Lucien Smith’s Non-Profit Foundation, Serving The People, is on a Mission to Uplift Emerging Creatives
Black History can not be confined to one month. Black Culture is a walking, breathing, living tapestry that expands and evolves with each new generation. At Complex SHOP, we’re using our unique platform to shine a spotlight on Black artists, designers, curators, and business owners. By telling their stories, we want to offer recognition and exposure to their deserving communities—a portion of sales from their products will also be donated to their chosen charities.
Lucien Smith is an artist and founder of Serving The People, a non-profit digital community connecting innovators with audiences globally to facilitate opportunities for them to share their world. This week, Complex SHOP is hosting a merch drop from STP. All the proceeds will go to the foundation to help continue its mission of uplifting the next generation of talented creatives.
Lucien Smith’s ascendancy in the art world was swift and well-documented. He received his BFA from Cooper Union School of Art in 2011, and shortly after would go on to become a certified art celeb with his canvases selling for several millions—all before turning 25. But as is often the case, the unbridled early success and fame also came with a price.
“I would say that I got everything I wished for,” Smith says while driving from downtown NYC to his home in Montauk. “I wanted to be the youngest, the most successful, and to really excel at an unprecedented level. But I wasn’t ready for a lot of the things that came along with that success and exposure. I didn’t make a lot of friends during this time either, because I tended to seclude myself and rub my achievements in people’s faces.”
The major change in his artistic trajectory occurred when Smith recognized on a deeper level that something was fundamentally wrong with the way the big art galleries and auction houses operated. That’s when he realized he didn’t want to be part of the machine any longer. Other artists would have resorted to self-destructive habits, but Smith chose to use his own difficult experiences and hard-earned lessons to help others. He decided to create an independent agency called Serving The People, a unique vehicle for guiding and educating the careers of young emerging artists. “STP first started off in 2015 with the vision to form a creative community offering mentorship and guidance to younger, emerging artists and creatives,” he says. “When it first started off it was just me. But in 2017, I got my non-profit status from the IRS and that really helped me to expand and build the team.”
Currently, STP has a staff of seven and newly renovated offices on Canal Street in downtown Manhattan. The organization’s original mission has expanded to include emerging artists in film and music, and pre-Covid, the collective presented a handful of well-received group shows. However, since it’s a non-profit, fundraising is always a top priority as he continues to broaden the foundation’s vision. Presently, the foundation’s merch drops are its main fundraising source, and Smith himself serves as the designer for all their programs. To date, they’ve done a handful of these quickstrike STP releases, and they always tend to sell out incredibly fast.
One such drop is their new Valentine’s Day capsule, which includes a T-shirt,hoodies, and trucker hats, and is available here on Complex SHOP now. “I had this shirt that I got on a road trip in Oregon that reads ‘Someone in Oregon loves me,’” he explains about the new capsule’s design inspiration. “I loved the shirt so much that I decided to recreate it for STP.” Coming up, STP has exciting collaborations lined up with SSENSE, Woolrich, and RVCA, and there are plans for more consistent seasonal drops as well.
Even though Smith is mostly occupied with growing STP these days, he’s still very tapped into the various ebbs and flows of the art market. When asked about how Black artists have suddenly become a hot commodity for curators and collectors, he offers a forceful yet insightful opinion. “I think it’s a double-edged sword,” Smith says. “In a way, it’s definitely great that these Black artists are able to express their dreams on a higher level. But I also see it as a way for collectors and curators to try and purchase morality, and then what happens to these artists when this bubble bursts? That just rubs me the wrong way.”
For an individual spread super thin with so many different obligations and overlapping creative projects (he still paints, he’s currently writing a film, and is also a volunteer first responder for his local fire department), Smith still maintains a clear grasp on what he wants his ultimate impact to be. “It took me a long time to sit with myself and truly realize the importance of art,” he says. “I think art is really here to prove that we exist, and for me, I want to leave enough evidence of my art to inspire, even if it's just one person, to go out there and do great things.”
Shop the full STP Valentine’s Day Drop here.