One of the undiagnosed ills of Miami is the tendency of its homegrown artists to leave for broader horizons. It has all of the cultural diversity, money, and institutional backing to expose young people to an amazing upbringing in the arts, but seems to fall short in distracting them from more traditionally lucrative cities like New York and Los Angeles.
But that doesn't mean Miami doesn't have a place in the careers of artists destined for more established art scenes, says Ernest Felton Baker, an Opa Locka native and 2009 U.S. Presidential Scholar in the arts. He was also YoungArts' first-ever winner in Hip Hop Dance. Baker is returning home from New York as part of the In Process: Homecoming residency through the YoungArts Foundation.
"I think, as a creator, Miami really has an incredible community to nurture," he acknowledges. "It’s a place to definitely hone creativity and originality because they have less competition than New York and L.A."
As a budding artist, Baker felt nurtured not only through the work he did with artists like Rosie Herrera and organizations like the YoungArts Foundation, but also by his community.
"What Miami is very special for is the community and village, so to speak, that really shaped a lot of my personality. Everything from culture to being surrounded by the melting pot of ethnicities, of different fashions, cuisines, and nature," Baker says. "I was able to learn all these [dance] styles and build proficiency in all of those styles because of the vibrancy of Miami."
Ultimately, though, the bird left the nest, something that Baker felt lead him to find his true purpose. Before he explains, he cites a passage from Luke 4:24; "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in his hometown." The journey he would go on would become spiritual as well as artistic.
"I searched high and low for the truth, what would really be my identity in life," he says. "I read, I traveled, studied different things, and started to read the Bible and pray. After I did that I was, and I still am, happy."
It's this journey that, in part, makes up the content of HOME, the planned collaboration between Baker and L.A.-based musician and filmmaker Kayla Briët. Her short film Smoke That Travels was shown during National YoungArts Week in January 2016. Musician Christian Reátegui will compose the score for the experimental documentary.
Herself a YoungArts winner, Briët's work straddles several mediums, although she doesn't necessarily see herself as interdisciplinary. "I think of all of these mediums as vessels and extensions to tell stories," says Briët. "It’s almost like speaking different languages — the more languages you know, the more people around the world you can communicate with."
This dynamism will be important, considering that the project has a four day deadline. The residency begins April 2nd and culminates in a showing on April 7th. When New Times spoke to Briët and Baker, they hadn't even met in person.
"It’ll definitely be a whirlwind," admits Briët. "It’s a very personal concept. For me as storyteller, as someone who’s told very personal narratives as well, I’m very sensitive to learning more about Ernest’s journey and portraying it in a way that’s truthful and vulnerable."
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Much of the project is still in the works, although interviews, on-film dance, and a live score are tentative mainstays. Briët is interested in 360 cinema, a technique that creates an all-encompassing, literally 360-degree view. This is usually accomplished using Virtual Reality-type goggles, but she hopes to accomplish a communal experience for the showing of HOME. Baker's goal is two-fold: first, explore "the duality of [his] physical home in Miami and [his] spiritual home in heaven," and secondly, to incite in viewers the sense that "our purpose is not materialistic, it’s not temporal, it's not anything fleeting. It’s actually what we will do once we leave Earth."
It's a heady mixture of material, although there's no doubt the duo will do it justice. While both are nationally acclaimed and awarded artists, they both emphasize the creation of HOME as a learning experience in which value is derived from the murky, undiscovered territories available for exploration.
"I think putting the emphasis on play is so important when it comes to creative expression," reflects Briët. "All of the most beautiful collaborations come to play when you’re given that space and freedom to explore and get to see the world through the eyes of a child, in a sense. Sometimes it's important to dive into the unknown and collaborate without expectation. In this sense I think this project really embodies to creative spirit."
In Process: Homecoming with Ernest Baker and Kayla Briët. 7 p.m. Saturday, April 7th, at the ARC, 675 Ali Baba Ave, Opa Locka; 305-377-1140; youngarts.org. Admission is free with RSVP via eventbrite.com.