Wanted: Providence Creative Revolution

Art Culture and Tourism’s PVDx2031 plan falls short

On March 1, the who’s who of PVD’s creative scene gathered at the Providence Public Library downtown to attend the unveiling of the Art, Culture, and Tourism Department’s new cultural plan: PVDx2031: A Cultural Plan for Cultural Shift. It was a wonderful, full-day event, complete with spoken word poetry, music, and a delicious catered lunch. I particularly enjoyed Joe Wilson Jr.’s opening remarks, as well as the keynote address by Vanessa Whang, a researcher, program designer and consultant for California-based organizations engaged with the arts.

Listening to the fervor and being moved by the energy of the recently renovated auditorium, I felt excited as I opened the pretty booklet containing what we had all been waiting for. Unfortunately, I felt lukewarm after reading the plan’s recommended activities. It seems the plan misses an opportunity to bring stakeholders together and use art to dream big for Providence. 

The plan is broken down into seven themes: (1) Art and Well-Being, focusing on the intersections of art, health, and the environment; (2) Placekeeping in Neighborhoods, emphasizing the vision that each of Providence’s distinct neighborhoods have for themselves; (3) Creative Workforce, supporting fair artist wages, exhibit space, housing and sustainable funding streams; (4) Creative Economy, highlighting art, culture, and design-based revenue, (5) Resilient Nonprofits, supporting PVD’s arts, cultural, and humanities organizations; (6) The Future of Arts Teaching and Learning, emphasizing the importance of incorporating art into all curricula and supporting arts educators; and (7) Public Awareness, Advocacy and Tourism, searching for equitable, profitable ways to share what we do, and who we are, with visitors. 

These themes are valuable, certainly – but a vision that matched the vigor of the unveiling would aspire to more than placekeeping in neighborhoods and incrementally improving the creative economy. Even if all of its points were accomplished, the plan falls short of calling for a cultural shift. It seems that a well-run ACT Department would accomplish these established goals as a matter of course, and that it missed an opportunity to broaden its scope. As the folks who wrote this plan certainly know, art has the potential to make a more democratic, inclusive, and equitable society, and a city’s cultural plan should aspire toward that end. If any department of the city could get away with being lofty in ambition, it would be the Department of Art, Culture and Tourism. 

The plan’s points clearly identify which city stakeholders are responsible for its policy suggestions, but very few stakeholders beyond the staff of ACT Department attended the event. We did not hear from any representatives from Providence Public Schools, the Office of Sustainability, business groups or funders, or the Providence Police, all of whom have some responsibilities for bringing the plan to fruition. Without these stakeholders engaged, this plan is likely to collect dust alongside a number of other notable city plans of recent years. 

The plan also includes a “measurable outcomes” section next to each strategy, but most of these outcomes are far from measurable. For example, one measurable outcome listed for supporting creative entrepreneurs is “more creative businesses incorporate and thrive.” For the goal of establishing new and fortifying existing pathways for young adult artists, a measurable outcome is listed as “more young artists from Providence stay and work in Providence.” This vague language eschews accountability. 

Additionally, why is the ACT including the work of others in the success of its plan? One recommended activity: “Nonprofit cultural organizations and creative businesses should make measurable progress towards diversifying their workforces, closing gendered wage gaps and supporting caregivers.” Of course this is true, but including an unmeasurable item that ACT wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) control or take accountability for, in the cultural plan, seems like an exercise in futility. 

It should be noted that this plan has been years in the making – how the current administration will choose to implement it, or whether they might choose to exceed its limited expectations and inexact action items, remains to be seen.

This unveiling should have trumpeted a rallying cry to which all Providence artists, nonprofits, and creative stakeholders responded: instead, the PVDx2031 plan muddles more in the details than in its potential. For anything like a creative revolution, we may have to wait until the 2030s. 

