Don’t let your doubts and fears stop you from taking action: When I first thought about using art as a medium for social advocacy, it felt like a huge leap. I had my doubts; I mean, would anyone even take it seriously? But I swallowed my fear and took the plunge, and it turned out to be a fantastic decision. So, don’t let fear be your barrier; let it be your motivation.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dar Dixon.
Dar Dixon is a multifaceted artist whose personal and professional journey traverses a gripping landscape of resilience and transformation. As an award-winning actor, producer, writer, and podcast host, he wields the power of storytelling to illuminate, provoke, and inspire. Uniquely informed by his experiences in the Eternal Values cult, and escaping the Iranian revolution of 1979, Dar’s work unflinchingly tackles pressing social issues, sparking critical dialogues, and fostering an understanding that ignites change. His diverse talents, coupled with his commitment to social impact, position him as an influential voice, bridging artistry with advocacy to make a tangible difference in society.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
You know, working in Hollywood is a tough gig. I’ve done it all — acting, producing, directing, voice-overs, writing, and even dabbling in podcasting and hosting. It’s been quite a challenge. But the hardest part of my journey has been recovering from the 20 years I spent in a cult; caught in this web of metaphysical theories, aliens, “Walk-ins”, far-right ideologies, hate speech, racism, conspiracy theories, and anti-government rhetoric. It’s not exactly a walk in the park. After I got out of there, I went back to what I always loved: art and acting. It was in an acting class that I met my wife — she turned out to be the youngest daughter of Reverend Dr. Ralph David Abernathy, the very man who founded the Civil Rights Movement alongside his best friend, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Talk about fate! It was like art had thrown me a lifeline, yanking me out of the mess I was in. And, man, did it open my eyes!
I found myself diving deep into the history of Black people in America — everything from the slave trade, slavery, and the Underground Railroad, all the way to Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and lynching. It was like peeling back the layers of an onion, each one bringing me closer to understanding my ordeal. It was the start of my healing and redemption. Then there’s Danny. I met him through a friend, and we hit it off right away. One day, he told me about his buddy, Joe. They were both scared out of their wits about these school shootings — for their kids, you know? They are both world-class Hot Glass artists, and they had this idea for an art exhibit about gun violence. They wanted to start a conversation and get people talking, right? But they weren’t sure how to get it off the ground.
Now, I don’t know the first thing about Hot Glass art, but I sure know a thing or two about sparking dialogues and starting conversations. And that’s where I come in. Because, you know, I’ve been there. I’ve seen how art can heal, can break down barriers, can start those tough conversations. And maybe, just maybe, it can do the same for others too.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
Do you know what’s interesting? The response. I mean, from art galleries, curators, and even museums, it’s been nothing short of amazing. The moment they get wind of what we’re doing, why we’re doing it… it’s almost like we’re a rock band with groupies. They just can’t get enough. They are into it. As an artist, man, that’s the dream.
People are hooked, you know? They’re just itching to see what we’ll come up with next. I believe that this will translate into not only engaging with the narrative around school shootings, mass shootings, and sensible gun reform laws but also wanting to own a piece of the art itself; art pieces, t-shirts, prints — all of it.
Now don’t get me wrong; we’re not in it for the cash. But the overwhelmingly positive response has been…well, it has been mind-blowing. You know, you throw something out into the world and have no idea how it will land; what will the audience think? The critics? The galleries, the collectors? It’s a roll of the dice. So, yeah, to see it received so warmly…it has been nice. And looking ahead? I’m excited to see what the future brings, especially when it comes to pushing for change in gun reform laws. That’s where the real victory will be.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
You know what? It’s all new and exploratory for me to be up close and personal with these Rockstar Hot Glass artists.
Just last night, we had the funniest thing happen. We were on a group video call, right? We were brainstorming about the direction of our sizzle reel for the piece. Joe’s nephew, who is an editor that has done good work in Hollywood and even for Netflix, hopped on the call. And behind him, there was a framed poster for the movie “Batman.” Now, I cracked this joke about Batman, which, let’s just say, wasn’t quite suitable for this conversation. But it got him laughing, you know? But Joe, oh man, Joe was aghast. He jumped in, like, “Whoa, whoa that’s my nephew dude!” And that just got me laughing even harder.
