Taylor Mahlinger


The Girl Project Comes to Lexington

What do you get when you put arts and activism together in the same space? Meet Voices HEaRd, one of the three branches of the Kentucky-based summer arts program, The Girl Project. Co-founded by Ellie Clark and Vanessa Becker-Weig, The Girl Project is part of Woodford Theatre’s Education Program and is focused on empowering girls of all ages through the arts.

The Girl Project’s third annual Voices HEaRd is set for its biggest year yet. The event was met with such success last year that they decided to spread the workshops and scheduled festivities out over an entire weekend and relocate Voices HEaRd to Lexington. Vanessa Becker-Weig, who is the Program Director and a Co-Founder of The Girl Project said, “It was out at Versailles at Woodford Theater. Woodford is kind of the home base for The Girl Project, but most of our base in terms of patrons for The Girl Project is in Lexington, so we just moved everything here.”

The idea for Voices HEaRd was formed in 2016, “post-election” Becker-Weig said as she chuckled with Jeni Benavides, who is Associate Director of The Girl Project as well as a lead guest artist.

“The first year, it was just one performance, and then the second year we expanded it to two nights of performances.” said Benavides. This year’s Voices HEaRd event will feature theater, music, visual art, spoken word, dance, workshops, and community organizations during Mother’s Day weekend. “This year, we switched it to Mother’s Day weekend because we kind of wanted to switch the focus a bit and make it feel more celebratory of relationships, like the mother-daughter relationship, the mentor relationship, that kind of thing.” said Becker-Weig.

Another new addition to the event is a ten minute play festival. “Before, we just kind of did this collective, and we’re doing that again this year, but we’ve also decided to start this ten minute play festival, and that’s kind of Ellie’s baby, if you will. She’s reached out to some different female playwrights and they’ve submitted pieces, so we’re really excited about that.” said Becker-Weig. Ellie Clark is a Co-Founder and Co-Director of The Girl Project.

Benavides added that there will also be a community tabeling event this year in an effort to involve more community organizations and give them the opportunity to connect with others. Tabling events involve organizations setting up tables with information and sign-ups to share what they do for the community and how people can get involved. The Voices HEaRd tabling event will also feature The Horse’s Mouth storytelling group. “What they do is facilitate the community to get up and tell stories, so we’re bringing them in and they’re going to facilitate a storytelling hour for anybody that wants to tell a story. The people who are coming in with their organizations and at the tabeling event will get a chance to tell their stories. It’s a really cool way for even more stories to be told and it’s not staged, it’s just sitting in a circle telling a story.” said Benavides.

Curtain Call, 2018 Voices HEaRd

The theme for the past two Voices HEaRd events was centered around violence against women and speaking out against it, while this time, the event is more inclusive of different relationships and involves more of the community, which is something the co-founders wanted to emphasize. One of the ideas that formed Voices HEaRd came from wanting to give back to the community, which is easy to see with all of the Lexington businesses who have partnered with this year’s event. Some of them include Centered Yoga Studio, Ranada’s Bistro and Bar, Downtown Arts Center, and Chocolate Holler, where they will be hosting the weekend’s events like the spoken word performances, the PlayFest, and tabling event.

“The first year we did Voices HEaRd, we decided we were going to choose a co-beneficiary, so the proceeds from voices heard will be shared between us, The Girl Project,  and whoever that community partner is. The first year it was Greenhouse17, last year it was the Step by Step program, and this year it’s The Nest. What’s really cool about that too is that we can then bring their stories to light.” Said Becker-Weig. The proceeds from this year’s Voices HEaRd event will benefit The Nest, a nonprofit community resource center for women, children, and families. All of the programs that The Nest provides are completely free and serve women, children, and families in the community who are in crisis.

Ellie Clark added in an email correspondence, “It is a community event. We are looking to reach as many people as possible. I hope everyone hears one story, sees one painting, watches one dance or attends one workshop that speaks to them, inspires them, encourages them to pay it forward. It is a labor of love and passion for all the artists involved and certainly for us. I find it an honor to be a part of all of it. It takes a village and in a world where we sit with our devices all day sometimes we forget how inspiring another human being can be, how inspiring live arts can be.”

“I think that it’s really been great seeing all of the different artists that come together for this project. Our background is primarily as theater artists but it also includes spoken word artists, singer-songwriters, visual art, things like that.” said Benavides. “Part of this idea of celebrating these relationships in our lives, one of the things we’re doing is having a day of mentoring and self-care over at Centered Yoga Studio. They’ll be hosting all of these great workshops along with the visual art.”