You can see the cultural plan at https://artculturetourism.com/pvdx2031


Or, Learning to Breathe Underwater; a ritual of lemons

Okay, it’s also known as, I Love You, I Hate You, Shut Up & Tell Me Everything! [A mostly-true entirely-honest tale of recovery]. This is billed as a solo punk rock epic poem, written and performed by Teddy Lytle and directed by Harmon dot aut. At first glance you might think this is a cute show with an older boy and his toys, parading around the stage in his pajamas like a madman. That’s before Wilbury veteran Lytle, a force to be reckoned with, literally opens his brain to expose his various addictions and vulnerability. It is raw to the core, and maybe cathartic. Says Lytle, “I’m not sharing my story to blame anyone, or educate people, or try to help anyone. It’s a selfish act. This is my story. And I survived it. This is my way of reclaiming my life.”

This is not the first time Lytle has run this show. Each time it’s resurrected, changes are made to reflect Lytle’s current state of being. This rendition evolved much like the others. “Redirected, trimmed, corrected, never perfect, always better,” says Lytle. He goes on to explain, “Performative inclusion, particularly in mental health, kills people. That is not hyperbole. It felt like a traditional career in the arts, or in entertainment was out of my reach. I felt excluded. My home was the theatre for my whole life and however misguided I was, it seemed to me I had lost that. When I had nothing, I really found my recovery, and in that, I found community.”

This one-hour monologue demonstrates some of Lytle’s musical talents and includes several of Lytle’s provocative songs, sung along to his guitar. We are often referred to a video backdrop of super heroes, his inspirational grandfather affected by Alzheimer’s, his mug shots and several applicable thought-provoking quotes. Lighting design by Max Ponticelli darkens along with the mood two-thirds of the way in, and addiction is explained so vividly you want Lytle to stop making sense. Sobs in the audience leave you wondering if these are affected family members or just your average compassionate viewers. Doesn’t matter, as we can all see someone we know in this sometimes funny, sometimes very poignant depiction of what happens when you mix a host of dependencies with ADHD and the ensuing lunacy of a self-medicated addictive OCD personality. Yeah. Bring tissues.

From her small desk, partner and guardian angel Bay McCulloch sports angelic wings, onesie PJs of her own plus blingy boots, serving as Lytle’s inspiration to keep him on track each time his ADHD takes him astray. She is his sensibility, his muse, his guiding and grounding force. Toward the end of the show, Lytle impressively adlibs answers to all questions posed to the audience right before the show: Ask a question you’ve always been too afraid to ask and/or confess a secret you swore you’d take to your grave. As McCulloch systematically hands him the pre-collected notes from a fishbowl, his in-stride impromptu answers are as funny as they are genuine.

Teddy Lytle comes clean with his addictions as guardian angel Bay McCulloch stands by him.

Therapist Vanessa Cubellis, LMHC, was on hand for a “talk back” opening night, answering questions on mental health and substance abuse. Thank you, Teddy Lytle, for totally exposing yourself (well, the tighty-whities stayed on), splitting the atom and leaving no sin unturned. We are happy to learn you are employing many techniques and practices to manage and work with your issues while sharing these extremely personal skeletons with us, and for offering the following helpful link for others with addiction issues: Link to help: https://mhari.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Bridging-the-Divide-Ebook.pdf

Wilbury Theatre Group presents /A.DICK.TED/ through March 4. For more information visit www.thewilburygroup.org.


Production photos by Erin X. Smithers

Interviews with the 2023 Spoken Award Winners

What is Spoken Word?

Some say spoken word is an umbrella term under which poetry and storytelling call home. Some include stand-up comedy under this umbrella, others say spoken word is not comedy. Some say spoken word is lyrical and without musical instruments, others say spoken word is music. Consistent throughout each definition is sincerity. 

Spoken word is words spoken out loud by an artist who engages an audience with moments of pain and triumph, of amazement and joy, of thoughtful examinations and retellings of personal and collective histories, of mythologies, dreams, ideas, observations, and jokes, all intertwined with heartfelt truths that, when communally acknowledged, make a room so quiet you can hear a pin drop.

On February 3, on the eve of an arctic outbreak, in partnership with Funda Fest, Motif held its inaugural Rhode Island Spoken Awards at R1 Indoor Karting. While tweens and teens and professionals of all ages played arcade games and raced go-karts around an indoor track, beloved RI performers were in a giant function room being honored for their excellence in the spoken arts.

I asked a few winners what they hope to capture with their words and how to describe the spoken word artform. Below are excerpts from their responses.

