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PHILANTHROPY

Dante Pettis: Creativity, Community, and CR18

The NFL wide receiver called on fellow athletes to launch his new initiative promoting emotional and mental health in the lead up to Super Bowl LVI.

The Super Bowl is known for having a deep slate of off-the-field events surrounding it, and this year’s showdown between the Rams and Bengals in LA is no different.

However, among the brand pop-ups, influencer activations, and week-long parties, one event stands out from the rest: the launch of CR18.

For the last six years, New York Giants wide receiver Dante Pettis has been working to build a community for artists to share their creations and support their self-expression.

In Pettis’s own words, CR18 (pronounced Create-teen) came into existence as a way to address the emotional and mental health crisis “by giving creatives an outlet to expose and express their value through art.”

On Friday at the Kimpton Everly Hotel in LA, that dream comes to life.

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During his time as a student at the University of Washington — where he is currently finishing his degree in creative writing — Pettis found a passion for photography.

“I fell in love with photography and that sparked my appreciation for every medium of art,” he told Boardroom. “And the more I got into art, the more vocal I got about it…I was kind of getting enough backlash to the point at which I was like, ‘this is kind of weird. I’m just showing that I like art — not that I like it over football or anything. It’s just what I like to do.'”

He continued: “I’m very passionate about it…It’s not really fair that just because I liked art it was labeled a certain way and people would say I wasn’t dedicated to football.”

Back when he was a junior at the University of Washington, Pettis began to brainstorm how he could create a space that would support people like himself and allow them to pursue creative outlets while also providing a sense of community. And this weekend, all of his efforts will come to fruition at the launch of CR18 with a Super Bowl art show and auction.

As he began to build toward what ultimately became CR18, Pettis did not have to look far to find the team that would help him turn his initial ideas into a reality. Being a multilayered person with various interests led Pettis to spark friendships with people who understood him both as an athlete and an artist.

Working closely with his team, which includes his girlfriend and co-founder Shayne Pike, Pettis began to focus on the power of art and its role as a tool for well-being.

Initially, Pettis wanted to create a space where creatives could simply feel safe and express themselves however they would like. As he began to ruminate on the possibilities and spoke with various people about his vision, something bigger came into focus.

Image via CR18.org

“I saw the correlation between art and mental health. I saw people I was very close with struggle with mental health, and one thing they told me was that they found a lot of relief through art,” he said.

In his own life, Pettis identified the power of writing and photography on his own sense of levity. Through research and discussions, he molded CR18 into what it is today, “centered around art and mental health and the intersection of the two.”

He began to see the way that art served as an outlet for trauma.

“I realized that you can release your trauma through creation,” Pettis said.

With CR18, he hopes to build a community of individuals who share an appreciation for art and can find connections fueled by their shared passion for creation. Additionally, he sees it as a space for the artists themselves to build their skills and exposure to their work.

With the official launch event, Pettis sees the realization of a long-term dream into something real. He credits his mentor and trainer Tareq Azim with helping him through the process, navigating the direction of where CR18 ultimately ended up.

Pettis chose the Super Bowl for the launch as it is one of the sporting calendar’s biggest events. Plus, as a Southern California kid, it was a no-brainer. With his team, they identified people within their networks who aligned with the cause. And at Friday’s event, the artwork of several individuals will be on display and up for auction.

All-star artists include:

  • Fellow Washington Husky and Philadelphia 76er Matisse Thybulle
  • San Francisco 49er Marquise Goodwin
  • NBA Slam Dunk Champ Desmond Mason
  • Former UCLA QB Ryan McCann

“We have this big group of people, and that’s one of the things about CR18, too. We’re trying to build a community where everyone feels good — I call it a safe space,” Pettis said.

Pettis is quick to note that the CR18 connection extends beyond the confines of geography. He sees the emerging community as something that transcends space, bringing people together and in support of one another from all corners of the country.

Plus, he envisions CR18 becoming something bigger. The initiative will partner with local nonprofits to provide a combination of educational and creative opportunities, as well as scholarships in the future.

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While Friday’s event marks the official launch of CR18, it is only the beginning.

“We’ll start with this event in LA, but we’re looking to host future ones in New York, Miami, the big art cities,” he said. “And down the line, we’ll definitely get to London.”

For Pettis and his team, the launch is a commitment to the belief that art is not simply a tool for self-expression, but also for self-discovery, and he’s excited to build the community that will help set forth the exploration.

For more information, please visit cr18.org/

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