Tracy Candido has always found joy in bringing people together, whether to a gallery show she’s curated or a gathering of Lady Bosses. A born-and-bred New Yorker, Tracy has forged both her own path and a thriving community of ambitious women from all walks.
You’re a New Yorker!
I am. I grew up in Long Island... it was interesting, but good for a lot of reasons. We were right near the beach, so it had a dreamy beachy vibe. When I was in high school, my friends would always go surfing. On the downside, the area was very hetero and “bro-y.” There was a decent punk and hardcore subculture, though, so I was able to make friends from all different towns through that community. It was a little sexist, still. All my friends that were in bands were guys, but the girls I knew were rad as all hell. We would go to punk shows in the city all the time.
I went to Emerson College in Boston to study TV and video production. I had a really great college experience. I learned how to communicate through images, how to get an idea across. Emerson College really teaches you that you get out of something what you put in. That really had an impact on me.
After school, I spent some time back in Long Island and in Boston. It was very lonely; there wasn’t a lot going on, so I moved to Brooklyn and I’ve been here ever since. That was about 12 years ago.
Did you have an idea of what you wanted to do when you went to college?
I wanted to be a music-video director. I tried to do a little bit of that when I was in college. When I finished college, I wanted to create spaces for my friends to show their work, whether that was photography, music, fine art or performance. New York was a little different then—you could pay some guy $50 for a raw space on the corner of Broadway and Houston, then mount a show for the night or have a concert. My mom brought food platters in from Trader Joe's. It was great. Producing those shows felt better to me than trying to stay in film production.... you know, starting as a production assistant, not getting paid much. I didn’t know if I could do it.
You didn’t love it enough to push through that.
Right. So I was putting on these shows, but didn’t actually know that what I was doing was being a curator. I hadn’t heard that term before. When I started learning what it means to bring people together in a space to show art, I became more interested in galleries. I worked in a couple, but I didn’t love the whole art-fair circuit that was really big at the time. Ultimately, it wasn’t really my vibe. I wanted to work with spaces that were open to more people…. more of a mass audience or people that wouldn’t necessarily come to a Chelsea gallery.
I went to grad school and studied visual culture theory. It’s like communications studies 2.0, the study of how we see things in culture, whether it’s through images or social position. It’s a multidisciplinary field. It’s also a toolkit for how to see things. It was fascinating. I really loved it and it continues to influence the way I gather people in spaces to show work. I graduated in 2009 right when the economy crashed.
Not a great time to graduate!
I looked for a job for so long. It was just terrible, having a master’s degree in visual culture. I might as well have had a degree in like, ancient scripture. The Brooklyn Museum finally accepted me to this very competitive fellowship where you learn about art education. You also get to actually work there, but they barely pay you. It was really hard, but I got to curate and program Target First Saturdays, a free event that happens on the first Saturday of every month.
I then found a job at an art resource organization. I facilitated their artist fellowship grant. That was really great because I was able to actually give artists the money they needed, whereas at the Brooklyn Museum I was asking people to perform in front of 300 people for only $200.
That must have been amazing!
I’ve had a lot of jobs. I’m definitely in the generation that moves around a lot. That’s why I feel like I’ve learned so much. I worked with AirBnB to do their South by Southwest class program. I worked with a food tech startup and produced their hackathon. I did public programming for a media center. I really, really like to that. To have different things going on every four to five months. About two years ago, though, I really wanted to work with a team and slow down a little bit.
What is your day job now?
I’m the director of events and programs at a new venue called Lower Manhattan Headquarters or LMHQ. I run all events that happen in the space, both public and private. LMHQ is run by the business-improvement organization for Lower Manhattan called the Downtown Alliance. The Downtown Alliance works on real-world things like sanitation and safety in Lower Manhattan. They also do academic development projects and support the business community in Lower Manhattan. There’s this idea that Lower Manhattan is only Wall Street, but it’s actually not.
It gets a bad rep.
There are so many creative businesses down there. The space that I run is like a hybrid space. It’s a flexible workspace: there’s a coffee shop, meeting rooms, and event venues.
How did Lady Boss come out of your events work?
