January Writing Workshops

Sweat image

Image Credit: Destitute Pea Pickers in California. Mother of Seven Children. Age 32. (“Migrant Mother”) by Dorothea Lange via National Portrait Gallery

Join me for a new series of writing workshops in connection with the exhibition “The Sweat of Their Face: Portraying American Workers” at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. The exhibition combines art and social history with representations of American laborers across genres and centuries of art.

Strike a Prose: Fiction Inspired by “The Sweat of Their Face”
In this creative writing workshop, we will use the photographs and paintings from the exhibition to inspire short stories. We will read and discuss fiction focusing on issues of labor and social justice in the U.S. and write our own stories. Open to writers of all levels ages 18+. All workshops are FREE.

Register: Friday, January 5, 10:30 AM – 1:00 PM or Saturday, January 6, 10:30 AM – 1:00 PM.

Strike a Prose: American Workers in the 20th Century (Fiction & Nonfiction)
This creative writing workshop will focus on issues of twentieth century labor. We will read and discuss short stories and historical essays, and draw on the artwork in the exhibition to create new writing. Open to writers of all levels ages 18 +.

Register: Friday, January 19, 10:30 AM – 1:00 PM or Saturday, January 20, 10:30 AM – 1:00 PM.

Strike a Prose: Stories on Their Faces (Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry)
Using guided writing prompts, we will develop stories and poems inspired by the portraits and images from the exhibition. Fiction, nonfiction, and poetry prompts will be offered. Open to writers of all levels ages 18+.

Register: Friday, January 26, 10:30 AM – 1:00 PM or Saturday, January 27, 10:30 AM – 1:00 PM.


Poem: She Had Some Songs

Poem: She Had Some Songs
After Joy Harjo’s “Horses”

She had some songs

Songs that made her sing

Songs that held her hand

She had songs that walked with her and songs that skipped

She had songs that rocked her and stopped her and made her close her eyes

read the full poem on Remolinos, The Official Blog of riverSedge.

Artist Luis Peralta Del Valle Talks Art, Struggle, And Light

Published in DCist on September 28, 2017


Luis Peralta Del Valle, detail from Selfie Inside Out: So Ugly. Courtesy of the artist.

“I’m an artist always feeling like an explorer, not necessarily creating but instead discovering.” So says D.C.-based artist Luis Peralta Del Valle, who will give a talk on Saturday at the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum. The artist will speak of a journey from home to a strange place.
“We left Nicaragua because of the Contra/Sandinista war, the civil war,” he says. “When we came here, unfortunately, we ended up in Columbia Heights before the development. We had crack addicts sleeping in our building’s stairwell. When I was walking to school, I stepped over them just to get out of the building.”

That kind of environment led him to graffiti and then to murals. Fortunately, in the middle of these difficult circumstances, an art teacher at Bell Multicultural High School encouraged his talent.

“She started watering me like a plant,” says Del Valle.

Thanks to that encouragement, Del Valle started winning art awards and learning about the Old Masters. He found further encouragement from Judy Byron, who founded an artist mentorship program with the Corcoran Museum of Art. The experience shaped his future.

At 16, Del Valle received his first commission from the fitness franchise Body by Jake, which was looking for a community-based artist to produce a mural. He had less than two weeks to complete the project, so he contracted with some of his friends to complete the work. “Hiring them to do this painting got me to think about art as a company—not just being an artist and making a living for myself, but also providing opportunities for other artists,” says Del Valle.

He created a huge opportunity for himself. Without any professional experience or a Catholic background, Del Valle walked into the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center (now The Saint John Paul II National Shrine) in Brookland and proposed the organization hire him as a curator. “I don’t put limits on myself,” he says.

A curator wasn’t needed at the time, but he was hired to work part-time as an assistant, and in the process Del Valle learned something special about his own artwork. “That’s when I realized that a lot of my early works were religious,” he says. “I wasn’t interested in religion at all as a teenager, but it just came out of me naturally.”

Del Valle moved into a full-time position as the visitor services manager, and when the curatorial team left he was put in charge of an upcoming exhibition. His plan had worked. “Here I was, this young guy from the streets doing exhibits on the Holy Land, using Vatican items,” he says of the position he worked until 2011.

In his own artwork, Del Valle tells stories in vibrant colors, painting family, friends, and everyday people, historical icons, musicians, leaders, and legends. He leads community workshops and teaches young artists how to mix their graffiti skills with fine art painting techniques that can garner income. Occasionally, he still employs artist friends to assist with his commissions. Recovering from a serious car accident about a year and a half ago, such assistance was invaluable because he could not work on large-scale murals.

