Michael Tonge sits with his hands folded in front of his face and a desert landscape in the background

Michael Tonge ’12, Sociology

November 2, 2020

by Eveline Chao

Michael Tonge '12 uplifts Black arts through The Culture LP, an organization he founded at Bucknell. Photo by Leeza Joneé

The son of two artists, Michael Tonge '12 runs The Culture LP, a content and events platform that champions Black art and creativity. The project grew out of a blog of the same name that Tonge started as an undergrad at Bucknell. "I did the logo on my laptop, and the first T-shirts were delivered to my dorm room," he recalls. 

Flash forward to today, and The Culture LP has organized public art projects in both L.A. and New York City, held a yoga meetup in honor of Juneteenth, and throughout coronavirus lockdowns, hosted online check-ins and meditation sessions for members of its community. It also serves as a consultancy for corporate brands and arts organizations. (During the day, Tonge is a strategy director for the creative agency Giant Spoon.)

The question of what kind of resources artists need to sustain themselves is something that has long preoccupied Tonge. His father was "one of the best portrait artists I've ever seen," as Tonge puts it, but worked as a janitor at Columbia University for 20 years to pay the bills.

At Bucknell, Tonge learned to think critically as a sociology major, with a minor in women's & gender studies. Sociology professors Linden Lewis and Alexander Riley, and history professor Leslie Patrick, made an especially strong impact on him. "Nobody's opinion was seen as truth," Tonge says. "They had a really authentic way of being clear about their opinions but also teaching you how to interrogate and be critical and form your own opinions based on the information available."

After a brief stint in finance, Tonge worked in advertising for several years, followed by a position at the Brooklyn Museum in New York, running advertising and marketing for such high-profile exhibits as David Bowie is, which explored the creative life of the legendary singer.

Tonge now lives in Los Angeles (where he frequently talks shop with fellow Black creatives Nadia Sasso '11 and Nakea Tyson '11), but continues to organize events on both coasts. In late 2020, he branched out into audio recording with The Serenity Project, an audio-visual wellness experiment. In the future, he hopes to expand The Culture LP’s offerings — for example, by creating an artists' retreat. "We want to elevate and support Black voices, and Black art and creativity," he says. 

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