Creating the Future: The Founders of Pedestal Focus on Black Joy [Interview] cover

Creating the Future: The Founders of Pedestal Focus on Black Joy [Interview]

“We’re creating the future,” say creative partners Celeste O’Connor and Mecca McDonald. “Get ahead or stay behind.”

It’s sound advice from two artists whose joint work could be described as visionary. Co-founders of Brooklyn-based production company Pedestal, Mecca and Celeste specialize in immersive visual storytelling that shines a light on joyful Black experiences. “We, as Black girls, have important stories to tell,” they say in a statement for their upcoming short film, Liminality, a futuristic tale about identity and self-acceptance. “These stories are filled with extremely insightful reflections, thoughts, and beliefs, which can catalyze the healing that our society desperately needs.”

Calling themselves “sauce curators,” Mecca and Celeste founded Pedestal after graduating from a STEM program at Johns Hopkins that left little time for creative expression. Inspired by impromptu photo shoots between the two college friends, Pedestal was born from a desire to share creative joy and restore agency to Black and brown storytellers. “We imagine a future where artists and Black people are not only in charge of their stories, but also own them,” Mecca tells NOT REAL ART. “For both the fashion and entertainment industries, we want more than just representation. We want to see POC, especially Black people, have ownership over their stories.”

Co-founders of Pedestal, Mecca McDonald and Celeste O’Connor specialize in immersive visual storytelling that shines a light on joyful Black experiences.
As Pedestal’s head of direction, Celeste O’Connor tackles video, lighting, and coordination.
Co-founders of Pedestal, Mecca McDonald and Celeste O’Connor specialize in immersive visual storytelling that shines a light on joyful Black experiences.
As Pedestal’s creative director, Mecca McDonald handles makeup and still photography.

Working with a combination of film, photography, set design, and styling, Mecca and Celeste approach their projects with a collaborative spirit that welcomes clients into the storytelling process. “We get to know the model as much as we can,” says Mecca, adding that their photo shoots—bolstered by the model’s favorite music and the founders’ supportive cheers—feel more like small gatherings with close friends than actual work: “When we have the most fun, we take the best photos.”

Bathed in colorful lights, their set designs are splashed from top to bottom in pink fur, purple silk, disco balls, rainbow-colored candy, gauzy tutus, oversized balloons, exotic flowers, pounds of pearls, mirrors, and glittering surfaces galore. A trained and practicing actor, Celeste handles Pedestal’s video, lighting, and client coordination as head of production, while Mecca lends her talents to client makeup and still photography as the creative director. The friends are joined by publicist Surya Garg and in-house producer Ling Yu Yan, who round out the Pedestal team.

Now hard at work on Liminality, their first short film, the Pedestal crew has high hopes for the future of their company and its commitment to Black joy. Even Liminality looks toward the future with its Black Mirror-esque plotline: “The story follows an artist who gets sucked into a video game and has to confront aspects of herself she’s been trying to look away from,” says Mecca, who dreamt up the concept nearly two years ago. Filming in March 2023, Liminality bridges the gap between conflict and joy through radical honesty, placing Black voices at the forefront of our common future. “We believe that the art we engage with should reflect the power and beauty of people who look like us,” Mecca and Celeste say. “In that way, [Pedestal] is vibrant, playful, and exciting because we are committed to not only empowering but celebrating each other.”

In Today’s Q+Art Interview…

Mecca McDonald and Celeste O’Connor discuss Pedestal’s origin story, how the two approach visual storytelling, and what they hope the future will bring for Black joy.

Co-founders of Pedestal, Mecca McDonald and Celeste O’Connor specialize in immersive visual storytelling that shines a light on joyful Black experiences.
‘70s Extravaganza’
Co-founders of Pedestal, Mecca McDonald and Celeste O’Connor specialize in immersive visual storytelling that shines a light on joyful Black experiences.
‘We Are All Mirrors’

Where did the name Pedestal come from?

Pedestal: We were brainstorming names in our college house one night. We realized our goal was to uplift other black women and people who look like us. The idea of uplifting made us think of the word Pedestal. So voila!

How would Pedestal define joy?