LuisDelVallePainting1While incredibly painful, the recovery process led him to a new artistic direction. Del Valle often uses paper plates for his palettes, and instead of throwing away the remnants of dried paint, he had saved stacks of such plates without knowing what to do with them.

“I couldn’t paint because my joints were hurting. I decided to start peeling off the paint on the paper plates and applying it to some paintings that I had. The first one was ‘Selfie Inside Out,’ which is a self-portrait. It gave my work a whole new dimension,” he says. Now, he is back to murals and is currently working on a new commission.

Giving back to the community has remained important to the artist. “It’s important because God gives us opportunities to overcome a lot of struggles that other people are having a very difficult time overcoming. Sometimes, people have to be an example that if I can do it, then someone else can do it.”

And he wants to encourage others to use their art as personal expression and political statement. “Sometimes, through our artistic excellence we can show people who we really are. We can show them that not everybody that is a Latino immigrant is committing crimes. We are an asset to the United States and bring a positive light to it.”

Luis Peralta Del Valle speaks on Saturday, September 30 from 2-4 p.m. at the Anacostia Community Museum, 1901 Fort Place SE. Free.

Magee McIlvaine’s Photos Capture Language Of Hip-Hop


Bocafloja, one of Mexico’s most influential hip hop artists, progressive thinkers, and creative minds. (Magee McIlvane)

Photographer Magee McIlvaine grew up in sub-Saharan Africa—in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo before moving to the U.S. while in high school. Despite feeling like an outsider to some degree in each new location, it was hip-hop that made him feel at home. In the exhibit Comunidad, Communauté, Community. at ReCreative Spaces, McIlvane’s photography demonstrates the friendship and collaboration inherent to hip-hop, a universal language that connects people across physical and cultural boundaries.

The exhibit culls 25 photos from McIIvaine’s trove of portraits and behind-the-scenes shots that capture his work and relationships with hip-hop artists in such locations as Burkina Faso, Mexico, Senegal, South Africa, the U.S., and more.

A documentary filmmaker, McIlvane co-directed Democracy in Dakar and Democracy in Paris, which look at Senegalese communities in their native land and as immigrants. He is also the creative director of Nomadic Wax, where he has produced collaborative projects including mixtapes, tours, and exchanges with international hip-hop artists. The photographs included in Comunidad, Communauté, Community emerged from these latter projects.

Most of the photos were not made during a formal photo shoot. “It was more like were doing a music video shoot or someone crashed at my place in D.C. or I crashed at their place in Zimbabwe, and they just sort of happened spontaneously,” says McIlvaine.Music enabled him to make connections wherever he was. “Obviously, I was not Zambian or I wasn’t Tanzanian, but then I also wasn’t American or Washingtonian. Hip-hop was one of the main things that provided a common ground and a way to relate to people from different places as I moved in and out of many different communities,” says McIlvaine.

Through his work with Nomadic Wax, which uses music, media, and the arts to promote social change and cultural exchange, he has traveled extensively and connected and collaborated with like-minded artists. The photos also explore his relationships within D.C.’s hip-hop scene with both local artists and artists from African nations and black communities around the world.

Comunidad, Communauté, Community. includes photos taken over the course of a decade, and serves as a personal record. “When I look back on that time now it seems less about the projects [with Nomadic Wax]—the projects were great; I love them—but it is more that I’m really excited about all of these different friends that I have all over the world where we’ve shared these experiences,” he says.

With a mix of portraits and action shots, his photos capture real life in beautifully composed images. McIlvaine’s tightly cropped photos highlight facial expressions, hairstyles, tattoos, and clothing, and create an intimate experience for the viewer. To add context to the work, he has composed narratives to share the stories behind the images.

The show aligns with the mission of ReCreative Spaces, which opened in 2014 and moved to Mount Rainier two years ago. The venue includes studio space for artists and develops diverse programming and exhibits. Co-found and director Emily Arden Eakland has followed McIlvaine’s documentary work for a long time and explains that he will determine the show’s look and layout. “It’s really important to me that the shows here reflect the aesthetic and values of the artists who are showing,” says Eakland, who sees the gallery as a meeting place for the local community.

This local community is part of the global community. “[The photos] are about the memories and experiences that I am reminded of when I see these faces,” says McIlvane. “They are about a diverse and vibrant group of artists, people who embrace geographic, cultural and linguistic differences, and have forged ahead to create a beautiful community, and create beautiful art together.”