“We had a little preview night of pieces that you might see by doing a spoken word night at Chocolate Holler, and that was so successful that we said, ‘this has to be a part of the weekend now’!” Exclaimed Benavides. “You’re looking at the audience of Chocolate Holler and it has Girl Project alumni, members of the community that have come out to support, and different spoken word artists, and the line is out the door. People are sitting on the floor to listen to what these people are saying and people are standing outside able to hear it because all of the attention is focused there. That’s a rare opportunity sometimes to have that captive audience. It’s like wow, we’re doing something right.”

Becker-Weig added, “Almost everything is one person for $15 and two for $25 because we’re trying to encourage people to bring their mothers, mentors, daughters, or fathers. If they want to come to the play fest, it’s $10 per person or 2 for $25, or if they want to come to the collective, it’s the same thing.” The spoken word and music night will accept donations along with a full bar where other things can be purchased. “We have one special workshop that will be targeted towards college students. One of the playwrights is coming in and doing a workshop on basically how to submit and write a 10 minute play, and I think she’s going to charge $25 for that. We’re going to be reaching out to a lot of the universities because we’re really looking towards that kind of academia.”

Benavides wanted to emphasize that the Voices HEaRd event is open to everyone. “This is not just an event for women, we have male artists that are part of it and definitely deal with the issues that women and girls face but we also try to be inclusive about other kind of marginalized groups, the LGBTQ community, race, and there’s definitely a lot of different stories.”

Voices HEaRd will be held May 10th-12th. Learn more information about the schedule of event here.

From top, clockwise: Margaret McGladrey, Vanessa Becker-Weig, Ellie Clark, and Jeni Benavides.

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Lavish! Capturing Nature’s Beauty One Stitch at a Time

“If people fall in love with something, they’re more likely to take care of it, so I thought, ‘what suggests care and love’, and I thought that embroidering was an interesting one because we embroider things we care about.”

Lavish!: New Work by Zoé Strecker is the latest exhibit on display at Transylvania University’s Morlan Gallery by Associate Professor of Art, Zoé Strecker. Its purpose is to showcase the beauty of Pine Mountain, which is a natural community of the most biodiverse forests in Kentucky. “It’s actually the second most biodiverse temperate forest in the whole world, like the entire planet, except there’s a spot in China that’s very similar but has greater elevation differences,” said Strecker,  “This little treasure is just three hours from here and maybe unappreciated. I just wanted to do work about it and had started making notes, doing some writing, and it just was an idea that grew from how do I help other people fall in love with this place.”

Strecker gathered mainly volunteer embroiderers in groups or as individuals from various places around Kentucky as well as across the nation. These volunteers stitched over top of images taken primarily by Strecker of the natural communities of Pine Mountain, which she also edited into a circular shape, and printed out onto silk organza. The stitching enhanced the images by giving them depth with a 3D appearance. Some of the photos taken were close-ups of tree trunks that had moss or some sort of growth on them, and this is where Strecker or one of the volunteers would stitch to create an interesting effect for people.

Preparation in Strecker’s studio

“I imagine them [the images] as windows into each of the types of forest communities,”  Strecker said.

She proceeded to show me the various circular panels, where a large portion of the stitching was done by volunteer embroiderers. Good news doesn’t always spread quickly, but in this case, it did. Finding volunteers wasn’t difficult Strecker said, “Here in Lexington, I just invited people that I knew, and people associated with Transy friends, and then they invited friends or posted to Facebook, and their friends said ‘that’s so cool, may I come stitch?’”

Strecker stitching over image photographed on Pine Mountain

While the pieces themselves are stunning, the design of the exhibit is certainly something to be noted. The major, circular installation that holds the pieces measures 22 feet in length, and 10 feet in height, and is positioned off to the left side of Morlan Gallery. Strecker said she designed the space to help people feel as if they were surrounded by nature. “I made a bent wood frame and it has sheer walls and then these [panels] hang on it. Everything was done to be as minimal as it could be so that it has a very meditative, ethereal feeling in the space, and I also have audio of the forest, I have sounds of the background, water, wind, trees and bird sounds and bird calls. I also have aroma in the show, so all of these things are gonna come together,” she said.

