When Jason Graham looks back on his first year as Bend’s Creative Laureate, he can’t help but feel some of his greatest accomplishments have been the most mundane.
“The small things are big to me,” Graham said. “The ramifications are exponential, but that’s probably not something you’d write about.”
The 36-year-old Graham, also known as MOsley WOtta, is a longtime Bend poet, visual artist and rapper who performs throughout Oregon. Last September, he was appointed as the city’s first Creative Laureate. He was given a $5,000 grant from the Arts and Culture Alliance, a two-year appointment and a wide-open mission to connect the community with the arts.
“I think so far, it’s gone really well,” said Kevin Barclay, board chair of the alliance, a nonprofit association of organizations, businesses and people who want to nurture cultural opportunities in Central Oregon. “This is the second creative laureate in the country. It’s a whole new idea, and I think Jason has done an awesome job.”
As only the second creative laureate in the United States, Graham has had the unique opportunity to define his role — one he decided is best done through a year of observing and listening to other artists in the community.
“This (job) can’t become deeply administrative,” he said. “This position needs to be a much more pedestrian position.”
By pedestrian, Graham means this: He wants to ensure he remains accessible to the public and not elitist.
In the past year, Graham has spent a good amount of time speaking at public events, introducing art to students in local schools, and introducing new artists to the Bright Place Gallery in the hopes of getting their work on display.
Graham said he has worked with artists in and around Bend to hear the challenges they face and is taking suggestions about what could make their experience easier.
What he learned is affordable studio space is hard to come by. He’s trying to work with local businesses to create a system where up-and-coming artists can use an office or building when a business has closed for the day.
“The space is there,” he said. “How does the market support (art) instead of inhibit it?”
Graham has found value in artists meeting other artists. This year, he did a trial run at a school in Fairview that allowed students to show their work to professional artists, who would critique what they saw.
Starting this month, Graham plans to travel around the state to meet more artists in the hopes of bringing them back to Central Oregon.
“Artists should be able to meet other artists,” he said. “There’s a lot of power in that.”
As he worked, Graham found merit in helping the community in ways that didn’t necessarily call on his skills as an artist. Earlier this year, he helped found a Father’s Group, which is focused on having black dads meet up and do acts of service throughout the community.
“It takes a massive amount of creativity to think about how to be a great community,” he said. “I think that’s exciting.”
While many of his actions this year have been understated, the job made Graham consider the gravity of his actions as an artist more than ever, he said.
“I think before (becoming Creative Laureate), I thought of myself as an artist, and then thought about what impact that would have on the community,” Graham said. “Now, I’m thinking about community first.”
Now, it is time to get to work, he said.
“I’ve been afforded a lot of time to think and answer in vague ways,” Graham said.
His goals for the next year are to get into schools more and to keep expanding opportunities for students to speak out through established programs like “Words on a Mic.”
But whatever happens, Graham hopes to make a legacy that far outlasts his tenure as a laureate.
“The job of the Creative Laureate is to show up and act as a catalyst,” he said.
— Reporter: 541-633-2160, email@example.com