Ottawa poet hoping to perfect the art of the getaway with latest creative venture

Jamaal Jackson Rogers
Jamaal Jackson Rogers says the Black Rhino Artist Retreat in Kinburn will be the region's first four-season artist retreat. Photo by Randy Kelly.

Forty minutes west of downtown Ottawa, a well-known local artist is poised to launch a new business venture that will give a much-needed boost to the region’s creative infrastructure.

Jamaal Jackson Rogers is busy putting the final touches on the Black Rhino Artist Retreat in Kinburn. According to Rogers, the new space ​– which will be open 365 days a year ​– will be the region’s first four-season artist retreat.

Plans for the two-storey facility include a main-floor gathering and event space called the Joanne Jackson Showroom. Rogers says the space will have a modern-chic, lounge feel, with Royal Blue-accented furniture and black and white modern art pieces on the walls.

The upper floor is slated to include the Jocelyn-Cosmos Study, a rehearsal space for creative artists with an elegant, aged antique esthetic featuring plenty of natural wood. 

“I want guests to feel as though they are in a prestigious recital hall,” explains Rogers, who’s known in Ottawa’s creative community as JustJamaal the Poet. 

Black Rhino retreat
The outside of the new Black Rhino Artist Retreat in Kinburn. Photo courtesy Jamaal Jackson Rogers

Rogers says the new venture is designed to be a getaway where singers, dancers, comedians, poets, visual artists and others can relax, create, rehearse and dream. The retreat’s amenities include a heated salt-water pool, an eight-person dry sauna, home gym, dance rehearsal floor, writing lab, balcony, performance stage with a full PA system, kitchenette, bar and lounge. 

A successful artist in his own right, Rogers has served as Ottawa’s English poet laureate and was the co-ordinator of the artistic mentorship program at Youth Ottawa, a non-profit social service organization. He is currently the artist-in-residence at Carleton University’s music department.

The idea for such a venue came to Rogers in 2015 when he was invited to lead two international poetry retreats in India. He organized his first Ontario-wide poetry retreat on the Kinburn property, located next to his family home, in September 2018.

“After experiencing the invigorating experience that a retreat offers, I desired to launch my own versions here in Ottawa,” Rogers says. “Over time, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to create that experience for creatives on a regular basis, so the artist retreat will be available in all seasons, with specialized programming available throughout the year.

“I also remember reading articles about four years ago that mentioned Janelle Monae, Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar inviting artists into remote, isolated places to craft musical projects. I was inspired because I know that Ottawa doesn’t have opportunities for artists to engage themselves, or each other, in this way.” 

'I love bringing creatives together'

The venture comes at a time when many creative industries have almost ground to a halt due to COVID-19. But Rogers says the pandemic actually provided the perfect opportunity to make his creative enterprise a reality.

“I felt like this was the right time to launch this venture because another major project I was working on had to be halted due to COVID,” he says. “I love bringing creatives together and also enjoy staying busy, so while I took a break from my other projects, I went all in on this one.”

Rogers says a quiet place to get away from it all is just what many artists need right now. 

“I feel that after COVID, people will be looking to find ways to continue engaging in the arts on a deeper level, so I hope that this would be an opportunity for them to do so,” he says. “I also feel that during this time, creatives are feeling confined. Providing a space for them to escape, create and showcase will help them through what could be a very long pandemic.” 

This isn’t the first arts-based business venture for Rogers. He is also co-owner and director of operations for the Origin Arts & Community Centre, a venue for performances and workshops in Mechanicsville, and the founder of the Highlight Awards, an arts ceremony set to launch in 2021.