An Interview with Michelle Navarrete

Michelle Navarrete is BLVD-famous as the host of the weekly Open Mic nights at Cedar. She is an artist and now a published writer, actively engaging with the arts and artists in the Antelope Valley. She’s a person you should know about. She’s a person I’d like to know more about, anyway, and so…that’s what we’re doing.

A long time advocate for young performers and artists, Navarrete has been instrumental in keeping the Open Mic going and creating a space where musicians and other stage performers can get up in front of an audience and give it what they’ve got.

The Cedar Centre for the arts, to me, is a great example of artists grabbing at a chance opportunity and running with it (even sometimes against pressure to stop). Putting on art shows that give visual artists a chance to show their work in addition to the Open Mic nights, Cedar is one of the most vibrant (and embattled) art spaces in Lancaster. Located right on the BLVD, Cedar has been the eye of the storm in many public and private scuffles over leadership and use of the space. As of now, the city has taken over the gallery space at the Cedar Centre for the Arts and created Cedar:MOAH, but the space remains partly independent.

Through it all, Navarrete and a group of active artists have kept producing art and opportunities for others in the space. I had the opportunity to speak with Michelle Navarrete when we were both showing pieces at a Bravery Brewing art event a while back. In my humble opinion, her dark-&-coal-colored entries in the show were vivid and immediate and showed a great fusion of skill with sensibility.

And that is one of the first things you notice about Navarrete – she puts her sensibilities out front. And, in doing that, she encourages others to do the same.

Recently, I reached out to Navarrete when I heard that she was set to have her writing published at Elephant Journal. This seemed like a great time to get some of her thoughts on Open Mic night at the Cedar, on the local art scene and on her writing.

Interview ———

What happens at the Open Mic nights at the Cedar? (Or, what is the best thing about the kind of open mic that takes place at the Cedar every week?)

On some open mic nights, visual artists also bring their art work to showcase. This makes open mic feel like a complete world of raw, creative self expression, and it’s beautiful.

Performers simply arrive early to get a spot, sign up, and they get 7 minutes of stage time to utilize to their potential. However, it’s not the performances alone that make it what it is, but rather, it’s the communal support. There are never hecklers, and the crowd cheers on every performer, especially if the performer is noticeably nervous, or pausing during an act. We take care of each other, nurture one another’s talents, and act almost as if we’re family.

Who are some of the artists that you have had a chance to collaborate with and/or who have inspired you in the Antelope Valley?

The most amazing artists that I’ve collaborated with are hands down, my “We Are Cedar” crew. There’s Gary Jones, Megan Simpson, and Steven Fiche. They’re all incredible and immensely talented people with giant hearts and unstoppable spirits.

Before I met them, some other local artists that I found inspiring as I was growing up were Frank Dixon, Ulrica Bell Perkins, Judith Burnett, and a few others. I’m 32 now and first entered our local arts scene when I was 18. Frank Dixon’s art stood out to me because it was so fantastical, original, and every painting told a story. Ulrica and Judy are both very strong and cultured women, and as a timid young adult; I felt that they were good demonstrations of the characters that I could only hope to be at some point. Honestly, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with many wonderful artists over the years, and each inspires me in their own way.

Beyond the AV, who are some of your artistic inspirations?

Because surrealism always spoke to me so much more than traditional forms, I always admired Robert Williams, H.R. Giger, Mark Ryden, and a few others. As I was growing older, the more politically driven artists began to stand out a lot more to me. There’s a Chicano art collective led by an artist named “Artemio Rodriguez” entitled “La Mano Press” based out of East L.A. and many of the artists including Artemio, focus on struggle, history, and revolution. Street art is also hugely inspirational to me, especially with a withering economy, and the many communities that take “beautification” into their own hands to create hopeful, and thought provoking grand art pieces.

In your time running the Open Mic nights at Cedar, what kinds of changes have you seen in the local arts?

