Following installation of the highly controversial mural by MTO on Manchester Street in 2014, UnderMain interviewed John and Jessica Winter in hopes of illuminating the vision of the co-founders of the mural’s sponsors, the public art project, PRHBTN.
The Winters’ projects kicked up quite a stir in Lexington. Some were annoyed, even offended, while others were pleased, even thrilled by the appearances of eye-catching murals in conspicuous locations all around downtown Lexington.
Regardless of opinions positive, negative or indifferent, the Winters continue to move forward with the project.
This week – September 15th to be exact – brings to a close another Kickstarter campaign announcing a Sixth Annual PRHBTN Street Festival (October 8th through the 15th). Featured artists include:
Key Detail & Yu-Baba
One of the biggest criticisms of any arts organization that imports national and international artists to the Lexington community is that local talent is frequently overlooked in the process.
John and Jessica addressed this concern in our interview (see Q&A below) and have recently pursued a formal partnership with the Lexington Art League with the aim of sustaining meaningful ties to local artistic talent.
The missions of LAL & PRHBTN could not be more aligned for this partnership: that art should be accessible to all members of the community. With this belief at the core of the partnership they are joining forces to strengthen the local aspect of this wildly popular annual festival.
“The Lexington Art League was the most likely partner for this effort, as they not only support local artists through their ongoing programs and exhibitions, they also support an international artists residency program that has resulted in several site specific art projects throughout the city and in the Loudoun House Galleries,” said Jessica Winter.
“Since its inception, we have been so impressed with the work of John & Jessica and their ability to present phenomenal works created by artists locally, regional and internationally which has enlivened our visual landscape,” said Stephanie Harris, Executive Director, Lexington Art League. “That is why we were delighted when PRHBTN reached out to us to present their annual commission-free exhibition in support of local artists.”
The inaugural year of their partnership will feature a commission-free exhibition at the Loudoun House Galleries that will be open to the public October 13th & 14th.
On October 13th at 7 pm, there will be a special panel discussion featuring local artists who are participating in the festival & exhibition, as well as guest artists including PRHBTN featured artist Patch Whiskey. Both events will be free and open to the public.
During the latter part of the festival – October 15-18 – Patch Whiskey will be installing a new mural on the community center adjacent to the Loudoun House in Castlewood Park. This site has been selected as a space for a new mural each year coinciding with the festival. LFUCG Parks and Recreation is serving as an additional partner for that mural location.
PRHBTN & LAL are co-sponsoring as this year’s special guest artist, Faith 47, an internationally-acclaimed visual artist from South Africa who has been applauded for her ability to resonate with people around the world. Her work will be installed within an interior space in the community and throughout her process she will create a documentary video that will be shown during the public exhibition at LAL.
The site for the mural is yet to be disclosed. Faith 47’s residency is being generously supported by LexArts, LAVA Systems and Block + Lot, as well as private donations.
Below is UnderMain’s Q&A with John and Jessica, published November 12, 2014. So much has changed since then, but we applaud PRHBTN for nurturing a vibrant and collaborative spirit behind street art in Lexington, KY.
UM: Why did you establish PRHBTN and what is its mission?
We started PRHBTN in 2011 because we wanted to encourage the growth of the street art in Lexington and do our part to bring art out of the galleries and onto the streets where everyone can enjoy it as part of the fabric of our city. The mission is to connect local and regional artists with internationally known artists in a two-part format: International muralists who travel to Lexington and install murals and a commission-free gallery show that showcases local and regional artists exclusively. During the muralists’ time in Lexington we host events and gatherings during which they can get to know our local artists, with the hopes that through these events connections will be formed between local and international artists. In addition, we facilitate murals and other paid projects for our local and regional artists throughout the year – we have helped coordinate more than a dozen murals and other projects in and around Lexington for our local artists. The official description is PRHBTN is:
PRHBTN is an annual celebration of street art that endeavors to bring together art lovers of all kinds—-from the loyal museum supporter to the skateboarder with a freshly stenciled deck. Although street art is often times criminalized, marginalized, and generally under-appreciated, PRHBTN believes great artwork has the ability to transcend labels. With this conviction, in 2011 PRHBTN began to invite well-known international artists to create new mural works on vacant downtown walls in Lexington, Kentucky. So far, PRHBTN has been proud to welcome critically acclaimed artists from the United States (LA and NYC), England, Brazil, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, and France.
PRHBTN funds these public murals through the generous support of the community, including those of private donors and local businesses, and with the support of LexArts and other community organizations such as the NoLi CDC. As part of the street art celebration, PRHBTN holds a commission-free art show and concert at Buster’s Billiards & Backroom to help connect artists with patrons every fall.
UM: What are your ideas about public art in general and what purpose it serves?
We believe that public art enriches a community by exposing residents and visitors to other viewpoints on the world. Art is at its best when it makes a viewer think – to move their focus from the daily grind and on to more abstract topics, to interpreting a visual piece presented to her on the street. Many people don’t visit art galleries. Art on the streets brings this experience into people’s everyday lives. Street Art in particular tends to present voices that speak to political and social issues and provide perspectives that are often underrepresented in the mainstream media and dialogue.
