Casandra (Cas) Inez and Spocka Summa first met in high school over 15 years ago. Casandra, whose family is Guatemalan, is an educator, poet, organizer and founder of the annual “On the Lawn” festival; Spocka is a visual artist, musician, event manager, curator and “overall a creative individual” with Nigerian roots. Both artist-entrepreneurs were born and raised in Providence, and they have dedicated themselves to providing creative opportunities to the Providence community.
Cas recalled consuming and creating art “from when I was very young” but “didn’t come from a creative family. So I always felt like that stuck out from where I’m from.” She performed spoken word poetry for the first time as a junior in her high school cafeteria. “It lasted about three or four minutes, and it felt like the longest performance ever,” she remembered. She has continued since to experiment with storytelling in various forms, from photography to screen printing to digital art and videography. But Cas also always returns to working directly with language: She thinks of poetry as “something you can do wherever you are” and something that is accessible to everyone, even those who don’t think of themselves as consumers of art.
Spocka is currently working on a comic book called the Live Wire, which describes a system of governments and other power players “trying to assimilate (the protagonist) and, you know, turn him to be like everyone else.” The comic book, inspired “100%” by Spocka’s own experience as an artist and as a person, describes “a battle between finding yourself, staying yourself, but also not giving into the systems that are trying to change you.” He explained that he uses the image of wires because “it’s very twisted and complicated to navigate and, you know, survive through.”
In early September of 2019, the two artists opened Public Shop & Gallery together, with the goal of providing space and support for local emerging BIPOC artists and consumers of art. “The idea of Public came about because we wanted to find a way to better represent the brown and Black people that are artists as well and we didn’t find that too often in our community,” Spocka explained. Cas added that “‘Oh, well I don’t have the money so I can’t do art’ -— like, that shouldn’t even be a question. If you’re an artist, alright, let’s find a way to make this happen for you.”
Public has hosted a range of events and a number of artists: 85 creators of art in their shop, 50 artists in their gallery, 12 muralists, and 8 authors in their book corner, according to their website. Cas added that Public is built on “the idea that this belongs to you too, that this is your space.”
While they had to close Public in mid-March due to COVID-19, Cas and Spocka will be moving to a new space next spring, and hope to stay in Olneyville. Their goal is to raise $16,000 by August 31st: “Running a business ain’t free. Creating art ain’t free. Supplies and labor ain’t free.”