Enjoy a behind-the-scenes q&a with Baltimore-based podcast host Rob Lee. Hear why he started The Truth In This Art Podcast, how the show has evolved over time, and what he most enjoys about interviewing other creatives!
The Truth In This Art, hosted by Rob Lee, explores contemporary art and cultural preservation through candid conversations with artists, curators, and cultural leaders about their work and creative processes. Rob also occasionally interviews friends in other industries such as acting, music, and journalism.
What are your earliest memories of art? Who or what sparked your interest in art?
My earliest memories of art are comic books. I wanted to be a comic book illustrator when I was younger. I recall always being enamored and curious how the illustration was done. I loved Jim Lee's style and had several books on comic illustrations when I was younger. I was so caught up in drawing comics that I would rush through my tests in school - take the B+ so I could draw during the remaining time while my classmates worked away on their tests. That's an early memory for me and it's definitely related to Jim Lee and his Marvel comics run.
Another one that sticks out is the public art in Baltimore, specifically these murals of alligators in the Remington neighborhood in Baltimore. Alligators are my favorite animal so seeing a huge mural with 3 alligators on it caught my eye as a young boy. That mural is still up.
What was the motivation behind starting your podcast? When did you start it?
The motivation was a desire to disprove a negative narrative. I am from Baltimore and I wear that fact as a badge of honor and I rally for my city. So back in 2019, Trump made some really inflammatory remarks about Baltimore and I noticed this indifference from folks in Baltimore but I was mad about it - I saw some folks speak up against Trump including the now late Councilman Cummings. That activated me - I was on the hunt to speak with folks that I knew or wanted to know more about their work. I wanted to provide a platform for all guests who have a creative bent to them, to share what's really happening in Baltimore from real Baltimoreans and The Truth In This Art began.
I thought why just be mad when I could instead take the steps to disprove it. Baltimore has a rich history, culture and creative scene that's super unique. Often those qualities are overshadowed by racial-coated and incorrect narratives like the ones Trump waved the flames of. I wanted people to take pride in Baltimore so I started with interviews here and then cities that I think get a bad rap or I think have an interesting story like Philadelphia, New Orleans and Austin. The motivation behind my podcast is to highlight, amplify and shed light on the truth of a city, community and scene. Arts & Culture is always at the forefront.
What is the show's focus?
The show's focus is to explore arts and culture of community through candid conversations about the process and the thinking behind the work. Additionally I aim to do the typical interview with the biggest names around. I wanna speak to various artists, creatives and cultural workers - folks who are emerging as well as folks who are established and have been doing the work for a long time. I really try to take a Corritore work approach to booking guests and reaching out.
How has the podcast evolved over time?
The podcast has evolved a lot over the last few years. Back in 2019, I couldn't really get guests. I was able to maybe secure 15 to 20 interviews. In 2020, with Covid and lockdowns, people were less occupied and wanted to connect. People were more available and more open and I was able to do a fair amount of interviews during that time, which was great. In 2022 alone, I released 300 interviews and once I started being more intentional about what am I interested in and who am I interested in talking to, I started looking at different places than I normally wouldn't go after. It was like hey let's speak to different schools to learn about what the art school here Baltimore, MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art), is doing. Let's have a conversation with composers, conductors and other creative and cultured folks who normally wouldn't be on my radar - my eyes, ears and so on were open and I think the main thing that happened in the last few years is growth through time speaking with creatives. That's allowed me to open up how I approach this podcast in getting sort of feedback from people and what it might mean to them. I take a lot of care to have interviews that I think are interesting.
I try to be really intentional of who I wanna work with, how do I wanna work with them and doing arcs of interviews. I've done work with different arts districts here in Baltimore and have partnered with some folks in DC for some projects. Now I am also doing more community-oriented projects and panel discussions. Additionally, I've done movie nights with the podcast being a part of it. Generally, recording a podcast is done behind closed doors so instead, I'm really bringing it to the community because it's of the community and for the community.
I've changed my process of writing questions. Early on, I didn't have rapidfire questions, which are those funny questions that are kind of icebreakers. I enjoy them as it's a way to know the guest outside of purely their work and what they might be famous for. I don't want them to feel and be perceived as a commodity, I want anyone listening to have a better idea of who is this person who is this person and what are they about. In addition, I have been consuming audiobooks and art books to try to get into the head of artists and creatives and that helps me with questions. It helps guide the conversations.
Lastly, I've been working as an ambassador between creative communities like Philadelphia, New Orleans and Austin, Texas. Being in the arts has piqued my curiosity for work beyond podcast hosting, for example as a journalist and a curator. I think that that is kind of where my work is leaning toward.
What do you most enjoy about being a host?
I really like having these conversations with folks, getting to know them and maybe making some friends through it. I tend to just look at myself as a podcast host, but I've spoken with several artists and people who cover art and they definitely correct me and tell me that no, you're more of a journalist, or you're actually a curator. It feels good to hear that and get that feedback. Ultimately, I guess the main thing that I enjoy most about being a host is that exchange of ideas within the context of arts and culture.
Tell us what's coming up next for The Truth In This Art!
What's coming up next for The Truth In This Art - Well, I'll say it's gonna be an interesting year! I'm working on a series right now that has a jazz focus. From a cultural preservation perspective, I wanted to do a jazz appreciation month for April 2021 and I wasn't able to get it. I couldn't get the guests booked and I've evolved and I've kind of switched up the process a little bit and more people are aware of the work so I think I'll be able to finally get that done.
And the focus is really more community stuff, more travel more bridging Baltimore to New Orleans, Baltimore to Philly andBaltimore to DC. I aim to have ave an organic connection in relationships versus being any sort of gatekeeper or somebody saying this is how we're going to talk about art in these different communities. I wanna be able to do it as an ambassador coming from Baltimore and just say hey I'm from Baltimore and I'm interested in what you guys are doing down here can we have a chat. I'll be working towards continued growth and also want to get a membership to the National Association of black journalists.
I want to go to more artist-oriented events like Art Basel Miami, Future Fair, etc. Another thing that's been really cool is being able to connect folks and I want to continue doing that.
Alicia Puig has been a contributing writer for Create! Magazine since 2017.