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Trender: Arts Entrepreneur Reza Clifton

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Who are the Rhode Islanders leading in arts, fashion, food, and style? They're Trenders, and GoLocalProv offers glimpses of the people you most want to know on the scene. Today, writer, producer, and arts entrepreneur Reza Clifton, who helms the vibrant scene at Providence's hottest new music/nightlife/restaurant, Roots Cafe
Homegrown factor: Born and raised in Cranston and Providence. Graduated from URI. Currently lives in Providence.
1. Where did you get your start in your field?

I've worked in many fields, actually, including health, education, and workforce development.  But I've been working consistently as a radio producer and/or freelance writer since college, covering music and the arts especially in the countries from which my favorite forms of music come. My interest and participation in the arts started very early on; I remember being in chorus as early as 3rd grade and band as early as 5th grade, when I started with trumpet.  In 6th grade I switched over to drums and played through most of high school. 

The very first concert I attended was Janet Jackson during her Rhythm Nation tour. I was eight or nine at the time. I've had the live show bug since then, and, thanks to my parents, was allowed to develop it early on, so I'm also just an avid consumer of music.  Writing about music, DJ'ing, and producing/curating shows helps me get the artist/writer/music lover out.

2. How has living in Rhode Island played a role in your work?

Well, let me go two steps back before going two steps forward. I was born and raised in RI, Providence and Cranston to be precise.  After a two-year stint at American University in Washington, DC, I finished my bachelors degree at

URI.  I've since lived in Peace Dale (a village of South Kingstown), Warwick and I currently reside in Providence, plus I worked for two years in Woonsocket.  What I'm trying to say, maybe, is that it is impossible to separate living in RI from my work.  I love the diverse people, cultures and stories, and I've always found a way to hear or share these voices - as a research assistant interviewing children with asthma, as an educational reform activist listening to what youth and parents wanted, and as a writer and media producer sharing them on radio or in print.

3. How are things going with Roots... you've made a big splash. Is Rhode Island paying attention?

I think Rhode Island is paying attention.  We've had great media coverage and support in print and radio, and we have a number of bands and musicians contacting us weekly with performance inquiries.  Our Wednesday evening "Mezcla Roots" salsa class and Latin Jazz night is becoming a favorite, and we've seen great numbers on the Saturday date nights.  People seem excited about the space and have responded to everything from hip hop to zydeco to bilingual poetry, which we presented to a standing room-only audience last Thursday.  We're also excited about the different partnerships that we've developed with partners like the City of Providence, Johnson and Wales, VSA RI, and individual artists and musicians.  We're also about to unveil our summer programming, so we know we're going to continue to hear from the community.

4. What's the best thing about working in Rhode Island?

The best thing about working in RI is that there is so much diversity throughout the state that you could stop by the beach, a boutique in a busy downtown area, and a farm all in one day. You can meet people with family and relatives in South Carolina (like me), Dominican Republic, Italy, Ireland, Senegal, Haiti, and many more places.  This means that you don't have to go far for inspiration or new spaces.  I recently attended a grant workshop; I drove from my urban location in Providence to the almost rural neighborhood near URI.

5. What the worst thing about working in Rhode Island?

RI is the one of the original 13 colonies/states.  It is a place where our heritage makes us very proud, but in many ways, also sometimes means we are stuck in traditions.  Don't get me wrong, there are many pockets of innovation in this state, and with all the diversity I mentioned above, it cannot be avoided.  Still, sometimes it feels like there is a lack of interest or an absence of space for new ideas.


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