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Art in the City

Free Ya Mind productions invites new speakers to the mic: visual artists

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When the bombings of Sept. 11, 2001 left a country reeling, Stella Haioulani was a coffee-shop regular who took it upon herself to be sociologist to her community.

Haioulani, (say, How-a-lahnie) whose first name means “Star” and whose last name means “Beautiful Heavens,” came to Tacoma from California as a young girl, and used break dance early on to express herself past the pain of growing up.

Working with the Pierce County Aids Foundation later in life, she was accustomed to more pain, but she recalls, “9-11 rattled me in a different place. The coffee shop was not the same. Work was not the same.”

She says she sensed her community might “go postal if we don’t create opportunities to free your minds.”

So in 2002, she talked to her regular coffee shop, Tulley’s on Broadway, (aka “The Corner”) and created the first of the Free Ya Mind spoken word open mics. Since then, the corner coffee shop has hosted the open mic on the last Friday of every month, and the Free Ya Mind company has grown as well. With subsidiaries including a production company and management side, Free Ya Mind promotes a conscious awareness of social justice. Basically, according to Haioulani, the company brings issues of health, leadership, education, and economic development, and synthesizes them with art to create a dynamic environment.

“It’s like True America,” Haioulani says of Tulley’s open mic, “to stand on the steps and look back: all ages, nationalities, sexual orientations … homeless vets, people with addiction issues … it’s people coming together and being themselves.”

And in being themselves, through poetry, joking, singing, or even venting thoughts off-the-cuff, people can free their minds, unloading some of the weight that might bog them down.

“As producer and occasional host, I feel honored when people come and read for the first time,” Haioulani asserts.

And now a new brand of mic-holder can free his or her mind: Haioulani explains that through “synthesizing” with Chip Van Gilder, who has been curating the art in “The Corner,” artists whose work hangs in the space will get a chance to speak their mind every last Friday of the month under the guise of Art in the City.

“The point of Art in the City is the visual artist is invited down to the show. We honor the artist with the opportunity to describe their artwork. And then a poet might do an interpretive poem, and bring the art to life. People can have their shows the way they want them.”

Shows are free, though donations are accepted.

[Tully’s Coffee, Friday, Nov. 30, 7-9 p.m., $3 suggested donation, Ninth and Broadway, downtown Tacoma, 253.921.1160]

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