Friday, April 29, 2011
Interview with an Icon: Mike Ruiz
Just over a week ago, I had the opportunity (thanks Bebe!) to attend Mike Ruiz's t-shirt release party at TAGG in Manhattan. Mike has designed a new line of amazing t-shirts with a truly spectacular purpose: to raise money for the Ali Forney Center--a portion of the proceeds from each t-shirt sale goes to support the center. Founded in 2002, the Ali Forney Center provides a safe, dignified and nurturing environment where LGBT homeless young people can begin putting their lives back together. This partnership between Mike Ruiz and Ali Forney is why I reached out, with the support of my pal Jose, and asked Mike if he would provide an interview to My Feet Only Walk Forward. Thank you Mike, Martin and the rest of your amazing team for taking the time to make this interview happen.
Interview with an Icon: Mike Ruiz
Thank you for agreeing to provide an interview to My Feet Only Walk Forward. As a long time advocate for homeless youth, particularly the overwhelming and out of proportion percentage of homeless and precariously housed youth that are LGBT, I am very appreciative of your work and support of the Ali Forney Center. On a personal note, I am a fan of your brilliant photography, and I am appreciative of the role you play in supporting our community.
On to the questions:
1) Talk to me about your new t-shirt project. How did it come about? Who designed the shirts? What's the backstory?
I've always taken an unconventional approach to my work as an artist, and the concept behind my t-shirt line is no different. As my public profile continues to expand, I realize the value of being able to tap into my celebrity to drive a return on investment. Tying my philanthropic interests with my professional world, allows me to monetize and raise capital for charity. That is my motivation behind creating the line in the first place--which I designed myself.
I'm happy to say that the tees have created quite a stir. They're becoming a part of pop culture, as many of the celebrities I photograph having been supporting my cause by buying and wearing the tees. A portion of the proceeds benefit The Ali Forney Center; an organization that helps homeless LGBTQ youth.
2) Why is it important for you to give back to the community? How does this work connect with your own personal history and interests?
My inate sense of social responsibility is what drives me to give back to the community. I find it very gratifying to know that I am able to make a difference and possibly give someone the opportunity to make their life a little bit better. Growing up on the fringes of society, as an overweight, ethnic and gay boy in a blue collar suburb of Montreal, opened my eyes to what it means to live without hope. Luckily, I was able to tap into something within myself that spoke to something bigger than my life and surroundings as a child. It is my overarching optimism that I hope will rub off on others.
3) Lady Gaga just announced a $1,000,000 gift to support at-risk teens in New York City, you are doing this amazing project to support the Ali Forney Center, Andy Bell recently re-recorded an Erasure hit with all the proceeds going to support the Hetrick-Martin Institute, has there been any discussion amongst your network of engaged celebrities about coordinating efforts for a broader impact?
I think of Gaga a heroine and renaissance woman. The fact that she made such a generous monetary gift is quite laudable but my admiration for her is that she lives her truth and shares it with the world. As a result, she is touching countless disenfranchised people, who otherwise, would not have a voice. It is her selflessness which really amazes me. Andy Bell and others like him are further proof that there's a lot of good people in this world. Hopefully, the trend will continue gaining momentum, where more and more individuals will continue coming forward--speaking to all forms of injustice and make a broader and positive impact on our world.
My circle of friends are of the same mindset as me. Those with the financial means are either currently contributing or have been giving for quite some time now--both publicly and anonymously. Still others give their time as volunteers. In any case, I believe that we all gravitate toward each other because of this particular commonality. Right now, I am in the process of working with a few friends on an important project that will give greater exposure and speak to our pride and our efforts to level the playing field in terms of equality. Unfortunately, I can't say much else right now, so as to not compromise this group effort. Suffice it to say I am honored to be a part of this particular project
4) You are an icon whose appeal crosses all sorts of demographics, but I have been to numerous of your parties and there are many young, fashionable, gay men that idolize you and your work and hope to follow in your footsteps. What is the impact of your charitable work you'd like to see on this young party crew?
I am flattered that I'm considered an "icon". I think that I am merely a conduit to impart a message of hope and serve as a means of inspiration for others to tap into their own resources.
That said, it would be awesome to inspire the next generation to pass along the value of giving back. It's the most efficient way I can think of to help humanity to continually improve upon its condition.
5) What other causes are near and dear to your heart and how do you support those issues?
Aside from the Ali Forney Center, I'm a great proponent of The Trevor Project, GMHC, GLAAD, Live Out Loud and a myriad of others. I donate my time and artwork to these organizations in the hope ofcraising money for their causes. I also speak frequently at schools and colleges and conduct workshops to share my experiences in a practical environment.
6) Finally, where can folks buy your t-shirts? And where can people find out more about the exciting projects you might be working on next?
For more details about me and my projects, visit: www.mikeruiz.com.
My t-shirts are available online through the e-tailer Peppermint Park. For purchases, go to: www.peppermintpark.com/charity/details
In New York, the tees are also available at "TAGG", 720 Ninth Avenue and soon will be carried at "Any Old Iron" at 149 Orchard Street!
Thank you Mike for all of your work and your commitment to our community.
Mike Ruiz is a world-renowned photographer, who also happens to be a TV personality, former model, actor and director. Mike's lens has done a whole lot of zooming in and zooming out, while the world keeps a keen focus on his high-impact, surreal brand of celebrity and fashion photography.
Throughout it all, Mike's hard work, dedication and passion behind the camera gives him the opportunity to bring his message of hope to the forefront of all his efforts. Mike has a true sense of social responsibility and is always intent on giving back to the community. Among the countless organizations he supports, are GMHC, The Trevor Project, Housing Works, It Gets Better Campaign, Living Out Loud, Project Angel Food, GLAAD, and is on he honorary board of “Let There Be Hope” research foundation. He has gone so far as to create a t-shirt line that helps raise funds and awareness for The Ali Forney Center. Mike is also the communications consultant on The Men’s Sexual Health Project 36:00:00 for NYU School of Medicine. Mike is also a recurring motivational speaker at New York University, the Art Center College of Design, Brooklyn International High School and the College of Design in Sacramento.
In addition to his advertising and celebrity clients, Mike Ruiz has branched out as a director. He has produced music videos for artists, such as Vanessa Williams, Kelly Rowland, Jody Watley, Kristine W., Shontelle among others. Mike has also appeared on several reality shows. Such shows include Kathy Griffin's: My Life on the D-List; America's Next top Model and RuPaul's Drag Race, where he appears as a celebrity photographer and guest judge. He also rounded out the panel of expert judges on the third season of Canada's Next Top Model. Most recently, Mike is on the hit reality series, The A-List: New York, giving viewers a peek at his picture perfect LIFE...what's next on Mike's list? That is anybody's guess--but you can be sure there will be plenty more to come!