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RAW, Natural born artists - an international community made of creative individuals across the globe. That's what they call themselves on their website, and rightfully so, it appears.

Info on March 20, 2014 upcoming show in Miami
Info on March 20, 2014 upcoming show in Miami
RAW natural born artists
RAW MOSAIC - coming to Miami
RAW natural born artists

Their mission: To help aspiring artists of all genres succeed to the next level.

RAW provides the platform for independent artists who are within the first 10 years of their career, to be seen both online and in the flesh, so to speak. RAW hosts showcases in over 60 cities nationwide and is now expanding internationally. The next local showcase is being held in Miami on March 20, 2014 at the LMNT venue, a creative space where all the elements of art intertwine.

Heidi Luerra, the brainchild behind RAW, created the concept from scratch. A young fashion designer and artist herself at the time, she felt she had no outlet to showcase her work, as was the case for many of her artistic friends. That is when the idea came to her to create a community designed to showcase the works of her artistic friends as well as artists that she was yet to meet. She provided the venues, the audiences and the artists to do just that. She brings the artists to the people and the people to the artists in a way that may have been unavailable to these aspiring creatives if left to their own devices.

How does she do this? By having showcases in numerous cities 9 months out of the year. Each artist submits their work to RAW, and by artist, the meaning of the term encompasses creatives from the art, fashion, music, film, hair, makeup, photography and performing art worlds. In turn, the work submitted by these creative hopefuls is reviewed by the people who work with RAW, and if chosen, the artist is then provided the opportunity to present in the next showcase in the city of their choice. Once chosen, and showcased, the artist is forever welcomed at all upcoming RAW events (free of charge) plus they are eligible to showcase their wares at any chosen future showcase they choose. To find out more about RAW and about their showcases - you can check out the FAQ's on the RAW website.

What started out as a great idea on a small scale, has turned into a multi-city, multi-state and even international affair.

Just by chance, I came across one of the artists that will be featured in the upcoming show in Miami. She was chosen by RAW to showcase, which is a bit unusual, but nonetheless, she was discovered on her Etsy website by the Miami and Orlando area director of RAW, Melissa Hernandez. Her name is Vanessa Long, and her expertise is to create jewelry. Exotic, tribal and stunning are adjectives that come to mind. The name of her business is called SelahZuri. The word Selah, according to Vanessa, roughly translates to stopping and taking the time to meditate on, and mentally digest, what you just encountered. Zuri is Swahili, and translates to beautiful. Vanessa's belief is that she wants to create pieces that make women stand out and feel special.

I had the chance to ask Vanessa a few questions as she prepares for the upcoming showcase in Miami.

Examiner - Vanessa, tell me a little bit about your background.

Vanessa - I was born and raised in Jacksonville and moved to Miami in 2007 to pursue my dreams. I attended and graduated from The Art Institute of Miami with a major in fashion design. Although I went to college for fashion, my background is in art. I have an immense passion for art and it is reflected in everything that I take part in. I am also passionate about other cultures. It fascinates and excites me to learn about the different histories, cultural customs, traditional costumes as well as other aspects of those cultures. My plans are to travel to the various cultures that interest me so that I can learn even more. I said all of that to say that all of my passions (art, fashion and culture) are what play a major role in the design process of my jewelry line. My goal is to have a specific culture influence for each collection of jewelry that I create. The finishing touch for every piece that I create is the fact that I want every woman that wears my pieces to feel like a queen. I want her to feel regal and special.

Examiner - Wow, that's very exciting. What is your design philosophy and main influence?

Vanessa - My design philosophy is based, not solely on the aesthetics of the pieces, but in how a person feels when they wear a piece of my jewelry. My main slogan is "Jewelry enhancing the queen in every woman." Throughout history, queens have always been regarded as these ethereal, beautiful and highly revered beings. I want my customers to have the very same regard whenever they wear a SelahZuri piece. I want to create pieces that the buyer will cherish forever. Another part of what influences my designs are the various cultures of the world. Our aim is to reach the heart and soul of women all around the world with our designs. For each collection, I want to highlight a specific culture and use the various aspects of it as inspiration.

