60 Seconds With Burton Street ONEmic Studio
By Fred Mills
It wasn’t all that long ago when Asheville’s LEAF Community Arts created the Schools And Streets program in order to “use the arts to bridge cultures and create life-affirming, community building experiences—empowering our youth to become global citizens, leaders and agents of positive change.” And since 2014, one key component of the program has been the Burton Street ONEmicStudio.
Located at 134 Burton Street just slightly south of Patton Avenue in Asheville, ONEmic Studio is a partnership with Asheville’s Parks & Recreation intended to provide crucial resources to local youth as well as the larger community. That term—“community”—is indeed operative, as the Burton Street Residence Association has been generous with welcoming the project. Of additional note: ONEmic’s work has been funded in large part by the Ben Gradison Memorial Fund, which honors the late Ben Gradison, founder and director of D-Street Studios. Gradison was an educator in Asheville who recorded numerous young artists from the area; he also traveled to establish music studios in Kenya, Tanzania, Colombia, and the Caribbean.
The goal of ONEmic, says LEAF Community Relations Director Cortina Caldwell, “is to connect local and national musicians with young aspiring musicians and provide them the time and space to create work inspiring them to use technology as a means of creative expression through a multiple day experience to deepen their understanding of using technology to create music. [It] allows youth and community members to access a fully operational recording studio for creative projects.
“By celebrating the accessibility of music that technology provides, this project seeks to provide a meaningful and engaging experience for youth in our local under-served community. It features master musicians, sound technicians, and music producers both locally and nationally known and encourages the development of artistry with young local aspiring artists from the Asheville community.”
ONEmic has clearly been meeting that goal, and since its start, it has already expanded to include a West African drumming class with master djembe player Adama Dembele; hip hop dance with award-winning dance instructor Lisa Zahiya; songwriting with popular local musician Leeda “Lyric” Jones; and graffiti art with noted hip hop authority and DJ/producer Nex Millen. The program continues to grow, in fact: In addition to Lyric’s songwriters workshop and Millen’s hip hop culture class, there’s a Breakdance 101 class taught by Bboy EvanS (pull up some of his clips on YouTube and prepare to be amazed) and an intro to DJing/turntablism lesson by DJ Kutzu (ditto with the YouTube; check Millen’s and Lyric’s videos as well). The studio is also available for open time on Mondays and Wednesdays and every third Saturday.
“I was introduced to the program when I met Jennifer Pickering, Executive Director of LEAF, at a gathering of friends,” says Millen, outlining the genesis of his involvement with ONEmic. “I had just moved to Asheville from Philadelphia and was explaining to her about my work with Hip Hop Culture Education. When I also let her know that I am a music producer and recording engineer, she asked me to check out ONEmic Studio and I have been involved ever since.”
Asked to outline ONEmic’s core strengths, Millen doesn’t hesitate. “I would say the ability to connect with young people, whether they want to be a recording artist or not. We provide a place where they can come and have fun in a way that they never thought they could—making beats, playing instruments, and recording each other is something most of the young people who participate never thought they would have access to these tools.”
“ONEmic is a truly unique program,” he continues, “because we encourage the Each One, Teach One method. Once a young person learns a skill, we empower them to use what they have learned in real time, as well as pass their lessons to another young person. This way young people are teaching and learning from their peers, which builds great confidence amongst students. It also improves communication skills and reinforces responsibility and accountability.”
Significantly, the ONEmic braintrust has no plans to rest on its laurels. For example, Millen points out that they are currently focused on bringing visual media into the program. “Today’s music is ingested through the eyes as well as the ears—videos go hand in hand with your favorite song. With the rise of New Media, learning video editing, set lighting, or being a drone camera operator are other skills that we would like to offer to the community.”
Adds Caldwell, “In addition to the Burton Street community, there are now ONEmic programs cultivated within these LEAF International programs: Tanzania, Haiti, Kenya… and, coming soon – Rwanda!”
And if he were to distill the ONEmic mission down to one or two sentences, what would Millen want the public’s takeaway to be?
“I would want the public to know that Burton St ONEmic Studio is for everyone,” he says, firmly. “No matter their color, age or gender. We are here for everyone.”
Visit Burton Street ONEmic Studio (telephone: 828-254-1942) on the web for more details on the classes and schedule.