Micah Johnson | How a Pro Athlete Launched a Digital Art Revolution

From the age of 3, Micah Johnson knew what he wanted to be when he grew up – a professional baseball player. From that moment on, he lived baseball, and in 2012, his dreams came true when the Chicago White Sox drafted him. But, what Micah didn’t know was that his true calling in life was just getting started.

Traded to the LA Dodgers a few years later, Micah, almost on a lark, discovered painting, something that had never been a part of his. And it called to him in a way he never saw coming. Now, while his full-time job was pro baseball, drawing, painting and creating art became a new, increasingly consuming passion. But, it was a single moment, when his young nephew came and asked him whether Black people could be astronauts, that changed everything. Micah painted this moving depiction of a young, confident, Black boy in an oversized astronaut helmet, ready for adventure, as a way to not just answer yes, but create a powerful visual depiction of courage and possibility. 

At the same time, Micah was feeling called to bring his baseball career to a close and go all-in on art. But, no longer a novelty as a pro-athlete painter, he found his art hard to sell. Until everything came together when the character he’d painted for his nephew met the emerging world of NFTs, crypto-art, Web3, and the power of digital aspiration movements. He turned that painting into a character named Aku, then began to build a world, a community, an enterprise and a movement around it. Micah’s work has centered around empowering young African-American kids to see the possible & dream without limitations. Micah began releasing NFTs in January of 2020 & in February of 2021, and Aku’s message became a viral sensation and the first NFT ever optioned to become a major feature film. As we air this conversation, Micah is just coming off of helming a 15,000 square-foot, immersive, multidisciplinary experience in Miami’s Art Basel called Aku’s world.

We dive into all of this in today’s conversation, along with a bit of a mini-primer on these mysterious things called NFTs, which has been creating quite a stir these days and become a growing fascination of mine. 

You can find Micah at: Website | Instagram

If you LOVED this episode:

  • You’ll also love the conversations we had with Lisa Congdon about coming to art later in life.

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