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Washington Life

White House Poetry Jam Follows Morning Arts Meeting

Updated 7:05 p.m.
By Garance Franke-Ruta
The Obama White House runs on a large number of fronts simultaneously, and as the president today focused on highlighting workplace measures that encourage health, elsewhere in the building the Office of Public Engagement brought together a coalition of more than 50 of the nation's grassroots community arts groups for a briefing and discussion about avenues for future collaboration.

"It was really, really inspiring," said Yosi Sergant, known about town as the White House's "hipster in chief" for his campaign-season work with Obama HOPE poster creator Shepard Fairey. Sergant, who had joined the Office of Public Engagement after the campaign, yesterday began a new job as communications director for the National Endowment for the Arts.

Particularly exciting to the groups in attendance at the "Art, Community, Social Justice, National Recovery" briefing , he said, was that "we have a president who values arts and community organizing" both. Individuals came to the meeting to represent groups from locales as various as Appalachia, New York's Harlem, Los Angeles and the Midwest, and many had ties to -- or had taken the lead on -- creative efforts on Obama's behalf during the presidential campaign.

Noted White House spokesman Shin Inouye, "Today's meeting was one of many ongoing meetings that the Office of Public Engagement is holding with representatives from the arts communities."

The largely youthful group of artists and organizers visiting the White House in the morning will be followed later tonight by another group of equally outside the box guests when, at 7:45 p.m., the president and first lady host "an evening celebrating poetry, music and the spoken word" in the East Room of the White House, an event put together by the Social Secretary's office.

Performers will include legendary actor James Earl Jones and well-known writers (and husband and wife) Michael Chabon, a Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist, and Ayelet Waldman.

Also performing will be a younger and less established lineup: jazz bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding, jazz pianist Eric Lewis, Tony Award-winning composer and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda and spoken word performer Mayda Del Valle. Joining them will be two of the finalists in the HBO Brave New Voices national teen poetry slam competition: Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio of "Team Hawaii" and Joshua Brandon Bennett of "Team Philadelphia."

For those who'd like to listen in, the event will be streamed live on

Posted at 5:57 PM ET on May 12, 2009  | Category:  Washington Life
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Sir Walter Scott once said that the dates are very important for performers to distribute the body of knowledge into the real-time mode.

Posted by: erold59 | May 14, 2009 1:58 PM

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