Leading Lady : Aviva Kessler

Atlanta has a strong and growing creative economy. Everyday, we meet women who are on the ground working to break down barriers, build community, inspire, inform, and entertain the people of Atlanta through the arts.

For National Women’s History Month in March, C4 Atlanta will be curating a Leading Lady blog series celebrating the women in the creative economy of Greater Atlanta. Over the last several weeks, we have asked the public to nominate women in the creative sector who inspire and have positively impacted the Atlanta community through their contributions. 

We are proud to introduce the next Leading Lady for March 2017: Aviva Kessler

Atlanta musician and activist, Aviva Kessler.

Where do you work and what do you do?
I am a full time musician – activist
I have a band called Aviva and the Flying Penguins and a youtube channel “Avivasingsout” where I have a weekly show “Sunday Songwriting” and write and perform a new song every week often about current events, activism and local art. I also teach exercise classes at the YMCA as well as music lessons.
I founded the Georgia Hemp Economic Revival Organization in 2013 and work tirelessly speaking about how hemp can help our environment, as well as meeting with our legislators and traveling.
I also teach communities how to build with hemp hurd and earthen, sustainable materials as well as upcycling.
I built a little earthen playhouse at Atlanta’s Wylde Center with and for children who now have a real life example of a house they can build with there own hands that is from and kind to the earth. I regularly teach workshops on how to mix this earthen concrete and create as a team.

When and how did you first become interested in the arts? How long have you been in your line of work?
My whole life. I always cared about the earth. In fourth grade I asked my teacher if I could go study in the library instead of stay for social studies, found a book on recycling and got totally absorbed. She had to send another student to get me because I stayed there fascinated reading for so long. I had never heard of recycling until then, the machine pictured was so big it took up a whole big warehouse room. That book became more important than so much in that moment. I felt its power. Since that day I saved my paper which finally began getting recycling in our town five years later. Music began even earlier, as young as I can remember. I won a national contest when I was 8 and performed for so many people, maybe thousands. It was one of the scariest things I ever remember doing. It was an instrumental song on piano called “Purple Blue” about the mountains. As a multi-intrumentalist and triple thread performer I studied music, dance and acting all of my life.

What did you want to be or think you were going to be when you grew up?

Aviva leads a re-plastering of Ox the Earthen Playhouse which was built at the Wylde Center. The earthen plaster is made out of lime, sand, and hemp.

I wanted to be a singer but just one day a week. I always saw the importance of staying connected to community. I wanted to be a different thing every day of the week. As a child I remember choosing 6 occupations for each day of the week with one day off- it was Doctor, Farmer, Singer, Dancer, Mommy, Chef.

If you could have lunch with any woman from history who would it be and what would you want to talk about?
I am not as keen on just talking as much as doing an activity together, like dancing or singing or mountain hiking or playing trivia, painting, or cooking a meal together. Just eating and talking isn’t as much of an experience. I would want an experience with Sarah Vaughan. (Though I would want Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday to be there too) The talent, depth of soul and truth in their voices melts me. I would just want to learn their life, their favorite recipes, things to do, etc. I would want to sing with them :). I would want to know their dreams and songs they never could sing within the limits of the industry.

Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
God. I learned who God was when I traveled to Israel by myself at 12 years old. I learned how to overcome fear with love because of God’s presence. I felt God with me and I recognized this support in ways I cannot explain. It gave me courage, a sense of self, humility, and so much compassion in my heart. Struggle with ego is daily and it takes effort, kind of like scheduling lunch dates, doctor’s appointments, etc., and it takes a series of tools even, to sit still and connect with God and this is what directs me every day. God holds my hand, or maybe sends angels to, as I write about my past, get through obstacles from my past effecting my present situations, write music, practice, take risks, whatever it is I feel I am not alone.. I feel guided and accompanied and I know it’s not all about me. I have met so many people along the way who have taught me so many tools and inspired me- and ultimately what I got most from all of these inspirations was coming home to God, to come home to me.

How is art a passion for you?
Art is as important as food and fresh air for me. It allows me to get outside of myself and grow. It gives me space for emotional processing and jumping into the mysteries of life. It gives me a platform to express what I cannot express in any other way. It gives me peace. It frees me from the illusion of mental prisons. It allows me to challenge societal norms. It also give me tools to train my body mind and soul into a joyful avatar, as it were, of poignant messages. It makes me a better person and hopefully inspires other to feel better about their lives as well.

Aviva portrays a lemon for “500 Songs For Kids” with her band Aviva and the Flying Penguins.

What are your thoughts on equality and the representation of women in the creative workforce?
I think good intentions are there, however there is a lot of ingrained male dominance. I appreciate anyone, man or woman who has the skills to contribute to a project, I think a lot can be bettered for communication skills between men and women. I think this has posed limitations in the music business especially. I don’t like generalizing, but it makes a whole lot of sense that Women as a whole, I believe, are still finding our voices, still finding that permission to take up a lot of space, still have different sensitivities than our male counterparts. I enjoy working in solitude a LOT, because of the connection I feel to spirit in this peace, but also perhaps because it’s easier and “safer”. Growth in collaboration takes a lot of communication, persistence, overcoming painful triggers, and compassion. Learning to trust our own guidance is key. Music can require long late hours in all of its aspects and that makes family life challenging, but you can say that for a lot of professions, like doctors and reporters. I think having a support team is key.

What most excites you about the arts in Atlanta?
I love the tangibility of the music industry. So many great musical artists have cultured here… the indigo girls, India Arie, Janelle Monae, Blind Willie, Outkast, the list is endless really. I love that any night of the week I can find a jam or performance with someone from the horn section, percussionist, drummer, violinist, etc. that works with well-known artists. I love that I’ve gotten to work with such talent. I love the studios and engineers here. Some of the best! I also love the many artists here. There really is a constant state of creation in Atlanta almost anywhere you look for it and quite a bit of activism too. I love all the urban gardens and organic farmers markets that have their own art status and accumulate local artists for their events. There are so many movers and shakers here and its a privilege to rub elbows with them.

What do you hope to contribute to the Atlanta arts community with the work you do?
So many dreams here.
I would love to see an earthen artist sustainable village created here.
(More affordable housing for artists in general would be ideal)
I would love to see music stay and thrive in our educational systems here.
I would love to see a bigger hub for artist-activists – perhaps even an artist-activist “coffeehouse”
I would love to see more agents and local venues cultivating local talent by pairing them with well-known touring acts and music-business mentorships.
I hope to keep providing inspirational ear-candy with my musical contributions and collaborations.

Where can I learn more about your organization/business and work (websites, social media, etc.)?

Facebook Groups: mudbuildersofatlanta and georgiahempeconomicrevivalorganization