Len Cabral performing at the Spoken Awards

Len Cabral

Winner: Favorite Interactive Storyteller & Overall Favorite Spoken Performer

I want the words to create an image that the listener can easily place in the story. I want the words to evoke compassion, empathy, fear, understanding and more. Most important is engaging the listeners. I talk about the 3 E’s: Entertainment, Education, and Engagement. Without engagement there is no entertainment or education. 

I want the listener to experience storytelling in such an enjoyable way that they want to retell the story to friends, tell their own stories, become better listeners, ask others about their stories or interview family members. 

Often when a storyteller announces that he or she is a “Storyteller,” a person will say, “Oh you read books to kids?” Nowhere is reading mentioned, neither is the word kids. (Refer back to better listening.) Storytelling is not just for children, sometimes adults need to hear stories more than the children.

LenCabral.com / lencabral@gmail.com

Val Tutson

Winner: Audience Award, Storytelling

First, I think it is important to say that while I do “write,” I don’t “write a piece.” I think of storytelling as “writing out loud.” I use the “tools of writing” to help me outline, organize, map my storytelling.

When I perform I want to take people on a journey with me. I want us to have a shared experience that only really can exist in that moment. Because when it’s over, it’s over, and all that remains is the memory of it… kind of how the scent of perfume lingers after someone passes by.

FB: Valerie Tutson // IG: RIBlackStorytellers

Liz Moniz

Winner: Favorite Stand-Up Comic

My goal for my standup material is always to resonate with the underdog. I have a new bit I really love about what it’s like going to the doctor as a fat woman. I use the term “fat” specifically because I want to take the shame and stigma away from that word. So many people have said to me, “You’re not fat, you’re beautiful!” That joke is my way of saying I am fat AND beautiful, and here is a glimpse into what my life is like living in that space. I, of course, always want to accomplish the goal of making people laugh, but I also want audience members to say, “Wow, this has happened to me too, and no one has ever made me laugh about it before.”

For me, spoken word is the most difficult artform, because your words are the entire show. You’re standing alone with nothing but your voice to elicit a response or reaction from the audience. People underestimate how difficult that is. It’s very powerful stuff, and when it works, it’s almost magic.

IG: @LizzMonizzComedy

Dutchess Southside

Winner: Audience Award, Comedy

I’m a freestyle comedian… I feel the crowd’s energy, then the words take over. My goal is to bring joy, happiness, and electricity into the room with just the words that come into my head.

[Being at the awards] felt like home, I saw familiar faces and genuine smiles. And oh my goodness, the words! The words that came out were so moving.
IG: @Southside_Dutchess / FB: Janaya Gonsalves / dutchesssouthside@gmail.com

Mr. Orange

Winner: Honorable Mention Favorite Spoken Word

Spoken word is any art form using words as its medium such as music, comedy, poetry, storytelling, etc…Poetry is a part of spoken word but poetry is more than just words on a page. 

We use poetry in many different forms and career paths. Teachers use poetry, politicians use poetry in speeches, preachers use poetry, it’s seen in the Bible in psalms, and theaters, ads and more all use poetry in one form or another. There are 52 different types of poetry and many different uses.

IG, TikTok: MrOrangeLive / FB: TellYourTruthRI / mrorangelive.com

Kleo Sincere

Winner: Audience Award, Spoken Word

The “professional” in me would describe spoken word as an oral performance of some type of literature, primarily poetry. The artist in me, well, I’m unsure. I have yet to think about this. I guess the way I would describe spoken word is what you do when you feel like the words you have written, the ones circling in your head all day, become more than the paper you’ve written on, and are now demanding to be said. 

Spoken word to me, is not a choice. It is a decision the poem makes for me. Some poems want to be appreciated in different ways. Some want to be read and some want to be heard. Spoken word is where your poem comes to life and becomes larger than you.

IG: @SleepyBabyKleo

Chachi Carvalho

Winner: Favorite Social Justice & Favorite Hip-Hop/Narrative Music

When I write, I hope that my words remain true to my authentic self. There was a time when I felt I needed to stretch the truth and present a version of myself that I was not proud of in order to be accepted. Over the years, I have learned to embrace the different versions of my personal development, and I hope that my art serves as a way for folks to hear my story. 

