Just days before a scheduled flight to England, Overstreet Ducasse is working through the night, sleeping in his studio, furiously trying to finish two more pieces.
“I’ve got the bloody eyes,” he laughs, standing in the hallway of CoRK Arts District, where his studio is located. “You know when you’re so tired you can’t see?”
The feverish pace is concomitant with his desire to represent well for his hometown. Along with friend and fellow artist, the rapper and lyricist Mal Jones, Overstreet was selected by the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville to serve as a cultural ambassador to the town of Bristol, England.
“It’s the greatest opportunity ever,” says Overstreet, a Haitian-born visual artist who has shown at local galleries as well as the Cummer Museum. “This is the first city or place in my life where I say, ‘Oh man I love this place.’ I was given a golden opportunity by this city that I love and call my home, and I want to do my best possible.”
The exchange program is part of what Cultural Council Executive Director Tony Allegretti calls an effort to encourage “a bit of import and export.” In addition to bringing in artists like Christo and Julien de Casabianca as part of its ongoing speakers series, the council wants Jacksonville artists to get out, and reach a wider audience.
Mal Jones, creator of the monthly freestyle street rap sessions at ArtWalk called “The Lyricist Live,” made sense as a spoken-word counterpart to Overstreet. Jones’ métier is hip hop -- his event is defined by beats, bars and rhymes – but he’s comfortable pushing boundaries of the form. He’s the first rapper ever named a Florida Folk Art Master by the Florida Folklife Council, and performed at the 2013 Florida Folk Festival. In April, he created a Shakespeare tribute poem, which runs through a litany of words the bard created– and delivered it in a proper English accent to visitors at the Cummer’s Celebrate Shakespeare! event.
Jones notes that in many ways – very modest upbringing, lack of formal education -- he and Shakespeare had similar life experiences. It’s a fact he used to create a piece for the Bristol exchange trip.
“He was a poor guy who took words and created -- like I do with hip hop,” he says. “Before I wrote the piece I envisioned my history and Shakespeare’s history, contrasted them and wrote a piece trying to beat him at it. You know? Like a battle rap.”
Overstreet and Jones, who’ve run in the same artistic circles for years, are both big believers in artistic cross pollination. Overstreet considers hip hop – particularly the music of Wu Tang Clan – his greatest artistic inspiration. Jones, whose father taught him to draw, says making comic books led him to words and poetry.
The trip to England, both agree, will be life changing. They hope the process of cultural exchange will be just as invigorating for Duval.
“For Jacksonville to be a city to actually back an idea this groundbreaking its very exciting. We really have all this very rich culture, and this energy for art,” says Jones. “Art is what is needed for a true metropolis. And city support and city backing is what we all need to revolutionize this city to be a metropolis.”