Examiner - How did you hear about RAW and how does it feel to be a featured artist?

Vanessa - I sell my jewelry on etsy.com. I was contacted by Melissa Hernandez, who is the Director for the Miami and Orlando regions. She contacted me informing me that she had an interest in my pieces and thought that I would be a perfect addition to the showcase. I was so elated to be chosen as part of such a great showcase and network family. RAW Artist Showcases are a perfect platform for all creative types who are striving to make it and achieve their dreams. I recently met with the people who will be a part of my showcase, and they are all humble and amazing. There is no hostile competitiveness. Everyone is there to achieve their dreams but they are willing to help others reach their dreams too. It's a family type of environment. This showcase will be my first, but definitely not my last. The showcase features fashion designers, accessory designers, musicians, singers, artists, photographers, make-up artists, hair stylists DJ's, dancers and performers. It is a beautiful mishmash of creativity!

Examiner - What do you believe your business will experience by being associated with RAW?

Vanessa - I believe that being a part of RAW will open doors that I may not have been able to ever reach on my own. Through the exposure, not only to various press, but with other artists of various sorts as well, it will help to take my jewelry line to another level. The showcase works as both a way to get your work out there as well as a way to build contacts and relationships.

Examiner - Tell me some intriguing facts about you and your experience as a designer.

Vanessa - Well one thing about me is that I have always had a dream of traveling the world to experience various cultures up-close, rather than just through the Internet. I plan on taking a DNA test from ancestory.com to see where my ancestors are from, and I want to plan, what I guess you could call a self-discovery/spiritual journey around that. The discoveries and lessons learned from the journey would greatly influence my jewelry and add more authenticity to each and every piece.

My experience as a jewelry designer has been incredible. As in any business venture, it takes patience, a willingness to learn and a deep loving passion for what you are doing. I always tell people, if I never made another penny from my jewelry, that I would still make jewelry. It takes a determination to find that right customer that will respond to your creations the way you envision them to, or even better. There is a deep satisfaction that comes when I can think of something that I want, and just make it happen. It gives me a power over myself and my identity. This is why creative people can't live without their passions. There is something at the pit of my stomach that makes me unable to stop.

Examiner - Final thoughts - What are your goals for SelahZuri jewelry?

Vanessa - I have many goals for SelahZuri jewelry. Some of them include being featured in various local fashion/lifestyle magazines, being featured in larger mainstream magazines/fashion editorials, such as Marie Claire, Elle, Seventeen, Vogue, Vogue Italia, and various other highly regarded magazines around the world. My goal is to get to the point where I have a loyal global clientele base. My ultimate goal, beyond everything else is to create pieces that women will cherish for the rest of their lives. Only special jewelry makes it to that point. I know I have a ways to go and more techniques to learn before I am at that level, but it is on the horizon and I'm running toward it.

Examiner - I wish you all the best Vanessa!

Tickets to the RAW MOSAIC event on March 20th, are $15 if purchased online and $20 at the door - cash only. The event runs from 8:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. You must be 21 and over to attend. Cocktail attire is required and drinks and food will be on sale. What a great opportunity to support local artists, purchase some of their wares and become a part of the RAW world, which is full of creativity and independent artists from around the globe.

Oh and make sure to stop by and say hello to Vanessa and tell her you read about her on the Fort Lauderdale Performing Arts Examiner. Of course, don't miss out on the rest of the fabulous artists who are showcasing their talents as well!

If YOU are an aspiring artist, by all means, make sure to submit your work to RAW. You never know just where the road will take you. You might be a step away from being discovered as the next great talent of the new millennium.

There is an additional RAW show coming up in Miami that will be held on May 22nd, 2014. Submissions are still being accepted for that show, so don't delay. Submit today!