When I perform, I hope to connect with somebody. I hope to lock eyes with even just one person, and I patiently wait for that look in their eyes that tells me that they see me, they hear me, and they relate. If I do that everytime I touch the microphone, I did my job and accomplished what I aim to do as an artist.

IG, Twitter, TikTok, FB: @ChachiHipHop / chachihiphop.com / chachihiphop@gmail.com

Tyler Hittner

Winner: Favorite Live Performer

Public speaking is the number one fear among people and most people dream of doing stand-up but are afraid to try… I show the audience that not only can they do anything they also don’t have to fear getting up on stage. What my stand up accomplishes is that anyone attending my show will come away feeling, “If he can do it, so can I.” Not necessarily comedy, but to overcome any adversity they may be facing.
FB: Tyler Hittner // IG: Wheelz1990

Shyam Subramanian

Winner: Favorite New Voice, Stand-Up

I started performing regularly in 2017. Throughout my life I knew I wanted to do some form of entertainment but didn’t know exactly how to get into it. Around 2015–2016, one of the biggest things in my life that helped me start performing was my therapist. Going through therapy allowed me to remove some of the self barriers I was putting on myself to do what I wanted to do.

IG: @InstaShimmy

Fallon Masterson

Winner: Favorite Personal Storyteller

Spoken word is a pretty big umbrella, but if I’m trying to describe what I do, or what I try to do with Stranger Stories (the storytelling show I produce), I think of it like stand up, but without the obligation to be funny. 

Some pieces, being funny might be the point. But others, maybe the emotion you’re trying to evoke with the audience is nostalgia or embarrassment or jealousy or falling in love…. But when it’s done well, it still feels immediate and unpredictable, like live theater…. With author readings, we’re usually just getting an excerpt – and it’s generally not something that was written with the intent of being performed. Comparatively, I think you see that barrier between the audience and performer drop with spoken word pieces. If a book reading is an excerpt, a spoken word performance feels like its own full serving. Come to Strangers Stories!

IG, FB: @StrangerStoriesPVD / StrangerStoriesPVD.com

For the complete list of Spoken Award winners visit: motifri.com/2023-inaugural-spoken-awards-winners.

The Future of Honoring the Past: Seeing Providence Chinatown

Artist and designer Jeffrey Yoo Warren uses architectural modeling programs to recreate PVD Chinatown in his project “Seeing Providence Chinatown,” which debuted at AS220 in September 2022 and has been building ever since.

As someone who studied both history and art in college, I find it admirable and impressive when an artist arises that is able to combine both disciplines in a way that truly and deeply resonates with any given group of people. Artist Jeffrey Yoo Warren has managed to do just that with his most recent project, “Seeing Providence Chinatown,” which is a virtual reconstruction of Chinatown — a bustling area of PVD that existed from the 1880s until the late 1960s. The history of PVD’s Chinatown is widely unknown – there has been a lack of education about its existence and few memorials marking its previous stature. In fact, Warren noted in his interview with The Public’s Radio that he was actually inspired to begin this project when he found a temporary historic plaque in 2018 that mentioned Chinatown, only in passing.

Warren began his work on this project about a year and a half ago, when he began to stash away some photographs of PVD’s historic Chinatown into a folder on his computer. The frequency of his work with this project picked up in December of 2021 when he received an RI Council for the Humanities grant, and his project became a relatively full-time effort this past fall, when he received a Library of Congress residency for his work.

Warren’s project jumps off from the work of Angela Yuanyuan Feng, Julieanne Fontana, and John Eng-Wong in their project titled “Providence’s Chinatown,” which was an exhibit and walking tour done in the spring of 2018. In their exhibition, the artists focused on the two centers of PVD’s Chinatown (Empire Street & Summer Street) and created site-specific exhibits based in window fronts throughout downtown PVD, where Chinatown once stood. Their goal in “Providence’s Chinatown” (richinesehistory.com) was to “rediscover these locations and to connect this history to Rhode Island’s modern Chinese diaspora.” In our interview, Warren told me that he has reached out to Feng, Fontana, and Eng-Wong to help him along in his process. He spent a lot of his time in the early stages of his project gathering ideas, and when he felt he had something tangible to share, he reached out to them. He said that they’ve been great, and have helped him to become connected with a number of people in the PVD community that have helped contribute to his project.

