As millennials, we often are regarded as uncultured, void of novel ideas, or negligent in craft when it comes to art. Such ideas are easy to fathom considering we no longer live in an era of artistic growth in which artists litter the streets with raw, nonconforming work that defies constructs and brakes barriers for minorities, exposing sexual and social deviance. Those times produced musical, visual, and literary artists such as Langston Hughes, Louis Armstrong, Zora Neale Hurston, Kara Walker, Rainier Rilke, and Edgar Allen Poe. Literary icons who paved the way for contemporary artists of today.
The present age of digitized media often causes the essence of art and the artistic experience to feel diluted. As of Thursday night, I witnessed a resurgence of the qualities in which our artistic greats were inspired and thrived which are very much prevalent within our very own downtown Cincinnati.
Recently, the professor of my Senior Poetry class mentioned that much of the classic arts that people tend to regard major cities with, such as New York and Paris, have dwindled as a result of touristic consumerism and an influx of wealthier people which drives out artists who cannot afford to live in the hub of the cities any longer. From her perspective, this is not the case in Cincinnati which she remarked as being rich with culture and opportunities to grow and collaborate creatively. To hear such great things from a newcomer to Cincinnati made me feel proud my hometown, because it's really easy to overlook the beauty and rich quality that this city has to offer.
Still fresh in my mind, I was reminded of an invitation I was given to partake in a poetry event hosted by two good friends of mine, known as the Twins- Ashley and Alexis Cox, that curate and host the poetry slam experience known as SPEAK: A Space for Thoughtful Expression. As a poet and lover of poetry, I was thrilled to witness the expression of spoken word within my community and when I finally was granted the free time to go, I was thoroughly anticipating the day’s arrival.
From getting to know the Twins, who are lovers of art and activism, I expected to witness something great, but as I walked through the rustic tunnel-themed venue I knew that I was in the midst of an unforgettable experience. The large building known as the Mockbee had the subtle aroma of pineapple and the sweet aromatics provided by a Cuban food vendor. The essence of mint and lemon swirled about one corner of the long walkway from a vendor table which sold natural soaps and bath essentials from a local woman who made organics soaps in her kitchen.
Classic hits accented with modern flair filled the entire complex of the venue as the DJ worked the turntables effortlessly. The lights dimmed the sensory pleasure of the music, highlighted by the visual clarity and strength of a fellow dancer and friend who worked the wooden platforms in the middle of the room hitting every beat of the melodic J. Cole song with force, precision, and emotion. The most engaging aspect of the event was that the venue lacked a stage. Instead, there were two wooden platforms parallel to each other engulfed between the rows of seating, therefore allowing for the audience to completely surround each performer like a messenger orating to the streets upon a soapbox.
The Twins had previously extended an invitation for me and my dance team (CA)^2 to perform at one of the events which we fully planned to do, thereafter watching the dance performance that night completely solidified the importance that our very own performance would make on this event. Truthfully, SPEAK proves not only to be a poetry engagement, but provides a platform for both music and dance to be appreciated as a necessary artistic genre, thus allowing for the expression of art beyond words. When asked what SPEAK means to her, Alexis answered best as she said, "SPEAK...means the ability to tap into our culture. It represents the manifestation of cultural divides coming to a close."
After two years and an expansion of public attendance starting at 35-45 people to now accommodating 150 people, Ashley and Alexis Cox are a duo of movers and shakers presenting culture and publicizing the artistic craft bleeding within the veins of Cincinnati. When asked what SPEAK means to her, Alexis answered best as she said, "SPEAK...means the ability to tap into our culture. It represents the manifestation of cultural divides coming to a close."
Overall, SPEAK stands as one of the few remaining novelties of artistic expression and evocation still existing within our current state of popular culture. A culture strongly connected with supposed art masked with superficiality and uninspired style. I am grateful that there are young people around who yearn for culture and for growth in the arts when it is not always readily available. For those who live in Cincinnati, I recommend going to a SPEAK event which takes place every third Thursday of the month at the Mockbee located at 2260 Central Parkway 45214.