Cali Bulmash is an artist and an activist who came to Moab six years ago. Since then, she’s become heavily involved with the community and is working to create safe spaces for expression through art.
“I’m a poet, first and foremost,” Bulmash said. “It was always something I squeezed in or spewed out of me in between tests and stuff.”
Bulmash first recognized the power of self-expression while attending the University of Virginia. Since then, she’s been exploring and expanding her art and her voice, and now she’s sharing what she learned with the people of Moab.
Bulmash found Moab through Community Rebuilds. She learned about the program while biking across the country for affordable housing.
“I was in college at the time and almost dropped out to do it, but my mom convinced me to wait,” Bulmash explained. Once she graduated from college, she traveled to Moab to become a part of the Community Rebuilds team. That’s when she fell in love with Moab. “I would have never gone back if I didn’t finish my degree first,” she said.
She has traveled away from Moab a bit since then, but she always returns. After Community Rebuilds, she dedicated her time to working disaster relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and a number of other natural disasters.
“I thought to myself, ‘when was the last time I felt grounded?’” Bulmash said, so she returned to Moab to begin working at the Youth Garden Project. After that, in her first stint as a full-time performer, Bulmash toured the country for a year and a half with Slam Up, a poetry and comedy performance group.
“It was the first time I took it seriously and made intentional time to create and write,” she said. Once the group broke up and ended the tour, Bulmash found herself back in Moab. “I had nowhere to go, and I had my dear friend, Claire Core with the Resiliency Hub, tell me to come to Moab,” Bulmash said. “Dailey Haren said Moab needed me, so I decided to stay ... there were a million other reasons, but she said it so convincingly. That was probably two and a half years ago. This is where my community is now.”
In Moab, Bulmash now leads trail rides at Hauer Ranch and has become involved in a number of other organizations and initiatives, including designing and facilitating the monthly poetry event Rock the Mic.
“I only say I’m an artist because I believe everyone is an artist,” Bulmash said. “I believe so much in story-telling.”
Bulmash initiated Rock the Mic to serve a need she felt was not met in Moab. Held at the MARC, it offers what she calls “a space other than a bar,” which she felt was important to create a place for sharing.
“People go to the bar to decompress. They don’t go to get real and heavy with the poetry,” Bulmash said. “To give a piece of your heart to a room full of people who don’t care, it’s not good for the poet or the people. We need to make a space for people to perform and people to be inspired in that way. That’s how it started, and it sort of blossomed.”
Bulmash will be passing a majority of the Rock the Mic responsibilities to others this season. “I’m grateful for having that space to grow and evolve,” she explained. “I don’t have the energy to give the space the intention I’ve hoped to create, so I’m going to let that be a rebirth by the people who attend and appreciate that space.”
Bulmash is now focusing her energy on the annual Pride celebration and the LGBTQIA community in Moab.
“A lot of the reason I’m doing that is to provide space for the QT (queer/trans) youth,” she said. “I helped facilitate the gay-straight alliance at the high school.” By recognizing LGBTQIA youth, Bulmash hopes to create an environment in which everyone can feel safe to express themselves, including an inter-generational drag show to take place Apr 6.
“I’m passionate about drag, it is so liberating,” Bulmash said. “The work is facilitating that conversation of what drag looks like and what it means to the students and to us ... It’s really interesting doing an intergenerational show because it’s beyond the work of throwing a really awesome party. You have to cover all of your bases.”
That said, there has been some pushback from concerned parents and community members about some of Bulmash’s work with the youth.
“There are so many conversations and tedious emotional labor that goes into this,” she explained. “A huge thing is when you’re talking about queer identity, trans identity, a lot of adults that don’t understand ask how you keep it appropriate. There’s this worry with it being R-rated. These kids are having conversations about their own personal identity. They’re talking about their own personal journey, and we’re supporting them in whatever that is. It’s not sex. We’re talking about identity.”
Bulmash said she is dedicated to reversing this stigma in order to continue her work. “There’s less focus on performance and more focus on sharing your story, sharing your voice. It’s this unbelievable release,” she said. After being kicked out of choir in the fifth grade, it took Bulmash a long time to feel comfortable expressing herself again. “I experienced this journey of rediscovering my voice, and it’s taken me a decade. I feel like I feel for people who say they can’t express themselves. I’m like, that’s not true. Their story is worthy and their story is necessary.”
This is another story in a recurring series of Moab’s “leaders under 30,” a collection of accounts showcasing the young and ambitious in Grand County.