Artist, gallery-owner and podcaster Aunia Kahn talks entrepreneurship and overcoming fear

This article appears as the cover story in July/August 2014

Aunia Kahn and Russell J. Moon opened Alexi Era Gallery in late 2013

By Ellen Eldridge


Overcoming truly terrifying events like child abuse and severe illness allowed an artist to understand the frailty of life, and the importance of making it count.


Aunia Kahn and Russell J. Moon opened Alexi Era Gallery in late 2013, with a vision to bring cutting edge art to the conservative Midwest. As if being a fine artist and opening her own gallery wasn’t enough, Kahn started hosting the Create and Inspire Podcast in April 2014.


She describes her vision as a weekly art-focused podcast sharing inspirational tips, tricks, advice and featuring interviews with successful artists and art focused businesses to help you manifest your dreams. Kahn has the talent to back up her art career and now she has the authority to speak to budding entrepreneurs about taking the plunge and making our art our business.


AuniaKahn“Fear is the hardest part of being an entrepreneur,” Kahn says, and she describes the nagging voice of doubt as asking, “how are you going to back up this amazing idea?”


She says she works 14-18 hours a day, but that though this is “the hardest job I’ve ever had,” she says, “It’s scary, but it’s exciting.”


Part of the reason Kahn is so willing to obsessively pursue her dreams comes from battling illness.


“I’m obsessive with what I do, partly because of being sick,” Kahn says, describing a feeling of having lost time due to her illness, and being homebound. “I overcommit myself,” she says, which instantly hits home with all the artists struggling to balance commitments. But in Kahn’s case, she says she feels like she has a lot of catching up to do.


Kahn describes her time ill at home from 2002 on as an experience that kept a social creature bound; she says she longed for interaction and missed people. “I’m a social creature who was homebound for so long,” she says describing the importance of the World Trade Center to her in 2010.


In April 2012 I almost died,” Kahn says. “By April 2013, I started to feel better and I could walk again. I was 114 pounds at 5’9 at my worst.”


Though Kahn continued to curate shows from home while ill, she couldn’t travel. “When you’re at death’s door and you start to feel better again, everything’s a miracle,” she says.


The idea that she might never have gotten better coupled with the inability to get out and even experience her hometown led Kahn to fully appreciate what life offers. “Sometimes, I’m brought to tears at the simple realization that I can drive myself,” she says.


“It’s no joke: I believe everything happens for a reason,”

she says of the letdowns as much as the successes she’s experienced in her life and in her career as an artists and entrepreneur. When Kahn started the Alexi Gallery, which opened in November 2013, she had only just sold an original piece of art that allowed her to pay the first month’s rent on the space. Kahn called the buyer to tell him that his purchase provided what she needed to open her gallery, and he told her that he wanted a second piece so he went ahead and bought it then, providing more room for the Alexi Gallery to thrive. “I didn’t have anything else, but I didn’t have to put money on a credit card,” Kahn says. “I just believed in myself and I just did it.”


Kahn says that when someone has a passion for something, other people will want to be a part of it. After surviving years of child abuse, followed by years of illness, and coming out healthy, gives Kahn a feeling of faith in whatever she wants to do. Facing death has a way of making anything seem possible, she says. “I don’t give up very easily and I work very hard,” she says.


In trying to find a balance between acting as a business owner and an artist, “It’s all about making time and setting a schedule,” Kahn says. She decides how much time to spend on the marketing and working in the gallery, but allots hours for creating art as well. “When you love what you do it’s hard to stop,” she says. “I don’t really know when to stop.”


Perfectionism is something Kahn says borders on psychological illness. While she says she thinks she absolutely is a perfectionist, she understands that the fine line to draw comes at the price of moving forward.


“I think it [perfectionism] can harbor people’s ability to better themselves,” she says. “When people are really focused on making something perfect, I think it’s a psychological problem.” Artists and makers have to be able to let go to continue creating and improving, she says.


Kahn admits she looks back on work she created years ago and feels like she should try to improve it, but she says she knows she has to let it go and learn from the mistakes.


“I have to let go and take what I learned and apply it to the next thing,” she says, adding that perfection is something neither she nor any artist will achieve, and striving for perfectionism only leads to a constant lack of satisfaction.


Though fine artists and illustrators often have a reputation for introversion, Kahn is highly involved in public speaking. “The no. 1 fear statistically is public speaking,” she says. “I was trying to get out and do something, so I took a class.”


She became involved with public speaking after a professor invited her to return to speak in front of a college class at Southwestern Illinois College.


“I’m not the typical artist. I know that, which is why I reach out to other artists and advocate for them,” Kahn says. “Artists create. They visually represent their feelings; they don’t verbally represent their feelings.”


Kahn laughs as she admits that she never would have imagined her career in public speaking from her perspective of a high school girl who panicked during speech class, running out to never return. Kahn says she failed that class, yet she learned from her mistakes and moved on toward self-improvement and success.


“I speak at classes and I adapt my story,” she says. “I talk about bullying, mental disorders and overcoming adversity.”


One of Kahn’s favorite quotes, she says, is “Leap and your wings will appear.” She says she wanted to do a podcast for two or three years, because while sick she listened to and was inspired by John Dumas’ podcast,


She started the Create and Inspire podcast in April 2014, after her hope was renewed from Dumas himself, Kahn says. When he invited her to be a guest speaker on “Entrepreneur On Fire,” he told her she was ‘a natural’ afterward, Kahn says.


“It changed my life and finally pushed me into doing my own podcast,” Kahn says.


Faith in herself led Kahn to pursue her passion. For a long time she couldn’t do the simple things people take for granted, like walk around her town or breath well.


Artists and all artistic entrepreneurs should take the time to listen to the Create and Inspire podcast Thursday nights. Take notes on working together, and learn from other artists and entrepreneurs because that, Kahn says, is the fastest way to success.

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