Artisha Mann-Cooper '12

Actors Studio Drama School

ASDS alumna forges ahead as a successful producer and entrepreneur during the pandemic

“If you are passionate about achieving a dream, even in the toughest of times, pursue that dream, and you will be fulfilled”

When Artisha Mann-Cooper ’12 was growing up on a secluded farm in Charleston, South Carolina, her summers would often be spent at the home of her aunt in Maryland where she would watch with fascination old movies from the 1930s such as Smilin Through and The Wizard of Oz.

Her journey to being a successful film producer, multi-hyphenated artist, and entrepreneur today, however, initially was not a linear one. Mann-Cooper attended a local college instead of an art school she was accepted to, majoring in Economics and Finance, and heeding the advice of her mom, who was concerned for her daughter’s future security.

She continued on a traditional trajectory until the stock market crash of 2008, a time which forced Mann-Cooper to face her fears and heed the whispers of her heart from those earlier southern summers, and enroll in the MFA in Acting program at Pace’s Actors School Drama School.

“One of the hardest things I could do was to leave a stable career for my dream, but I realized that nothing is really stable. If you are passionate about achieving a dream, even in the toughest of times, pursue that dream, and you will be fulfilled,” she said.

It was the late James Lipton, creator and long-time dean of the Actors Studio program, who first awakened her interest in production. As an intern at Bravo, where Lipton’s Inside the Actors Studio talk show aired, Mann-Cooper would often shadow him and watch him make decisions for the show, as she kept a keen eye on the budget as part of her role.

His influence on the blooming artist was epic.  

“I learned from James Lipton that I didn’t want to be the person looking for an opportunity, but the person who makes my own,” she said.

Inspired by a changing world and industry and having witnessed other women of color make great strides (namely, Issa Rae, creator of Awkward Black Girl, and Kerry Washington, cast in Scandal), Mann-Cooper found herself at a decision point.

One year out of ASDS, she used the only $1,800 at her disposal, which was initially intended to pay for a dress for her upcoming wedding, to instead create her own science-fiction digital series called Jayde. Mann-Cooper entered this work into the Trailer Cash Festival, which garnered the attention of a line producer with whom she associate-produced the film Sugar!, and continued to work with prolifically.

Since then, she has branched out to other roles, including production manager, writer, director, and actress, working for companies such as Nickelodeon, Lionsgate, and VH1, as well as Oscar-nominated directors and independent filmmakers.

Most recently, the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t stopped Mann-Coopers from bringing her creative projects into the world.

Goodbye, Butterfly, a thriller described by Mann-Cooper as “Lovely Bones meets Prisoners,” reached #1 on iTunes for three weeks in a row despite being released during this difficult time. In addition, she has been working on six film projects, three of which are near completion this year, and hosts a podcast, Two Legit to QT, with her best friend and fellow ASDS classmate d’Arquoia Connor ’13.

A true artist and recent New York City Women in Film honoree, Mann-Cooper is a great proponent of creating for the sake of creating, recognizing that if she had not produced her own material, she would not have been taken notice of. She also understands the frustration many have regarding moving their career forward, and to this end, has utilized her experience in both business and film to help artists find tangible ways to complete their goals as a coach and author of an eBook.

“I meet with my clients and my A-team (Artistprenuers) throughout the month and I find solutions and resources for them to complete their goals,” she said.

The cultivation of friendships has been a key element to Mann-Cooper’s success, and as she reminisces about the life-long ones she developed at Pace, she advises students to also nurture strong relationships with their peers.

“I had an opportunity to grow with fellow students and many of them have been my collaborators and champions. I am grateful to Pace for those relationships as the dream means nothing without a good group of people to share it with,” Mann-Cooper said.