Providing an opportunity for these viewpoints to be represented and discussed adds a layer to public discourse within a community that is invaluable. Further, bringing artists in from other parts of the country or the world expands the dialogue even further – this art provides us with a window on the world and fresh perspectives. Public art also discourages the defacement of community spaces and adds value to properties.
UM: How many murals has PRHBTN been responsible for, to date?
2013- Kobra Lincoln Mural, Phlegm Mural on Pepper Distillery and Spyglass on the Water tower in the Distillery District, Gaia mural on West Sixth building, and Odeith mural on Bazaar building on N. Limestone.
2014- How & Nosm mural on Lex Park garage, ROA mural on N. Limestone, MTO mural on Manchester, and Andrew Hem mural on Short ST. There are also an assorted number of smaller pieces by ROA and How & Nosm throughout the Distillery complex on Manchester Street.
Q: Do you believe there is a civic responsibility that goes along with placing works of art on public buildings?
Of course. PRHBTN does not, however, involve itself with the artistic process or with decisions made as to the content of the art project it sponsors. We follow the required procedures for approval, which vary depending on the nature of the wall involved – public process for public buildings and spaces, private boards of directors approval for corporately owned buildings, and direct conversations with building owners and artists for privately owned walls. We invite the artists based on their bodies of work, try to connect them with walls that they like, and then remove ourselves from the conversation. We are facilitators. That being said, we don’t believe that there is really any art being done on a large scale by internationally recognized artists that would be detrimental to the well-being of a city. All art speaks and whether or not the message is appreciated, it is still valuable. We believe that art is subjective and that there will always be those who subjectively do not like any given piece of art.
UM: What are the facts, as opposed to the hype, that you would like our community to know about the MTO mural on Manchester Street?
We should note that MTO has composed the story regarding the character depicted in the Manchester St. mural, which as we have previously indicated is a fictional/mythical creature, with an entire back-story. This back-story, written as an additional artistic piece inside the Pepper Distillery, brings to light the subject of a film, titled “My Name is MO” – which MTO completed last week. This film enables the viewer to grasp the entire project, it offers a completely different perspective on the mural. We hope that people will withhold judgment until they can see the project in its entirety.
PRHBTN’s official stance on the gang sign accusations:
We would like to note that the gang sign accusations have in fact been raised previously in connection with MTO’s work in Sarasota, Florida, where he was invited to take part in the world-famous Sarasota sidewalk chalk festival, which now has a wall/mural component. The piece he painted there likewise had absolutely nothing to do with gang activity, but it did cause a public controversy and the owner of the building did elect to paint over the mural, despite fairly widespread support for it in the immediate community. The concerns being raised here are in fact eerily similar to those raised in Sarasota, which were dismissed as lacking in basis by the police department there and also by independent research- there is simply no connection between the hand symbols MTO uses and any gang. MTO was nevertheless invited back to Sarasota following this episode, and painted three additional murals in response, which have been well received. MTO made a documentary about this experience, which We highly recommend you watch if you are interested in becoming educated on the matter. If you watch the entire thing we believe you will come away with a new respect for MTO and the way he sees and explains his art. Particularly toward the end of the piece he gives an eloquent, detailed description of the motivations behind his work, hand symbols, etc.
We would also encourage those interested to read and consider the response piece written by Denise Koval, the organizer of the Sarasota festival, titled “ Artistic Censorship Denies Opportunity for Dialogue and Growth,” which was published in the Bradenton Times newspaper on April 18, 2012.
UM: Are there specific criteria for selecting artists?
We select the artists we invite based on our subjective opinions about their works – we invite artists whose works we either like or respect in one way or another. Each year we attempt to be diverse in the styles represented. We pay travel, lodging, food, and supplies. We give the artists freedom with respect to design, and they come because of the opportunity for this freedom and because they like the grass roots nature of our efforts. Final design is a decision between building owner and artist, and all murals receive final approval prior to installation.
UM: Can you fill us in on the total number of artists you have engaged, both international and local?
We have worked with 10 international and national artists and roughly three dozen local and regional artists.
UM: What issues might arise from artists not being paid for these projects?
The artists that have been a part of PRHBTN in the past have been overwhelmingly pleased to be able to have full artistic freedom over what they create and even what wall they paint on. For other festivals this is not always the case as the artists are paid a commission or honorarium for their appearance. We think that PRHBTN artists are able to feel more comfortable and create works that come from a place of passion without the complications that money may present. In fact, many of the artists have expressed the opinion that they have enjoyed painting here in Lexington more so than in other, bigger cities.
UM: What is your personal vision for the mural projects?
We don’t necessarily have a particular vision aside from the idea of continuing to bringing amazing artists to Lexington, for them to create art on our walls, and to continue to facilitate the growth of street art in our community by making worldwide connections between Lexington artists and the muralists we bring. Also through the gallery show we hope to continue to expose Lexington to our local talent.