As we’ve all dealt with technology in this day and age, we know that it is not always our friend. Warren has experienced difficulties himself while creating this virtual world, but he described the process as an overall enjoyable experience. Having studied architecture in his undergraduate career, most of the process consisted of relearning systems he’s used before (and their modern updates), rather than learning from scratch. He used a lot of modeling tools that were familiar enough for him to use, and built his virtual world from there. He described the process as taking photos, cutting out facades, and stretching the facades to fit blocks in the virtual environment, much like scrapbooking.

To obtain the photos and information used in his project, Warren visited local archives that were close by and accessible. He explained that using these archives and digging for what he needed was a long process, and knowing what to look and ask for could come as a challenge most of the time. He described two distinct experiences that he faced while looking through the archives: One was painful, in which he was coming across a lot of news stories or period pieces that were racist and harmful; Another was warm, in which he would find a picture or story that was heartfelt and kind. Largely, he looks back on this archival process as meditative, or a way of doing work and showing respect for the history at hand. The meditative nature of the archival digging is worth the time, and the warm things one finds is fulfilling.

Warren’s choice to honor PVD’s Chinatown in a virtual space was based on the immersion that three-dimensional virtual environments provide, and the feelings that these immersive environments evoke. Going into this project, Warren noted that he didn’t have any particular fondness for technology – most of his projects are instead involved in woodworking, ceramics, and drawing. However, Warren was moved by how people can interact with a 3D digital space. He explained, “One of the most meaningful things that has happened in this work is to work with Asian American folks who want to know what it was like, and to give them the ability, not just to sort of follow along or to look at a picture, but to choose to duck their head into an alley, or choose to wander away a little bit in this neighborhood, and to experience it with agency.” 

This sense of agency that members of the Asian American communities can experience in exploring virtual Chinatown is rooted largely in the personal connection and resonance, Warren explains.

He’s glad that so many people are interested in his project, but he’s especially focused on the Asian American community in PVD. He went into his project thinking about relationships, memory, and identity, giving members of PVD’s Asian American community the opportunity to learn about their history in an interactive way. He wishes for the descendants of families from this period to be able to “see this place beyond the fragmentary photos that remain. Also, family photos often have individual pictures, but they don’t have a sense of place as much.” Warren’s project undoubtedly gives these folks the sense of place that they are looking for.

In addition to his work with PVD’s own Chinatown, Warren also expressed interest in developing a similar project in other cities. He has connections and conversations being fostered with folks in Portland (OR), Los Angeles, and New Orleans. He details this as a slow, ongoing process – he cherishes the importance of direct relationships with the given space, and it takes time to build these strong relationships and do research in order to properly complete the project. Warren doesn’t yet have any specific dates in which he’ll be showcasing “Seeing Providence Chinatown” in 2023, but he is expecting public interactive events beginning in the spring and summer.

To read more about “Seeing Providence Chinatown” and to keep up with any important updates, visit unterbahn.com/chinatown.

Image from unterbahn.com/chinatown

Art & Yoga: Opening the mind while strengthening the body

After traveling around the world, living in Boston and London, Bristol Maryott decided to start her business, Jala Studio Yoga & Art, here in Providence, Rhode Island. “I wasn’t sure it would work really. Whenever you open any small business it’s hard to know if it’ll be possible,” Maryott said.

When visiting the studio to participate in a class, I found it extremely awkward. I mean, I had no idea where I should look. Luckily, there were pieces of detailed art on the walls so instead of creepily looking at other people, I got to see local artists’ work. That and there was this really nice almost spiral ceiling, that kept my attention. 

The yoga teacher (who happened to be Maryott) made sure not to push the other yogis past their comfort. She asked prior to assisting others  if they were okay with being touched. I of course asked for assistance as this was my first time doing yoga, like ever. She also offered multiple different poses at once and allowed us to pick what we were most comfortable with. 

At Jala Studio, there are many different types of yoga, ranging from gentle to vigorous. Form and Flow is on the gentler side, consisting of movement, breathing, and alignment instructions. Vinyasa Flow, a more vigorous style, leads you through postures and opens the body through “flowing movement.” They also offer prenatal classes for soon-to-be mothers as well as meditation and private classes.

