by Chamidae Ford
September 3 marks the beginning of the first annual Verbal Oasis Spoken Word Festival. The four-day event represents a multigenerational depiction of art — from poetry and dancing to music and visual art. The festival allows attendees space to go beyond observing by providing workshops for them to engage.
The free event, located at the Rainier Beach Community Center’s outdoor pavilion, is being hosted by Monique Franklin (Verbal Oasis). The festival is supported by the Seattle Park District and Created Commons, a program of the Office of Arts & Culture Seattle.
“I’ve been performing in Seattle for over 15 years now, but in the process of being a performance artist, I’ve also been producing shows for that length of time. And I produce shows from children all the way up through adults with a specific focus on bringing together a multi-gender generational community of Black artists,” Franklin said. “So in some ways, you could say that this festival is about 15 years in the making.”
Beginning on Sept. 3 and running from 6:30 to 9 p.m. will be the Muezz Poetry Show. Each night stars a different lineup of local poets and performers and will feature the Seattle Civic Poet Jourdan Imani Keith, Amber Flame, Robert Lashley, and many more. There will also be an open mic portion of each evening, with a writing workshop before the show to allow attendees to create something to share.
“There is the invitation to engage in art. So when [people] come, we’ll have some art activities that they can participate in, including being a part of the show. …” Franklin said. “What they can expect is a warm welcome, some great music, some of the best artists in Seattle in painting, dancing, and spoken-word poetry.”
Creating a multigenerational festival was very important to Franklin. That’s why on Sept. 5 and 6, the Inspired Child’s open mic from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. will encourage children from 2 to 12 years old to take the stage.
“Young people will be featured in those events to give them opportunities to build their performance resumes, perform, and curate their own performances for an audience,” Franklin said.
This weekend is not just for performing but discussing the power of spoken word, art, and community. Franklin challenges those in attendance to come with an open mind and be willing to participate.
“I think [the festival] is gonna be an experience,” Franklin said. “I would love it for people to come open to that experience and leave inspired. I think art is healing and art is also transformative and it allows us to learn from others. And so I think to be engaged in a community where everybody is participating in that is truly a give and take, whether the audience is choosing to become a part of a show in the open mic or if they’re just choosing to give that energy and attention to the artist who’s on stage, they’re a part of it. I think what people can expect is to feel.”
Events like these also represent a cost-effective way to explore different artistic routes before investing deeply in them. Cipher Goings from Northwest Tap Connection will be teaching free tennis shoe tap lessons. There will be writing workshops and painting sessions, allowing families to explore whether they are truly interested in pursuing an artistic path.
“It gives exposure so that families and individuals can say, wow, I actually liked that. I actually want to invest in this now,” Franklin said. “Exposing people to art creates an opportunity for them to activate the artist that I think is in all of us and find the road that best suits them.”
The festival represents an opportunity to get outside with your family and connect with your community through art. The weekend offers a wide range of artists across different disciplines and generations expressing themselves.
“Being able to celebrate and to share and keep an open mind provides an opportunity to really share your experiences with other people and for other people to hear what’s going on in the hearts and the minds of their community members,” Franklin said. “Activating these [public] spaces is critical, especially right now.”
Admission to the festival is free, but there will be capacity limitations to allow for social distancing. You can secure a spot by going online and claiming a ticket for the Muezz Poetry Show and Inspired Child Open Mic before the event. Masks are required for admittance and attendees are asked to wear them throughout the entirety of the event. Temperature checks and contact-tracing will also be done upon entrance.
The community partners of this event are Inspired Child Studios, Northwest Tap Connection, Central District Forum For Arts and Ideas, Seattle Filmmakers of the African Diaspora, Abstract Media, ONYX Fine Arts Collective, and African-American Writers’ Alliance.
Chamidae Ford is a recent journalism graduate of the University of Washington. Born and raised in Western Washington, she has a passion for providing a voice to the communities around her. She has written for The Daily, GRAY Magazine, and Capitol Hill Seattle. Reach her on IG/Twitter: @chamidaeford.
📸 Featured Image: Photo courtesy of Verbal Oasis Spoken Word Festival.
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