Embracing Uniqueness

Birgit Lauda in conversation with Mellody Hobson, internationally known philanthropist, supporter of art, creativity and female empowerment.

Birgit Lauda: Do you think that women could do more to support each other? And where do you think are the challenges?


Mellody Hobson: There is no question in my mind that we can and should do more to support each other. The only way real progress can be made is when people stand up for each other.  From the suffragettes, to the current #metoo movement, the only way to get the attention and traction that we need when it comes to diversity and inclusion is for us to come together in numbers big and small.   


BL: Do you believe in a global women´s movement? 


Mellody Hobson: I would be all for a global women's movement but unfortunately, we are not there yet and seem to have a ways to go before a key issue resonates around the world.  Clearly, there are many, many issues affecting the women of the world, and yet, despite the inequality that is rampant, we have yet to coalesce around well-defined goals and measurable outcomes that can impact billions of people.  Women have enormous power-and our influence continues to grow.  We know what is at stake for future generations and I know we are committed to action.  We have admired our problems long enough. 

BL: Mellody, as strong women, what do you think, is our role in society? 


Mellody Hobson: Our role is to be forces for good and change. To use our voices-both individually and collectively-to push for equality.  We cannot be bystanders in our own society-both locally and globally.  Our girls are counting on us-those that are here and those that are yet to be born. My daughter, Everest, is 5 years old. I see the world through a lens of her possibilities. I want to do my part to ensure she has every opportunity to realize her dreams. I want the same for all girls everywhere.   

BL: As women, do you think we are where we should be? Have we arrived?  

Mellody Hobson: We continue to make progress, but the numbers tell us that we have a long way to go. It is 2018; we are still fighting for pay equality. Last year, according to the Pew Research Center, women in the US earned 82% of what men earned. We are still fighting for greater representation in government. The world average for the share of women in the lower houses of national parliaments is 23.4 percent. We are still fighting for representation in the workplace. Women account for just about a quarter of senior roles across the world. We are still fighting sexual harassment, assault, or abuse in the workplace as the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement show. The list goes on and on. We are not where we should be, but I believe women around the world are galvanized and finding our voices in new and powerful ways.   


BL: What can we do to empower other women and strengthen their roles and positions? 


Mellody Hobson: I think the most important thing is to be brave. We cannot hold back or defer to others. We have too much at stake. Instead, we have to encourage each other. If we as women encourage each other to speak up and come to the table with a unique perspective, we will see progress.

BL: What is your vision - for your work and your life?

Mellody Hobson: My vision for this life is for a world where each of us is encouraged to live up to our full potential. I want every person to know they are capable of achieving their dreams if you are willing to work hard and confront your fears. Recently, I was asked to write a letter to my daughter, who has a whole world of opportunity ahead of her. In my letter, I tell her that with that opportunity comes the expectation that she will be grateful, kind, generous, compassionate and embrace all of mankind. I tell her she can be or do anything, just as my mother said to me. I then go on to say that I expect her to believe the same is true of everyone. Imagine a society in which we all thought that of each other. A society where everyone had the benefit, and none of the doubt. That is my vision. 

BL: What connection do you see between art and social engagement or social responsibility? What is our responsibility - as gallerists, as collectors and philanthropists?

 Mellody Hobson: Throughout history, art has inspired people to advocate for change and functioned as a representation of dissent and resistance. Art can give voice to the voiceless. It can spark conversations or social movements. From Picasso's Guernica to the art emerging from the Black Lives Matter movement, it can call attention to important social issues.

It is our responsibility to encourage and nurture artists and create spaces for the power of art to flourish. Our responsibility is to expose people to different perspectives, backgrounds, and viewpoints. I think Barack and Michelle Obama's official portraits are excellent examples of the power of art to break down barriers. Through their choice of artists, they reimagined an old medium. In doing so, they exposed people to unique interpretations that help challenge assumptions. At the same time, they elevated artists that may not have been known by the "masses." As collectors and philanthropists, we should be forward-looking and provide spaces for artists and their work to fuel change.


BL: I personally know that both, you and your husband are philanthropists and humanists - you give back to society, supporting knowledge and education. How important is creativity for you?

Mellody Hobson: Hugely important. I think the world would be a better place if we were all unapologetically ourselves - unapologetically original. Creativity is what allows for innovation, for progress, for reinvention. It is key to the continued evolution of the human condition for the better. And embracing creativity and uniqueness cultivates understanding and respect. I want to live in a world where we can see everyone's potential. To reach get there, we first have to embrace our own creativity and uniqueness, as well as that of everyone around us.

BL: Can you tell us in two sentences what we can expect when we visit the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in L.A.?

Mellody Hobson: First, you can expect to feel welcome, no matter who you are - Black, white, old, young immigrant or American. You can also expect to be inspired, as the museum is designed - from the building itself to the collection to the experience - to unleash your sense of wonder and your creativity.

BL: You and your husband are both art collectors. Do you follow a line in your private collection? 


Mellody Hobson: We both had unique collections before we were married.  I collected works by African-American artists.  George had much broader interests but with a special focus on illustrators.  Together, we tend to collect contemporary art from a wide range of artists-from Kara Walker and Jean-Michel Basquiat, to Robert Indiana, Fernand Léger and Georgia O'Keeffe.  We also love photography-and tend to like black and white portraits of people who inspire us.  We have everyone from Frida Kahlo, Picasso and Maya Angelou, to Martin Luther King and Barack Obama.  


Mellody Hobson is President of Ariel Capital Management, Chicago. In 2015, the Time Magazine named her as one of the 100 most influential people in the World. Together with her husband, filmmaker George Lucas, she is the founder of the Lucas Musuem of Narrative Art, LA.

July 1, 2019