Orlando Poet Laureate Shawn Welcome wants to be the frame for the local arts community.
The frame is a term he coined when mentoring up-and-coming open mic show hosts and emcees. If a guest in an art museum walks away from a painting talking about the piece’s frame, he says, then they’ve missed the point. A frame’s purpose is to support and protect the artwork; to highlight its beauty and function for the viewer.
Shawn is the frame for The City Beautiful’s arts scene, and it’s a role he’ll carry well beyond his three-year term as Poet Laureate.
Shawn’s entryway to the world of performance poetry came in the form of freestyle rap lyrics and cyphers he and his friends dreamed up during his senior year of high school in Brooklyn.
Performance art and wordplay would be the nexus of his creative passion for most of his life, but it wasn’t until he attended the National Poetry Slam in Austin in 2006 that he truly found his calling.
Now living in Orlando, Shawn returned home and got to work building his own open mic night where folks could express themselves and build community. This was the beginning of Diverse Word, Orlando’s longest-running open mic night that takes place every Tuesday night at Downtown Credo.
Diverse Word is a cornerstone of the local arts community, but Shawn isn’t done building up its potential. His dream is for Diverse Word to be a hub for local creatives to get hired for their work, starting with a database of performers and their specialties that event organizers can consult to hire talent.
Shawn, by nature of his title and involvement in the arts scene, is steeped in the conversation about how to get Orlando “on the map” as a vibrant arts and culture destination. In his opinion, Orlando’s fault lies more in self-esteem than marketing.
“It’s almost like we’re waiting for some other city to validate what we have,” he said. “But we’re already there in terms of the talent that exists here.”
Instead of hand-wringing over the national reputation of Central Florida’s arts scene, Shawn encourages local arts and cultural leaders to rejoice in the opportunity to create without judgment or inhibition.
“That’s the cool thing about Orlando; it’s still, in many ways, soft clay. If you’re an artist here, you have an opportunity to shape what you want it to be,” he said. “There’s still white space on the canvas, and that’s exciting to me.”
If you would like to get involved with Diverse Word, open mic nights are every Tuesday night from 7:30 p.m. – 10 p.m. at Downtown Credo – North Quarter, 885 N. Orange Ave. Orlando, FL 32801. Everything from performance poetry to stand-up/improv is welcome.