contemplative Artist’s Way

From ancient wisdom traditions to secular and science-based approaches to mindfulness, people have always found ways to engage contemplative practices to foster wellbeing and channel attention. In this Fellowship Forum from April 13, Kenji Summers, Sickamore, Quiana Parks, and Dr. Angel Acosta discussed the creative ways that people are cultivating groundedness amidst this tumultuous historical moment.

Dr. Acosta, the director of the Garrison Institute’s Fellowship program, said that events like these are expanding the lens of what is considered “mindfulness” by the organization.

“I invite guests who bring a variety of different experiences,” he said. “Especially guests who we might not even view as contemplative teachers but who are, through their presence and their practice and vocation, doing deep work, and are incredible models for how we move in this very complicated world in a more paced way…. what our guests represent is a particular accent, a particular punctuation in the history of mindfulness and contemplative practice.”

Following Dr. Acosta in making opening remarks was Kenji Summers, a contemplative artist born and raised in New York. He introduced the audience to a practice called “White Canvas Meditation.”

“Imagine a white canvas that represents space, possibility, maybe even innocence,” he said. “Between focus and distraction, just a state of being. As you allow this canvas to stretch across the studio of your mind, we know thoughts will come as colors, feelings will come as materials.”

Summers introduced Kiana Parks, a DJ, producer, visual artist, social-influencer, philanthropist and cancer survivor, lauding her interdisciplinary approach to DJing. He also introduced Randall “Sickamore” Medford, senior vice president of A&R and creative director at Interscope Records, saying he has pushed hip-hop culture forward by teaching the fundamentals of artist discovery and development and empowering the “creative superstars of tomorrow.”

Summers asked the group about how artists can find ways to tap into their inner strength. Parks responded:

“For me to be authentic, I have to continue to remember my character, where I’m from. When I’m working and things are feeling a little bit out of my control, feeling a little overwhelmed, I have different things I do to center myself. Whether it’s as simple as calling my mom… to my Qigong massages, these are things that I do to bring myself back and myself of why I do what I do. It helps me to slow down.”

Sickamore said that starting a 100-day meditation streak impacted his relationship with himself and the world.

“When I was on a 100-day streak, I accomplished a lot of things,” he said. “I definitely feel my sense of anxiety and different things when I’m not constantly meditation and journaling. It affects my day-to-day life because I become less patient with my girlfriend or my family or my artists.”

After an insightful discussion of how artists can build sustainable contemplative practices, Dr. Acosta thanked the guests who being so generous with the roles that they play to inspire us all.


Established in 2020, the Garrison Institute Fellowship embraces the emergent nature of our times. Widespread socio-political discord, an escalating global pandemic, the ongoing environmental crisis, and socioeconomic precarity have created an inflection point fraught with collective anxiety and the potential for new leadership paradigms. In response, an emerging field of organizations and networks are applying contemplative wisdom to catalyze healing and action. The transformative change at the core of their work will benefit from visionary leadership that will invigorate our collective imagination and help us to harness the practical skills needed to navigate our turbulent times. 

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