Local poetry, music and spoken word events.

Image by Shimshon Obadia
Image by Shimshon Obadia

We had the opportunity to speak with Cole Mash, the Managing Director and Acting Executive Director of Inspired Word Café. Here is the full interview:

When and how did Inspired Word Café start? What was the vision from the beginning?

CM: Inspired Word Café (IWC) was started 10 years ago by Rawle James, a local poet and community member. It began as a small open mic. I'm not sure where it was initially held, but I believe it was held at a number of venues around town. The vision is much what it has always been: to provide a stage and a platform for the voices of people in the community, to bring people together through poetry and music, and to grow the arts in a relatively conservative city.

How would you explain Inspired Word Cafe to someone who's never heard of it before?

CM: We always joke around and say that IWC is the closest thing you can get to church without god. But it's kind of true. I'm not religious, but I was raised that way, and the appeal is similar: shared community through words, hope, and practice. We just don't ask for your soul! But seriously, IWC has a kind of magic in the way that people come out. There is a really supportive and honest community of people from all different walks of life and relationships to poetry. When someone new comes out, I can see the spirit come over them sometimes. They catch that IWC fire. I'm joking with that language, of course. But ultimately, I think that having a safe space for people to come share words with like-minded people in a shared craft is important. The Okanagan has a lot of really talented poets and we provide a stage for them and chairs for their friends. Build it and they will come, I suppose.

Photo from the Inspired Word Café's Facebook page.
Photo from the Inspired Word Café's Facebook page.

How do you feel about the arts community in Kelowna? Does Kelowna provide enough opportunity for organizations like IWC? Or is it more difficult compared to larger cities like Vancouver or Victoria?

CM: I wouldn't say that the arts community here is more difficult. It is certainly smaller. But I think the opportunities provided to smaller communities through granting agencies like BC Arts Council are much less in the interior than in the lower mainland. Larger granting agencies are more willing to fund larger cities at disproportionate rates, which makes it hard. Art isn't quantifiable in the same way that STEM is, so there is inherently less money in it. Without support from outside sources like the BC Arts Council, it is impossible for arts to grow past the grassroots in small communities like Kelowna. So I'd say that Kelowna's arts scene is thriving, but the current global, late-capitalist model doesn't benefit the arts, which is sad.

How will the recent closure of Milkcrate Records affect IWC and their future events?

CM: We have only been at Milkcrate for under 2 years. Milkcrate was a wonderful home thanks to Richard's generous support, but we are fine. We have changed venues a number of times before. For now, we have relocated to the Alternator Gallery and the Cool Arts Space at the Rotary Centre for this year. And we always host an event or two at larger venues like the Blackbox. I'm sure it won't be the last time our venue changes. At least until we get a real café ;)

Photo from the Inspired Word Café's Facebook page.
Photo from the Inspired Word Café's Facebook page.

What are your plans for the future?

CM: We are slowly growing the organization. We have a great board of directors now who do a lot of great work for us. We are building out our policy and each year our budget grows. In terms of concrete plans, this year we are hoping to expand our youth slam into a mentorship program, and we want to provide a monthly poetry workshop for people outside of the institution who wouldn't otherwise have access to that kind of artistic training and support. Our mission and mandates say we want to be the number 1 provider of poetry in performance in the interior, but I think we already are. So number 1 in BC next, then Canada. I really believe that we can take this as far as we want because of the attitudes and values of the organization: democratizing poetry and upholding community members. We host monthly poetry competitions, but we don't get caught up in winning. I think if we can retain that spirit, the organization will continue to grow and feed the people who support the events.

Where can people find out more about IWC?

CM: The best way is to find us on Facebook and Instagram @inspiredwordcafe or go check out the website at inspiredwordcafe.com. We also have a ton of stuff on Youtube from when we used to host a local, cable TV show. There are some good poems on there from a lot of great poets.