Lisa Marie Coleman finds purpose in volunteer work, art and hip-hop
By Faith Miller
The Southeast Express
Lisa Marie Coleman isn’t afraid to take on big projects.
And perhaps nothing exemplifies her enthusiasm and fierce determination more strongly than Drinks & Jewelry Studios (D&Js), a business concept she hopes will one day translate to a commercial space where patrons can purchase non-alcoholic drinks, make jewelry and papier-mâché, and even record music.
A group of local producers and hip-hop artists collaborating with Coleman hope to find a home for D&Js soon. For now, Coleman and her 10-year-old daughter, Lilli, make art projects with the neighborhood kids, sell their art around the community and record music out of their apartment.
Piñatas and hand-crafted masks, in various stages of completion, adorn Coleman’s living room, the current home of D&Js. A black sheet hung on one wall serves as a backdrop for photos.
“We’re trying to teach art therapy as a form of healing,” Coleman said. “We do papier-mâché. We do jewelry techniques, like hemp wrapping or wire wrapping. … We do tie-dye here in the summer.”
Most of D&Js’ projects use recycled materials, such as painted piggy banks made from miniature plastic water bottles and masks crafted from old newspapers.
While Coleman and her children recently moved a bit farther north, she still spends much of her time in Southeast, where they lived for years.
“It’s the community we choose to make a difference in,” she said.
“The local scene is really interesting. There’s a lot of different people. They have different personalities, different styles of music. Ours is totally nothing like anyone else’s.”
Outside of D&Js, Coleman is heavily involved in the city’s hip-hop scene, often selling art at merchandise tables with her young daughter. With local producer Cedric Walker, she’s also helped to organize another big project — the monthly clean-up at the southern end of Sand Creek Trail.
That clean-up starts each month at The Community barbershop, a hub for Southeast events and outreach.
Located in Astrozon Plaza on South Academy Boulevard, The Community often serves as a gathering place for the local hip-hop scene. Coleman and Lilli love watching their rapper friends perform at Cypher Saturdays (10:30 a.m. each week at the barbershop).
“The people who do [Cypher Saturdays] are such sweet people,” Coleman said. “I really think they’re going to make a difference. I really do. It’s inspiring the next generation to do something positive. Inspired my daughter to rap.”
The mother and daughter also recently helped to put on the second annual COmmUNITY Works show in Astrozon Plaza, featuring some of Southeast’s favorite local rappers. The event collected donations for winter supplies for people experiencing homelessness, which Coleman distributed to campers on Veterans Day.
She was thrilled with local rappers’ support for the event and eagerness to give back.
“Bleezus Christ, he’s the one that headlined our community show,” Coleman said. “Talk about just mad love for that man. He really — he broke his leg, and he showed up in a wheelchair to headline our event, and we were in a parking lot in 30-degree weather.”
Coleman, who loves rapping, first got connected with the hip-hop scene through a chance encounter — the perfect example of how creativity and self-expression can open doors.
“I didn’t use to listen to hip-hop,” Coleman said. “I grew up on gospel and country music and heavy metal.”
But one day, Mike Cox (also known as Jolka, who Coleman describes as one of the city’s head Juggalo rappers — a style of rap modeled after the Insane Clown Posse ) approached her art space at an outdoor flea market and started scrutinizing her papier-mâché masks.
“He’s like, ‘Can you put my face on one of these?’” Coleman recalls. “And I’m looking at him going, ‘Well, that seems weird, but OK.’ He goes, ‘No, no, no. I’m a Juggalo. I paint my face when I go onstage.’”
Long story short, Cox ended up ordering the same clown mask multiple times, and Coleman started taking photos at Colorado Springs hip-hop shows and making friends with artists. Local rappers Nina Nine and Petrol taught Coleman to rap and suggested she get recording equipment, she said.
That was four and one-half years ago. Coleman’s also still tight with the hip-hop scene — her current project is a gorilla mask for another rapper, Widefield Yeti, to wear during his shows. Both Coleman and her daughter record their own music at home.
“The local scene is really interesting,” Coleman said. “There’s a lot of different people. They have different personalities, different styles of music. Ours is totally nothing like anyone else’s.”
Blue-haired Lilli raps about her cowboy boots in one song, and about bullying in another track with features from some of her favorite local artists. Coleman’s unique voice has a bit of a twang owing to her Missouri roots. In her latest song, she raps about dreaming of a world without hate.
You wouldn’t know it, but Coleman’s struggled with chronic pain caused by nerve damage for more than a decade. But after a recent seizure that landed her in the emergency department, Coleman said a neurologist recommended some new medication that might be a light at the end of the tunnel.
“I have actually … not [been] in pain for four days now,” she said while meeting with the Southeast Express in mid-November, her voice incredulous. “We really didn’t think I was going to make it much longer, because it had gotten so bad — and now there’s finally hope. It’s really awesome.”
Through her perseverance and individuality, Coleman hopes to set an example for Lilli and her two sons, ages 20 and 15. Her most important advice: “Be yourself, never give up and always do your best. It doesn’t matter if you are the best at what you’re doing, as long as you do your best, and you do it with confidence, and then you have something to be proud of.”