Category Archives: Arts

Arts

City Government as a Canvas: Lexington’s Civic Artists in Residence

Three Lexington artists are helping Lexington’s Urban County Government communicate with the public it serves. The Civic Artist in Residence program (CAIR), a yearlong project of CivicLex in partnership with the city and the Bluegrass Community Foundation, has selected their trio of artists. Standup comic and actress Debra F. Faulk, filmmaker Anthony Alex Gilmore, and quilter and textile artist Hannah Allen will work with three different city departments to conceive and execute artistic projects with an emphasis on problem-solving.

Each of the artists – selected by an advisory panel from 56 applicants – will spend the first three months embedded in their city departments, learning about its workings. That will be followed by three months of identifying problems and potential solutions, then by an additional six months to plan and create their artistic projects. “The idea is to use the creative processes that artists uniquely have to try and impact how our city functions, how it engages residents, how it looks at itself,” says Richard Young, executive director of CivicLex, a non-profit group that encourages civic engagement. “They’ll be working with those departments to identify issues and then come up with creative interventions that can address them.”

Faulk, 53, is a professional comedienne with a long history of using theater and comedy to address social issues including racism, gang violence, and drug addiction. She performs across the commonwealth in “Nancy Green: Being Aunt Jemima, the Pancake Queen” as part of Kentucky Humanities’ Chautauqua series. Faulk will be embedded at the Social Services Department’s Family Care Center, which serves teen mothers. Gilmore, 43, is a maker of documentary and fictional films about Asian-American issues and other topics that have been screened at film festivals around the world. He will be focusing his lens on the Department of Environmental Quality and Public Works, which handles waste management, traffic engineering, and other city functions. And Allen, 31, who contributed to the Rita’s Quilt project displayed in Paducah’s National Quilt Museum last year, will be attached to the city’s Finance Department, which manages the city budget.

Each of the artists will work about 15 hours a week and receive a stipend of $15,000, funded primarily by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Although they’re just at the beginning of their discovery period with the city departments, the artists already have ideas starting to percolate in their minds about possible approaches to their work.

Faulk, for example, is keeping her creative options open – her work will clearly involve performance of some kind, but it might be comic or dramatic (or both), scripted or improvised (or both), and may or may not end up on an actual stage – but she’s clear about her primary goals and messages while addressing the unique challenges of very young mothers. “I’m going to be working with these teen moms that have been written off,” she says. “I meet people where they are, and what I want these moms to know, what they end up walking away with after being with me, is that you are worth it, you are worthy, and now let’s come up with a plan. Sit down, Mommy, bring your baby in, and let’s all figure this out.” To that end, she says, she will work with the young women to discover their strengths, and then help them unify and gain greater strength for a common purpose – an approach that’s at the heart of an improv game she invented called Potluck. “I’m good at figuring out what people are good at and then bringing them together,” she says. “If I find that you’re really good at meats, and she’s good at desserts, and he’s good at vegetables, and she’s great with decorating, we can all come to the table and have a fabulous meal.”

For his part, Gilmore expects to make a film, but it could be either documentary or fiction, or possibly something else altogether. “Everyone would be expecting a documentary, but trying to script and shoot a fictional story that deals with real-world problems and things that the community could learn from – I think that would be fascinating,” he says. In the meantime, Gilmore is compiling a running list of creative possibilities, including an innovative approach to the workings of street lights. “I’d have to talk to the engineering team, but I assume that the lights have some sort of control, and one thing that I’ve done many times is projection mapping [a technique that transforms buildings and other objects into display surfaces for video projection]. It might be interesting to have a streetlight light show in different places around the city, maybe with music, with the lights beating to the rhythm of the music. Maybe we bring in some speakers and do a dance party, I don’t know. I think it could be really cool.”

Of the three artists, it’s Allen who’s been given the least obvious city department pairing. “My family and friends have been asking me:  What the hell are you going to do with quilts in the finance department?” she says with a laugh. “But actually a lot of quilting is math – which is hilarious, because I failed every math class I’ve ever taken – and quilting is very graphical in terms of that. I don’t want to be too literal in terms of what I’m trying to do, but remember in grade school you had Tangrams, little plastic shapes that helped you understand fractions? Maybe I could use quilting as a form of that.” Another possibility is a series of quilts that relates to the city budget. “No citizen is going to say, I’m going to go out and read all 1,000 pages of the city budget,” she says. “So how can I graphically and artistically represent the important aspects of that document in an approachable, very cozy, very loving, hospitable manner, rather than a 1,000-page PDF? The budget will be incorporated, somehow, but not the way you would think. I do a lot of fabric manipulation, natural dying, and sometimes include embroidery and traditional textile work. But it won’t be what you think it will be. I don’t even know if I know what it’ll be.”

