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The Multidisciplinary Smoketown Poetry Opera Offers Unique Retrospective

Spoken word poets, a filmmaker, dancers, musicians and DJs will come together Thursday for the Smoketown Poetry Opera, a unique hip hop-infused collaborative performance.Sponsored by IDEAS 40203, Smoketown Poetry Opera is an IdeaFestival affiliate event. The outdoor event begins at 6:30 p.m. at YouthBuild Louisville—at the corner of College and Preston Streets— directly across the street from the new Sheppard Square housing development under construction.Poet Lance G. Newman, one of the organizers and performers at the event, said he was not introduced to Smoketown until after graduating college, but he became enamored with the area and its residents. One person who stood out to him was a young woman named Cheryl Williamson, who was “befriended by everyone she came in contact with; her motto was ‘Have Hope.’” After the 24-year-old Western Kentucky University studentwas murdered near a Louisville nightclub in 2012,her death weighed heavily on many of Newman’s peers.“After this, I began to look more deeply into the place that raised such a wonderful person. To my surprise, I found out about the extensive and important history of Smoketown and believed that this area’s significance was deeper than most,” Newman said.Newman said he hopes that this event will encourage people to take a closer look at the Smoketown neighborhood.“My hopes are that the event will shed a brief light on the shadow that plagues Smoketown from time to time. I think that our efforts will give a unique retrospect to the history and culture of such a historic neighborhood,” Newman said.One way to take a closer look is Lavel White’s documentary, “More Than Bricks and Mortar: The Sheppard Square Story,” which will serve as the background of Thursday’s performance. The documentary is comprised of interviews with Smoketown residents that took place before the Sheppard Square housing development was torn down in 2011 as part of a federal HOPE VI project.Smoketown Poetry Opera will also feature a participatory art fair and announcements about the first workforce development and job skills programs. The programs are being launched by IDEAS 40203 in partnership with YouthBuild Louisville’s Creative Innovation Zone, which is funded by ArtPlace America.