The idea for Lady Boss came about back when I was freelancing. I’d been frustrated with the way that I functioned in the workplace, dealing with supervisors and feedback. Not really understanding the context of what was okay and what wasn’t okay in the workplace. I felt like I had experienced sexist things in the workplace, but I wasn’t entirely sure. I am a hardcore feminist. My mom is also a big feminist and very outspoken. I grew up being an outspoken person and didn’t understand why people would bristle at that approach. Even as I learned to have a more refined persona in the office, I was still like, "Hey, this stuff isn’t going away, where I feel like there’s this weird bias against me. It is kind of fucked up."
I was also growing my career. I was making moves. I wanted to find a community that fit my personality, which doesn’t back down and is not super hetero. Regardless of how I might present in the world, in terms of my gender identity I’m a queer woman. I have queer politics. A lot of the groups that I found were very industry-specific, so they were for women in media, women in communications, women in film. There are also a lot of events for women just out of college, or at a much higher level, like CEOs. I didn’t fit in any of those boxes. What about the women who want to work with a team, or for a company they can grow in? It might be cooler to leave your job and start your own company, but I didn’t want to do that. Where was the community for me?
I felt like I had a responsibility to do something. I got some friends together and said, "I have this idea. Do you want to be an adviser to this project? What do you think? Do you need this?" Everyone was like, "Yes. I really want this. I really need this." A year and a half ago, I built a website and wrote a little bit about the Lady Boss philosophy, which is about being outspoken, yet vulnerable. It’s about not backing down. I’ve been knocked down for so many years and I stayed quiet because I was junior. I’m not a junior anymore. I need some skills and I also need some other women who know what’s up.
What’s next for Lady Boss?
We’re in planning for our third season. I want to see where it goes. I’m very dedicated to organic growth. However, even in a year and a half we’ve reached around 2,200 women in the network just through word-of-mouth.
That shows how much people need something like this.
I see more women spaces are popping up, which is wonderful. Brands and companies are creating networks that host events for women, or newsletters and blogs. Part of the reason I wanted to create Lady Boss is because I wanted there to be more spaces like that. The way that I want to show up in the world is to create things that don’t exist yet.
How do you manage to balance Lady Boss and your day job?
It’s a lot of work. I just turned 35 a couple of months ago. I’m slowing down a little bit. I have the stamina for different things now. I used to love doing projects and working. I felt this was why I should live in New York City, but now I want to hang out with my friends. I want to spend time with them. I want to talk to my wife at length.
You want a more balanced quality of life.
In terms of Lady Boss, it means that I want to focus more on the value of events, rather than having a lot of events. Also, intersectional feminism is something I need to focus on much more.
What is intersectional feminism?
Intersectional feminism is understanding that we are women and we are also black women, we are also white women, we are also women with disabilities. It’s about the multiple identities within being a woman. Intersectional, I believe, could be any combination of things. A lot of feminist subcultures have excluded women of color for a long time. It’s important to me not do that, to make sure that I’m not perpetuating white feminism. That comes in a couple of ways. One, obviously, is making sure that more women of color are able to tell their stories, by inviting them to speak at the events. Two, we must look at who gets to have the opportunities that we’re talking about. Lady Boss is for women at mid-management level. But who gets to have those opportunities? A lot of white women do. Women of color are discriminated against probably a little bit more than white women are in the workplace. While I don’t think I’m going to be talking specifically about intersectional feminism or issues of race per se, it’s going to be very much a cornerstone of our events.
What’s the best piece of advice you could give?
I recently read Brené Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection. It’s really wonderful and so nurturing. She talks about vulnerability and about having the courage to be vulnerable. Part of that is to draw boundaries for yourself and to understand that not everybody has earned the right to hear your story. That’s important for me because vulnerability to me has always meant going deep with somebody right away. I’m disappointed a lot, because it’s rare that somebody is going to go there with me.
Especially with someone you just met.
It was always so challenging for me to feel I’m giving my all, and then getting rejected. To not feel that kindness or energy or excitement is being reciprocated. That book’s advice, that not everybody has the right to hear your story, just feels so empowering.
What does New York mean to you?
Community and opportunity. My wife and I always say that once another city shows us community and opportunity, we will go there. For now, New York is home.
Learn more about Lady Boss.