Alumni Atelier Interview with Kacie Willis
Conceived and endowed by SCAD President and Founder Paula Wallace, the Alumni Atelier program enriches the creative and professional endeavors of distinguished SCAD graduates. The program helps SCAD alumni advance their careers and strengthen their connection with their alma mater through the university’s global network of emerging and established artists and scholars.
Kacie Willis (M.F.A., sound design, 2013) was named and pinned as one of two Alumni Atelier ambassadors for the fall 2020 quarter. Willis is a visionary podcaster and cultural commentator. Born in Detroit and based in Atlanta, she is a founding producer at Could Be Pretty Cool, has worked at the Center for Puppetry Arts and 7 Stages Theatre, and was one of 10 participants in last year’s Spotify Sound Up program, an initiative to amplify underrepresented voices in the podcasting world. Her Alumni Atelier project, White-Angle, explores equity and diversity in the arts.
President Wallace recently sat down with Willis to discuss her career and ambassadorship.
Paula Wallace: Kacie, I’m eager to see where you take your career, and I’m honored that SCAD will forever accompany you on your adventures. Speaking of excitement, you’ve had some extraordinary experiences during your ambassadorship. These were our first ever virtual ambassadorships. What have you found particularly enticing about working virtually?
Kacie Willis: What was really interesting for me is that the ambassadorship was almost completely parallel with what was happening in my professional life. Pre-COVID, I was working primarily as a theatrical sound designer. Since all of the theatrical productions had to be put on hiatus, my sound design work transferred to podcasting. The ambassadorship was a way for me to lead a project virtually for the first time. It showed me what’s possible when creative-minded people have to adapt to new circumstances.
PW: What’s the most memorable experience that you’ve had working with our current Bees?
KW: One of the most surprising and amazing things for me has been the fact that the students are so ready to present work and ideas. One student in particular, Addie Lavo, has a professional quality podcast. She is clearly ready to conquer the world.
PW: What would you tell fellow alumni and prospective students about SCAD?
KW: SCAD has the adaptability and awareness of the world around us to meet the moment. I was encouraged to pursue my project, which is a reflection of the social unrest that is happening throughout our nation. SCAD wants students to engage in projects that are meaningful, fun and exciting.
PW: Professionally, what discoveries have you made during your ambassadorship?
KW: I’ve learned what is possible when I focus on a particular project. Making time, setting up a space, and saying “I am only going to work on my Atelier project today” really helped me produce something special. Moving forward, I will make intentional time a priority.
PW: What have you learned about yourself during the Atelier?
KW: Personally, I am humbled by how willing people are to share in the pursuit of making the creative industry more equitable. Initially, I was uncertain my idea would resonate. I asked myself, “Will my project be something people will shy away from?” Then, I was able to meet and speak with so many fellow artists who are as concerned with creating an equitable field as I am. I realized I can serve as a model for other creative people in the hopes we can make our world a better place.
PW: What is an achievement you will celebrate as a result of your ambassadorship?
KW: My virtual podcast project. I was the executive producer, casting director, host, interviewer — I wore a lot of hats. Now that it’s finished, it has given me motivation to continue to pursue the ideas that I find important.
PW: Do you work with a team of SCAD graduates?
KW: Yes, I do. Some were my classmates while I was a student and some I met in the professional world after graduating. It’s a very close-knit group of Bees. I couldn’t do any of my work without them.
PW: Do you want to give a shout out to some of them?
KW: I would love to give a shout out to Cooper Skinner (M.F.A., sound design, 2013; B.F.A., sound design, 2010) and Jacob McCoy (B.F.A., sound design, 2010) who worked with me on White-Angle, and Caroline Baxter (M.F.A., writing, 2013) and Lexie McKay (B.F.A., production design, 2018) who are part of my Could Be Pretty Cool team.
PW: I love that name, Could Be Pretty Cool. How did you come up with that?
KW: I was looking for a name that was aspirational but not braggadocious. When pitching projects, I often found myself saying, “I don’t know, but this could be pretty cool.” The name just sort of stuck.
PW: Kacie, you’re our first podcasting-focused Alumni Atelier ambassador. Podcasts are online, but their true essence is personal connection. How do you create intimacy, real rapport, and verve with your guests and your listeners from a distance?
KW: Coming from a theatrical sound design background, I’m used to getting instant gratification from the audience. If they hear something and they jump, or if a song plays and they’re bouncing along, it’s like, “Yes, I nailed it.” With podcasting, because it is such an individual experience, I still try to focus on the audience. I try to design the conversation around what it might invoke in the individual listener. What thoughts might come after they hear this portion of the conversation.
PW: As a sound design alum, you have exceptional technical skills. Through your ambassadorship, how did you explore the intersection of medium, audience, and message?
KW: It was such an interesting experience with remote recording for all of our interviews. That was something that we had to learn and perfect. We had to make sure that the podcast had a theme song, trailer, and the branding materials. It was a lot to keep track of. And, because this topic may be a little bit uncomfortable, I wanted the vibe of the project to be very chill, organic and mellow.
PW: The title alone will have people listening. What dialogues do you hope to generate?
KW: In speaking with my creative collaborator, Cooper, we went back and forth, “Is this too forthright? Should we soften it a little bit?” The conclusion that we came to was that issues of equity and diversity in the arts is not a topic that we should be approaching lightly. As artists, we should be ready to have bold and difficult conversations. Creators should be able to say, “Hey, you’re a creator. I’m a creator. We may be coming from different perspectives, but I would rather have this conversation with you now, before I put out a piece of art that may be misconstrued in some sort of way.”
PW: What’s next in your creative future?
KW: Could Be Pretty Cool manifested accidentally. We have another project that’s coming up with Spotify that will launch early 2021. After that, I really want to take some time to strategize what our next move should be. Do we want to stay in podcasts? Do we want to branch out into other media? What are the types of projects that we want to work on next? I’m excited for the launch of our next major podcast project, and I’m excited to figure out where we’re going to be this time next year.
PW: Do you have a few parting tips for those out there who would like to do their own podcasts?
KW: Absolutely. Make sure that you’re in a space where it’s as quiet as you can possibly get. Avoid recording in places with hard floors and walls. You do not have to invest in multi-thousand-dollar equipment. Get a nice microphone, a quiet space, and you have the building blocks to share your ideas.
PW: Congratulations, Kacie! We look forward to celebrating your creative visions for many, many years to come. You exemplify the qualities and character of a SCAD Alumni Atelier ambassador. Thank you for coming home to SCAD and for always elevating your discipline, your profession, and your alma mater. Once a Bee, always a Bee!