Haitian poet and spoken word artist Michaëlle Martial has shared her work in a variety of different spaces for over a decade in Utah. But she wanted a more permanent space for herself and other Utah artists of color to gather and perform.

“I saw a lack of representation and platforms for artists and writers to start off with,” she said. “That’s the desire that I have, is to create that space where I can collaborate with diverse populations here in Utah that may not have an opportunity for a space otherwise.”

Martial hopes that need will be filled by Poetry on Main — her new gift shop, coworking space and small performance venue in downtown Salt Lake City at 702 S. Main Street, Suite 146.

The items in the shop will spotlight local and Caribbean artisans. Martial also plans on hosting a handful of events each month, including poetry open mics and some of the events she already hosted through her LLC, Caribbean Nightingale: “Cupcakes for Breakfast,” a meet-and-greet event highlighting local Black authors and sweet treats; “Relaxation Through Verse,” a poetry and music lounge; and Taste the Culture, an Afro-Caribbean “dinner and a show” that Martial is partnering on with Ngoma y’Africa Cultural Center.

The events, which will be a mix of free and ticketed, will require registration on the space’s website and are limited to about 50 people. In the future, Martial said the space might also offer a tea and coffee shop.

“Everybody is welcome, but an expectation is respect,” she said. “We have similarities, and we’re learning from each other. So we invite the community to come in and learn about different things that we do, to participate if they want to come for a show or activity or to shop. But people will be sharing some personal things, and I just ask people to keep an open mind and treat everyone with respect.”

Michaelle Martial’s poetry is on display at Poetry on Main in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 10, 2023. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Honoring those who came before

Poetry on Main’s first event takes place this weekend. The shop will host an open mic night on Saturday at 7 p.m. that is aimed at honoring LGBTQ and Black, Indigenous and people of color ancestors. It is held in partnership with Burning Sissy Valley, which works to create safe spaces for Black, Indigenous and people of color who are members of the LGBTQ community.

“It’ll help us pay homage to people that once were here and we carry their legacy through storytelling,” said Pedro Hueramo Rico, the organization’s director. “It is liberating because it’s like we can be queer, Black, brown, as loud as we want, and exist in a space where people just understand one another, right? There’s not a lot of like questioning, not a lot of misunderstanding.”

For Martial, the event is a way to honor her late friend and mentor Benjamin Cabey. The Salt Lake musician, poet and painter was a pioneering force in advocating for the state’s artists of color. Martial is dedicating Poetry on Main in Cabey’s memory.

“He provided that figurative space for me,” Martial said. “Ben has taught me that the humanity that we give through the art is worth something and we deserve to be paid. ... It’s important for artists, especially artists and artisans of color, to know that their work is valuable. It’s contributing to the community.”

She added that Cabey, who she said always made sure artists were paid at least a small stipend for their work, also taught her that life can be fun. She said two weeks before Cabey passed away in October 2017, she attended a fundraising event where they both performed.

“He usually had a cane that he was walking around with, but when he got ready to dance, he’d just throw away that cane on the side on the floor,” she said. “He was a close to 70-year-old man. Knowing that his health was declining and he was so willing to give to others and showing that life is worth living. He was the life of the party with a smile on his face.”

Pedro Hueramo Rico, Burning Sissy Valley co-director, answers interview questions with Yvonne Nsabimana, Ngoma y’Africa Cultural Center founder and executive director, left, and Michaelle Martial, spoken word artist and personal chef, center, at Poetry on Main, which Martial founded to help spotlight local emerging BIPOC and LGBT poets and artists, in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 10, 2023. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Advocating for each other

The partnerships that are already emerging from the space are a strong indicator that the space will serve as the gathering place Martial envisions for Utah’s marginalized communities. In addition to Burning Sissy Valley, Martial is also partnering with Ngoma y’Africa Cultural Center, which preserves African cultures and provides a support network for Utah families of African descent.

Martial, Hueramo and Ngoma y’Africa Executive Director Yvonne Nsabimana all stressed how pivotal Poetry on Main will be for artists of color.

“It’s hard for minority artists to have places where they can have an office to be more credible in what they’re doing and also a space where they can collab with other artists, which is very important when you are a minority in a majority-white space, like Utah, and there are resources you don’t have access to or you don’t know about,” said Nsabimana, adding that having an address at the coworking space will allow minority artists to apply for funding and grants.

Hueramo added that Poetry on Main will be a continuation of the historical collaboration that minority communities have engaged in.

“We are always finding opportunities to share resources and provide mutually to one another. I think it’s something that is just inherently in us,” he said. “If we look at historically what has happened to minoritized communities, that’s just how we survived, right? It’s literally finding our community, sharing our bread, sharing our resources. It’s how we thrive.”

Michaelle Martial, spoken word artist and personal chef, poses for a portrait at Poetry on Main, which she founded to help spotlight local emerging BIPOC and LGBT poets and artists, in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 10, 2023. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News