ILLUSTRATION BY Meg Murphy | Brenda Tran | Andrés Pérez

PORTRAIT BY Ryan Stopera




At Pollen, people trust us with their stories.

Our work is a front-row seat to the hope in our community but it can be a close hard look at the harm, too. As I’ve been reflecting on the collective trauma we’ve experienced in recent years, I can’t stop thinking about how long we’ve been in the anger stage of grief. Deep grief and exhaustion makes it hard to be creative. That means my job has to be different right now. So does yours.


I recently heard Brittany Packnett Cunningham say, “Stop talking about bad apples and uproot the tree.” For too long, we’ve been living in the shadow of that tree praying and marching for the sun. Every once in a while the wind blows the leaves just enough for sunlight to reach our skin. But as the wind dies down, the leaves and branches keep growing and the shadow returns.

A pull quote that reads, "Deep grief and exhaustion makes it hard to be creative. That means my job has to be different right now. So does yours."







A list of news headlines from 2020 to 2022 in a grid of text.

I want the sun. This shadow is too much.


TThis is a big grief.

It requires extra care.



It’s hard to know how to care for ourselves when everyone’s stressed, everyone’s traumatized, everyone’s tired and everyone’s still working in a pandemic. As I decipher how to do what we gotta do to pay our bills, I’ve been thinking about how to work in a way that acknowledges the extra space we all need to give ourselves and each other right now. Work Redux, as Pollen would call it. And in times like these, getting right may mean saying no to work that feels wrong. 


I know these conversations are triggering for freelancers because saying no can cost you income, but imagining a new way starts with grace for yourself. In a world plagued by extrajudicial killings of Black people, white supremacist terrorist attacks and unrelenting disappointments from people in power who could prevent the next murder, it’s common that everyone wants a BIPOC artist to create racial justice design — as soon as possible. I’m ready to start asking: Does it count as racial justice work if we have a terrible time creating it? We are underpaid, rushed, and pressured to make unreasonable timelines for companies who often don’t care about how we feel. They just want to be able to say they were in proximity to us to look relevant for the day. 


I know your inbox and DMs are full because so are mine, the demands are never-ending. If you don’t feel like being creative right now I understand because neither do I. If the pressure to keep producing feels wrong in your body, it’s because it is. Business as usual when the world is anything but. The norms we know aren’t how it has to be and we seem to keep getting further away from progress with each passing day. 



Pull quote type treatment that reads, "Imagining a new way starts with grace for yourself."



There’s always this, “But the work is really good” line people say to justify what we go through to do it. But no project is worth forgetting your own humanity, or submerging your feelings and trauma. How we feel is part of the work. How we’re treated is part of the work. What we’re paid is part of the work. How we talk to and about each other is the work. Whether or not we’re comfortable with our name and image being attached to something is part of the work. 



For me, deciding what to take on and what to turn down usually starts with asking questions. If people respect you and want to honor your needs as a human, they’ll be flexible with their due dates, budget, and workflow. If they don’t, they won’t.

You must be extremely valuable or your inbox wouldn’t be full of inquiries. Use that demand to your advantage by setting terms that prioritize your well-being.

How long does it really take you to price your work? Make a contract? How much time do you want just for sketches and ideation? When is content due? How many changes do they get and when do they have to pay more for more? How can people consolidate feedback in a way that saves you time? What do you need to be paid? How do you want to be credited? What are your boundaries around texting vs emailing? What meetings aren’t necessary? Can people license existing work so you don’t have to make something new when you’re already inundated?


These questions help with evaluating opportunities, and prioritizing rest if the answers aren’t to your liking. It’s about listening to yourself, your body, your values, and knowing how to say no when things don’t add up. 





I’m saying this as an artist talking to other artists.

A designer who has had to navigate a decade of balancing what I care about with what I cannot take on. I’m not sharing this as an expert. I’m just repeating what’s helped me want more for myself so you can believe it’s possible for you too. It’s taken me years to unlearn false truths ingrained in me about my production, productivity and my worth. I think often of the day I interviewed at Pollen back in 2017. When Meghan and Jamie told me, “We’re trying to change the way people work.” I believed them and I wanted to help.


We’re still trying, no matter the external pressures fighting against us. We have not arrived, but we are trying for ourselves and for you. You can always tell us, “I need more time.” You can always tell us, “I need to be paid more.” We actually do want to be the best place for freelancers to work and hope that in doing so, we model what that looks like for other organizations and companies working with artists, especially BIPOC. When we spread Pollen, things grow. When we set and stick to our professional boundaries, we can grow into more healed and liberated people for ourselves and each other.

It all has us exhausted and held captive in the anger stage of grief. I don’t believe we have to force or push or produce our way through it. It’s on us to ask for what we need and refuse what we don’t. How to do that in a world that rewards productivity and production remains to be a question. But I believe in us to figure it out together.

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Meg Lionel Murphy
Meg Lionel Murphy is the director of Art + Story at Pollen. She is also a painter. Her most recent solo shows include “Traumatica Dramatica” at The Untitled Space Gallery (New York), “Interior Violence” at CoExhibitions Gallery (Minneapolis), SPRING/BREAK Art Show (New York and Los Angeles) and a featured booth at the Other Art Fair (Los Angeles). Murphy’s artwork has been covered in a variety of publications including Hyperallergic, Artnet News, Bitch Magazine, and Forbes.
Andrés Pérez
As an Art Director at Pollen, Andrés Pérez works with our creative team alongside our network of freelancers to tell powerful visual stories about building a better world. His wealth of experience in design, photography and video lend to his signature style of blending different mediums and textures that move our communities in action. Andrés attributes his creativity and spark to growing up in Acapulco, Guerrero. “I had a very unconventional childhood. I swam in the Pacific half of my life, now I swim in the 10,000 lakes. Some things never change, but they are definitely different."
Brenda Tran
Brenda Tran is an art director at Pollen Midwest. With the help of her design team and a wonderful freelance network, Brenda pairs chaotic good design with vibrant, imaginative, and community-centered storytelling. She also helps run Banana Leaf Collective, a Twin Cities based network of creative people exploring practices of storytelling, mutual aid, and community building.
Jerome Rankine
As Editorial Director, Jerome is the keeper of Pollen’s editorial voice and vision. He works with Pollen’s talented stable of writers to produce stories that entertain, enlighten, and invite readers to take action. Jerome spends a lot of time hunched over keyboards--either editing the latest Pollen feature, or composing music in his home studio. He’s active in local politics, less active on social media, and more active in his kitchen.
Melanie Walby
In her role as Creative Director of Pollen, Melanie Walby leads our creative department with a deep understanding of how art and design moves people towards social change. Her illustration, typography and design bring stories to life in collaboration with our freelance network of illustrators and photographers. She's a former board member of AIGA Minnesota, was named one of AdFed’s “32 Under 32” in 2018, and has been featured in Communication Arts, blackswho.design, and Adobe Creative Jam.
Ryan Stopera
Ryan Stopera is a photographer, videographer, social worker, community organizer,and entrepreneur. He has worked in direct social services and grassroots community organizing for over ten years. This privilege has allowed Ryan to build a vast amount of relationships and experiences constructing a deep analysis of the social issues our communities face today. During the Occupy Wall Street movement, Ryan produced a video sharing the story of five homeowners in foreclosure with Bank of America. The video, which included the cell phone number of Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan, asked the nation to call and demand he negotiate with the homeowners who were victims of the mortgage crisis. By the second day of the video going viral executives from the office of the CEO contacted each of the homeowners to help them negotiate their foreclosure and avoid homelessness. He recognized the power of media as a tool to create powerful narratives that can be used to create social change.