Civic Artists in Residence, L to R: Hannah Allen, Debra F. Faulk, Tony Gilmore. Photo courtesy of CivicLex.

Lexington’s civic artist residency program is modeled after similar projects in cities and rural areas around the country over the past several years. Those programs have identified and addressed city functions such as the accessibility of public meetings in St. Paul, Minnesota, and the regional planning process in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Other artists have come up with creative responses to social issues such as homelessness. “In one case, the artist worked with folks inside city government to do theater where they put themselves in the position of someone who’s homeless, and actually worked with people in the community that don’t have a home, to deliver services in a better way,” Young says. “The goal is to find a creative way to communicate and connect that takes some of the contention and the formality out of how city government works, a way that’s much more human and more authentic than what our bureaucracy does.”

At this early stage, it’s unclear what form the artists’ works will take, what their messages and audiences might be, and how or whether they will be presented to the public. If the artists end up producing works in traditional formats – a play or an evening of standup comedy in Faulk’s case, a film in Gilmore’s, fabric art pieces in Allen’s – there might be a public performance, a screening, an exhibit. But the end result of the artists’ work could take different forms that might not lend themselves to the usual modes of sharing.

“What might come out of this is a piece of work that people can look at or participate in – that’s one way it could happen – but there are other things that could come out of it, instead,” Young says. “Maybe Hannah’s work with Finance doesn’t take the form of a piece of art. It could be something that is more systemic and throughout the department, maybe a new activity. Maybe Tony will make a film that we can show at the Kentucky Theatre, but maybe it’s not that. Maybe it’s a series of video monologues of different folks across different divisions within the department talking to each other about why they care about their work, or what they’re having trouble with. Maybe Debra will create an actual theater work at the end, or maybe it’s a series of workshops for young moms to help them process the things they’re going through. What we’re trying to do is provide a canvas for these three artists to do what it is they do. Fortunately, we have the kind of relationship with the city that they could accept such a radically open notion.”

Heather Lyons, director of arts and cultural affairs in Mayor Linda Gorton’s office, said she welcomes the artists and their exploratory process. “I don’t think any of us knows what the end result will be, but I’m really delighted by this opportunity for city employees…to benefit from some of the creative input they will get from the artists. I think it could be a deep look at social issues and how city government operates. It’s also a fantastic opportunity for city employees to make the work they do understandable to the community – to communicate what they do and how they do it.”

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Arts

He Spent the Pandemic Composing, Now There’s an Album: Lee Carroll and C the Beat

A little over a year ago, Lee Carroll bid adieu to the 9-to-5 world, hopped on a plane to Senegal, and pursued his passion for world music in one of West Africa’s most culturally rich countries. But in music, as in life, timing is everything. Within days of his overseas arrival, the world changed. COVID-19 had arrived.

“They shut the airports down in Dakar,” Carroll recalled. “I was lucky enough to get on an embassy plane to get home. I had to leave my compatriot, who was Senegalese, but he lives in Chicago and has a U.S. passport. We looked at each other and said, ‘If we don’t get out of here, who knows when we can leave.’ It was, like, nine months before they opened the airport again in Senegal, so we would have been stuck. So I did get home under the wire. But then I started thinking. ‘What am I going to do now?’”

Beyond Nashville
While Carroll’s devotion to African and global music is considerable, his resume as a professional musician might suggest otherwise. Having grown up in Cave City, he was a keyboard fixture in Nashville during the late ’80s and ’90s, playing and touring with Kentucky celebs Exile and The Judds. Appreciative of the career opportunities but frustrated by the stylistic limits they imposed, Carroll walked away from the music industry to make pizza. Specifically, he relocated to Pennsylvania and became a successful businessman overseeing ten Papa John’s stores for 25 years.

“Basically, every 18 months in Nashville they hand you another album to learn,” Carroll recalled. “That was the extent of it. Musically, that’s very limiting. I’m not complaining – it was a great experience. I got to travel. I got to do the road work. I got to meet with and work with a whole lot of different people. It was a really interesting part of my life. But once you do a record, you play the same thing every night. You do that for 18 months with not much variation at all. So it was very limiting. When I left Nashville, I said I would never play with anybody again who thinks they can ‘make it.’ In a way, when you start thinking about what the public wants, you start making compromises.

“The reason you got into music in the first place was because you loved it. You just wanted to play music. You were drawn toward what appealed to you, then all of a sudden you’re in a band. It’s a commercial band and success drives the whole thing. ‘How do you become more successful? What does the public like?’ And you start compromising. After 26 years in the music business, I walked away. There was no joy in it anymore. I didn’t play music again for ten years. I think it was the best thing I ever did, because when I came back to it, when I started playing again, it was like, ‘Man, I feel like I’m 16 again, but I can play.’ From that point on, it was like, ‘I’m not going to play music I don’t like. I’m not going to play for people who aren’t listening. I’m doing this because it makes me happy. That’s sort of been my driving force since then. If it makes me happy, I’ll keep doing it.”