One of the most interesting things about this exhibit is that it will continue to evolve, even after opening in the gallery. “The project will continue during the exhibition, it will continue after the exhibition, so we will keep stitching. There will be at least three more images and then there are lots of small ones also that are individual organisms. It’s a living work in progress” Strecker said, “It will continue, at least through the end of the summer for the stitching part, because there are three more big ones, but I’ll look for more exhibition opportunities that may include more stitching too.”

The process of putting this show together took place over a period of years and required extensive research and time. Strecker has been formulating the ideas for Lavish! since 2014, and began to conduct the research and do the traveling over the following few years.

Lavish! is especially unique from other art exhibits in the sense (literally) that aromas accompany the artwork.  “I had spent a fair amount of time over the last few years on and off researching perfumers who dealt with non-traditional smells, in other words not just flowery types of perfumes you think about wearing, but smells that you connect to a place, and I found several different individuals and companies that do that, and in the end I was able to get some that were affordable that are separate accents,” Strecker said.

She visited perfumers in their spaces to explore and research the scents, but in the end, “I just had to smell them with my nose.” she laughed. “I have six separate things that will be emanating through the space and I have them in little miniature vaporizers that look like little humidifiers, and I mix a very little of the perfume with water, and it just sort of gently emanates through the space.” Strecker is eager to see how the scents play out in the space she was given. “I’ve tested this all out in my studio, but to put it in that space which has a different square footage and a different heating system, and has different objects in it, I’m just so eager to see how well it works, but it’s up for a month, so I can tweak it. I can start with how I think the scents will be most powerful and then increase or decrease things. It’s definitely a living project” she laughed.

A display of images concealing small vaporizer placed behind on a small shelf

It was easy to see that Strecker was eager to finally get the show open after all the work she and everyone else has put into this exhibit. “I guess what I’m really curious about is whether it creates this sort of meditative, contemplative space I think it will and because I worked on the parts separately and they’re coming together for the first time all in one space in the show. I personally want to see if it is creating that space the way I think it will. And of course I get a chance to see how other people react, and that’s the fun and also maybe the terror of putting something in public. But I feel that this has been so supported already by people involved in it that I’m not really afraid, I’m more excited.”

These pieces appear all around the circular structure, imitating how they would appear in nature.

The idea for this project originated almost twenty-three years ago, when naturalist for the state, Marc Evans, discovered what he thought was an old growth forest while doing aerial surveys of the Pine Mountain area. Strecker said, “It was way bigger than he thought, and they saw that the massive tree crowns went further and further than he ever imagined, and they checked on the ground and found that it was true.”

Evans was in the same circle of friends as Strecker, and Pine Mountain sparked her interest when she heard about the discovery. “I’ve always loved wild places, I’ve always been a hiker and an outdoors person every since I was tiny, so I just became fascinated and kind of got involved.”

Strecker said that besides taking the photos for the project, she loved being out in the secluded forest. “Being out in the forest for long stretches of time, just sort of getting to know the sounds and the visuals of the place and the smell—all of those things, I just love them so much.”

An image that was heavily embroidered to create a 3D effect.

“For a few of the natural communities, I went with botanists who were doing fieldwork, so there were two people from the Kentucky State Nature Reserves Commission who were full time botanists, and they go out and do field work. I asked if I could come along, and they went off trail and they were counting species I was just looking for photo opportunities. That was really fun, you know, we had to move by GPS and we had to wear snake gators because we were going way off the trail, and we carried bear repellant in case, so we were very far out there.”

In addition to the main pieces in the exhibit, there’s also an exhibition within the exhibit on the other side of the gallery, by artists who are a part of the Pine Mountain Collective, which is a retreat that lasts three days at Pine Mountain and is co-hosted by Strecker. The retreat has been attended by over 100 artists, some who have work displayed in Morlan Gallery.

The artists chosen for the Inspired by Wild Places exhibit were Brian and Sara Turner, Rebecca  Allan, Erika Strecker, and Vallorie Henderson. “We have a show within the show, and an evening of musicians and readers,” Strecker said.

 is on exhibit in Morlan Gallery through April 2nd. There will be an art talk with Strecker on Thursday, March 8th at 6 p.m. in the gallery, and Wild Things: Selected Artists from the Pine Mountain Sessions on Friday, March 23rd from 7 p.m.-8:30 p.m. in Carrick Theater, which is also located in the Mitchell Fine Arts building.