Comunidad, Communauté, Community. will be on view from July 7 – September 29, 2017 at ReCreative Spaces, 3501 Perry Street, Mount Rainier, MD. The opening reception on July 7 includes a chance to meet the artist, plus a live DJ + freestyle cipher with local and international emcees featured in the exhibition, including Bocafloja (Mexico), Waterflow (Senegal), Dumi Right (Zimbabwe), and Kokayi (DC).

Listen to a Nomadic Wax Mixtape

This mixtape is a combination of audio/radio documentary and traditional hip hop mixtape formats. It takes audio interviews from around the world addressing the theme of “home” and pairs it with original verses from emcees from all over the world. Listen here.

Two Arab Art Shows Explore Conflict, Identity, And Community

Published in DCist on Sept. 1, 2017
Ali Cherri, Trembling Landscapes (Algiers), 2014 (American University)

Maps. They represent both natural land and human development, community, boundaries. The act of making a map, of carving up land into demarcations aligned to coordinates, is an ancient art form. In some ways, too, maps serve as records of violence.

In his work, Trembling Landscapes (Algiers), Lebanese artist Ali Cherri maps conflict. The cityscape of Algiers is neatly ordered; the land arcs gracefully towards the sea, but trouble hides beneath the image’s surface.

“He is depicting cities that are on geological fault lines, but they are also sites of political fault lines as well,” says Karim Sultan, director of the Barjeel Art Foundation. The artist’s series traces the lines of Algiers, Beirut, and Damascus.

Cherri’s work is part of the group show, Between Two Rounds of Fire, The Exile of The Sea: Arab Modern and Contemporary Works from the Barjeel Art Foundation, which opens September 5th at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center.

“The exhibition deals loosely with the ideas of conflict and violence, and perhaps not in a way that you would associate with art from the Arab world,” says Sultan, the show’s curator.

The artists’ explorations feel personal. Their examinations extend to the body, language, memory, and identity. For example, Hayv Kahraman complicates the aesthetics of the Renaissance female form in an attempt to illuminate the violence of the contemporary female experience.

“When you first look at her work, the most distinctive things are these very aesthetically and sort of art historically perfect female forms that adorn the canvas,” says Sultan. “Several of her works deal with the body being punctured as a way of symbolizing social pressures on the female body, and the micro-violence against the female form on a daily basis—especially in art history,” Sultan says.

In a 2016 interview with Glass Magazine, Kahraman describes her process of empowering the colonized female form (who Kahraman refers to as “Her” and “She”).

“‘Her’ emergence, her white diaphanous flesh, her contrapposto, was an embodiment of someone who was colonized; someone who was taught to believe that European art history was the ultimate ideal. She became an expression of whom I had become as an assimilated woman,” says Kahraman. “I’m now working to give her agency and a voice, and as I obsessively repaint her again and again, she becomes part of a collective.”

Zena Assi, Al Kouwa Fi Yad El Mara (The Force is in the Hands of the Woman), 2016 (American University)

Thirty-one artists were invited to create an original still art work for I AM: An East-West Arts Initiative Organized by CARAVAN. Also opening on September 5th at the American University Museum, the exhibition will explore the experiences of women in the Middle East.

In Lebanese artist Zena Assi’s colorful portrait Al Kouwa Fi Yad El Mar2a (The Force is in the Hands of the Woman), the subject stares directly into the viewer’s eyes. Her garment is collaged with images, political symbols, and symbols of commerce. The collage is peppered with words and labels that can be read as inspirations or even threats, depending on interpretation.

Assi, who frequently takes photos of graffiti, explains, “The tags keep changing so rapidly … Some old ones survive somehow, but with graffiti, beauty resides in the fact that they are fragile, completely public and unprotected … like the saying, ‘If only walls could talk,’” She took the title of the piece and its inspiration from a slogan spray painted on a wall.

Like Assi’s work, compelling viewers’ gaze is part of the point of I AM. “The exhibition is designed to challenge misconceptions of the ‘other.’ Hopefully, visitors will gain insight into the lives of contemporary Middle Eastern women and will experience the diverse voices, aspects, and opinions of these strong, experienced, and accomplished artists,” says Rev. Canon Paul-Gordon Chandler, Founding President of CARAVAN, an international peace building arts non-profit organization.

Art has power. “The artworks promote and celebrate the many accomplishments of Middle Eastern women while also challenging existing stereotypes,” says Chandler. “Ultimately, we want the exhibit to enhance understanding and encourage friendship between the peoples of the Middle East and West.”