Back home
Carroll eventually found his way back to Kentucky with pizza as his income and music as a hobby, but a hobby that quickly connected him with some of the region’s foremost music makers. Quickly established was a working relationship with local producer, engineer, and musician Duane Lundy, who oversees what is now The Lexington Recording Company. An ongoing friendship and musical camaraderie led to Carroll adding keyboards to a number of recordings Lundy was producing, which of late includes projects for Justin Wells, Joslyn and the Sweet Compression, and Abby Hamilton.

But Lundy also became a sounding board for Carroll’s newer music. In 2020, having sold his businesses, he was faced with a COVID-triggered lockdown that eliminated performance opportunities for live music. As a result, the keyboardist got to work on composing – a lot of it. With the help from members of his revamped C the Beat band (drummer/percussionist Tripp Bratton, guitarist Robert Frahm, bassist Thomas Usher, and saxophonist Jonathan Barrett), Carroll cooked up a musical potpourri that shifted from a Randy Newman-esque piano reverie (“Cornelia Sweet Dream”) to tropically inclined, pop-friendly fusion (“Cartagena”) to groove-savvy, dub-style jazz ambiance (“Marley’s Ghost”).

Lee Carroll (Photo credit: Kinga Mnich)

“At this point, I’ve written close to 40 songs since this COVID thing started. We’ve gone in the studio and recorded a lot of them. Then the question came up. ‘What do you do with this?’ I started brainstorming with Duane, and he said, “Here’s what you need to do. You have all this material. You come out and release a single onto the streaming service – Spotify, iTunes, and all of that – and two weeks later you release another single. Maybe three weeks after that, you do another one. Then you release an EP with those songs and three more songs.’ I started looking at the material and felt I could do that already. I could do that four times. That’s a year, because each cycle takes about 12 weeks. That’s a good spacing.

“This thing will evolve and change and adapt to whatever is going on. But what I’m going to do is start pushing the music out there. Sometime in the next month, when I have everything lined up and everything is mastered, we’ll put that into play and start releasing the singles. Then I thought, ‘We need an image to go with each single. We need some art.’”

Snake it up
Carroll envisions the release of his new music might culminate in a multi-media vinyl record package and/or book that would incorporate video and various levels of graphic design. But before all of that was art – art that would accompany the initial release of singles and EP collections. For that, he turned to one of his oldest friends and collaborators, Rodney Hatfield.

Cornelia’s Sweet Dream (Artist: Rodney Hatfield)

For many regional music enthusiasts, Hatfield was the harmonica stylist and co-lead vocalist for the Metropolitan Blues All-Stars and, with Carroll, the multi-genre Tin Can Buddha. But for the past several decades, Hatfield has devoted himself to painting. Under the nom-de-plume of Art Snake, he has created richly colored, broadly animated works that balance folkish intimacy with dream-like abstraction.

“We were tossing ideas around and everything kept coming back to Rodney,” Carroll said. “We’ve collaborated for many, many years. I love Rodney’s art. For Tin Can Buddha, we always used Rodney’s images, so it just made a lot of sense. Plus, if we use a single artist for this project, then there is a common visual language that ties us together. It just made sense to use the same person. I talked to Rodney about it and he very kindly agreed to let me use images of paintings he had done.

Jazzbo Green (Artist: Rodney Hatfield)

“The point of this is to do something meaningful. After I left the music business, I would find some of the records I worked on in the cut-out bin. It was like ‘Back to the Future,’ when Michael J. Fox looks at the picture of his family and they start fading. That’s how I felt. So when I got back into music and started doing things like Tin Can Buddha, I was like, ‘I want to do stuff that is meaningful to me. I don’t care if it sells or not.’ My son will have this after I’m gone and he can say, ‘My dad did this.’ I just wanted to leave something. I don’t want to fade like that.

“I see this project as really an extension of that same thing. It was time to do something that has meaning to me and can perhaps touch some other folks in the process.”

Check out two of the dozens of songs Carroll is releasing in the coming weeks: click.

C the Beat is performing this new music in concert at the Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center on Main Street in Lexington on the evening of Friday, July 9. Click here for details.

(Image at top: After Hours EP Cover Art by Rodney Hatfield)

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Arts

Studio Visit: Gray and the Larkspur Press

It arrives via media mail, in a meticulously packed box. First the newspaper, then the cardboard, perfectly taped brown paper, a light plastic slipcover which I am sure was some sort of archival special something. I handle the book. It feels good in my hands. This is not a book that you dog-ear pages or highlight with a bright yellow marker. The book is a work of art, just like everything that comes from Gray Zeitz’s Larkspur Press.

Book: Gray sent me this book prior to my visit to him. Written by Gabrielle Fox.

