WOtta Fellow

Jason McNeal Graham of Bend leverages humor while addressing serious topics.
Jason McNeal Graham of Bend leverages humor while addressing serious topics.

The artist known as MOsley WOtta embarks on a new chapter encouraging dialogue

interview by Cathy Carroll

When Jason McNeal Graham of Bend, better known as MOsley WOtta, describes himself as a “multiethnic, multimedia, multivitamin artist,” it’s clear that humor doesn’t run counter to his writing, painting, and music. He recently received a Fields Artist Fellowship, a partnership between Oregon Humanities and Oregon Community Foundation to invest in individual artists and culture bearers and their communities. Four Fields Artist Fellows will receive $100,000 each during the next two years, along with robust professional development, networking, and community building opportunities.

With this fellowship, he plans to produce multimedia performances, collaborative murals and stories addressing and explore system inequities in Oregon and encourage dialogue throughout the state. His work in music and writing has been featured on “TEDx, NPR, the NBA, and several other three letter acronyms,” according to Graham, and he was Bend’s first Creative Laureate, from 2018 to 2020. As MOsley WOtta, he works with longtime friend and multi-instrumentalist, producer and sound designer Colten Tyler Williams.

How will the Fields Artist Fellowship make a difference in your life as an artist?

This fellowship expressly designates addressing Oregon’s various opportunity gaps. It’s nice to feel support for a theme that I have been asked to remove or reduce in my work in the past. Additionally there’s the synergy of working and learning from and with the other fellows in the cohort CarlaDean Caldera of Madras, Sharita Towne of Portland and Gabriel Barrera of Ashland. Personally and professionally I am experiencing a kind of freedom without compromise. This type of creative liberation is going to be invaluable to the vitality of my art for the next four or five decades. I’m done minimizing my work and myself to fit the comfort level of the communities I care about.

This does feel like the whole state is giving ya a nod and a nudge. This feels like getting to a new plateau and resetting your baseline to zero from a new height.

Can you elaborate on plans for creative projects?

Wish I could but you will have to find out with the announcements. I can tell you, I heard this funny generalization that said as an artist, men, in particular cismen (one whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth) seem to make bigger and bigger work. This to compensate for the other areas in which we might feel we are shrinking. In hip hop, 40 is more like 90. So while I can’t tell you what it is yet, I can say at 37, almost 38, it will be of a fairly good size.

How did growing up in Bend foster your creativity after moving here at age 9 with your family after living in Chicago and Evanston, Ill.?

Bend at a population of 30,000. You cannot see the Bend I moved to anymore. It’s all been severely altered by money markets and modernity. However it was this rapidly growing town that gave me my first hip hop crew, my first poetry team, my first art show. At some point, this town and I synced up—when I grew, it grew and vice versa. Now, though, Bend is on its own track, as am I. There are many other voices that need to be heard in this large little city. Complex(ion), Healing Justice Collective, Oregon Peace Keepers and Fathers Group to name a few.

Bend provided what I was looking for artistically over and over. Basically though, just because you can’t get to Tokyo or Johannesburg or Amsterdam doesn’t mean you can’t get to work. If you’re really about your art, it will take you where you need to go. There are no shortcuts. It is work. If you can spend a lifetime trusting its direction, it will take you where you need to go.

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