The Mississippi Center for Cultural Production is excited to announce the first round of artists funded through the Rural Performance/Production Lab (RPPL). These artists from Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi will all receive funding through RPPL and some of them will participate in residencies at the Sipp Culture Artist Residency House in Utica, Mississippi in the fall. We are so thrilled to expand the Sipp Culture family and embrace the genius of these artists.

2020 RPPL Artists

Cynthia C Harris, MPH, is a writer, performance artist, health educator, conjure woman and proud Southerner.  Ms. Harris has been committed to the empowerment of women and girls through art, education, and  research over the past 18 years. Ms. Harris’ career includes various research and program management roles with Emory University, Vanderbilt University, Meharry Medical College, Tennessee State University, and Tennessee Kidney Foundation. She has extensive experience designing and implementing educational workshops in a variety of community settings for youth, women of color, faith and organizational leaders as well as emerging community activists.

Her workshops center on arts based civic engagement, health disparities, and community building. Cynthia has trained several hundred individuals through community sponsored gatherings, collaborations, conferences and arts festivals. Cynthia joined the board of Actor’s Bridge Ensemble in 2018, where she continues to create safe and creative spaces for young women through their Act Like a Grrrl Program. Her original works: Phrases of Womanhood, Why Won’t She Leave?, and How to Catch a Flying Woman, explore issues of gender, Southern identity, women’s intimacy, spirituality, community and African heritage. Her latest work, The Calling is in the Body, scheduled to debut in 2020, focuses on the life of Deidre Williams, the first Black person to become an HIV positive advocate in Tennessee.  The performance was developed in participation with Actors Bridge Ensemble’s Director’s Inclusion Initiative.

Collaborators and sponsors include the Village Cultural Arts Center, The Black Church and Domestic Violence Institute, Beautician’s Local #3, the National Black Arts Festival, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Actos Bridge Ensemble, and Nashville Public Library.  Ms. Harris has also created workshops and presentations for Planned Parenthood of Middle Tennessee’s PG-13 Players, Vanderbilt University, Davidson County Sheriff’s Office, Actors Bridge Ensemble’s Act Like a Grrrl program, Girls to the Moon, Morehouse College, Global Education Center.

Na’Tosha De’Von, a native of Chicago IL, was raised in Mississippi. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre and Speech Communications from Thee Jackson State University, and a Masters of Fine Arts in Acting from the University of Arkansas. Na’Tosha began her career in acting and poetry by way of God’s Design, believing that the purpose of her art is to expose and heal. Through her poetry she has worked with prominent people fighting for social injustices and human rights including: Danny Glover, Ilyasah Shabazz, Myrlie Evers and Common.

Her acting career has led her to appear in several Walmart commercials, the series ‘Chase the Lion’ on the TBN television network, and other film and television projects scheduled for release 2021. Na’Tosha has worked extensively with several theatre companies both Regional and Non-Regional across the nation, focusing on both classical and non-classical text. While working on her poetry, Na’Tosha is a casting assistant for Actors Casting Agency (ACA) in Arkansas. She has been a published poet for years, with her works in many notable literary sites including Literary Sanctuary. She is set to release her first book “Quiet as it’s Kept” December 2020. With her art, Na’Tosha desires to inspire and mentor younger artists who hold similar backgrounds to her. She wants to instill in young artists that with hard work and creativity, anything is possible.

Theron Wilkerson, a Jackson-based poet, producer, historian, and teacher from Carthage, Mississippi. He is the founder of Wilkabergg Productions, a multimedia business that fosters a Black Southern transmedia experience with an emphasis on Mississippi art, history, politics and culture. He has published poetry in BAMN (2019), The Baroda Pamphlet (2015), and Black Magnolias Literary Journal (2014), published encyclopedia articles, book reviews, and edited oral histories for Prabuddha: Journal of Social Equity (2019). In 2018, he helped to produce the music video for “Optimistic” by August Greene featuring Brandi that highlighted the history and culture of Black Mississippi.

