» J. Otis Powell‽
Art found J. Otis Powell‽ at a young age where he spent time acting and exploring his voice through writing. He attended Alabama Agriculture and Mechanical University where he hosted a weekly talk show on public television and landed his first acting job as frog named Herman. As a descendent of three generations of preachers, Powell‽ was enticed to explore something beyond the dogmas. He insisted on the value of seeking the truth instead of assuming he had it.
After exploring various majors, Powell‽ was the first to graduate from Alabama Agriculture and Mechanical University with degree in Telecommunications and a minor in Philosophy. Powell‽ and his wife moved to Minnesota in 1987.
J. Otis Powell‽ is a self proclaimed Bluesician and Jazz aficionado, which he describes as a way of being, not just a title. Powell‽ channels the way these musicians move through music, always forward and avoiding repetition. Much like poetry, many things are left to be shared, and there is no need to repeat what’s already been said. Powell‽ says his old work doesn’t represent where he is currently; it shows where he was then. As Powell‽ says, "we shed our skin every eight years, we are bodies of all new cells, every eight years we are new people."
Powell‽ values the ability of Jazz players to loose their control enough to let something find them. "Art is not tangible but is radiated throughout; it’s metaphysical and can lead us to truth." To J.Otis Powell‽, poetry is more about metaphysics than craft. You have a responsibility to jump into the fire and maneuver if your breaks don’t work.”
Themes braided throughout Powell‽'s work include injustices, philosophy and surfacing the complexity of perspectives that may otherwise seem simple.
J. Otis Powell‽ and Intermedia Arts
J. Otis Powell‽ has watched Intermedia Arts grow since 1990 when he performed Gods Must Be Pimps, an essay performed as a blues piece with brass and bass drums at Intermedia Arts' former gallery location in downtown Minneapolis. He began curating at Intermedia Arts in 1990 with a piece called Endangered Species: Men of Color. Powell‽ credits the longevity of this relationship to the synergy that was formed early on between Intermedia Arts and himself. In 2001, J. Otis‽ was named an interdisciplinary McKnight Fellow and was a fellow in the Creative Community Leadership Institute in 2014. J.Otis Powell‽ continues to infuse his art and wisdom at Intermedia Arts in many ways including as a mentor to emerging Spoken Word poets in the VERVE program.
In 2014 Intermedia Arts was one of four organizations selected to participate in EMC Arts Innovation Labs. Intermedia Arts’ innovation was focused on equity. With Powell‽’s history and deep roots in promoting equity in the arts, Powell‽ played a key role in shaping the organizational vision of equity: Working to create and promulgate a culture of equity in all phases (including decision-making, planning, implementation, and evaluation) of Intermedia Arts' activities, while normalizing conversations about race.
The Role of the Artist
Powell‽ believes artists are bigger than themselves; they hold community, ancestry and responsibility. Artists carry a certain sensitivity for things that come through them and develop within them; it’s truly a life commitment, not a hobby. The title of an artist carries the authenticity and devotion of a lifetime craft and talent.
Powell‽ continues to encourage others to debunk their excuses; “too many people believe its more important to make a living then make a life, but the world cannot continue without creative people.”
“Knowledge is nothing if you don’t do anything with it. With knowledge comes responsibility”
- J. Otis Powell‽
On Making Change
Powell‽ expresses the importance of incorporating change into art and not just into political movements. "Politics are mainly cosmetic. In order to enact change, you must be the change and live the change. Be controversial, push back, resist clichés. It's about the internal politics within us, not always the external political forces around us. Build relationships with people who insist on things being different."
J. Otis Powell‽ is a poet working in aesthetics rooted in Afrocentric lore and culture. His work is informed by oral traditions in literature, music, and the Black Arts Movement. His theater skill translates into spoken word and performance art and his talent with philosophy influences whatever work he engages. J. Otis‽ has studied with Gloria Anzaldúa, Quincy Troupe, Amiri Baraka, Alexs Pate, Sekou Sundiata and Yusef Komunyakaa.
He was a founding producer of KFAI’s Write On Radio! and a program director and community liaison at the Loft Literary Center. For more than fourteen years Powell‽ has worked as an actor/performance artist, company member, curator and producer with Pangea World Theater as well as an advisor and curator for Poetry Picnic a project of Poetry on Chicago Avenue. He continues to mentor and advise artists on issues of creative process and living inside an original aesthetic.
J. Otis‽'s prose poem THEOLOGY: Love & Revolution, originally produced in association with the Minnesota Dance Alliance, was performed at the Knitting Factory in New York City, where he also performed with The David Murray Orchestra and read at The Nuyorican Poets Cafe.
J. Otis Powell‽ worked as a coeditor and contributor to Blues Visions an anthology published by the MN Historical Society, as well as a chapbook titled Pieces of Sky, that he wrote, with editorial collaboration and design from Rain Taxi and funding from the MN State Arts Board.
His writing has appeared in publications such as DrumVoices, Hungry Mind Review, Ruminator Review, A View from the Loft, Colors Magazine, the Star Tribune, Public Art Review, Performance Twin Cities, and the Arts Midwest Jazzletter His writing was included in: Barefoot In The Mountains, Views From The Loft (an anthology) and his poetry was featured in Bringing Gifts, Bringing News an anthology of poems from Downstairs Press and his book, My Tongue Has No Bone was published by Porter Publishing..
A CD project titled BALM was released through TruRuts/Speak Easy Records. J. Otis‽'s words have been recorded and released on several CDs: The 2nd Annual Chicago Calling, The Ghost Dog Tour with Stir Trio and Forward Energy, a DVD titled News as Abstract Truth, Unsentimental with Rene Ford, THIS CAT IS OUT, in association with The New Day Blues Band, THEOLOGY: Love & Revolution and Words Will Heal The Wound.
J. Otis has received a Loft Creative Nonfiction Award, a Jerome Travel and Study Grant and a Mid Career Artist Grant, an Intermedia Arts Interdisciplinary McKnight Fellowship, and more.
J.Otis Powell‽'s Blog