“Art can allow a space for the vulnerability of humanity, for the opportunity of connection, and to expose us to deeper thoughts.” Rhona Wagner. Quajay Donnell, who by day works in human resources, is a champion of public art, for shining the light on people who create the art, along with building ecosystems where love and support for each other shines bright in the greater Rochester community and beyond. I had the honor to interview Quajay and learn more about this champion of public art and people.
“Street art is such a pure art form. It is so democratic. Art by anyone for anyone. It offers so much yet asks for so little.” My Dog Sighs
When Quajay was 16 years old he wanted to be a creative, pulling together photography with writing. As he was walking by the Waterbury Observer, in his adopted hometown of Waterbury, Connecticut, Quajay walked in and asked to work there doing anything, including answering phones. Within a short period of time he was writing a column called “Brass City Youth” which highlighted the positive accomplishments of teenagers in Waterbury. A year later he was responsible for page layout of the bi-weekly publication. As a high school student he learned a lot through working with John Murray, who is the publisher and editor. John is a skilled writer and photographer, who taught Quajay to share information in a neutral way that lets the reader decide how they feel, and what they think, with thought provoking images to match. Those lessons still inform his work, because at heart he is a photojournalist who loves to document and capture moments of people in real time. No staging, no posing, just magical moments that exist, sometimes when you least expect it.
“I am trying to create beauty in my work that allows for beauty in other people.” Ricky Lee Gordon
Quajay was living in Washington, D.C. when he fell in love and moved to Rochester. The original plan was to be here for a few years. Now close to fifteen years later they are married and raising a son. As he settled into a family life, photojournalism became a faded background and Quajay sold his cameras. He would still occasionally capture family moments, mostly with the camera on his phone. In August of 2018 all of that changed. Quajay was feeling restless and headed out to the streets of Rochester with his cellphone to take some pictures. Driving around he began to photograph the street art. Wikipedia defines street art as “visual art created in public locations for public visibility.” Art that is free and available for all to see, share, and connect with.
“I like to combine things, weird things, opposite things, violent things, dark things, with happy things.” Lora Zombie
Since 2018 Quajay has reengaged with taking pictures, mostly of street and public art, while also highlighting the people doing the work, and being present for moments when community members come across these works of art. He feels drawn to do this and does not want to waste time. His father unexpectedly died in 2019. Shortly before his father’s death Quajay and his father became closer after being distant for many years. A few days after their final conversation his father passed. That moment propelled Quajay into taking action. No one knows how much time they have left on this earth. Quajay decided to use his time following his heart. Taking pictures and learning the stories behind the street art he so loves, while also sharing what is important to him and his family about Rochester. Quajay is intentional in how he takes the photos. While he’s upgraded his equipment since 2018, he also wants everyone to know all they need is a cell phone and a moment in time to photograph something special. He loves speaking at schools, encouraging students to take pictures and how all they need is a cell phone and imagination to do so. When he visits places taking public art photos he will share information about food places nearby where he enjoyed some delicious eats or ice cream, to support other businesses along the way. It brings him joy when he is tagged in photos where others have gone to visit and has witnessed how public art has connected community members because of going to see this art in places they typically do not go to. To get out and explore the world around them to see where it will lead you.
“The role of my favorite artists in society has been to give people things to dream about and reflect upon so to escape and to engage simultaneously.” Shepard Fairley
This enthusiastic cheerleader of public art and people has been present for many moments over the last four years. One of his favorite moments was when a Black mother and her daughter came to see public art where a Black artist was painting a wall mural of a Black woman and the artist comes down to speak with them. He saw how they felt represented in something so beautiful and public. Quajay’s natural way of positivity and spotlighting uplifts humanity. He takes to heart that photography, and learning the story behind the art, is about spreading awareness and sharing important stories. From being asked to be photographer for WALL\THERAPY since 2020 to going in to speak to a school, he feels appreciation and caring which reflects the appreciation and caring he shares. Quajay knows his photography and writing are important for his mental health. Reconnecting with his purpose has helped him become a healthier, and happier human. Better for himself, and for his family. He openly shares the imperfection in his work, and in all work, to help others understand this makes everything all the more special.
It is with honor and appreciation we shine the Kindness Champion Spotlight on Quajay Donnell in Rochester New York. Quajay uses his camera and words to showcase and connect us with public art that is free to all who want to see, along with sharing the stories of how this art came to be, one magical moment at a time. He inspires us to get out and do something, so we can experience the world and people by celebrating the beauty around us while building connections with each other. We thank you for being you and bringing your awesome to the world.
To follow the INCREDIBLE Quajay Donnell here is his social media:
Twitter: @quajay https://twitter.com/quajay
Instagram: @qua.jay https://www.instagram.com/qua.jay/?hl=en