Epiphany "Big Piph" Morrow is a Stanford-educated emcee and community builder from Pine Bluff. He performs regularly with his seven-piece band, Tomorrow Maybe, and has worked with major acts including TI, Big Sean, Snoop and Ne-Yo. He is lead coordinator of Global Kids-Arkansas, which sends stellar high school students in underserved communities abroad for social service projects. He also has been a TEDx speaker and an artist, whom The Source has frequently highlighted. He has also served as Hip-Hop Ambassador for the US Embassy, traveling abroad to countries such as Morocco, Algeria, The Gambia, Seychelles and Thailand, where he performed, held workshops and created with the local artists. One of his current projects is jUSt Books & Bagels, which provides free books, breakfast and workshops for youth in underserved communities.
1. What role do the arts play in developing a sense of place?
Great artists tend to be the best of "contradictions" in that they have a distinct sense of individuality in their creations, yet you can clearly detect the influences in their work. Much of these influences are from what they have absorbed from their immediate and often times physical surroundings. As a result, artists in close proximity have similarities in their creations that in return inspire other artists' works. The totality of which helps to define an area.
2. Your work has taken you around the world. What are some of the similarities within the various communities you have worked in?
Despite the barriers of actual spoken dialects, when you create from a similar place of passion or purpose, mutual respect is given. I've been blessed to work in close to 10 countries and when they observe that I would still create regardless of popular attention, but rather because it's just in me to do so, we begin speaking the same language. After that it's just a fun, culture exchange with hopefully some dope artistic outcomes.
3. What can a community do to help make it more attractive to young people looking to move?
Make them feel like its respected, unique, and evolving. Folks like to be proud of where they live, while letting outsiders know why their spot is special. This often comes through arts and entertainment. These are two scenes in which individuals want to believe the best is yet to come, and thus work until that's a reality. As a black man moving into an area, I also want to believe there are sincere strives for equity and equality.
4. As both a performer and producer, what does a community need to ensure creatives like yourself can thrive?
More financial support and opportunities and less online pats on the back. More areas that spark imagination and fewer closed doors by the traditional guard. More mentorship and access to business acumen and reduced fears of reaching outside of ones comfort zone.
5. What are some ways communities can authentically and intentionally engage young people in crafting the future of the city?
The majority resource holders need to seek the artists and creatives outside his/her social circle, step inside their world, ask, and then sincerely listen. From that, figure out the best way to form a mutually beneficial relationship and stop expecting something grand to form immediately. Build the bridges that connect communities first.