It was a gift as well as my homework, as I jokingly referred to it. Gray told me via phone that I could gain insight by reading Larkspur Press: Forty Years of Making Letter Press Books in a Rural Kentucky Community, 1974-2014 by Gabrielle Fox. The book contained information about Gray’s life and letterpress and beautifully crafted pieces and quotes about Gray by everybody in the Kentucky literary circles. The likes of Wendell Berry. I will admit that writing anything after reading this has left me more than a bit intimidated.

I call Gray to set up a time to head over to interview and photograph him. I ask if he will share something that nobody knows about him; he laughs. “Everything has already been written about me,” lest I forget the recent visit by CBS Sunday Morning, who did a fantastic segment on him. You can find it on the internet, but you won’t find Gray himself, as he is not connected with the internet but with the art of traditional letterpress.

The last time I saw Gray, I watched him receive the Inaugural Kentucky Literary Impact Award at the Kentucky Theater in February 2020, before the world shut down. Before that, I had been attempting to get to his annual holiday sale the weekend after Thanksgiving with no luck.

To get to Gray’s there are some obstacles. The first GPS often directs you to the right fork instead of the left, the second Sawdridge Creek might stop you in your tracks if the rain has come or is on its way. One day for a visit, my daughter, who was with me, took a photo of the creek and sent it to her physics teacher and asked, “I think this is a hydraulic jump.” His response was immediate; he said, “Yes it is, get out of there.” If the creek is running fast, so should you.

The road over the Sawdridge Creek To Gray’s

There have been days I have certainly wanted to visit Gray and been turned away by that creek, but not today. It is a glorious spring day in early May. I cross the creek and head down “the road” and listen to the stillnessThe loudest thing out here might be the purple color of Gray’s house. His studio sits back and out to the side. The door is open, and Gray greets me. His height holds almost as much of a presence as his beard. I walk into the crafted beamed space as the sun warms the wood, but the true warmth comes from Gray and his love and care for his work. The art of letterpress.

I look to the presses and see the work in production; it is something different today. There is a mouse, not a live one but a beautifully printed etching of one.

What are you working on today?

“I’m working on Mr. Poof’s Discovery. My friend Wesley Bates is doing 18 wood engravings for it. It’s an old tale that Rena and John Jacob Niles put down, and my teacher Carolyn Hammer and the Bur Press published in 1947. A friend of mine in Lexington has tried to talk me into doing this for years, so he and I are partnering to do this book, and it’s good. His mother had read it to him when he was a child.

We call it spotting in photography
Gray is doing a bit of that on the etchings.

He has been very helpful with the illustrations, what they should be, and the feel they should be. And I am doing another children’s book with Sena Jeter Naslund, who is a Louisville writer, and Joan Press is doing nine wood engravings for that.”

How many children’s books have you done?

“These are the first two.”

Are the grandchildren any influence?

“I can’t tell you why I’m doing it.”

Are you enjoying the children’s books?

“Yea, I am. They’re fun to do.”

Gray was born in Mobile, Alabama, and raised in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Two years of community college and then on to UK, where he met and discovered letterpress printing under the mentorship of Carolyn Hammer.

Gray is not just a printer of the old letterpress ways. He is also a poet.

Do you feel the poetry or printing is more of your art form?

“I’m a much better printer than I am poet, I think.

A lot of poets write every day, I don’t write every day, but I print. But you know poets throw away a lot of poems and photographers throw away a lot of pictures. There is a big argument about whether printing is an art form or a craft and I just don’t care!”

Gray is printing and etching and feeds the paper into the printer. The noise of the press is the loudest sound around; the repetitiveness of the sound is somehow calming. When he finishes, he takes out a small brush, and dipping it in a spot of ink, begins hand spotting – filling in any tiny places that the printer might have missed. Letterpress is a time-consuming labor of love. He currently has four books in the works, with no completion date in sight.

Gray in the upstairs of his studio at his annual holiday sale held the first weekend after Thanksgiving.

Are there struggles when working with the authors? Are there any battles?

“I’ve never had a battle! I work with the authors, and the illustrator works with the author, knock on wood, I have never had that kind of experience.

I haven’t had any arguments with anyone. Rarely have I had an author ask for something that I didn’t really want to do because of the aesthetics of the printing and everything. I’ve always been able to talk them out of it. I can explain the reasons why I’m doing things.

Proofs of book

I don’t like to put things in the middle of the page; I like starting at the top of the page. I can express my desires of that to the authors. It’s a good question. I haven’t had any arguments with anyone.”

We walk over to look at the letters he uses, small letter-type pieces that will be “set.”

Do you have a specific type you like?

“I’ve got several faces, and sometimes the book says it would be better with this face or that face. We mainly use 14 point. It doesn’t matter what font you’re setting. They are all set about the same. We also have 10 point and 12 point, and sometimes with the 10 point, I’ll need tweezers now, to get them out of the smaller compartments.”

