Davis and the art of transformation

By Dan Fagan
University Communications

MINNEAPOLIS – As a young boy, Joe Davis would walk with his parents to the local library where he would immerse himself in a world of books.

Countless stories, poems, and illustrations kept young Joe busy for hours, exposing him to news worlds, unforgettable characters, and igniting his own burgeoning creativity.

“I knew I was a creative person long before I ever considered myself an artist,” Davis said of his youth. “I have to give a shout out to my parents for recognizing that part of me and always supporting it.”

It was the day that Davis stumbled upon a copy of “Pass It On,” an illustrated collection of poems for African-American children by Langston Hughes, that he finally saw images of people that looked just like him and from that point on he was connected to the world of poetry.

Davis attended Minot State where he initially thought he would study art, but after “rocking it with some English teachers,” he chose on an English degree.

“I met some of my most profound mentors at Minot State,” Davis said. “My experience was more than just reading books. I was writing and doing theatre. I was doing all of these different things because there was an environment at Minot State that allowed me to explore and experiment with different things.”

During his senior year at Minot State, Davis was recommended for an artist program in New York City. Through this program Davis completed a year-long residency in New York City with a cohort of other artists. Davis, who was the group’s resident poet, was first overwhelmed by the level of talent of his peers, but soon came into his own and developed a strong foundation in his artistry for the next chapter in his journey.

From the Big Apple to the Mini Apple, Davis relocated to Minneapolis where he currently resides as a nationally-touring artist, educator, and speaker. He employs poetry, music, theatre, and dance to shape culture, and he has been featured on channels BET, CNN, and VH1.

Davis is the founder and director of the multimedia production company, The New Renaissance, the frontman of emerging soul funk band, The Poetic Diaspora, and co-creator of JUSTmove, an organization dedicated to racial justice education through art. Davis has been the keynote speaker at events all over the country and has served as a teaching artist at hundreds of high schools and universities.

With a busy schedule, Davis finds time every day to write. Regardless of everything else he has going on.

“For me it’s needed,” Davis said.  “I have to write to survive. It’s an integral part of my life.”

As a child, Davis was hospitalized on multiple occasions with severe bouts of eczema and his writing became a therapy, a source of inspiration to help him overcome his illness. To this day, when talking with young people about his art, he impresses upon them the power of writing and creativity to heal and transform.

“Once I release a piece of poetry or a piece of music, it takes on a life of its own,” Davis said. “I don’t have control of what happens to it after it’s out there. People can take away from it whatever they want and that scares some artists, but I get excited by it because it meets people where they are at. It becomes even more vibrant by someone looking at my words through their experience.”

While the specter of COVID-19 has derailed the efforts of many artists around the country, Davis has continued to move forward with his art of transformation.

“Things have slowed down, but there is still a need and a desire for inspiration,” he said. “It’s always there.”

About Minot State University
Minot State University is a public university dedicated to excellence in education, scholarship, and community engagement achieved through rigorous academic experiences, active learning environments, commitment to public service, and a vibrant campus life.

Published: 12/17/20   

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