Artists Curate Music, Dance, Visual Art and Trusted Space in 'Warmth'

Warmth’s next activation will feature a live DJ showcase and dance performances during BLINK on Oct. 14

Oct 5, 2022 at 5:04 am
click to enlarge Cj Wooten (left) and Alex Stallings are the creators of WARMTH Culture. - Photo: Prince Lang
Photo: Prince Lang
Cj Wooten (left) and Alex Stallings are the creators of WARMTH Culture.

In early 2022, Cincinnati artists Alex Stallings and Cj Wooten brought a new music exploration series to the Queen City. WARMTH Culture is led by queer individuals and people of color and is named for the safe and welcoming energy each event strives to create. With a focus on hip hop, R&B, and house music, Warmth has thus far succeeded in bringing the good vibes to spaces like the Mockbee and 21c’s Gano Alley.

Warmth’s next activation again will fill Gano Alley with a live DJ showcase and dance performances during BLINK on Oct. 14.

Both Wooten and Stallings have backgrounds in the arts outside of the Midwest. Stallings — also known Stallitix and one half of Cincinnati rap duo Patterns of Chaos — was born here but raised in Sacramento. He was there during the Hyphy movement, a hip-hop culture that originated in Oakland in the late 1990s. Stallings describes it as “carefree music” and “carefree energy.”

“There’s always been something in the water in the Bay Area, especially in Oakland,” Stallings tells CityBeat. “Seeing how people moved and how things were done, it was dope. When I came here I wanted to bring that here, that carefreeness.”

Stallings, who used to host a monthly hip-hop night at Revel OTR called “No Cool Kids Allowed,” says he has always valued spaces where people can let loose and be real.

“It’s a movement [of Hyphy]. People were dancing, just going to these functions, parties,” Stallings says. “Girls dancing, guys dancing. At parks, in the parking lot of [grocery stores] from 12 in the morning until 3 o’clock in the morning…”

“You really embody that,” Wooten tells Stallings. “Take your cool off and just have fun. That’s so distinctly special, and you embody that 100%.”

Wooten also is an Ohio native who has spent her share of time outside of the area, including years living abroad, with stints in Turkey and Eastern Europe. For her, living in different cities has been integral in developing a vision for Warmth.

“It’s given us a lot of different perspectives on what we don’t have here, what we want to cultivate and what still remains,” Wooten says.

Wooten and Stallings say that when they started developing Warmth, they wanted to create spaces that could feel like home, regardless of who you know or where you’re from. Part of that vision meant designing spaces where people can let their guard down.

Both agree that such spaces are too hard to come by.

“[I heard] of friends going places and being attacked because of their color of skin, being harassed because they’re a woman, being, you know, attacked because they’re queer,” Stallings says. “I wanted to cry with them, [and] in that moment I wanted them to feel safe.”

For Wooten and Stallings, one of the most important things about Warmth is that it is a safe space — beyond a safe space, actually, because as Wooten and Stallings say, almost in unison, “Safe for who?” The duo prefers to label their events as “trusted spaces.”

“[When we] create spaces that are trusted, where people can feel like they trust that environment and have accountability to everyone there, then something really magical happens and people connect in levels and ways that you wouldn’t necessarily anticipate,” Wooten says.

The Warmth tagline reads “Bring Your Best Self,” and Wooten and Stallings hope that this simple statement helps set the tone for their events.

“Drop the ulterior motives, drop the drama,” Wooten says. “Just leave all the bags at the door.”

Another major priority within Warmth is supporting the artists. The duo say they work hard to find the funding to pay them competitively and do what they can to develop support and respect from the audience. With so many shows happening at bar venues, Stallings says, it’s common for artists to play to noisy crowds just out for a drink.

“For the artists, we want something more,” Stallings says. Wooten also emphasizes the importance of giving artists a welcoming space and financial support.

“When they have resources they need, the possibilities for innovation and what it does for the community, what it does for the economy, what it does for culture in a city, is just exponential,” Wooten says.

For the BLINK activation, Warmth will highlight Black women artists in particular. The activation is titled “YEMAYÁ SISTA TO THE DISTANT YET RISING STAR,” which was taken from the 1997 film Love Jones. In the movie, the character played by Larenz Tate reads a poem dedicated to the woman he’s in love with.

“Now do they call you daughter to the spinnin post,
Or maybe Queen of 2,000 moons
Sista to the distant, yet rising star…”

“It’s an homage to Black women in a romantic sense, but also I think in a motherly, sister sense,” Stallings says. “Make them be seen, be heard and be respected. For this project, I want that to be resonating.”

The BLINK activation takes place 7-11 p.m. on Oct. 14 in Gano Alley, where Michael Coppage’s “Black Box Women” mural will line the walls. The mural both inspires and elevates the activation’s mission, which is led by a lineup of Black creative women based in Cincinnati.

The showcase includes DJ Queen Celine and DJ Rah D, who will focus their sets on music created by Black women. The (CA)^2 dance crew will jump in with intervals of hip-hop choreography inspired by the mythology of Yemayá and created to engage the audience with the dance floor. All of this is scheduled to happen beneath a light show by Louisville-based Lapis Laser Display.

“I think it’s going to be a beautiful thing,” Wooten says. “All those different components coming into it, but really anchoring it into having that respect and love and representation for Black women.”

“YEMAYÁ SISTA TO THE DISTANT YET RISING STAR” is one of Warmth’s final events for the year, but the series is just getting started. Stallings and Wooten say they believe in the power of these settings to build bridges between different cultures and regions. With each new activation, there’s an opportunity for warm connection and carefree fun.

“Black people are not a monolith. White people are not a monolith,” Wooten says. “Finding those bridges through music or through art is super powerful because I think it demystifies a lot of it. It really breaks [it] down, and I feel like people are actually able to connect as humans in those spaces.”

WARMTH Culture takes place 7-11 p.m. Oct. 14, in Gano Alley at 21c Museum Hotel, 609 Walnut St., Downtown. Info and curated Spotify playlists:

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