I took one of their lunchtime classes which were made to help destress yogis and help them get back to work feeling refreshed. There were a few breathing exercises and a bit of meditation, and I remember laying on the floor thinking about nothing and somehow everything. It was so calming that I’m pretty sure the person next to me fell asleep.

“We have classes for different levels and everyone should feel comfortable coming,” says Maryott. It’s obvious that she supports and encourages her students, but she also makes sure to support the growth and happiness of the other teachers. Each class has 18 students at most, but if there isn’t a teacher available, the students are there to help each other as well.

Maryott has had around 20 different local artists come in and display their artwork for the students. She says, “Yoga and art are very similar in the way that they both explore consciousness and awareness.” While the students perform yoga and strengthen their bodies, they are surrounded by inspiring work, some of which are extremely detailed. There are some pieces that depict people doing yoga but in most cases, the art varies in style, colors, themes, and materials. “It’s what makes yoga magical and what makes the artwork magical.” 

There are art shows that happen every three to six months (less than usual due to COVID) and are also open for appointment. It gives people an opportunity to look around and if they are interested in a piece they can buy it. “For everybody, it’s a win-win because the artists get to show their work and have a lot of people coming through the doors, looking at the work repeatedly.”

Jala Studio also has workshops. “It’s mostly yoga workshops but occasionally we’ll have something different,” says Maryott. Some of the workshops include rolfing, breathwork, and Chinese medicine. Rolfing is deep tissue manipulation, which is said to help reduce muscular and psychic tension.

The specific type of breathwork they practice is called Conscious Connected Breathing. This is meant to push negative energy out and help one drift into “a full-body state of bliss.”

The Chinese medicine workshop teaches how to incorporate Chinese medicine into your yoga practice. The workshop includes yoga, meditation, self-acupressure, and pranayama.

For teacher training, Jala Studio offers both 200 total hour classes and 300 total hour classes. The 200-hour class teaches the skills you need to become a yoga teacher and lead a class.  “Yoga is not just a workout, it’s an entire system to attain enlightenment. And even if you don’t want enlightenment,” Maryott laughs, “Which maybe you don’t! But if you’re practicing yoga it’s important to know the historic underpinnings it comes from and the philosophy behind it. Especially if you’re teaching it.”

The 300-hour teacher training is something that you would take if you are already a teacher. The class aims to build additional skills or refine your teaching, and it gives students time to focus and create a more in-depth class. You can also expect  a bit of philosophy and Buddhism within the 300-hour training. 

Maryott is leading an upcoming retreat to Thailand in January. On the retreats, there are daily yoga classes, either gentle or vigorous, but deciding not to join is also an option. There are other things like meditation and talks on philosophy integrated into the classes. Yoga is just a portion of the experience. “There’s lots of yoga but we also make time so people get to enjoy some rest, some relaxation, and a little bit of the culture that they’re in.” She mentions walking along the beach, Thai massages, visiting an elephant sanctuary, snorkeling, and other excursions.

Taking a yoga class was definitely a positive experience, and seeing so many people in the zone and opening up was amazing to get to see. With all the benefits of yoga, I’m surprised I haven’t tried it before,  and as nerve-racking as the first experience was, I’m more likely to go again.

Flowers for Mom: Dirty Curty’s Metal Flowers

Curtis Aric, aka Dirty Curty, is an old-world artisan who makes all his art from car parts and scrap metal. His studio in Pawtucket is filled with half-assembled cars, bikes, patched-together machinery, and his metal flowers. Curtis has been making metal flowers for over twenty years, and at first, he was hoping to connect with others as a sweet side-effect of the project.

“I began passionately making art in hopes to gain the admiration, warmth, and tenderness of human touch,” said Curtis. He lives outside of the digital world for the most part, in a cabin in the woods without electricity or running water – choosing to have a minimal online presence and a greater connection with nature.

