For more than a decade, the Barbed Wire Open Mic Series has provided a space for border poets, musicians, artists, dancers and other performers to meet and perform for other creatives and lovers of the local arts scene.
The series was founded by Veronica Guajardo, Trent Hudley and Roberto Santos in 2007 and has continued at various venues, through the nonprofit BorderSenses.
Of course, since March, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic shut down venues and large gatherings. But that hasn’t stopped organizers, along with host Richie Marrufo, an English professor at El Paso Community College, from providing a space for local performers to share their work with others.
Every Monday, the Barbed Wire Open Mic Series continues online via Zoom and is livestreamed for viewers on its YouTube channel. The open mic is noncompetitive, and spots are free but limited and fill up fast.
El Paso Inc. caught up with Marrufo on how the series is surviving – and thriving – during the pandemic.
Q: How did the pandemic change plans for Barbed Wire?
Prior to everything that has happened, we had been hosting our open mic nights in a variety of venues on multiple nights throughout the month – as many as four a week.
As we began to understand that there was a pandemic happening, there were quite a few unknowns – in particular, whether or not we would continue to host our open mics.
We wanted to prioritize the health of our people over anything, so we were looking to slow down our events and look into safety standards to follow.
Once the stay at home orders arrived and everything closed down, we understood that we had to re-envision our open mic platform to fit with the times.
Q: Why do you keep the series going virtually?
Quite a few people reached out to me and asked if we would be doing anything online. For many, the open mic was a place ritual. It was a place to gather, create, collaborate and form community, so I imagine that is something people still wanted.
I started to look into viable and accessible options. Toward the end of April, I put together my first meeting via Zoom. People joined up right away and it felt like a breath of fresh air to see people performing again and sharing some of the content they had been creating.
Q: How is the pandemic affecting you and other poets, writers and performers?
This pandemic has been quite the paradigm shift. I have observed plenty of creatives struggle to create, which can be a definite source of frustrations.
At the same time, with the pandemic, the political climate and social unrest there has been so much for people to channel.
Some people just need a space to interact with other creatives to feel any sense of “normalcy,” while others need to get everything off their chest.
Q: Why was it important to keep the series going during the lockdown?
With the sudden loss of our venues, we knew people would still want a space to gather and share their work with a community of creatives and thinkers.
In addition to online mics, we have been trying podcasts (The BWOMS Podcast) where people can submit audio of the writing or music so we could showcase.
Isolation can be a lonely place, so it was important that we offer people a chance to be part of a larger community of support.
That can make the biggest difference in someone’s world.