Students transform Rathskeller into safe space for creative outlets


Asha Blake

Tajuan Richards reads the crowd two poems that he wrote. During his set, the crowd was focused on him and clapped after the poetry was read.

Alton Northup and Isabella Schreck, Staff Reporter, Editor-in-Chief

Correction: The story has been updated to include quotes from the Painted Lyrics’ cofounders. 

Dozens of students gathered in the Rathskeller Friday night for Painted Lyrics biggest event of the year, Paintsgiving. 

More than 30 students and others from the Kent and Akron areas presented works of poetry, stand-up comedy, live music, paintings and digital art, photography, short films, dance and fashion. 

“At Kent State, we have one of the most creative markets,” said Malcolm Mitchell, one of Painted Lyrics’ two co-founders. “There’s so much art and talent around us – there’s so many people around us that do what they do and love what they do. And I feel like a big part of art is the audience, so we wanted to bring an audience to basically influence the people to keep doing what they do.”

Painted Lyrics partnered with Ohio Models United for the fashion show portion of the event. 

According to the group’s website, “Painted Lyrics is an organization that provides a platform and safe space for underrepresented artists and groups to network, perform, and exemplify their creativity with other artists while giving students something fun and safe to do with their creatives.” 

Painted Lyrics became an official student organization in April, and the group is led by co-founders Mitchell, a senior psychology major, and Craig Johnson, who graduated in December as a business management major.

Since its start, Painted Lyrics has held 10 events. Johnson and Mitchell planned the Paintsgiving event, which was attended by more than 100 people. 

The group is open to people “not even just on campus,” Mitchell said. Painted Lyrics includes student members as well as artists, photographers and other creatives from Northeast Ohio and other areas. 

“As an artist myself trying to get gigs around campus and around the Kent area, I started to realize that artistry and artists weren’t as appreciated as they should be,” Johnson said. “That’s what helped us to want to start this organization, so we can make sure that artists are valued how they are supposed to be. 

“We really pride ourselves in creating ‘firsts’ for other people so they can continue to expand and gain that experience that they need.”

As poet Risha Nicole took the stage, she told those in attendance her reason for sharing her art: “I want to give a voice to people.”

The highlight of the evening was when the Rathskeller transformed from a dark, basement hangout to a neon-lit fashion show. Attendees lined the red runway, flash photography encouraged, as seven student designers presented their work, ranging from chic pieces to grunge-style streetwear.

Risha Nicole reads a poem she wrote to the crowd. Nicole spoke strongly as her friends recorded the set. (Asha Blake)

“This event really helped me because I actually got to put [my clothes] on models instead of just mannequins,” fashion design major Nadia Boone said, “so I had to see how they move and see how the garment, the fabric actually worked.” 

Boone used the practice runs ahead of the show to see what altercations had to be made for her pieces to best fit the models, a hands-on experience that she said will be valuable for future fashion shows.

Dashon Ellis, founder of the Akron-based Ohio Models United, chose to collaborate with Painted Lyrics because he wanted to provide an opportunity for young creatives, especially Black creatives, to showcase their work.

“They need to showcase their art, they need to showcase what they’re passionate about,” he said. “We need safe spaces like this to be able to promote ourselves and come together and say, ‘Hey, I got you.’”

Mitchell said the Paintsgiving event “did everything it needed to.”

“I was very, very, very satisfied and appreciative of it,” he said. “The point of the group is to have a bunch of creatives come together and put on a show. Everybody got a chance to come out and do what they do best and love what they do. Everybody was able to express themselves.”  

This spring semester, Painted Lyrics will be hosting an event and a workshop every month. At the workshops, which will focus on topics like art and fashion modeling, among others, students and people from around Ohio can network, brainstorm and collaborate.  

Anyone interested in joining Painted Lyrics should contact co-founder Malcom Mitchell at [email protected]

“The fact that we can bring so many different people – every color, every everything, every dynamic that you could think about in the room, it is because of the appreciation of creation itself,” Mitchell said. 

Alton Northup is a staff reporter. Contact him at [email protected].

Isabella Schreck is editor-in-chief. Contact her at [email protected]