When his mom’s health started declining about a year ago, Curtis’ goal shifted to selling the metal blooms to raise money to help her. “Love and steel are both dug out of the earth and forged to create something strong and enduring. Left uncared for, they both rust back into dirt,” Curtis said. “Only passion, purpose, and pain can work a cold blank into warmth, elegance, love, and beauty. Ultimately, art and love beget birth and creation.”

During the whole month of May, Curtis will have his art displayed at The News Café. On May 20th, you can see his show Mechanical Dubstep and the Nothing Machines – an interactive audiovisual playground featuring Dirty Curty’s homemade instruments and “mechanical music.”

You can find Curtis’ metal flowers at Betwitched of Scituate, 618 W Greenville Rd, Scituate. All proceeds are going to help with costs related to his mom’s diminishing health. bewitchedofscituate.com

On The Cover: Joseph Heroux

The cover artist for our Holiday Issue is a psychedelic illustrator whose enjoyment of the ’60s / ’70s era leant inspiration for the cover. Joseph Heroux, this month’s cover artist, created a piece that focuses on inclusivity during the holidays. 

Heroux has always been an artist, having his first gallery shown when he was just five years old at AS220. As he’s gotten older, his work has become more refined, incorporating influences from some of his favorite artists, such as Peter Max and Don Aquarius. 

Heroux also plays keyboards and synths in two experimental electronic psychedelic bands, Hew and Sinister Machine. His connection to the music scene doesn’t end there though, as he is also a member of the Big Nazo Space Transformation Station. In the group, Heroux composes the soundtracks and occasionally will decorate the masks that go along with the alien costumes worn by the group members. Heroux, who considers himself a spiritual person, says art “makes me feel spiritually well aligned with myself. Making art and playing music go hand and hand.”

The concept for the cover, which took Heroux an hour of sketching to come up with, was to make the Hindu God represent a sort of Shiva-Santa Claus opening up rather outrageous presents for the world. The world aspect comes into play with all the different religions being represented. Heroux says, “I was thinking about what I personally would want to see on the cover and how it should be incorporating hints of Hanukkah and have Kwanzaa colors popping out too”. 

You can see a trippy Hindu God, in meditation pose while holding the city of Providence, a menorah, as well as some bursting gift boxes. An elf can be seen in the corner, an artistic decision inspired by David Allen artwork. Everything in the design is a nod to Heroux’s love of the psychedelic. Heroux will continue his work with Hew, Sinister Machine, Space Transformation Station and the radio show he hosts Tuesdays, 9pm – midnight on WRIU. He also will be contributing to Motif’s own comic section, so keep an eye out for more work coming soon.

Tender Cargo: How can garments speak a person’s pain?

“What does it mean to wear one’s pain?” asks a new exhibit by textile artist Taleen Batalian at the WaterFire Arts Center though November 20. Inspired by her parent’s memories of the Armenian genocide that claimed her grandparents, Batalian developed a set of prints on fabric and some fabric designs that read almost like statues which try to embody the experiences related by her ancestors. To accompany this exhibit, she developed a runway show from some parallel universe, in which dim lighting and quadrophonic soundscapes support the slow, agonizing progress of three models in Batalian’s garb, as they traversed the length of the Waterfire Arts Center. The audience was set up on either side, much like a fashion show, but single file, facing the minimalist runway designed by Keri King. The music was developed from manipulations of Batalian’s Grandfather’s recorded musings, by audio engineer Antonio Forte.

“I thought of the movement as postures of grief. The choreography was really, ‘Go slow and sink sometimes.’ But keep moving, because to me that meant there was some hope as well. Otherwise, we would just end up on the floor the whole time,” said choreographer Heidi Henderson.

Batalian added, “It’s about shape. Shape and texture. The garments were refined based on what I saw as the dancers were wearing, but I really thought of them as garments I get to inhabit, as opposed to traditional costuming that’s meant to add to a dancer’s character.” The designs themselves came to form with “not intention, just trust.”

Waterfire Arts Center, 475 Valley St, PVD. waterfire.org through Nov 20.

Trying It On: Skye reaches deep

Jonny Skye, creator of the featured piece, “kweteelili/Try it On,” is an artist who has her hands in multiple projects. After closing the doors to Skye Gallery, she turned to small business consulting, helping local businesses launch and/or continue to thrive. Skye, a member of the Peoria Tribe of Oklahoma, has vast experience in the fields of both arts and education/human services (focusing on urban education reform). She uses her talents to help guide artists and businesses while advocating for education reform.

