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Word Dog open mic provides safe space for spoken art

Posted at 10:16 AM, Dec 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-05 10:18:30-05

MISSOULA - Every Tuesday night, writers and creatives from around Missoula come together for a free event called 'Word Dog.'

The event is an open mic space where anyone and everyone is encouraged to share any type of verbal expression. People tell stories, share poetry or even talk in-depth about the economy.

"Word Dog is for every format of verbal expression — if you can speak it, we want to see it," Word Dog founder Olivia Swant-Johnson said. "We draw the line at instruments and hate speech.”

Swant-Johnson started Word Dog this summer in her friend Jackson's backyard. They now see around 30 to 50 people come for Word Dog each week and have hired a DJ for the event.

She says each week is a blend of about 50% regulars and 50% newcomers.

Organizer, and owner of the first venue for Word Dog, Jackson Crawford says he was happy and surprised to see the event take off so quickly.

“It was all word of mouth like we didn't do any marketing. People continued to show up, new people every week," Crawford says.

Swant-Johnson was part of a poetry community in California and missed that type of group when she moved back to Missoula.

She and Crawford say that Missoula is rich with creative writers who were looking for a space to express themselves.

“I was just so aware of how much Missoula needed this space, but Missoula is also such a — there's so many writers and so many people that felt like we're more qualified to start it than I was," Swant-Johnson said.

Despite her initial doubts in herself, she is excited to see the Missoula community respond so positively to the event.

“It has just continued to become this really like interesting, exciting community of people that just want to get together and hear each other and learn from each other and be heard by each other," she said.

“Over and over again I hear that people feel really welcomed and that they feel really comfortable in this space. A few people told me that has become the heart of their week. And it's like, it feels really good."

Word Dog takes place at different venues around Missoula. This week it was hosted at James Bar.

While it can be intimidating, participants say they feel a sense of relief after being able to share their thoughts.

“I just read my poem and I am still shaking," Word Dog participant Amanda Mack says. "I'm always super nervous after something like that, but it feels good. It's like an adrenaline rush. It's like, Woah, I'm glad that's over, but I'm glad I did it.”

Although she has read her poetry aloud before, Tuesday, Nov. 29, was Mack's first time participating in Word Dog. She liked the wide array of expressions she heard.

“My favorite thing about tonight is that every person who has read so far has been really diverse. Like you don't really know what you're gonna get when somebody steps up on stage, which is awesome. “

Crawford and Swant-Johnson want to encourage Missoulans to check out Word Dog and to appreciate the positive space they have created.

“The medium that Liv has created, making it really open — anything you want to share, we’re here to not judge you, I think has been really big and especially coming out of COVID I think people had a lot on their minds," Crawford said.

“We're ready for you whenever, whenever you want to come out and share whatever you want to share, or not share and just come to listen. You'll make friends," Swant-Johnson says.

To donate or learn more, visit their website, or check out their Instagram @worddog.missoula.