As with the natural state of things within most artistic communities, cliques and groups form. Open mic was never an exception. I’ve watched indie rock performers and supporters, walk out during hip hop based performers, and vice versa. The same goes for the art community, everyone has their own opinions on what art is, and often times it’s hard to view a style different from yours, with the same respect given unto what you are familiar with. I personally feel that whenever there’s an emergence of social struggle, like there has been lately, artists are quicker to fall into familiarity. When open mic first began, there was a stronger sense of unity, and over the years, that sense has come and gone. I appreciate and value our large spectrum of artists and musicians, but I often wish that it was easier for others to do the same.
There’s a strong feeling of fear out there within the creative realm, more so now than I’ve previously noticed. People shouldn’t be so afraid to showcase nude art, just like they shouldn’t be so shocked that open mic is uncensored.
We’re going into our eighth year at open mic, and it’s only been recently that I’ve really had to press for our youngsters to not be afraid of openly expressing themselves, whether on stage, or in showcasing their art, and that’s sad.

What are some venues that you would recommend to artists doing work in the Antelope Valley? Where should people look to show? To perform? Where do you turn for literary creative arts, in print or online? Are there any local zines being published that you know of?

As for local venues, we’re kind of at a stand still, with the more well known gallery settings being facilitated by government, it’s very hard to get out there and show. Some local businesses such as Bravery Brewing, Sagebrush Cafe, Perkies coffee and waffle house, Butlers, and a couple other shops are trying very hard to help house our local artisans. Every now and than The Moose Lodge will showcase art, as well as some other community based gatherings.

What’s so extraordinary with our arts scene, is how these businesses work with our artists, and how our artists look out for each other in showcasing. In terms of literary art, I know there’s “Mouse Print” publishing, and a couple other local publishers that try to incorporate our local writers into publications.

Personally, I’m pretty old school and I’m extremely taken by the smell of books, I’d love to see a much more community based publication that goes out regularly. “Zines” are like a golden goose out here, we all know that we need more, and we get super stoked when we come across them. As a matter of fact, if you know anyone that’s serious about publishing a regular zine, I’d be happy to utilize my resources and help out in any way possible.

Your writing is being published in an upcoming issue of Elephant Journal. What kind(s) of writing do you do? And can you say a few words about the process of getting published?

My writings are vast, in the sense that I write poetry all the time, but I also try to get my own personal writings off of my journals and out into the public. The article for Elephant Journal was based on dealing with mental health issues on a more personal level, as that topic has always been a huge concern of mine, next to art activism. The process of getting published is difficult if you’re impatient. There’s a lot of editing, a lot of drafting, and a lot of theme formation. Before the article was published, I had to do a couple drafts and some re-writes. If you’re writing about a topic that you’re passionate about it, absolutely every draft is worth it.

Is there anything arts-related happening now or coming up on the BLVD or in the Antelope Valley that you are excited about?

Pertaining to The BLVD, I’m actually very excited about We Are Cedar’s next showcase. We’re not official with the dates yet, but we’re shooting for October. Now is the time where most of The BLVD’s bigger events are kicking off for the holiday season, and even though it’s a pain because I also work on The BLVD, it’s wonderful for the community, especially the kids. There should be more arts related activities available to the public, and I wish I had more to share, but hopefully; soon enough, there will be.

What does art mean to you?

Art to me isn’t only about making a name for yourself, or providing a body of work that sells. I feel as though art is also about utilizing your voice and skill set to provide a therapeutic outlet in dealing with everyday adversity. Whether it’s stage performances, or visual arts, I believe that self expression will help you manage, deal with, and create a world from which you are comfortable, and can thrive. Art is the ultimate support system.

Would you like to give a shout-out to anyone who may be reading out there? 

I’d like to give a shout out to the artists that have always wanted to showcase but have never had the outlet without being asked to alter their works, or alter their themes. I’d like to give a shout out to the tons of original bands out there that have to fight for a paying gig, and take what they can, just because they love what they do. I’d like to give a shout out to the people that ran the legendary “fallout” festival, for giving artists and musicians alike, a place to simply be who they are. I’d like to give a shout out to anyone that believes any single person, or community collective can’t make a difference, because you make us fight harder.

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