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2018’s Icons, Innovators, and Disruptors

Bellsroar By Mike Morgan

Sean Desiree: Hear Them Roar
This musician and activist is helping queer people of color follow their dreams.

Sean Desiree is a person with a purpose. The genderqueer musician, who uses neutral pronouns and performs as bell’s roar (uncapitalized in honor of the name’s inspiration, feminist writer bell hooks), is on a mission to help others pursue their artistic dreams.

Desiree says the motivation for creating an arts-funding program was born out of the 34-year-old’s own experiences as a young queer person of color, struggling to create music.

“Starting out as an artist, there’s definitely a lot of expenses, especially for queer and trans artists of color,” they explain. “I mean, it’s just hard to survive in general, [and then] trying to create art can seem impossible.”

So Desiree created the Art Funds Art Tour, a 10-day performance tour that morphed into a blossoming nonprofit organization. “It’s not as satisfying for me to just go and play bars or venues each night,” they found. “I want to have some sort of mission or purpose with what I’m doing … it’s more than just about me. It’s about building a whole community.”

Desiree says programs for the arts — like an after-school music one they attended at School of the Future (a progressive New York City public high school that’s part of a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded effort to improve U.S. schools) — can be life-changing, especially for young creative people of color. That experience is part of why Desiree wants to give back and “prioritize queer and trans people.”

Following the release of bell’s roar’s debut album, We Carry Us (the proceeds of which go back into the fund), Desiree toured the East Coast. At every stop, two local musicians or bands were invited to open for bell’s roar — and got paid to perform. “I feel like everyone deserves to get paid,” says Desiree, stressing the importance of increasing young queer artists’ confidence and professional experience.

Providing grants to queer and trans artists one concert at a time is the AFAT (ArtFundsArtTour.com) mission, but also a direct response to massive budget cuts in arts funding expected by the Trump administration. “We have to figure out ways to support ourselves” in these challenging times, says Desiree.

The tour was only the beginning for AFAT. While most of the donations received have been from individual donors in the LGBT community, Desiree plans to pursue funding from larger organizations.

“You can’t just have an idea. You have to prove it and show the numbers, show that it makes sense for them to sponsor the event,” explains Desiree. Cutting through all the red tape in the beginning “can be discouraging,” but it’s a necessary part of the process.

All of bell’s roar’s music is 100 percent created by Desiree, who says, “It took a while to kind of create songs for myself that I liked” as well as “to build up the skills to be able to produce it myself.” Ultimately, Desiree continued to work on their music alone because they wanted “to create a project that’s completely ideas of my own, and it’s hard to do that if I have someone else’s influence … because even unintentionally, you kind of defer to other people, or silence yourself in some ways.”

Desiree’s creative gambit paid off with their debut, We Carry Us, where their light and lyrical speaking voice transforms into an ethereal instrument, blending seamlessly with the album’s dreamy, hypnotic beats. Though thoroughly modern, the album’s melodic tracks venture from haunting (“Fake Fantasy”) to almost folksy (“Dear Me”) — and even display earthy, ancient undertones on songs like “I’m Trouble.” As bell’s roar, Desiree is a brilliant musician who is also providing a wonderful avenue to support other emerging queer artists.
(bellsroarmusic.com)  —Desirée Guerrero


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