“IT’S A LOT EASIER TO READ IT THAN IT IS TO SET IT”

Gray Feeding the Press to add the etchings to the words.

I saw you on television on Sunday Morning. It was an excellent piece.

“I had been interviewed by Noah Adams on NPR, and I didn’t know when it would be aired. It had been bumped a few times because of all the breaking news. I had been at my daughter’s in Lexington for Thanksgiving, and I was driving home listening to NPR, and I thought WOW, this is going to be a good interesting piece, and they said Monterey, and I said, ‘this is it!’ (laughing) and it was a good piece!”

“Then before Christmas, this lady from CBS calls me up, and she always listens to whatever Noah Adams on NPR does, and so she says let’s do a piece.”

Gray in his Studio with his largest press the 12×18 Chandler and Price printer from 1918

I remind him at the end of our visit to tell me what people should know about him.

“I’m a good guy.”

Everyone who meets Gray already knows that. I am handed bookmarks he has made and poems he has written as gifts. I leave with not just mere words on paper. I leave with the art of the letterpress, the dedication of Gray to it, and the artists whose books he makes come alive.

All Photo Credits: Sarah Hoskins

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Arts

WTF Are NFTs Doing in My Art Gallery?!

Publishers Note- The art world was shocked in March when Christie’s Auction House sold a non-fungible token (NFT) of a piece, “Everydays: The First 5000 Days”, by Mike Winkelman – the digital artist known as Beeple – for over $69,000,000. We’ve asked Dmitry (Dima) Strakovsky, Professor of Art Intermedia at the University of Kentucky School of Art and Visual Studies to explain it all to us. In this article Dima first does some explaining then engages in a dialogue with Jonathan Hale, an artist who works with many traditional media as well as new medias, such as 3D modeling and 3D printing. Hale also teaches at Northern Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky Universities.

NFTs are in the news. And, like with most things art-related, it’s the news only when something gets sold for a ridiculous amount of money. It’s tough to fight the temptation to comment on the Emperor’s New Clothes but we will endeavor to move beyond the surface and offer some thoughts on what this might mean rather than question if a particular work of art is REALLY worth the dollar$ paid? The answer to the latter is always “no” but… someone is willing to spend the money and it is usually a signal that something interesting and new is happening in the cultural sector.

Before we proceed let’s do a quick technical overview. So, what is an NFT? Non-fungible token. “Non-fungible” simply means unique. The token part is a little harder to explain and has to do with a feature of some cryptocurrencies, most notably Etherium, that allows for contracts to be embedded into the public record of each transaction. This public record, more commonly referred to as “public ledger,” is implemented via blockchain. What is blockchain, you ask? Here is a great, albeit pretty technical, explanation. Each time you buy a work of art, your transaction gets recorded to the blockchain and anyone in the world can confirm your ownership rights. In order to encode the transaction onto the blockchain a complex cryptographic equation has to be solved. “Miners” from all over the world essentially compete to be the first to solve the equation using their own hardware, so each record is backed up by proof that work has been done, the solution was provided and a miner gets paid a small fee for their trouble.

Of course, any conversation about NFTs can’t really be separated from the dramatic crypto crashes of the past months. There are a variety of reasons for these, although there is still quite a bit of optimism in the sector, but one points to perhaps a legitimate critique of the space – the environmental impact of crypto-mining. It is a topic that is (surprise) more complex than “crypto is bad for the environment” and we will try to address it with a bit of nuance below. This tweet from Elon Musk is considered a central trigger (ergo environmental focus) but a bigger issue is a crackdown on cryptocurrencies in China which is both a home of the largest number of crypto-mining operations in the world and a country trying to develop its own digital currency.

To really start unpacking the conversation around NFTs, at this point we will switch into a dialogue mode. This mirrors some of our own private conversations on the topic conducted via chat apps when both of us were trying to come to grips with the NFT explosion and how we felt about this; and frankly, share knowledge about what we knew about the core tech and art world reactions to it. Jonathan Hale is coming to the conversation with significantly more knowledge than most in the crypto space. He has mined Etherium before and currently has several NFTs on the market. Dima has a lot less of a direct experience and is interested in probing the NFT conversation from a tech-savy art world insider angle. The conversation is edited down for brevity and clarity but definitely hits the highlights from the several hours we spent in our extended dialog.

Dima: What has surprised you the most about NFT cultural conversation? I know for me, it definitely is the pushback from the more established art forces that view the tokens as a pure expression of the market that does not hold any of the aura of a “real” art object. This was condensed for me in a recent tweet by Jerry Saltz, who, to be fair, has quickly moved on to have a much more of a nuanced position.

Jonathan: If you get into the NFT space, what is selling the most is work that meets almost all those criteria. If you follow Beeple (one of the highest-selling artists in the space,) his work has that. He’s been creating his own mythology for over 13 years.

