Before artist Demi Anter, `14, stitched together the life-size David Bowie pillow that went viral all over pop culture sites like Mashable, The Nerdist, Hello Giggles and Dangerous Minds, she expressed her love for the Thin White Duke through fan girl graffiti. “When I was younger, I used to walk around with a marker and write `Bowie’ all over the place,” she said. “I’ve always loved David Bowie, his glam music and performances. I like how he was able to express what people weren’t always comfortable about.”
The Bowie pillow came from a flash of inspiration while Anter was putting together her senior thesis art exhibit Demopolous, a tent installation filled with pillows and other fabric-based pieces based on pop culture icons. “I like looking at what grabs people’s attention,” she said. “I made square pillows of Cher and RuPaul, then I found the David Bowie image and wondered if I could blow it up really, really big.”
After graduating with a degree in creative studies from UC Santa Barbara, Anter put the pieces from her show up for sale on her Etsy page and at a local gallery in her hometown La Quinta near Palm Springs. She went on to work for Mitchell Kriegman, the creator of Bear in the Blue House and Clarissa Explains It All. Then, one morning, page views skyrocketed on her Etsy page. Reporters started calling. The Bowie pillow, after a mention on the popular site Dangerous Minds site, had gone viral. Orders for the $400 pillow hit like a tsunami. “I was totally blown away and completely exhausted,” she said.
For months, Anter was a one-woman operation answering thousands of messages and fulfilling orders while maintaining a full-time job. To meet the demand, she reached out to a manufacturer in Colorado. “Now that it’s become financially viable, the pillow can actually help me pay for grad school,” she said. “It’s worth it to keep the business going.” Anter will be attending film school in Berlin next year. She recently illustrated Kriegman’s Things I Can’t Explain, and hopes to write and produce her own films some day. “I am inspired by people who can do everything,” she said.
When Azeem Ward, `15, created a Facebook page to invite friends and family to his senior flute recital at UC Santa Barbara this past spring, he had no idea this simple act of online self-promotion would make him an Internet superstar. Ward’s event program promised classical pieces by Devienne, Gaubert, Roitstein and the contemporary Three Beats for Beatbox Flute. He wrote: “You will hear some beatboxing, jazz and may even see some dancing! “ The page included a smiling photo of Ward and his instrument.
Something about this combination of details and Ward’s promo picture proved irresistible to British social media. The number of attendees for his recital at the 100-person capacity hall hit 104,000. The majority were from the United Kingdom, where users Photoshopped Ward’s image into humorous memes and edited his YouTube flute videos into hip-hop remixes. “The best thing I could do was remember what my professors had taught me,” he said.
The day before his recital, the late night show Jimmy Kimmel Live featured Ward and his fellow UC Santa Barbara music majors. “Being on Jimmy Kimmel was quite surreal,” he said of the webcam interview with the popular talk show host. “It all happened within a matter of 7 hours!” News stations also aired a pop-up performance, produced by UCSB Amplified, featuring Ward and UC Santa Barbara student Timmy Linetsky, a.k.a. DJ Underbelly, at the Pardall Tunnel. After graduation, Ward enrolled at the University of Northern Iowa to pursue a master’s degree in music performance. He deferred his studies for a semester to tour the UK with Linetsky. He plans to record a solo album when he returns to school in 2016. Linetsky and Ward will also be recording a musical collaboration in the near future, creating a fresh approach to classical music and performance by blending electronic and instrumental approaches. “Most classical musicians are thinking in an entrepreneurial sense,” he said. “Being creative and forming vibrant chamber ensembles is the way to go. Everything is becoming more `do it yourself.’”