Lauren Espina - Sea Witch Productions
Lauren Espina is a visual artist and writer based in San Francisco. Through her work, she explores the dualities inside of women, the dichotomies expected of women, particularly concerning power dynamics and sexuality, and the first-gen Filipina American experience. Founder of Sea Witch Productions, she curates music, shows, and The Sea Witch Zine in an effort to bridge the different realms of art and foster solidarity among femmes and all humans. Lauren is the Marketing and Communications Manager at Code2040, a non-profit that works to ensure the full representation and leadership of Black & Latinx talent in the tech industry. With these two sides of her work, her professional career as well as her personal projects, she works toward liberation and de-colonization, not only for herself but for all. She is the youngest of four sisters and dog mom to Toast.
How did you create your career path? My career path was unusual. I left school thinking i'd be a music journalist but quickly found out that was not for me. It was all very repetitive and boring. From music writing, I transitioned to event production and curating music with a group of girls under the name Our House. That was fun, but we didn't have any direction or true mission. So I branched out on my own with Sea Witch Productions. At our second show ever, I published our first zine, The Sea Witch Zine. That was my first try at curating poetry and art on top of music. Around the same time, a small but rather life-changing thing happened to me. I met a homeless woman out in SoMA and she asked me for some change. I went to take out my wallet and she saw a box of tampons in my backpack. She immediately asked for some, so I gave her a handful and she took off immediately, clearly embarrassed and without the change she asked for. I was confused for a few seconds and then it hit me--she had no resources for tampons on any other menstrual products. It was complete ignorance. I consider my self a feminist and that was something I never even considered. So I called some shelters and asked what their resources are for menstrual products. They straight up said they always have a shortage or none at all because of the "nature of the products." No one wanted to do drives for tampons. So I said I'll do it.
That's where the idea for Let It Bleed came from. I call it our "rock and roll tampon drive." It's Sea Witch's flagship event. Every year we hold the drive to raise awareness for the Tampon Tax, which taxes tampons as "luxury," non-essential items, as well as the much more important issue of The Homeless Period. We tell guests to bring tampons and each year we donate the products to Compass Family Services. We held the first one in 2016. It was our third show ever and it set the tone for Sea Witch. It became just a production company to a platform for social justice. The Sea Witch Zine became a feminist zine and we've pushed ourselves to really create spaces for people who are underrepresented in the SF music and art community. The biggest example of that would be No Apologies Fest, which we held for the first time this year. We asked anyone who identifies as a man to stay home so that only womxn, femmes, and non-binary folks were in the audience. It received a lot of media attention, a lot of shit talking from fragile dudes, and in the end it was a beautiful night.
In an effort to bridge my social justice and activist work with my professional life, I applied for the Code2040 Marketing and Communications manager position on a whim. I had been doing marketing at a very straight-forward, very white company and it was so boring! I was one of three women of color in the office. Once I got that job at Code2040, I felt like I was going through college all over again. I was surrounded by so many new and different types of people that I was learning something new every single day.
What inspires you? Femmes in the arts. Women of color who are their fullest selves regardless of outside sources, their families, friends, upbringing.
What do you love about the work you do? I love the work I do because I truly believe I was made to do it. I love the balance between art and non-profit social work. I believe art can change the world, but I also know that the fastest way to move things is with money. That's why the economic justice aspect of Code2040 is so real. Generational wealth creates opportunities, but so many people are left out of the burgeoning tech economy in the Bay Area. Families earning $117k annually are considered "low income." The wealth gap is insane. There are a lot of ways to help people, but economic justice is one of the most powerful.
What/Who is your biggest passion? This is a tough one, because I feel like my work is spread across so many different fields. If I had to pick one, it would be writing. I'm sort of rediscovering that in myself after letting it fall to the wayside a little bit.
How do you get into the creative flow? I have to remind myself that there's rarely or never the perfect working conditions. If you wait for that, you'll never get anything done. So what I do is set deadlines for myself. I work with so many different types of artists. if deadlines didn't exist, nothing would ever get made!
What's on your current playlist? "Meg Ryan" by Ahmerasu. Dirty Computer by Janelle Monae. Ctrl by SZA. And always, Lemonade by Beyonce.
Describe the driving force behind you. Decolonizing. The colonial mentality is so strong in Filipinx-Americans because of the history of our homeland and how hard it was to assimilate to the US. Unlearning is a hard thing to do, as a woman of color, and as a Filipina, but it is so necessary.
How does your community uplift you? I have a very solid network of strong femmes who have supported me and Sea Witch every step of the way. I definitely count myself lucky. It only becomes difficult when I'm going through something very specifically related to my heritage. I used to have a solid crew of pinay friends in college, but that community has dispersed a bit because of the rising cost of living. It's very real. But luckily I always have my sisters and my cousins, who all share my first-gen growing pains.
Do you have any upcoming projects that you are excited about? We just released Volume 4 of The Sea Witch Zine and I'm really excited to share it! We released it at the last Let It Bleed on June 30, and I'll be putting it online once we sell out of hard copies.
All photos copyright: Lauren Espina