In 2019, he began working with Mississippi hip hop creatives through the MS Hip Hop Network as a cultural strategist and organizer to facilitate youth and arts organizing, civic engagement, and economic development. He currently teaches African American Studies at Murrah High School and serves the lead facilitator of the Jackson People’s School. He received his bachelor’s degree in history from Jackson State University and a master’s degree in African American Studies from Georgia State University.

Charles Garrett, was born in Lafayette, Louisiana—the Hub City of Cajun Country. He is the eldest of five and comes from a matriarchal family that derives from Native Americans, Slaves, the French, and potato boat settlers. Since the third grade, he has been a craftsman of the pen. Having an affinity for Dr. Seuss books, Charles picked up verse and rhyme almost immediately. Writing so early has forced him to look at the world critically and from the heart. It was a way for him to have a conversation with the world around him. He wrote in secret, and it became his ritual.

Charles continued to write through high school, still keeping it a secret from his peers. He was highly involved in all sports but had no outlet to share his love for writing, and no teachers to cultivate his desire, but he kept writing. Attending a Baptist College proved to be a more confrontational experience than Charles had hoped. He was born catholic and had already denounced the catholic faith and all its dogmas, so he had no energy left to defend its principles.

After dropping out of college, Charles joined the military—the marines. It was wartime and he wanted to do his part. Here he found his love for letter writing, still furthering development as a writer. He doesn’t talk much about his military experience, he won’t say much about it. The marines taught him how to kill, how to defend and how to forget.

Charles decided to try college again. Joined a poetry club and began the actual journey as a poet. He wrote for the college newspaper and reignited my love for verse. “I performed whenever I could, whenever possible.” He lived in an artist commune in New Orleans, that housed 15 visual artists and opened his eyes to the grandeurs of art. He was one of two writers in residence and welcomed the collaborative spirit that was present during this time. He lived there for about two years, then came the birth of his first born and with it a new understanding and a new perspective. 

“I was now a father in charge of nourishing new life. I continued to write, submitting here and there, performing here and there—working collaboratively with other writers and artists. During this time, I began mixed martial arts. I fought professionally as a cage fighter, a jiu jitsu practitioner and judo athlete.” 

Charles is co-founder of Sunder Press, an online journal dedicated to giving a platform to voices around the world. He is presently developing his manuscript aptly titled, “Articulate: The Rise.”

Ingrid Cruz, a freelance writer and artist currently living in Tupelo. A Salvadoran-American, her art deals with healing, the human connection to nature, and the representation of women of color. She is currently working on two documentaries relating to life in Mississippi, Stand Up, Take It Down, and After The Touchdown. She also does photography and illustration. When not writing or working on projects, she enjoys traveling, hiking, and trying new recipes.

Rory Doyle is a working photographer based in Cleveland, Mississippi in the rural Mississippi Delta. Born and raised in Maine, Doyle studied journalism at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont. In 2009, he moved to the Mississippi Delta to pursue a master’s in education at Delta State University in Cleveland. He has remained committed to photographing the Delta, with a particular focus on sharing stories of overlooked subcultures. He was a 2018 Mississippi Visual Artist Fellow through the Mississippi Arts Commission and National Endowment for the Arts for his ongoing project about African American cowboys and cowgirls, “Delta Hill Riders.”

Doyle won the 16th Annual Smithsonian Photo Contest, the 2019 Southern Prize from the South Arts organization, the 2019 Zeiss Photography Award, the 2019 ZEKE Award for Documentary Photography, and the 2019 Michael P. Smith Award for Documentary Photography from the New Orleans Photo Alliance. He has had solo exhibitions in New York City, London, Atlanta and Mississippi. Doyle’s work has been published in The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The Guardian and CNN.

The 2020 Rural Performance/Production Lab is supported through a generous contribution from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.