Dima: So he didn’t just pop in out of nowhere?

Jonathan: Oh, no. If you get into Beeple, he’s a very interesting character. He’s been doing a picture, an image, every day for a long while. You should definitely take a peek at some of the stuff. For example, he did a series of political figures – Trump and Hillary, and they had tubes coming out of them and they’re grotesque. He’s creating this mythology, this language, and every one of his works had been building upon that for about 13 years. Not in the NFT space but just online in general. It’s just really interesting to see that he’s finally at this point.

Dima: Gotcha. So, he’s been developing this over a period of time. I assume mostly on social media. Posts mostly to Twitter?

Jonathan: I believe he has an Instagram as well but he also does a lot of sponsored work for companies. I know he’s done stuff for Adobe. He has built a pretty significant presence on the internet. Followers – the more you have, the more likely your art is going to be sold.

Dima: So he’s built up a number of followers on a couple of different platforms and then he’s able to commercialize it. From what you’re saying, and this is really interesting, there is already kind of an “aura” at work here. Except this is sort of an aura for digital natives. It’s not the same type that, per Saltz’s tweet, we would associate, for example, with a fertility spirit.

Jonathan: If you are looking for a fertility spirit, if you’re looking for something to, you know, put your faith in, it’s out there. Someone has made it for you.

A really exciting thing is, some of the artists actually have the NFTs working with tangible objects. So you pay for the NFT, Etherium is spent and a contract created, and when you buy from them, the contract is written to the blockchain and the artist will send you a real object. Some other people will sell you a high resolution image and a link to a form to put in your address so they can send them a print or a painting. So, you can have both physical and digital versions of these objects. There can also be something magical about that.

Dima: Well… Saltz is intentionally making a rather hyperbolic statement. It’s Twitter and all. But there is an interesting subtext here; the fine arts world has this boogeyman that constantly pops up – the market. And NFT is a perfect embodiment of this particular boogeyman – it’s a contract, a market spirit divorced from an actual product.

I can think of many arguments for and against the current commercial gallery-dominated system. But I think a lot of the conversation around the traditional art market and the aura can be summed up the following way. There is this magical thing that’s floating in the realm of an art object that very reluctantly agrees to play in the market. The market co-opts the magical qualities of an art object through sales, and also exerts this kind of alien, extrinsic kind of power on what’s being made within this “pure” world of art production.

Jonathan: Yeah, but I think, if we talk about the market, the purest forms of selling, specially time-based and video art, is NFT. I think there’s so much potential here that the art world needs to jump in on.

Dima: Let’s look at that because I think you’re making a really good case for, let’s say, performance-based work or film. For example, if we take Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle, I don’t know if I should admit it on record, but I’ve never seen it in the quote unquote legal way. Always, bootlegs.

Jonathan: Who has?

Dima:  There’s something really powerful here because NFT is a contract. And we can structure this contract in a variety of different ways. This can make the whole issue of public presentation rights and provenance of a digital file significantly easier to track and will open the work to much greater public sharing.

Within the fine arts proper there’s been a lot of different kinds of contract-as-an-artwork type movements. Seth Siegelaub’s sales contract work comes to mind immediately. He specifically targeted resale value of a work, and we should get to resale a bit later.  Another, more contemporary example is someone like Tino Sehgal with his prohibition of documentation of his work: the only thing sold is an agreement to “perform” his pieces a certain way. So, we already have this way of representing the work that’s pretty much a part of the art world vocabulary. I think there are a lot of really interesting possibilities here.

Let’s go to the mechanics of how artworks are sold using NFTs.

Jonathan:  Most of the NFT sites make you first go through a process to prove you are the artist. But before you’re a verified user, you have to go in and create at least one work. You’re not gonna sell that until you are verified and you don’t know if you’re going to be and it costs money to mint an object. Gas fees.

Dima: Yeah, can you explain that.

Jonathan: So, anytime you want to create an NFT, no matter if it is video, a gif or a sound file, it has to be minted creating a transaction on the blockchain and a corresponding contract and that contract requires you to put a little bit of Etherium down.

The problem is that a little bit of Etherium was a few dollars, you know, like last year and this year it grew by crazy multiples. I think right now, last time I looked, it was $60 per transaction. And of course, the prices fluctuate. If the network has more transactions on it, the price goes up; if you want to get your transaction done quickly, you pay more. The more people in line, the more I have to pay. I’ve gone low on the gas fees before and had it not even go through a week later and had to cancel it. The queue never took my money, whoever processes it gets that cut of the transaction, you know, so it got sent back to me but I lost $3.

There’s definitely a barrier of entry purely in terms of money, and there’s a barrier of entry for just the knowledge of how to use Etherium and to how to set this up.

Dima: So, the services that you’re using put that burden, the burden of transcending these barriers, on the artist?

