The casual crowd at Root Studio in Columbia was not quite sure what to do with the various primitive instruments Linda Joy Burke handed out when she took center stage on Friday night. Under her tutelage, however, it wasn’t long before the room was filled with music.
Everything from readings to musical performances can be heard at Root’s open mic night. Held once a month, the event has been popular since its start over a year-and-a half ago, according to Karen Isailovic, co-founder and CEO of Root.
“We have a lot of new people and a lot of regulars,” Isailovic said. “The people in the audience really are here to listen. You perform before a dedicated audience.”
“It’s amazing the talent that has come out of the woodwork,” said two-time Grammy Award-winner Marc Moreau, a co-founder of Root Studio and its creative director. “It’s just phenomenal.”
Unlike many open mic shows, Root Studio’s is not held in a bar or a restaurant, said Baltimore singer-songwriter Rob Hinkal, who performed Friday and will be a featured performer in December.
Each open mic night has a featured performer. On Friday, it was Burke.
“I am enamored with the space,” Hinkal said. “This is not what I expected it to be. This is an arts venue.”
Isailovic is hoping more people become enamored with the studio that opened over two years ago as a place “of discovery,” where creativity can help with mental health and wellness.
“People go to the gym for their body, and they can come here for their brain,” said Isailovic, who worked on the concept of Root for three years before opening in March 2017 in Suite D at 9140 Guilford Road.
“The minute I walked in here, I knew,” Isailovic said. “It fit like a glove.”
Not a traditional art studio, Root does not offer art classes, though instructors can help with techniques and host workshops. Rather, it is about letting individuals discover what they like and where they are creatively, she said.
“People can get their feet wet, try different things and discover what they want to explore,” Isailovic said.
To aid that process, Root offers several different studios. There is a photography lab, a digital lab, a multipurpose room featuring large worktables for textile work and crafts; a control room, a writer’s nook and a large warehouse room for painting and hosting events such as the open mic night.
For an hourly fee, individuals have free use of the facility.
“A lot of people learn differently,” Isailovic said. “People ... are goal driven. They miss the opportunity of their inner creative.”
Keeping the studio’s concept alive has been challenging, however.
“The numbers are not where we need them to be to be sustainable,” Isailovic said. “It’s a new concept. It’s hard meeting the needs in all the genres — writers, painters, musicians.”
Moreau believes that many people think they are not creative, and therefore, don’t try.
“Kids just dive right in; they don’t care,” Moreau said. “As we grow older, we don’t want to do things we’re not good at or out of our comfort zone.”
Experience has nothing to do with the benefits creativity can provide, Moreau said.
“We all start from the same point,” said Moreau, who lives in Brookville and has worked as an engineer and musician on albums by Madonna, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Roger Waters and other stars. “Nobody is born that way; it’s because they’ve done it over and over again.”
“A lot of people don’t know where to start," said Isailovic, adding that Root’s workshops are designed to guide people. “We just provide the tools to achieve mental health and wellness. We always incorporate wellness.”
Isailovic purposefully created open mic nights to be alcohol free.
“It is so important that this exists for people who don’t want to be around alcohol,” Isailovic said. Instead, the open mics offers drinks created by Sobar, a nonprofit organization that makes healthy non-alcoholic beverages for public and private events. Sobar donates a percentage of its sales to Root after any event it attends.
“I love to be here and support Root,” said Beth Harbinson, owner of Sobar. “It is an awesome space.”
A GoFundMe page was created to help raise funds for the studio. Isailovic has also met with community leaders and reached out to various organizations.
“Everyone is very interested in what we are doing,” Isailovic said, and the open mic nights help bring attention, too.
Acting as the emcee on Friday, Natascha Weedon, of Silver Spring, was full of praises for Root and its purpose.
“The space is so uplifting and empowering,” Weedon said. “We need to get the word out and people need to experience this place.”