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Daily Dose — Opening Hearts through Afrocentric Performance, Storytelling

Kaslo's Shayna Jones is an award-winning professional performance artist specializing in the traditional oral storytelling of African and Afro-Diasporic folklore. — Submitted photo

Shayna Jones ended up in Kaslo in a relatively standard way: she lived in Vancouver and had visited friends here many times and felt drawn to the area.

"But what keeps my kids and me here," says Jones, "is this land's magnificence and raising my kids in a peaceful, beautiful, loving environment. This land nourishes my ability to access any creative space in my body, heart, and mind. I feel very fortunate to be in this region as an artist.”

Jones's work is deeply Afrocentric:

"It's important for my own sake, and for offering something to my kids, to come to a truer sense and understanding of what my heritage is. Especially living in a setting where I don't have that positive feedback of other people who look like me or who share my heritage, I go to the land and creative artistic journeying to ground myself in my African heritage from my little town of Kaslo. I do that a lot through studying folklore."

One of her primary sources of work is performance storytelling of African and African Diasporic folklore.

"Studying and performing tales are a part of how I honour and learn to honour my roots. Many words that come out are me grappling with the skin I'm in and the blood that runs through me. I'm learning to recognize my connection to (this land) and how it holds so many answers. I can be connected back to the land of my ancestor's way across the sea."

Jones homeschools her three kids on top of all her artistic work.

"Raising my kids out here is central to my life and my work as an artist. In raising them, I discover depths of myself that I have to process through artistic creation. So, my work as a mother is part of my work as an artist."

Living here gave Jones the connection and inspiration to solidify her artistic practice.

"I started on this path around 21, 22, so it's been about ten years working as a performance artist. But within the last five years, since being here, it's my only source of income. I'm very grateful."

Making ends meet as an artist is no small feat, but Jones is doing it. She works hard applying for grant funding.

"I also do lots of contract work, freelance artistic work where people pay me to come work on a specific project, for which I'm grateful. I hold workshops, education around the lines of performance and storytelling. Kind of a motley crew of ways of hustling as an artist," says Jones.

Five years ago, Jones started specifically on her Afrocentric journey through what she sees as either an accident or fate.

"I was living in a different rural location and went to the library and let them know I was happy to read stories to kids for Friday reading time. The head librarian misinterpreted what I was offering and went back to her colleagues of librarians from across the region and told them that this storyteller had arrived and that she could be hired. I got emails back requesting that I come to perform stories for such and such a fee."

Jones remembers her first time performing stories after that library connection.

"I had in an African American folklore book that I had been given as a little girl by my father, that I cherish, so I was drawn back to that anthology and pulled together my first storytelling offering. That misunderstanding led to the beginning of my life as one who's fallen in love with African and African Diasporic folklore. Now I've toured my storytelling performances to thousands of students in hundreds of schools across the province and storytelling festivals across the country and internationally."

She has felt supported in her creative ventures, living here.

"I feel very supported by the local scene here. I've been hired into schools to teach storytelling workshops to students; I've been awarded opportunities to perform and create through the Nelson and District Arts Council. I've had the opportunity to collaborate with other artists in the area who I believe in and respect and feel honoured to work with."

There is a need for growth in representation of our area's artistic community, says Jones.

"There is more room to continue to have many different artists of different backgrounds and different flavours and perspectives to come to the fore. I don't feel shut down; it's just the reality of being one of the very few people of African ancestry working as an artist in the area. But hopeful the little things I do will inspire those hiding in the woodwork to come out."

Jones continues to dream big and hopes to pursue further education related to her art.

"I intend to undertake a Masters in folklore to undergird my performance work. Just to strengthen my desire and sense of understanding of where the folkloric tradition comes from and provide more meat with the performances that I give."

Learn more about Jones and her work on her website.