In the winter of 2016, Mark Lomax II took on the job of community research and grants management officer for the Columbus Foundation. As a jazz drummer, composer, activist and educator with a Ph.D. in Musical Arts in composition from Ohio State, Lomax has spent most of his life immersed in music.
However, he faced a common challenge most creatives with a 9-to-5 job face: how to push himself creatively while working full time.
“[One day] I went into my office for a little bit to take a breath and the number 400 just popped into my spirit,” Lomax said. “Just my whole body resonated with that.”
The number 400 in this instance, connected to the impending four-century anniversary of the arrival of African slaves to American shores in 1619. From this inspiration, Lomax created an expansive 12-album cycle.
The cycle, entitled “400: An Afrikan Epic,” will be released Jan. 23, coinciding with the artist’s 40th birthday. The Wexner Center is hosting the event and played a major part in providing essential support for Lomax’s project through the Wexner Center Artist Residency Award.
According to the Wexner Center’s website, the Artist Residency Award program is an annual award given to recipients who are selected by the center’s director and a board of curators.
As the 2018-19 residency award recipient, Lomax was given considerable financial resources, along with technical, intellectual, professional and moral support to develop his project. Past Wexner Center Artist Residency Award recipients have gone on to receive national fellowships, Tony awards, Academy Award nominations and Cannes Film Festival Awards.
Each residency is tailored to the needs of the artist.
In the process of composing and recording the works, Lomax was connected to Lane Czaplinski, director of performing arts at the Wexner Center. Their discussions about the work and the potential within the city’s music community led to Lomax receiving the residency award.
“I had half of the cycle done already, because in 2015 I had purchased my own recording equipment that I was recording with at concerts, but I’m not an engineer,” Lomax said. “Some of it came out really well and we’re releasing it as part of the cycle, but other parts were a little shaky.”
With the Artist Residency Award, Lomax was able to rerecord sections of the cycle at Columbus’ Relay Recording studio. He was also able to hire musicians of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and ProMusica Chamber Orchestra, in addition to flying in core members of his jazz ensemble, to help him complete his project.
Once he had all the core artists assembled in the studio, Lomax and his team were able to complete the remaining material for seven of the 12 albums in just four days.
“That was the boost we needed to get the project to the finish line,” Lomax said.
In addition to financial and institutional support for creative work, the Artist Residency Award has an educational component that allows students at Ohio State and in the local community to engage directly with artists at the top of their respective disciplines.
Lomax will work with students through a master class for drummers at Ohio State’s School of Music and an overview course at the university on African-American music for the spring semester.
Lomax has also partnered with Czaplinski to curate programs of classical and contemporary African-American music for the Wexner Center’s spring performing arts season.
“We hope to use the art to help communities shape a path together from what we might not always want to talk about, so we can move forward in a way that creates a better world for everybody,” Lomax said.
Lomax will be performing selections from “400: An Afrikan Epic” at Lincoln Theatre at 8 p.m. on Jan. 26. Tickets begin at $13.50 for students and $25.50 for the general public.