Skye Gallery was successful in its four years of existence. She curated 40 exhibitions in the joyful yet intimate space on Broadway before the pandemic hit. She adjusted and went virtual, but closed the doors in early 2021. 

“I am rooted in my commitment to the sensory experience of art and each other, so I opted not to continue the work virtually,” Skye says. “I am still available to buyers, artists and curate.”

Skye provides artist management services (offering a wealth of options to local artists looking to build and shape their careers) in addition to business consulting. She consulted with Coffee Exchange during the worst of the pandemic, which led to the opening of Rise ‘n Shine Coffee Bar in Smith Hill. She also worked with Central Contemporary Arts in opening their first exhibition. Currently, she is engaged in the launch of Ahh, Moments (a lifestyle brand centered on the benefits of plant medicine) and serves on the board of the Providence Biennial for Contemporary Art. She hopes for a new physical incarnation of Skye Gallery in the future. 

Having renewed control of her time, Skye could now focus her creative process in a deeper and more meaningful way. She is currently working on a body of paintings titled “oowiši, Peewaaliaki” (the native language of her Peoria ancestors, which translates to “In this Direction”) that focuses on ceremony and seeking connection to spirit.

“This work acknowledges a future in the return. It sits in the vision of global re-indigenizing/re-membering/re-balancing/re-discovering as a way forward from the quandaries of here and now,” Skye says.

Skye, also the descendant of Irish colonial settlers, has indigenous ancestors who came from the upper Mississippi and were pushed down to Northeastern Oklahoma from a series of reservations to a final allotment scheme scenario in Ottawa County, OK. As children, her grandfather and great-aunts were all forced by the US government to attend Haskell, an Indian boarding school.  

Her culture and upbringing are important aspects of her work, both on the canvas and in the community.

“I paint to find coherence in the incoherent, to bridge – prioritizing sensibility, erotic power, fertility and futility, and values of abundance and freedom. I am compelled by humbling the colonial norming of power, authority, ownership, and territory. Connecting earth with body. I seek to challenge hegemonic ideas of civilization and refinement while re-centering all that is natural and rooted. I work to address many dissonances – by connecting and remapping micro and macro, subject and object, human will and universal design.”

For more information, go to skye-gallery.com

On the Cover: November 2022

Ripples and Reflections is an original painting by Rhode Island artist Joel Rosario Tapia – a segment of the work was restructured for our November issue, to acknowledge Indiginous People’s month. And because it looks amazing.

Tapia is a US veteran, author and Urban Aboriginal visual artist who has made it his mission to keep the Taino and Indian identities alive through his art. The topics of his art range from ideological, sociological, moral and family values. Each piece has a distinct story, often drawn from his culture in order to keep the true stories and true identities of his people and ancestors alive. He has spoken at schools like Brown University and at a wide variety of festivals and events all over the country. 

Tapia, who often goes simply by his last name, has become a staple in the city of Providence, presenting his ideas and giving platforms to other artists. He has a Bachelor’s degree in The Recording Arts and a Master of Entertainment Business Science from Full Sail University in Orlando, Florida. His career thus far has given him experiences in all realms of the arts from designing to performing and even teaching the youth how to work with steel at PVD’s The Steel Yard. “It’s important to use what you have to your advantage and to share all that you can with others,” says Tapia.

This piece for Motif holds special value to Tapia as both an artist and a spokesperson for the Cibuco Bayamon Taino Tribe. The flags of multiple Caribbean countries are found beneath the ripples of water and reflection. Above that, two blue macaws are symbolic to the Arawak culture. The feathers of these birds are often used on headdresses and symbolize a guide through the tough times and a way to persevere and share their story, the right way. Those very feathers create the ripples that carry change across the piece. “I’ve been working hard to get here for a minute now and I do this because I worked hard and because now, I can. Why wouldn’t I share what I’ve learned, so more people take from that? I’ve learned so much about my ancestors from really looking into their stories and the discrepancies in information we have been given,” Tapia says. “I want to help others do the same.”

Follow Tapia on Instagram @tapiauno1