Jonathan: Yes, and most of these places have fees. You put something up and you sell it, they’ll take 2.5% (or something like that) to facilitate the sale to a collector. How many of the NFT sites are you familiar with?

Dima: Not that many. I mean I sort of started digging and then I was like these [expletive] are multiplying.

Jonathan: The really big ones are SuperRare, Foundation, Rarible, and OpenSee.

Dima: Got it. So switching again. One of the biggest criticism right now that we’re seeing is environmental criticism. This is, of course, and issue with cryptocurrencies but NFP folks are getting the hate right now in particular.

Jonathan: Yeah. There are “kill lists” around – it’s more of a targeted lists for people to target artists that are big in NFT. Twitter people were making these lists and being like, ”Okay, go and you know, harass these people.” And people are like getting death threats, you know. I don’t think there’s anything that’s really come of it. It’s more just like internet crusaders. Yeah, they sit at their computers watching YouTube videos which costs so much more energy than NFT’s could ever hope to, but that’s another story for another day… The real problem with crypto is no matter, if there’s a million transactions or one, there are these miners doing proof of work: their computers are running, and looking through all of these blocks and making sure everything’s correct. If all the computers say yes, then you know the block is added, and then they start mining again and looking for more blocks. There does not have to be this much computing power to run that, you know, to run that set of data. But the miners have the computers turned on. And regardless of wherever or not you put an NFT into the mix, they are gonna keep mining, the same amount of power is gonna be used.

I’ve seen some people put up figures of like – minting one NFT is like someone in Europe that uses power for four days or something like that.

Dima: But this is an aggregate from all over the world.

Jonathan: Exactly. You can’t break it down like that. The train analogy works out really well. You have a train, the train is pumping out diesel, it’s moving nonstop. If you’re on it or not, it’s still going. Yeah, there are other things going on. On, for example, Etherium, it’s not just NFT’s, you know there’re other transactions, there are a lot of things happening. But the computers are gonna be mining until they eventually change over to proof of stake instead of proof of work. 

Proof of work requires computers, proof of stake just requires a computer with X amount of coins or tokens on there to just say you’re a stakeholder.

It’s based on staking the coins. As an Etherium user I have to put in a pretty large number of coins to begin staking. What does that mean? Well you’ve tied that Etherium up and you can’t use it. You can’t spend it. You have a stake in making sure that the blockchain is correct, because if your computer gets chosen to validate the information and it’s off some of your coins get burned. However, once it is validated you get paid, you get a little bit of coins for your effort, you get part of the gas fees that were used for that transaction. If I have a minimal stake (just a few coins) there’s a very small chance of me getting chosen to validate but I’m still going to get some residuals. I still get small amounts sent to me even if I don’t validate. But if let’s say I am somebody who has $100 worth versus $10,000 stake, the likelihood of them getting chosen and validating is much much greater than my likelihood of getting chosen because they have more stake in the game. Now there’s always a small chance you could still get chosen and get like a huge payday. But…

Dima: Got it. So at that point it’s just a random chance of you getting paid out.

Jonathan: Yeah, exactly. And that also like, increases the security of it because some people will try to slip in. They’ll give a false block. But with proof of stake it behooves you not to do that because you will lose a lot of coins if it comes back because you’re wrong.

Dima: Finally let’s talk about resale. The art world proper has been talking about resale forever.

If the artist does their work well – their collectors’ holdings go up in value. There have been some effort to create contracts that will reflect some sort of resale fee that’s going back to the artists, but it doesn’t seem like anyone’s been able to create and enforce them. What’s kind of exciting about what’s going on with tokenized art is that that’s built into the whole NFT ecosystem.

Jonathan: Yes. And so, whenever I’m minting an NFT I am asked a few questions. Like, how much you’re gonna charge for this? What’s your edition number? I can have one or a million. Then I get asked, how much percentage back do you wanna get every time this is transferred to someone else? Every time someone buys it, how much do you want to get? And I think, by default it’s something like 10% but you could go higher.

Dima: Yeah, I can totally see a video artists benefiting greatly from this right. Essentially, at this point you are selling a file. And every single time you get this resale you can actually track this and that smart contract moves with the work.

To sort of get back to the the critique of this whole thing, you can definitely dismiss it as “naked capitalism.” And if you are an artist, or a collector, or some sort of cultural entity that is not particularly interested in reaffirming the capitalist framework, then it’s really probably not something that you want to participate in. However, if you have a different conception of how you want to live your life that’s a really interesting, and really game-changing option.

