Artists in Conversation is a weekly column running Wednesdays on

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This week our Artists in Conversation from features Khalil Hacker and Melissa Conway.

Khalil Hacker is a filmmaker and Melissa Conway is a writer/poet and together they successfully navigated their artistic vessels through the great pandemic of 2020-2021.

Let’s talk about the pandemic’s effects on artists. What was a BAD side effect that you have to overcome?

Khalil: My main source of income was through live theater, so among many many people I kinda just had my entire livelihood ripped out from under me. It was weird figuring out just what to do with myself. Even planning out personal shoots felt irresponsible at first. It took awhile to figure out how to do art safely so I spent probably more time than I would’ve liked on my couch.

Quad-Cities Filmmaker Khalil Hacker And Poet Melissa Conway Are This Week's Artists In ConversationMelissa: Trying to coordinate classes and learning events and even attending reading got really messy. Poetry is such an outlet for grief and anger and joy and loss for so many people, so not having spaces to express that was very challenging for so many artists. Thankfully, the Midwest Writing Center was able to switch to digital programs really quickly so we were still able to do the YEW program and they held a lot of events for people seeking space.

On the flip side, what was a GOOD side effect and are you planning to stick with it?

Khalil: Definitely spending more time with Melissa. Leading up to the pandemic, we had very different schedules and would rarely see each other. In quarantine we had all the time in the world to just be in a relationship which was rad. I’d also say, I had the time and energy to put into more personal, meaningful and weird projects that I wouldn’t have had the chance to if things in the world were “normal”. To answer the second half of the question, I’ll definitely stick with taking time for myself, my relationship and friendships outside of work. It’s good for the soul. I’d also like to think I’ll stick with doing Quad-Cities Filmmaker Khalil Hacker And Poet Melissa Conway Are This Week's Artists In Conversationsome weirder stuff with my time and resources.

Melissa:  I was able to spend more time focusing on the “why” as opposed to the “how” of writing. Since I was working from home with my previous job during most of quarantine, I was lucky enough to be able to attend more virtual seminars and little classes and just zoom get together with other artists struggling with purpose or motivation over this last year. Those connections really helped me feel encouraged and kept my pen moving. I definitely plan to keep up with everyone in the future in our makeshift support groups! And I definitely hope to keep taking workshops, although accessibility may be an issue in the future. A little silver lining about having to move workshops to a virtual space was being able to attend some that would have taken place waaaaay out of my reasonable travel zones across the country. We’ll see what the future holds!

What was one important lesson you learned over the last year?

Khalil: I learned to stop thinking in negative “what if”s. Something that always stopped me from following through in creating things was thinking about every single “what if” until the project would seem too exhausting to even attempt. During the last year and a half, I had very little to lose so I tried to make my only one “What if I just fucking did it?” Saying yes to basically every creative project thrown my way and following through on ideas I believe in has been the most fulfilling and satisfying thing I’ve ever done for myself.

Melissa: I completely agree with Khalil on this. We’ve been really encouraging each other to just go for it. I quit my job and took a leap into new things for myself & my future very recently. I used to be really bogged down with worry that something wasn’t perfect or 100% ready, but after such a cruel year I’ve shifted more towards a “no time like the present” mentality.


How will the entertainment industry be changed because of this?

Do you think everything will go back to normal or will the industry keep adapting to an ever changing time?

Quad-Cities Filmmaker Khalil Hacker And Poet Melissa Conway Are This Week's Artists In ConversationKhalil: I by no means have my finger on the pulse of the “industry”. As far as film goes I think for a little while we’ll see safe sets and maybe an annoying amount of Covid themed movies. It’s gone through different shifts over the decades, but at the end of the day a good movie is a good movie. Within 2021, I feel like every single one of my favorite filmmakers have something coming out. Creativity will never stop. So I hope the only change in things is more people who were in my boat had time to nurture their Creativity and see it through. Maybe with vaccinations and theaters opening back up, people will be more willing to see the crazy, weird and out of the ordinary stuff. I dunno. Whether they do or don’t, it’ll always be there. It always has been and I find solace in that.

Melissa: I think the biggest change we’ve seen in creative and educational fields is in accessibility as well as putting an emphasis on how much safe access to technology is for so so many people. Since most creative functions were virtual, it meant that people from all over can attend without worrying about transport or being physically present, however the need for wifi, technology (like a computer or a phone) and a quiet Quad-Cities Filmmaker Khalil Hacker And Poet Melissa Conway Are This Week's Artists In Conversationarea to learn were all necessary. Conversations about technology becoming a necessity were pushed to the forefront and the topic of virtual access increasing attendance will hopefully keep the whole industry moving forward. Culture is constantly shifting and changing and the best way to move forward is with as many people as possible. So hopefully this push for accessibility and resources keeps its momentum and we see change for the better in the community.

Has all this chaos affected your writing style?

Khalil: My writing style, I think, has become more honest. Maybe a little pessimistic at times. We’ve all seen a lot of just BAD in the last year and a half and I think it shows in all of us in one way or another. At times, I find more importance in making sure my specific voice is heard and what I stand for is very apparent. At other times, I hope to also offer some kind of escape. I’d like to think I’ve found some kind of balance. Like I said before, I’m trying to just run with any idea I believe in and make sure it’s seen all the way through. Whether or not I’m writing for specifically me, hopefully at the very least others will find it interesting or just plain different. I dunno. I’m making the things I usually do sound deep, but to boil it all down I like to do goofs I find funny or film things I think are cool.

Melissa: My writing has shifted more towards community lately. I want to make sure that what I’m thinking and feeling comes across correctly and I’ve spent most of this last year thinking about how to uplift those around me and what it means to be a person outside of the context of myself.

What’s next for both of you? Where can people see your work?

Quad-Cities Filmmaker Khalil Hacker And Poet Melissa Conway Are This Week's Artists In ConversationKhalil: Anthony Natarelli and I are currently trying to figure out a little something something before he leaves that’ll no doubt be ridiculous and I’m excited about what we have already. Also funnily enough Melissa and I are working together on a short film project based on a certain property. It’s purely an unfunded fan film, but I don’t wanna say much until I know I can have all the pieces I’d like to play with for it. If you follow me on Facebook or on Twitter @notkhalilhacker, you’ll probably see me talk about whatever project I’m releasing an annoying amount. The Christmas Special we put together last winter is now completely free and up on the Slacker Productions YouTube page. If you subscribe you’ll see whatever else I release in the future.

Melissa: I have a book coming out this fall titled “Sun Dogs” you can find wherever people will let me put them! Aside from that, I’m working on some film projects with Khalil he already mentioned. I’m also launching a website soon for Fruit Salad Co. to sell handmade jewelry and art.

Do you have any advice for artists like yourselves who might be lost in rough pandemic waters?

Khalil: If you have a project you’re thinking about doing all I gotta say is, what if you just freaging did it?

Melissa: Keep on swimming, baby!

Quad-Cities Filmmaker Khalil Hacker And Poet Melissa Conway Are This Week's Artists In Conversation
Tristan Layne Tapscott has been dubbed the “Quad Cities’ P.T. Barnum” and although the person who initially said it meant it as an insult, he happily accepts the title.
Quad-Cities Filmmaker Khalil Hacker And Poet Melissa Conway Are This Week's Artists In Conversation

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