Suzi Q. Smith — a poet, writer, teacher, mentor and cultural administrator — is first and foremost part of a community. She rose up as a young person in the same community she now nurtures as an adult, on the front lines of such organizations, local and national, as Slam Nuba (where she doubled as a prize-winning slam poet and mentor); the Minor Disturbance Youth Poetry Slam; Poetry Slam, Inc.; Denver’s Youth on Record; Lighthouse Writers Workshop; and the Denver Commission on Cultural Affairs — all while holding her own as a performer, speaker and published author.
Who is Suzi Q. Smith, underneath all the titles and the shining veneer of public service? More of the same, it seems, creating a career that matters. Let her clue you in as she updates her Colorado Creatives questionnaire, which she first answered an eon ago in 2014.
Westword: How has your creative life grown or suffered since you last answered the CC questionnaire?
Suzi Q. Smith: Since last answering the CC questionnaire, my creative life has shifted, grown and suffered in some ways. I have taken on and released roles with arts organizations that have offered me incredible opportunities to serve and build community, but also take a great deal from my time and energy for my own creative work. It's important to me to ensure that there are spaces for not only myself, but for other creatives to grow, to learn, to be seen and heard. Finding the balance between being an artist and an arts organizer/activist and educator is a dance with ever-changing steps that I am continually learning.
As a creative, what’s your vision for a more perfect Denver (or Colorado)?
My vision for a more perfect Denver and Colorado has grown and shifted over the last several years as well, as I've worked more closely with Colorado Creative Industries and Denver Arts & Venues and learned about the visions of our city and state arts agencies, as well as the work that they are already doing. I've served on the Denver Commission on Cultural Affairs since 2017, which has given me clarity and insight around Denver's cultural plan, Imagine 2020.
While I am seeing arts become more integrated in daily life for people in Denver and cities throughout the state, I would love to see that extend into the rural areas of Colorado as well, so that everyone in our state has easy access to creative expression. I would also love to see affordable housing for artists, so that we can retain our wealth of creative genius!
While creatives already hold an important duty in shaping culture, I would love to see us have a role in shaping policy beyond the arts and culture. Artists live at the intersections: Where there are humans, there are creatives, and we have unique gifts to offer in education, health care, criminal justice, housing, climate, food and so much more. I would also love to see more retreats and residencies for creatives in Colorado, providing us the space to focus on creative expression and collaboration.
It’s a challenging time for artists and creatives in the metro area, who are being priced out of the city by gentrification and rising rents. What can they do about it, short of leaving?
The rising cost of housing is one of the biggest challenges facing artists and creatives in the metro area. While relocation is the way that some people are meeting this challenge, I'm also seeing creative solutions being developed by artists and communities, embracing co-operative housing options as an affordable way to remain in Denver.
Another thing artists and communities can do is to work with local housing agencies and organizations as well as municipal and state governments to advocate for and organize around affordable housing. Artists have the ability to tell compelling stories to engage the community at large, which is necessary to create cultural shifts that lead to real change.
What’s your dream project?
My dream project is probably a multi-disciplinary residency, with artists staying for three to six months to work on their individual projects as well as collaborating on a collective project that would be presented to the public at the end of the residency. I love thinking about what is possible if me and a few friends lived together for a few months with the freedom to completely focus on our art. I would love to see what would emerge, what we would make together, what we would learn from each other, and how we could share all of that with the community supporting us.
What advice would you give a young hopeful in your field?
Stay connected to why you started writing in the first place. There are so many highs and lows, and the bar for success is always a moving target. It’s important to stay connected to your purpose, which is often found in your origins. And I would share this quote from James Baldwin: “Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but, most of all, endurance.”
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
During my career, I have learned that there are so many smart, talented and dedicated people who make creative work possible while never standing in the spotlight. I want to recognize and thank the people who organize communities, build platforms, offer support and partner with artists to shift culture.
I have so many favorite Colorado Creatives, and so many favorite arts champions, that it is impossible to highlight one. I think it's important to honor the collective; we have built some beautiful arts communities in Colorado, and I hope to see these relationships grow in authenticity, vulnerability and creativity over the next several years.
What's on your agenda right now and in the coming year?
This year, I have a new collection of poems being published by Alternating Current Press (which is based in Colorado), so I'll be doing a fair amount of readings to share those poems, which I'm excited about! I'm still writing plenty, even venturing into prose. I’m hoping for a residency so that I'll have the time and space to finish the first draft of my first prose book this year. I'm collaborating with friends on projects that entertain and challenge us, finding new ways to explore our creative ideas and share them. There will be dancing, there will be theater, there will be laughter.
Also, I've returned to Youth on Record to teach creative writing full-time at Hill Middle School. This is my first time with students this young in many years, and I am grateful for the privilege to work with these students, especially getting to share so much of what I love with them and help them to find the path to their own creative expression.
Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOO, all of us all of us all of us. I'm especially rooting for everyone kind, talented, community-oriented and dedicated. I'm here for the collective.
Learn more about Suzi Q. Smith online.
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