P: Joy is the pursuit of your curiosity. It’s being excited about what you’re creating. It’s creating and collaborating in ways that make other people feel empowered. We find a lot of joy in watching people blossom and step into their confidence. Photoshoots are just a tool to facilitate that process. As a visual artist, Mecca finds joy in bright colors, expression in photos, and flowers. As an actor, Celeste finds joy in the emotional work of creating a safe and supportive environment for creativity to thrive in. When our multidisciplinary talents come together, it's a really beautiful thing.

‘Afrofuturism: The Way Forward’
‘Afrofuturism: The Way Forward’
Co-founders of Pedestal, Mecca McDonald and Celeste O’Connor specialize in immersive visual storytelling that shines a light on joyful Black experiences.
‘Afrofuturism: The Matrix’

How does the Pedestal team maintain their joy?

P: Being honest about what we’re experiencing as individuals helps. It's hard to experience joy if you’re not honest about when you’re sad or need help. Practicing honesty between us goes hand in hand with maintaining our joy interpersonally and professionally.

When we get to challenge ourselves creatively I find that brings up a lot of inspiration and joy between us. We started out doing photoshoots with our friends, then we challenged ourselves to find paying clients who didn’t already know us, and now we are challenging ourselves to translate our visual style to the film medium. So at each new step I find inspiration and excitement within the challenge.

What makes a good storyteller? How do you know you’ve done a good job representing someone’s story?

P: A good story always makes people feel something. We know we’ve done a good job representing someone’s story when we see the sparkle in their eyes.

‘The Harmony of Progress’
‘The Harmony of Progress’

What inspired Pedestal’s vibrant, playful aesthetic? Do you see it changing?

P: We went to a very STEM and very intellectual university where there weren’t many creative outlets. So photoshoots between Celeste and I became our creative outlet. Additionally, photography is very male dominated. With that comes a certain way of seeing the world. We wanted to showcase how we see the world, beyond the brown and neutral hues that men seem to gravitate to.

I don’t see it changing, I definitely see our style transforming as we continue to grow as artists, but I think the playful aesthetic and vibrant colors come from a really genuine place within both of us.

On Pedestal’s website it says you’re “creating the future”—what’s the future that Pedestal imagines?

P: Oftentimes being a successful artist means giving up parts of yourself to corporations. That’s celebrated and seen as a success. But what if we owned our stories? What if we were in charge of how our stories were distributed? We live in a time of mass consumption and content creation; this challenges the relationship an artist has to their art. It shifts their motive to create. We are creating a world where creation is at the center of existence. Where being honest and kind is valued. Where accountability is practiced.

The future we’re creating is one where your biggest accomplishment as an artist isn’t being slutted out by a corporation, but instead using your art to build a radical community where we have ownership over our ideas and creativity. In this world, our art is impactful not because it generates a corporation billions of dollars but instead because it connects people back to themselves, nature, and one another.

‘Cupid Fell in Love’
‘Sloth-Seven Deadly Sins’

Do you have tips for boosting creativity and imagination?

P: One of my favorite authors, Octavia Butler, talks about her journey as a writer in one of her short stories and she says that talent and inspiration are nowhere near as important as consistency. I try to live by that quote. If you only create when you’re feeling super inspired, you won’t have a consistent practice. That consistent practice, or habit, is the most important factor in whether you’ll create or not. Because habit is stronger than the feeling of inspiration. So I’d say if you need a boost of creativity, don't judge yourself and just make something, even if it’s a stick figure drawing because the habit of consistently creating will foster more and more inspiration in the long run.

What is Pedestal’s ultimate goal? How will you know when you achieved it?

P: We want to make films that will expand people's imaginations beyond our current reality. Our current reality focuses on the binary systems that we suffer under. We don’t know exactly what our ultimate goal is, but for right now we’re striving to create and distribute a film that aids in our liberation from racial capitalism.

How do you want followers of your work to feel when looking at a new project?

P: We want our audience to feel inspired, energized, and playful. We want to be the permission someone needs to express themselves fully.

‘Luxury Beyond Capitalism’
‘Black is Punk’

Pedestal: Website | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist(s).

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Morgan  Laurens 

Morgan Laurens (she/her/hers) is NOT REAL ART’s editor in chief. Morgan is an arts writer from the Midwest who enjoys saying “excuse me” when no actual pardon is needed. She specializes in grant writing and narrative-based storytelling for mission-driven artists and arts organizations. With a background in printmaking, pop culture, and classic literature, Morgan believes a girl’s best friend is the pile of books on her bedside table.