At first, I thought Joe might be overreacting a bit. But then, as we were wrapping up the call, his nephew chimed in saying he had never heard anyone say something like that about Batman before. Now, I don’t know if you’d call it a blunder, but it sure was hilarious. It did exactly what I had hoped for — it broke the ice and made the meeting a whole lot more relaxed. If only Joe could find it in himself to forgive me… (laughs)
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
You know, the social impact so far has been about the response we’ve been getting. As I said before, it’s been nothing short of a standing ovation. But the real deal, the true social impact we’re aiming for? We’re still waiting for that and that anticipation, that hope, is what keeps us moving forward.
Imagine if our work could get folks on opposing sides of the Second Amendment and sensible gun reform laws to sit down, hash it out, and explore each other’s ideologies. I mean, wouldn’t that be something? The idea that our art could spark such a dialogue and level of understanding is the juice that keeps all three of us going.
So, what is the social impact this artwork might inspire? Honestly, who knows? But one thing is for sure — we are all rooting for the best outcome, all hoping that our work makes a real and tangible difference.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
You know, I may sound like a broken record, but it is true — every person we have roped into this project has been changed for the better. But if I were to pick who has been the most affected, it might just be myself. Like I told you, art and acting saved me; they were my lifelines, my raft in stormy seas. It was through art and talking with fellow artists that I found the strength to talk about the things that weighed on me and kept me up at night. It was through art that I managed to bring down the walls I had built around myself. It is a beautiful, sacred process.
So, when I got on board with Danny and Joe on this, I knew what art could do; I had seen its magic firsthand. And I couldn’t help but think: What if I could get even the staunchest of naysayers to just… talk? To have a conversation? A dialogue? That is where healing begins.
My father-in-law was a great man… he might even have been a saint. He had this saying that I want to share: “We hate one another because we fear one another. We fear one another because we don’t know one another. We don’t know one another because we won’t sit at the table and break bread.” Let’s sit at the table and break bread; you’ll find out that we have more in common than differences.
That hit me hard. It’s real, raw, and honest. It changed my life for the better. You know what? This project is doing the same thing for me. It’s a journey and I’m right here, riding along.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
I guess I have kind of circled this before, but here it is, plain and simple. Our hope? We hope that our art exhibit does more than just wow folks with the work. We want it to spark conversations and stir up dialogues. We want those conversations to seep into the fabric of our society, become a part of the zeitgeist, you know?
But more than that, we’re hoping for real change. We want to see sensible gun reform laws on the books — and pronto. Because our kids deserve protection. Our citizens should be able to walk the streets without fear — you, me, everyone — we should all feel safe and secure. So that’s our hope right there; it’s more than just an art project for us; it’s a mission, it’s a movement, and we’re all in.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
You know, leadership is a tricky thing. People define it in many ways. But for me, at its core, leadership is about leading oneself first. It’s about setting the standard and leading by example — no need for grand speeches or long sermons.
See, there are just four things in life over which you truly have control. First, you control your focus: what’s on your mind and what you’re giving your attention to. Next, you control the meaning you assign to things or people and how you interpret the world around you. Third, you’re in charge of your emotional state; how you’re feeling at any given moment. And last, you control who you attract and who’s attracted to you. Beyond these four things, the best you can aim for is influence rather than control.
So, if that is our reality — and it is — then the best thing we can do is to master these four aspects and lead by example. And who knows? Maybe someone will see what you are doing, get inspired, and decide to follow your lead.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Don’t let your doubts and fears stop you from taking action: When I first thought about using art as a medium for social advocacy, it felt like a huge leap. I had my doubts; I mean, would anyone even take it seriously? But I swallowed my fear and took the plunge, and it turned out to be a fantastic decision. So, don’t let fear be your barrier; let it be your motivation.
- Unqualified criticism is cheap — remember that. Although this hasn’t been our experience thus far, I’d be foolish to think it won’t come up. Criticizing, critiquing, judging — it’s cheap and easy; it comes naturally to us as human beings. What’s important is that you remember the source of the criticism and, if it’s unqualified and inexperienced, ignore it. It’s always a reflection of the person’s fears, doubts, and limitations — not yours.
- Your voice matters: There were times throughout my life, especially during my time in the cult, when I felt silenced. But once I broke free, I realized the importance of my voice and story. Whether it was through my acting or art, every time I spoke up, it had an impact. It made a difference to those who could relate to my experience. Your voice, your story — they matter, and they can change lives.
