She’s been called “the millennial Oprah” by New York magazine, and Cleo Wade makes art to make hearts sing—on a grand scale. Her public installations have included a 25-foot love poem erected in the skyline of the New Orleans French Quarter, a 50-foot collaboration with graffiti artist Brandan Odums, and “ARE YOU OK,” a public booth for peaceful and loving conversation at the 2017 Hester Street Fair in New York City. Wade has graced the pages and stages of W magazine, Vogue and Teen Vogue, The New York Times, TEDWomen, New York University, Columbia University and the Semi Permanent conference in New Zealand.
Wade’s book “Heart Talk: Poetic Wisdom for a Better Life” is due out in March, so it’s the perfect time to catch up with the talented young artist on her extraordinary accomplishments.
24Life: How did you come to have such a love relationship with words?
Cleo Wade: When I was younger and I saw artists like Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer or read poets like Alice Walker and Maya Angelou, I realized that words have such incredible power. They have this ability to really activate people. I feel so lucky that there are so many incredible women who have come before me who laid the groundwork for me to be able to do the kind of work I do today.
24Life: How did you build the courage to speak up and share your voice and give speeches?
CW: I work with mantras. Every time I feel the fear that comes with sharing my most vulnerable self, I take a deep breath and say to myself, “If by sharing your story or your words you can make even one person feel less alone, then it is your duty to share it.”
24Life: Tell us about your personal journey and gathering of wisdom.
I think a lot of our wisdom comes from our heartbreaks in life, whether it is the heartbreak that comes from a family member, a friend, a partner, a stranger or even a news story. What I think I have learned most from having my heart broken throughout my life is that the knowledge and information does not come from the pain, it comes from the healing. If we can really manage to pay attention as we heal, we will find that there is infinite information within us, and so much of that information has the ability to transform our lives.
24Life: What do you do to manage stress in a volatile world?
CW: Whenever I feel stressed, I take a moment to remind myself that it is a feeling that is moving through me, not staying with me. I never affirm stress.
It is so important that we do not allow stress to be a way of life. When the world overwhelms me, I turn to my support system to help me process my feelings. I also turn to my own self-care routine. I take a bath, I stretch, I meditate, I spend time in nature, or even just eat takeout and have a movie marathon.
24Life: What are some of your daily or weekly practices to stay healthy, happy, inspired and available to show up in the world?
CW: Sleep is everything to me. It is so crucial to give your body the gift of rest. Life is infinitely more challenging if you are viewing it through the veil of exhaustion. I follow a plant-based diet, and it works really well for me. … I feel the most optimal when I am eating things that grow from the earth.
I am a yoga and Pilates person. I also love taking really long walks and going out dancing with my girlfriends. Exercise for me is less something I do and more something I live.
I meditate every day in different ways. I find it helpful to be gentle with my definition of meditation. Cooking can be a meditation. Walking can be a meditation. Even just allowing yourself to space out for a few a minutes during the day can be a meditation.
24Life: What advice do you have for those who wish to create a platform and publicly share their message or opinions?
CW: Do it. Never underestimate the power of your voice. Change in the world comes from the people. Start now. Start today.
If you have any privilege, influence or power at all, it is crucial that you use it to help others. Living and doing only for yourself is no way to go through life, and it is not why we are on this planet together. We are ALL connected. Fighting the good fight means you don’t just fight for all who are discriminated against or oppressed.
24Life: If you were to pick one message that everyone in the world could see even if only for a moment, what words would you share.
CW: Be kind. It shakes the world.
Photo credit: Liza Voloshin; Atria/37 Ink