Meet Ben LaMar Gay And Leida Garcia, Two Chicago Artists Receiving Cash Grants

Leida “Lady Sol” Garcia and Ben Lamar Gay
Hip Hop dancer and teacher Leida "Lady Sol" Garcia and coronettist and composer Ben LaMar Gay have each won grants from 3Arts. Jason Marck/WBEZ
Leida “Lady Sol” Garcia and Ben Lamar Gay
Hip Hop dancer and teacher Leida "Lady Sol" Garcia and coronettist and composer Ben LaMar Gay have each won grants from 3Arts. Jason Marck/WBEZ

Meet Ben LaMar Gay And Leida Garcia, Two Chicago Artists Receiving Cash Grants

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The non-profit organization 3Arts has announced its latest round of cash grants to 20 Chicago artists of color, artists with disabilities and women in the arts.

Ten of the artists are receiving grants of $25,000 and an additional 10 will receive grants through a unique peer-to-peer giving program.

Morning Shift checks in with two of the artists chosen to get the 3Arts grants to hear about their work in music and dance and to find out how they’ll use the money to fund creative projects.

GUESTS: Leida “Lady Sol” Garcia, dancer, teaching artist, creative director and manager, Kuumba Lynx

Ben LaMar Gay, cornetist and composer

From dancer to teacher

Leida “Lady Sol” Garcia: After I toured in South Africa with another dance music artist named Gillette, who had a global hit called “Short Man”…I made a very conscious decision to bring back the music, the dance—all these experiences that I had already had at that point at about 21 years old. And I came back to Chicago, and I said, “I want to share this with communities that reflect me—communities that look like me. So I started working in Uptown along with two of my sisters, Jaquanda [Villegas] and Jacinda [Bullie], who are also founding members of Kuumba Lynx. Kuumba Lynx is one of Chicago’s premier hip-hop arts and education organizations, so I was an original co-founder, and we began teaching in the public schools. Yeah, and that’s what we did, and eventually we ended up in schools on the West Side, and I was on the South Side, and I was on the North Side. People loved it…They could relate to it. It was music by the people, for the people.

Ben Lamar Gay’s inspirations from traveling to Brazil

Ben Lamar Gay: It’s [not] just the Brazilian tradition. You learn about lines, like a lineage. And so you know you’re from someplace, and your neighbor down the block or your friend from the West Side, North Side, South Side. So once you leave the bubble, you learn about…what a lineage is. Brazil was just a port, you know. I’m from Chicago, this big beautiful freshwater sea that we call a lake is right here, right behind us. And that power, being raised by a big body of water, and when you go to other places like Rio de Janeiro, other places where they have big ports, you know, you learn that that’s just a door, and it opens to other things. And so that Brazilian music led me to West African music. So before Brazil, I was in Humboldt Park, so from South Side going to North Side, [to] Brazil, Nigeria, Cuba, so you just learn about lineage, and how you’re part of it and how everyone, at some point, intersects.

What the 3Arts Award will accomplish

LaMar Gay: First of all, I’m honored to be included with these ten other artists and the…past artists that were given this award by 3Arts. To be recognized by an organization in the City of Chicago like 3Arts—Chicago’s a very hardcore, beautiful city. You know, it’s a place where you can hone your craft to the furthest extremes, and to discover things. And it’s a city that gets very cold, and it’s very hard to vibrate when it’s cold. But when we Chicagoans meet, we survive the cold. We vibrate. And it’s an honor to be involved in that big vibration that we all do, that we’re all involved in. So it means a lot—it encourages me to keep on searching, and keep on discovering, and just to know that what I do is a normal, beautiful free right that we all can do. Me continuing it makes people realize that this is a natural thing that we can all do, that it’s not this special pedestal thing. And so it’s an honor to be that reminder for myself and for other people.

Odette Yousef: What about you, Lady Sol? What does this award mean for you at this stage of your career?

Garcia: It actually was a huge turning point. After being a teaching artist for 20 years, my back was like, “Girl. If you bust ten more contractions, you’re gonna be in the hospital.” It was very real. So for the past two years, I have been in a state of contemplation. What’s next? Should I go back to school and maybe become a regular teacher? And with the encouragement of my sisters, Jaquanda [Villegas] and Jacinda [Bullie], they were like, “Um, honey, you need to write that show you keep talking about.” And they were like, “You can present it to us at Our Chicago Hip Hop Theater Festival. And then I finally committed to it.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire conversation, which was adapted for the web by Char Daston.

LEARN MORE: 3Arts Awards Grants Are About The Whole Artist, And The Awardees Revel In The Freedom (Chicago Tribune 10/22)

Leida “Lady Sol” Garcia Mukwacha (Urban Gateways)

Downtown Castles Can Never Block The Sun (Ben LaMar Gay on Bandcamp)