Between Two Rounds of Fire will be on view from September 5—December 17I AM will be on view from September 5—October 22. American University Museum, 4400 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20016.

Writing Workshops Based on Sylvia Plath


In October, I will  be teaching a series of writing workshops hosted by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, in conjunction with the exhibition “One Life: Sylvia Plath”.

There are three separate themes and the classes repeat (Friday class repeats on Saturday). Classes will be held at National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
800 G Street, NW, Washington, DC. All workshops are FREE.

Session 1: Strike a Prose: Inspiring Images

Join us for an exciting creative writing workshop. Using guided writing prompts, we will develop stories and poems inspired by the portraits, images, and artifacts in “One Life: Sylvia Plath”. Fiction, nonfiction, and poetry prompts will be offered.
Open to writers of all levels ages 18 and up.

Dates: Friday, October 13, 2017, 10:30 AM – 1:00 PM  or Saturday, October 14, 2017, 10:30 AM – 1:00 PM

Session 2: Strike a Prose: Masks and Mirrors

Join us for a writing workshop celebrating the work of Sylvia Plath. Presented in connection with the exhibition “One Life: Sylvia Plath,” this workshop will focus on writing from the first-person perspective. We will write new work that explores the duality of our internal and external selves and examines the ways that we hide and reflect different aspects of ourselves.
Open to writers of all levels ages 18 and up.

Dates: Friday, October 20, 2017, 10:30 AM – 1:00 PM or Saturday October 21, 2017, 
10:30 AM – 1:00 PM 

Session 3: Strike a Prose: Experiments in Form

Sylvia Plath was known for experimenting with poetic forms, breaking genre rules, and taking risks with her writing. Using Plath’s poems, portraits, and visual works from the exhibition “One Life: Sylvia Plath,” we will experiment with different forms and styles to develop new poems.
Open to writers of all levels ages 18 and up.

Dates: Friday, October 27, 2017, 10:30 AM – 1:00 PM or  Saturday, October 28, 2017, 10:30 AM – 1:00 PM 

Tasting 7 Whiskey Flavored Coffees

For coffee lovers who hate to choose between night drinking and day drinking, your prayers have been answered. Bourbon and whiskey-flavored coffee is the latest trend in specialty coffee, and it’s coming from both big liquor brands and small-batch roasters.

There are a few ways to get that warm flavor into the beans, ranging from infusion to barrel aging to old-fashioned artificial flavoring. While these coffees don’t contain alcohol, you certainly will smell like you’ve been hitting the bottle before breakfast. So drink with caution. Read the full article hereJackDaniels_Coffee


Professional Development Workshop for Artists on July 15

Quit Your Day Job! Create an Action Plan for Your Arts Career

Saturday, July 15, 2017
10:00 AM – 1:00 PM
Hera Hub DC, 5028 Wisconsin Avenue Northwest #100
Register Here.


Audience: Artists, writers, dancers, musicians

Are you ready to quit your day job? Maybe you just want to take a few months to focus on your art. In this workshop, you will learn how to create a transition plan, timeline, budget, and action steps that will move you toward your goal. Through writing exercises and discussion, you will determine what resources you need to take the leap. Whether you want to write a novel, create work for an exhibition, or go on tour with your band, you can design a strategy that will work for you. Come with your dream; leave with a plan.

Register Here.

Welcome to Miami

Miami Beach Coast, Florida

Meet the pioneers transforming Miami’s coffee industry.

Known for sun, fun, and rhythm, one thing Miami was not known for was specialty coffee. Until recently.

Since 2010, specialty coffee has spread across Miami. Through customer education and a focus on service and quality, a handful of pioneers have transformed the city’s coffee industry.


Jump-starting Miami’s specialty scene wasn’t the idea when Joel and Leticia Pollock dreamed of creating their own coffee company. Joel had worked in coffee in Portland, Oregon; Leticia had worked in Portland and her native Brazil. Together, they wanted to do coffee their way—they just didn’t know where. While vacationing in Miami, they saw their opportunity.

Read the full article at Fresh Cup.

The Best Coffees Coming Out of Alaska

coffee campingThere’s something exciting brewing in Alaska. While it’s not the first state you think of when specialty coffee comes to mind, the Last Frontier is not to be overlooked. The coffee culture of the Pacific Northwest made its way to Alaska in a big way.

The specialty coffee scene has spread from small coffee carts to cafes featuring locally roasted beans with bold flavor. Whether you’re in-state, or looking to try a new coffee at home, here are a few Alaskan specialty roasters to check out.

Read the full article.