Dressed in a long-sleeved flannel shirt, Ian Caven takes the mic. Behind him is keyboardist Doug Carter, with Fred Pereira on drums. There is no stage, and the lights are a soft glow. Artwork lines the walls. It's Wednesday night.
Caven reads out lyrics:
"Can you picture this?
Dream if you can of a courtyard
An ocean of violets in bloom
Animals strike curious poses
They feel the heat
The heat between me and you
How can you just leave me standing
Alone in a world that's so cold?"
"A little tribute to Prince, y'all," he says in a smooth voice, acknowledging the audience. They applaud.
Caven, artist and frontman of seven-piece classic hip-hop orchestra Plaid Blazer, leads the weekly Lyrics Lab at Bailey Contemporary Arts (BaCA) on Wednesday nights. The poetry, rhyme, music and spoken-word jam started a few months back, when BaCA, a studio and exhibition space, opened its doors in April. Creative City Collaborative, the same team behind Delray Beach's Arts Garage and Pompano Beach Amphitheatre, runs this cultural hub, according to the director of operations and administration, Amy Pasquantonio. "BaCA is partially CRA-funded," she says, "and the city owns the building."
BaCA — a two-story gallery and working art studio space — is situated a few blocks northeast of Atlantic Boulevard and Dixie Highway in Old Pompano Beach, where downtown once existed many years ago. Housed in the former historic Bailey Hotel, built around 1932, the Pompano Community Redevelopment Agency pumped nearly $1.4 million into renovating the quaint facility in an effort to drive cultural offerings to an otherwise-sleepy town. According to Shana Benson, a subcontractor of the CRA, "The vision for this area is to found an art and culture destination."
The artsy space has yet to host its grand opening but plans to do so in December. Already, though, its weekly Lyrics Lab and Friday sip-and-paint events are steady draws.
For his open-mic event, Caven sets up a makeshift performance area and guides the performers along, from poet to musician... puppeteers, even.
"I have an opportunity to arrange the evening based on the sign-up sheet," he says. "It might start with a poet, and if I'm familiar with the artists, I shuffle through the list and arrange the entertainment accordingly."
It's all about finding the flow.
"It's important for the MC host to pay attention to each artist and consider who their influences may be," he observes. "This one lady came up and read a poem; she was angry, and she read this line: 'I hope you step on a Lego,' said this little 19-year-old college student, Catalina Trigo. She's one of our regular poets. So when I got back to the mic, I spun a hardcore Wu-Tang song, 'Protect Ya Neck' — she might seem like a mild-mannered college student, but she's really a member of the Wu-Tang Clan."
When it comes to stage fright for new participants, Caven takes an encouraging approach, reminding them, "Hey look, this isn't gonna happen unless you make it happen."
Improvising comes easy to the Delray Beach resident. He has spent 20 years in music, writing and studying lyrics to the point that he's built up a "mental catalog" he taps into.
The jam occurs in one of the three downstairs gallery spaces with nearly 14-foot ceilings capped off with mood lighting that rotates from green to blue to red. A pale hardwood stairwell greets visitors at the door. Upstairs, four music studios each rent for around $200 to $400 a month, depending on square footage. To the right of the stairwell is a large sunroof. A lounge area with couches peeps around the corner. And a series of resident artists has already called BaCA their home.
Creative City Collaborative, the same team behind Delray Beach's Arts Garage, runs this cultural hub.
On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Colby DeGraaf paints with oils on a 36-by-36-inch canvas. "I focus on masculinity," he muses. Take a glance around his studio and one sees paintings portraying scenes of men, one a bearded man putting on a tie as he grimaces. DeGraaf, of Boca Raton, says he leased out this workspace because of the 24/7 accessibility and because the rent is affordable.
Other artists in resident include Hope Bruens and Todd "Todd the Painter" Traxler, who is displaying a series of paintings featuring famed hip-hop artists. Downstairs, the gallery space shows works of folks such as Miami artist Diana Contreras, known in the street-art scene as "Didi Rok." Works by Lori Pratico, famed for her tattoo portrait series, and scribbly cartoonish drawings by Ivan Roque are also on view.
Up next, classes for young aspiring thespians are in the works; so are plans to install a café. A spoken-word workshop, Fresh Air, will be offered September 24 by Richard "Byrd" Wilson, and a six-film series — Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers — kicks off Saturday, September 20, with a screening of My Toxic Backyard. A new film will run almost monthly through April 2015, and the filmmakers will attend to chat with audiences.
A $10 cover is charged for most events.
Aside from the busy programming, magic can be sure to spark during the studio's Lyrics Labs. As Caven says, the beauty of the free-flowing sessions spawns just the right vibe. "Musicians that don't know each other can meet on that plane of music and speak the same language," he says.