Being an artist in Jackson is an uphill struggle; not only must you create paintings, music, dance or films, but you also have to be your own venue organizer, publicist, agent, Webmaster and even lobbyist. "You have to integrate your art into people's lives—show them how it can enrich their lives because they won't necessarily reach out and take it themselves," said Daniel Guaqueta, host of "Mundo Melodia" on WLEZ and a member of the experimental music group TTOCCS REKARP.
Guaqueta joined eight other panelists on Tuesday, Feb. 27, at St. Andrew's Cathedral to talk about being an artist in Jackson. The Greater Jackson Arts Council and the Jackson Free Press sponsored the panel, attended by more than 100 people.
The panelists have already achieved a certain amount of creative success. Sitting behind hand-written placards were: jazz saxophonist Ezra Brown, owner of Seven*Studioz and Jackson Music Awards' Musician of the Year; Guaqueta; dancer and performance artist Eli Williams, dance and performance artist and head chef of High Noon Café; Esperanza Plantation label owner Chaney Nichols, is on the Crossroads Film Society board; photographer and arts organizer Roy Adkins; glass artist Jerri Sherer, member of the Mississippi Craftsman's Guild; rapper and JFP columnist Kamikaze; Ron Chane, owner of Studio Chane, Swell-O-Phonic and Icon Gallery; and Nina Parikh, associate manager of the Mississippi Film office and a founder of the Crossroads Film Festival.
Daniel Johnson, musician and community relations director of the Rainbow Co-op, moderated the forum.
The topic points ranged from the practical—where to hang flyers?—to the more vexing problem of how to find artistic opportunity in a city where the general public can show a certain apathy towards art-related events.
Brown was blunt, saying it is one thing to say that you support diverse art and another to actually turn out. Brown talked about the strong spoken-word and poetry movement he has been a part of in Jackson for years—but added that very few white poets have showed up at events he and other organizers have presented.
He wasn't pessimistic, though. "Let's do it this time," he challenged. Chane, a self-promotional guru, pointed out that even when opportunities for artists do exist—such as funding, venues or publicity—individuals are often not assertive enough to step up and seize those opportunities. Chane warned: "Don't try to make your art acceptable." Kamikaze added that a lack of information in the community at large keeps details of the grants and resources that are available from getting to many fledgling artists who need it. He complained that the mainstream media in Jackson do not focus enough on fueling the city's creative class. "Even our daily paper, which is supposed to be on top of everything, is grossly negligent in its coverage of the arts," he said.
The Clarion-Ledger did, however, run a blurb about the forum and sent a reporter.
Parikh, too, lamented the inadequate marketing of art events, pointing to lagging support for weekly Crossroads film events.
This information gap led the panel, and later audience members, to suggest ways they could work together to promote events and each other, using an arts brochure, the Internet and other coordinated efforts.
Nichols suggested the formation of an umbrella organization to unify and coordinate among existing arts organization—which is happening. Johnson, Adkins and others are trying to revive The Collective, a Jackson arts groups formed several years ago to sponsor events and promote the art of its members.
Guaqueta, however, encouraged artists to be entrepreneurial and proactive. He told a story about approaching Millsaps College to work on a collaborative music project.
Many speakers felt that people in Mississippi, although full of creativity, do not respect and enjoy the arts as they should. "Until we start understanding the value of creativity, we won't start appreciating the value of more experimental arts," Williams said.
But Kamikaze pointed out that even the existing arts communities in Jackson have a long way to go in terms of bringing people together, echoing Brown's earlier point. Many arts venues are still segregated into mostly white or mostly black places, he said. Such separation, Kamikaze argued, will stymie the development of the arts.
Most panelists agreed, though, that the arts could bring about positive change. "As art becomes more visible in our communities it will change the perception of our state," Parikh said.
The Jackson Collective's next meeting is Monday, March 26, 6 p.m. at Seven*Studioz (147 Millsaps Ave.). E-mail Daniel Johnson at [e-mail missing]