C/O Ariel Bader-Shamai

Artist Phoebe Taylor provides an accessible art community with virtual design studio Okay Shoe

There is a corner of the internet where mindfulness is accessible to all. In this virtual space, art lovers from all walks of life gather to create, and participants are not allowed to say they’re not artists. This creative community is called Okay Shoe and it’s the brainchild of artist and Goodbodyfeel instructor, Phoebe Taylor.

Taylor has always dreamt of having a design studio and gallery space. However, they realized that these spaces aren’t always conducive to creativity and often have physical and systemic barriers to entry. Taylor wanted to create an artistic space that was accessible to all.

“[M]y inspiration for Okay Shoe was really like . . .  all this stuff is garbage and let’s recreate art environments that can actually be for everybody. And what do we need to throw out? And what do we need to rework? And is there any stuff here that wants to stay? . . .  I love art. I love making stuff and I think it should be for everybody,” Taylor said.

“[M]y inspiration for Okay Shoe was really like . . .  all this stuff is garbage and let’s recreate art environments that can actually be for everybody. And what do we need to throw out? And what do we need to rework? And is there any stuff here that wants to stay? . . .  I love art. I love making stuff and I think it should be for everybody,” Taylor said.

Thus, Taylor created design studio Okay Shoe, which launched on Instagram in January 2020. The name of the space is inspired by Taylor’s own experiences. “Shoe” comes from what is left of the signage of an old shoe store on the corner of Barton Street East and Ottawa Street North, which has only said the one word since Taylor was a child. For Taylor, the word “shoe” represents the accessibility of the studio and the concept of pedestrian art.

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The dream mothership 🙏👌👠

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However, “shoe” did not feel complete to Taylor so they added the word “okay.”  The word comes from a difficult time in Taylor’s life when they struggled to wake up every morning. They wished to wake up feeling something in between dread and elation and thus wanted to wake up feeling okay. Taylor enjoyed how the word could be spelled in multiple ways. Even though they have spelled it with four letters so far, they think that may change in the future.

Okay Shoe has multiple components. There is a shop where many items are available at three different price points, aligning with Taylor’s goal of making accessible art. Taylor sells hand-printed t-shirts and notebooks in the shop as well as collections of other objects – such as pillows and stickers – made by other artists. 

The shop’s staple product is Taylor’s Okay Oracle, a deck of cards with simple prompts such as “over over over” and “parts of many” which are intended to inspire mindfulness. The deck serves as Taylor’s way of reducing the inaccessibility of mindfulness.

“[A] year after finishing my undergrad, I took a yoga teacher training [course] and I found the same thing in the wellness community that I found in the art community. As much as I love both of them, [there are] huge barriers to entry . . .  I don’t feel like the Okay Oracle is necessarily barrier-free . . . But it is my shot and intention at trying to create a tool for mindfulness that just reflects your own intuition,” said Taylor.

Taylor also hosts Shoe Talks, an artist interview series on Instagram Live, and Okay Hangs, an online artmaking group. During Okay Hangs, Taylor provides a prompt and participants make and share art of any media. It’s in these hangouts that Taylor implements the rule that no one can say they’re not an artist. For Taylor, the Okay Hangs have filled the void left by the temporary closure of studios due to COVID-19.

Going forward Taylor will host these groups through the Okay Shoe Portal, which launched on Sept. 1, 2020 via the subscription service Patreon. Like the physical location, the Okay Shoe Portal operates on a sliding scale, allowing folks with different budgets to access the same content while still providing a sustainable art practice for Taylor.

The Patreon will also allow Taylor to host digital artists-in-residence. Over a six-week period, these visiting artists will be interviewed by Taylor, host Okay Hangs and create items for the shop and portal’s patrons. The first of these artists is Rosa Wan, a Toronto-based sketch artist and the founder of art community Cool Objects, which runs interactive drawing events.

Wan’s experience facilitating events makes her a perfect fit for Okay Shoe. However, Taylor also wants to host artists who are looking for experience with facilitation. Taylor is currently looking for future artists-in-residence and is open to any art form. It is also important for Taylor to host artists from diverse backgrounds.

“I want the artists-in-residence to be reflective of the true diversity of art that is happening in the world . . . I’m very conscious of the people that I’m talking to. Where are the Black artists in the room? Where are the POC? Where are the queer artists in the room? Who’s being represented here? Who has the mic? Or if I have the mic, who can I pass this mic to?” Taylor said.

“I want the artists-in-residence to be reflective of the true diversity of art that is happening in the world . . . I’m very conscious of the people that I’m talking to. Where are the Black artists in the room? Where are the POC? Where are the queer artists in the room? Who’s being represented here? Who has the mic? Or if I have the mic, who can I pass this mic to?” Taylor said.

Despite the implementation of a subscription-based platform, Taylor says that there will always be free ways to interact with Okay Shoe, such as the weekly newsletter that they write.

Taylor envisions Okay Shoe one day being worldwide with several artists-in-residence. They also hope to have a physical space in the future. Like Okay Shoe’s online space, Taylor envisions the brick and mortar location being not only physically and financially accessible, but also welcoming to all audiences. Unlike the uninviting white walls of many art galleries, Taylor imagines their space looking like Pee Wee’s playhouse – a bright and colourful space where anyone can feel like an artist.

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