- Honest communication can change the world: One of the most important lessons I have learned is the power of honest and open conversation. Whether it was about my past, or difficult topics such as gun violence and race, honest dialogues will lead to realizations and changed perspectives if we allow it. It is not always easy, but these discussions can genuinely start to change the world.
- Art will change your world and your life: Art saved me in more ways than one; it was a part of my escape from the cult, and later it became my medium for advocacy. It opened doors to conversations and gave me a sense of purpose. I have seen it open hearts and change minds; it is a powerful tool that has the potential to transform not just your world, but the world around you. Art has the power to initiate conversations, bridge gaps, and create change.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
So, the “Theriac Project,” right? This is just the first chapter of what we hope will be a long series spotlighting socially relevant issues, all wrapped up in the form of art. And trust me, there is no shortage of social issues we want to thrust into the spotlight. And the best part? We are thinking of turning them into art exhibitions too. Or not. The path will be revealed.
Every single one of these projects is aimed at one thing — stirring up change, making a difference. That’s the mission and game plan, and we’re all pumped to see where this journey takes us.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
You know, life has a way of throwing curveballs at you when you least expect it. Like when my old friend, from my cult days, who ended up becoming the first male supermodel on the planet, reached out to me about a documentary he was involved with. He had given up all the millions he made — we’re talking 4.5 to 5 million bucks — right to the cult. No receipts, no questions. Crazy, right? That’s the power of brainwashing, man. Anyway, they were filming a documentary about his life in the cult, and he asked me to be a part of it. Imagine me, a guy who had never breathed a word about his cult experience to anyone in a public setting, suddenly in front of that giant camera, blinding lights, and a microphone just inches away. I was in that hot seat for what felt like an eternity — 18 hours over two sittings — on two separate days.
Near the end of the last day, the director fired off a question — I can’t remember the exact words, but it got me thinking about this quote from “Think and Grow Rich”: “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.” As I was sitting there, it all clicked for me. Look, I have been through some stuff, some horrible stuff. But I refuse to let that define the story of my life. I have made some mistakes in the past, sure. But don’t put me in a box based on that. Follow my footsteps, watch my actions. Let that be the measure of who I am. That is my real story, and that is what I hope people take away from it…that is the lesson I want to pass on to everyone.
Nobody should be defined by their past mistakes or hardships; instead, we should all be defined by our capacity to grow, change, and make a positive impact in the world. Every adversity, every setback, carries within it the seed of something equal or even greater benefit. It’s all about perspective; turning those failures into steppingstones toward success. I guess you can say that quote, and that experience changed me. It gave me a new perspective and made me realize that even in the darkest corners, there’s always a glimmer of hope, a chance for redemption. And that’s a powerful lesson. It’s one I carry with me every day.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I’ve got three people for you (laughs).
For sure, Oprah Winfrey — I mean, who wouldn’t want to sit down with Oprah, right? She’s a woman who has been through so much, yet she has always come out stronger. She has broken barriers and shattered ceilings, and she has done it all while staying true to herself.
Plus, I feel like she would have some great insight and advice for our project. Oprah has always been a champion of social issues, always looking to make a difference. I think her perspective would be invaluable to us as we continue our journey. I’d love to break bread with Oprah.
Brené Brown would be high up on that list. There is something about her work that just resonates with me. Her research on vulnerability, courage, shame, and empathy is all so profound and human; you know? I have been through some stuff in my life and let us just say, her thoughts on embracing vulnerability and understanding shame — she gets it. I would love to sit down with her, have a meal, and dive deep into these topics. More than that, I would like to discuss how we can create more empathy in the world; to make it cool. Now, that is a conversation I look forward to!
All right, I’m going to surprise you with this one: Steve Bannon.
Now, before you raise your eyebrows, hear me out. His views and mine are on opposite sides of the spectrum. His nationalist, populist stance is worlds apart from mine. But that’s the point: We have this massive divide in our society today and we’re not going to bridge it by only talking to those who agree with us. I want to understand why he thinks the way he does and what has shaped his views. I want to challenge those views, yes, but also see if there is common ground that we can stand on. It would be a difficult conversation, but a necessary one, I believe.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can find me at www.dardixon.com
YouTube — https://www.youtube.com/@DarDixon1
Apple Podcasts — The Art of Being Dar — with Dar Dixon
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Dar Dixon of The Theriac Project Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.