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Scene&Heard: When a senior recital rocks the house

Cities within a city, cultures within a culture, Lexington’s urban universities are living, breathing microcosms of the world at large. UnderMain from time to time likes to explore what’s happening on the campuses of the University of Kentucky, population 30,000+, and Transylvania University where some 1,100 students strive to shape their futures. Our latest Scene&Heard local music column turns over the page to Transylvania sophomore Taylor Mahlinger, entertainment editor for the campus student publication, The RamblerTaylor reviews the senior recital of fellow student Griffin Cobb. There’s a reason the venue was SRO.

Full of artistic talent and musical vision, Transylvania University senior Griffin Cobb gave a stunning final performance to a packed crowd at Transy’s Carrick Theater. He was able to showcase his multi-faceted music abilities while also letting his charismatic personality shine through, performing in jeans. Cobb majors in Music Technology and Spanish, with a Computer Science minor.

Cobb’s senior recital was divided into four segments. He opened the recital with a guitar and electronic synthesizer piece called Blue Stained Glass; he wrote the piece for Studio 300, which is Transy’s electronic music festival that comes around every two years. Cobb used a mix of pedal effects with different guitar tracks and some distortion, and he played live guitar over top during his recital. Cobb calls it “a study in electric guitar timbre.” He used the opening of the recital to demonstrate the full range of both his instrument and his playing ability.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Timothy Polashek

“In another section, I have three studio pieces that I invited some other musicians to come record tracks and mixed those,” said Cobb.

One of the artists Cobb collaborated with was Transy sophomore, soprano Ruth Choate. Both collaborated with drummer Brandon Trapp to cover the song “Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene” originally by Hozier.

“She [Choate] didn’t have any specific songs in mind. She just came in and we went through a bunch of songs that I’m into that I just had on my computer and eventually she was just like ‘I really like that one’ and we went for it,” said Cobb. Choate’s ethereal soprano vocals over top of of the guitar and drum tracks added a fresh take on the song.

Collaborating with other musicians and getting their feedback is also something Cobb will miss.

“I’ve played classical before, but I don’t do that anymore, and it’s really cool to get other perspectives.” Cobb’s collaborations with other musicians for this concert added a layer of depth and creativity.

The third section of the recital was comprised of a video game called Traffic Cop Hero 1000. Cobb and two other people created the game over last May Term for their Game Design course.

Cobb called it “a retro-style game, and I wrote music for that. I thought it would be fun to put in the recital, and I played that up on the projector.”

The unique mix of interactive visuals and elements was a fresh addition to a senior recital that concert audiences don’t usually experience. Cobb’s background in Computer Science allowed him to bring in this element of game design and incorporated the music with visuals, such as the colorful 16-bit graphic game playing on the screen. There was an interactive element to this section because Cobb actually played the game on the projector in front of the audience.

The last section of his concert included two different jazz ensembles made up of of a quintet and quartet. The quartet, composed of Cobb on guitar with bassist Tyler Turcotte, Danny Cecil on the piano, and Brandon Trapp on the drums, performed two pieces, Mr. P.C. by John Coltrane and Nardis by Miles Davis.

The jazz quintet included Trapp on the drums, Cobb playing bass guitar, Cecil on Piano, Sarah Schaaf on saxophone, and Evan Baber on trumpet. The quintet performed three pieces, All The Things You Are by Kern and Hammerstein, arranged by Cobb, Along Came Betty by Benny Golson, arranged by Cobb, and Insensatez by Antonio Carlos Jobim, arranged by Cobb.

The improvisational style that jazz creates combined with Cobb’s generosity gave everyone a chance to perform solos in the recital.

Cobb said there are many things he will miss about the music department, one being the artistic freedom he was allowed: “I feel like I could go into any project and I would get support from the music faculty, even if it’s not something that a particular faculty member is into, they’ll tell me ‘oh this person can help you out with that’ or they’ll just say ‘go for it’.”

On his post graduation aspirations, Cobb says, “I don’t know for sure if I’m gonna go back to Louisville, but probably, and I’m gonna try to make a living off of performing and maybe writing. Getting a job at a recording studio would be fantastic because I feel like I have the skills to be a sound engineer. I’ve gotten into acting again over the past couple of years, and I’d love to do that.”

“It’s entirely possible that I’ll try to do that and it won’t work out, but you might as well go for it” Cobb said with a laugh and casual shrug.

Some of Cobb’s pieces from the recital can be found on SoundCloud.

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