By Leslie D. Rose
When dozens of young artists convene in one space, it’s called building. When they convene in one space curated by Baton Rouge emcee Luke St. John McKnight, it’s called building fire.
On May 28, the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge hosted nearly 100 creative souls, their artwork, voices and products at the third installment of Build the Fire.
The first two Build the Fire events were held in February and March at a much smaller venue. McKnight said the move to the Arts Council building felt suitable to the vibe he’s seeking to create.
“It is a bit more appropriate of a space for artists who take themselves seriously as artists,” he said.
With art clinging to the wall, camera shutters clicking, outfits that could double as paintings, vivid vibes on the microphone and live-art-in-the making, the scene showcased verbal visionaries, graphic designers and visual artists.
McKnight started artist selection with an open call. He said he always considers the person’s fit to the event more than their popularity.
“I want the artists to be diverse, authentic and of high standard,” he said.
There is also an open mic. With limited variety of open mic events in Baton Rouge, McKnight can see anywhere from 20-30 artists seeking his stage. This month was no different as many poets, emcees and singers took the stage to get it ready for the featured performers.
Of this installment’s features was poet/emcee Baron Amato.
Amato is from Mobile, Ala. – a place he said doesn’t really support his craft. It’s a craft he calls “hip hop, spoken word, lyrical soul poetry over trap instrumentals with a little bit of jazz.” He said he waited until he got to the venue to fully create his set list.
“I was waiting on the room to inspire me,” Amato said.
Amato has been visiting and performing in Louisiana for eight years. His brother owns Innerrecess, a recording studio in New Orleans where McKnight sometimes records – it’s where the two men met with Amato introducing himself as a poet.
On the night of this particular performance, the world had just gotten wind that famed poet Maya Angelou had died. This prompted Amato to dedicate a poem “Sunlight” to her honor.
“I wouldn’t be able to speak as powerfully as I do if [Angelou] didn’t set the bar high,” he said. “She paved the way for all poets.”
Along with the tribute, he performed one other poem and two songs.
In between performers the audience was encouraged to visit around the room, look at and/or purchase artwork and meet new people.
There was no shortage of art or people, because what really would an art blender be without visual art and art appreciators? McKnight made sure that all of the city’s most talented artists had work included in the ample hanging space of the Arts Council’s second floor arena.
With three pieces from her “Catatonia” series was 21-year-old LSU student Dorothy Ray. Each piece and the way they were hung told the story of people immersed in the state of stupor known as the series’ title. She featured one painting of a woman looking off into the distance, a second with a man called daydreamer who has found paradise in himself and a third that is a love story between a man and himself trying to search for something he can’t obtain.
Ray said she has most recently garnered inspiration from the process in which one accepts love.
“Love is my favorite subject, but for the most part I like to talk about the dark side, torment,” Ray said. “Love requires an emptying out of your personal self. It is in that emptying out that you find the torment phase – I feel that love at some point is uncomfortable.”
Ray considers her artwork’s creation process as a similar uncomfortable, yet revealing experience.
“I have a love-hate relationship with painting,” she said. “It’s a struggle because it’s my world and I’m trying to make it your world at the same time. When I step away from that canvas, I see myself showing myself to myself.”
She will soon complete her studies at LSU in photography and psychology. She said she intends to continue getting lost in her visual world.
Plans for the next Build the Fire event are in the works, but nothing confirmed.
“The goal is to keep it innovative and enriching culturally,” McKnight said. “As long as we stick to these standards, we will continue to improve.”