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New initiative fuses jazz and art in Roxbury park

Jacquinn Williams | 7/3/2012, 10:43 a.m.
The Makanda Project Makanda Project

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The Makanda Project

Creative collaboration and good vibes are what Sparc! and the Makanda Project hope to achieve on Saturday, July 7, at Paint! Jazz! at the Roxbury Heritage State Park.

The concept is simple and creative: As jazz fills the air, participants are encouraged to paint or draw however the music makes them feel.

Launched in November, Sparc! is an initiative of the Center for Art and Community Partnerships at MassArt. It’s a roving art mobile that serves as the base for innovative and intergenerational art and design programs, projects and events.

Sparc! works with organizations, schools, and businesses to foster creativity.

Ekua Holmes, community coordinator for Sparc!, hopes the programming “motivates, innovates and stimulates.”

She is not alone. Her partner is John Kordalewski, the founder of the Makanda Project, a 13-member band dedicated to the music of composer and instrumentalist Makanda Ken McIntyre.

Holmes and Kordalewski are both excited about the meshing of their crafts next week.

Kordalewski studied under McIntyre, a Boston native, and started the group in 2005 in homage to the late musician and to jazz.     

“Historically, in Roxbury and communities like it, there were jazz clubs up and down the street,” he explains. “[There was a time] when people had pianos in their houses and the sounds of Charlie Parker could be heard coming from record players.”

Though a great number of Roxbury’s jazz clubs are gone, the members of the Makanda Project are working tirelessly to “build a presence in the community,” Kordalewski says.

At the last Paint! Jazz! event, held at the Dudley Library, there was a large number of participants.

By the end, Sparc! was fresh out of supplies, Holmes said. But it’s the feeling in the room while the musicians played and the audience delved into the art that has Holmes and Kordalewski enthralled.

“There was no line between the performers and those who were viewing, painting, drawing or listening,” said Holmes. “Whole families came out. We overbought supplies and ran out of everything. Almost 100 paintings were created.”

When both forces connected last, “there was a common core of creative energy, whether they were playing an instrument or playing a paint brush,” said Kordalewski.

The two met at a Makanda performance at Hibernian Hall. Holmes attended several of the group’s shows and was particularly impressed when the band had dancers perform with them.     

Kordalewski — who is always looking for ways to expand —  was just as keen on Holmes’ work as an artist. After meeting, they both decided to find a way to work together.

“Sparc! is about people having experiences that they wouldn’t normally have access to,” said Holmes, a well-known professional artist. “The ability to pair up with the Makanda Project with their commitment to the community is the perfect marriage of sound and sight.”

She grew up in a family devoid of other artisans. She says she used to bring home street signs, branches and other things that caught her eye. Her mother was an accountant who didn’t always understand her collection of objects, but she always supported Holmes.  

“I love where I came from. [Growing up] people would tell me, ‘yes you can do this and I’m going to help you,’ ” she said. “That tradition fuels my work.”

Sometimes, a little encouragement and support are all that’s needed for someone to try something new and, most important, keep at it.

Holmes and other members of the Sparc! team will be on hand to pass out materials and encourage everyone from ages 3 to 93 to get creative at Paint Jazz! on Saturday.

The Makanda project will perform 1-4 p.m. with two intermissions that will be filled with music from The Citywide Jazz Orchestra and poetry from the Books of Hope Poets.


Pant! Jazz! will be at the Roxbury Heritage State Park, 183 Roxbury St., Roxbury, Mass., on Saturday, July 7, 1-4pm.