• By: Luke Barry

A creative cook up simmers in Hintonburg

Jamaal Jackson Rogers wears many hats.

Some in the nation’s capital know him as an award-winning arts educator, poet, creative entrepreneur, and performance artist.

A father of six, Jackson Rogers is also the Artist-In-Residence at Carleton University’s music program and was formerly the City of Ottawa’s English Poet Laureate from 2017 to 2019.

But he’s got something new cooking up.

On Leap Day, Jackson Rogers announced via Instagram he was granted funding to create what is titled “Origin Kitchen Concerts”.

While he originally envisioned putting off the monthly series at Origin Arts and Community Centre — the arts space he co-owns in Hintonburg — it’s now set to be four or five events later this year.

“The most common community is the home”

The idea for this project had its genesis in exposing people to the arts in a very community-centric, home-like fashion.

“The most common community is the home,” Jackson Rogers explained. “It’s not everyone’s community, I understand that, but the most common community around the world is the home and many times people have come into this studio and said they felt like they’re home.”

And it’s the kitchen — the domestic bee hive of activity — that is the hub of the household.

“In the kitchen, oftentimes parents, adults, caregivers, they would play music while they’re cooking,” he said. “There’d be a lively sense of gathering when there’s food and obviously if you’re a culinary practitioner, you’re an artist. So, for me, I wanted to touch on the idea that the home community is a space where many people get exposed to artistic expression, whether it’s music, whether it’s the culinary arts, whether it’s colour and taste and sound, all of that stuff gets meshed in a kitchen.”

For Jackson Rogers, the aim is to bring artists and art enthusiasts together from around the city to intimately engage with the arts and the artist, just like when seated around a dining table.

“You have to expose yourself to the art”

Preparing a melting pot of creation is something he sees as fundamental to the growth of Ottawa’s artistic landscape.

“Many artists are finding it necessary now to be multidisciplinary,” he said. “And in order to be successfully multidisciplinary and do many practices in art, you have to expose yourself to the art. Yes, have your fundamental art form, but find other ways to become creative so that you can be a professional.” 

Jackson Rogers credits broadening his own creative talents as something which proved to be the difference in his career.

“As a songwriter, a poet — a stage poet and a page poet — and a storyteller, I knew that it wasn’t enough to just be a performer,” he explained. “I couldn’t make a living off only being a performer, I had to find other ways to be creative to lend my talents so that I can commission work and have a financially viable platform as an artist. The more you can diversify yourself, the more opportunity you will have to find out ways to earn an income.”

It is thought that by having a kitchen concert series not just focused on a musical performance, those in attendance can get a taste of the Ottawa scene and the creatives themselves can network and intermingle in order to feed off the creative juices of others.

“There will be a visual artist who will have a vernissage up in the space on the same night and that visual artist will be teamed with the performing artist so that the aesthetic is similar,” Jackson Rogers said. “There won’t be contrasts in anything happening that night. During breaks and during the mixer and the closing, patrons will be able to explore the visual arts that are posted around the venue. There will also be a culinary artist or chef that will be holding down the kitchen and serving food that will also match and mirror the aesthetic of the performer.”

“We want it to be a cohesive, symbiotic experience where you come, the food matches the flavour of the performance and the flavour of the art that’s on the wall.”

Another element of the series will involve having an up-and-coming local business or entrepreneur in attendance.

“It’s easier to get that ball rolling when you have a bunch of people invested in something they want to see grow,” he said. “If we have a performer, a visual artist, we have a culinary artist all receiving the videos and getting their looks on YouTube and so on, then the sharing becomes broader and we continue to grow the appreciation for the arts in this city.”

Art has saved my life”

Jackson Rogers credits art as being both his saviour and his true calling.

“What I’d like to leave as a part of my work in this city, I want to make sure that there is space for people to have access to the arts because art has saved my life as being a person who has gone through mental illness and who had a really difficult upbringing,” he said. “It connects with so much of the human experience and the human condition. It’s not just about entertainment, it’s about how society’s quality of life and civilizations have used art to tell their stories from time immemorial.”

Expanding the city’s appreciation for creativity is what provides daily motivation for Jackson Rogers.

“It’s not enough for me to say that I made it as a professional artist,” he stated. “I want to be able to say there’s other artists that have made it too that I’ve seen or that I have created an avenue to show them how it’s possible to do it.”

“Eight years ago when I began as a professional paid artist, people told me it was next to impossible and I took that as a challenge. Now that I’m here, I want to be able to give back and show how this can be done, and some of the ways I found it  — networking, community — it’s vital, it’s vital, it’s vital.”

Photo: Luke Barry