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John Begley’s Un-Retirement

John Begley: My DIY Retirement is a one-person show that was on view at the University of Louisville’s Cressman Center for the Visual Arts from March 12 to April 30, 2021. It travels to the Janice Mason Art Museum in Cadiz, Kentucky, to be on display from June 8 to August 14. Since 2014, John Begley has made daily cellphone drawings, now totaling more than 2500 works. (A complete portfolio can be seen at https://www.Blipfoto.com/jpbegley.) While it chronicled Begley’s online artmaking for the past seven years, in many ways the show read more as a manifesto of artistic democracy than a retrospective exhibition.

The show broached several themes in contemporary artmaking, including the influence of the DIY (Do It Yourself) aesthetic, the broad accessibility of everyday apps for sophisticated craft projects and artmaking, the interplay of high tech and intuitive processes, an insistence on physicality, and the artist as a  postmodern, style-shuffling middleman/mediator. Art, art history, commerce, and materiality intersected at the Cressman. Humble recycled materials were prominent, re-enforcing the paradigm of artmaking within easy reach. Despite the serious questions the show raised, it was light-hearted and often humorous, and incorporated a surprising boutique for custom-designed clothing, bedding, and accessories.

The artist noted about his art, “…these drawings have been done on my iPhone and present a visual journal. They are visual responses to daily activities, stimulations, and interests.” Most departed from observation, but few escaped further improvisation. The artist primarily uses the readily available app Brushes XP, following the lead of David Hockney. (Begley saw a show of Hockney iPhone drawings in Yorkshire, England in 2013.) Begley elaborated: “In My DIY Retirement, I have made the daily digital drawings I complete into vector graphics for printing in traditional analog printmaking techniques, and into digital print forms sometimes known as giclée prints, onto canvas, metal, acrylic, ceramic, stone or glass. I have also been printing on handmade papers.” Although occasionally using a stylus, Begley likes the feel of drawing with his finger. Doing so provides an opening to the promptings of chance, since the width of his fingers and the small size of the 4” x 4” screen means that he cannot immediately see the results of his mark-making.

Introductory Wall for “MY DIY Retirement” Installation, 9 feet by 18 feet, 2021. 29 works of art seen against three different wallpapers, all images generated digitally and output to a variety of surfaces, including wallpaper, glass, metal, handmade paper, fabric and a variety of commercial papers. Photo by Ted Wathen

In a wall text and artist’s statement, Begley referred to the art historian Caroline A. Jones, who chronicled a shift in the 1960s from the existentialist musings within the abstract expressionist’s studio to the “internalization and incorporation of the discourse of technology into artistic production.” In the work of Andy Warhol, Frank Stella, Robert Smithson, and other artists of the 1960s, Jones detected “the performative technological sublime,” a linkage of technological representation and quasi-industrial methods. Begley’s take on this heritage was evident in the introductory wall outside of the gallery at the Cressman. The presentation surveyed a profusion of digital print applications. It featured 29 of his works of art, framed graphics, glass, and other printed surfaces, all seen against his three different digitally printed wallpapers. A very clear demonstration of the naturalization of technology, the wall showed new media harnessed for a wide variety of expressive purposes. The dominant theme was emancipated circuitry; computer chip or motherboard patterns liberated from their functions to freely meander, loop, encircle, and act out labyrinthine paths.

“Generational Collaboration” (left) Fabric Installation, approximately 6 feet by 10 feet as installed, 2021. Heirloom crazy quilt, recycled fabric, handmade paper. Photo by Ted Wathen  “Heaven and Earth” (right), Fabric installation, approximately 7 feet by 11 feet as installed, 2021. recycled rug, parachute, kite. Photo by Ted Wathen

In contrast to the sophistication and technical finesse of the introductory wall, inside the gallery, two signal installations occupied the center of the most prominent wall in My DIY Retirement. The first was made up of a worn quilt, a tablecloth, a sheet of dyed purple handmade paper, a black cloth, and hanks of yarn. The second consisted of two parachutes, an old rug, and a kite. The installations had color, shape, mass, and a variety of tactile surfaces; these scavenged materials provided multi-textured sensory stores of experience. The installations registered an insistence on materiality as a core component of Begley’s sensibility and extended the message of democratic artmaking. A gallery is a contextual zone of expectations, and here associations with tapestries or wall hangings logically followed, providing validating art historical resonance to the assemblages. The principal validator appeared to be the free hung canvases of Sam Gilliam. (The artist cites Salmon Rushdie’s remark, “in the absence of genius, imitation is an acceptable alternative.”) Begley’s two constructions served as a democratic model for Everyman to make art.

“Pillows, Duvets and Blankets”, dye sublimation printed fabric, sizes variable,
2020-2021. Images generated digitally, output in a variety of sizes. Photo by Ted Wathen

Extending the contemporaneity of the outside introductory wall were a variety of artworks in the main gallery demonstrating digital printmaking as an inexpensive alternative to traditional processes. The luxuriant overall tenor of the gallery was set by the prints to be worn, sat upon, or slept under. Scarves, pillows, jackets, and leggings joined the pictorial applications on flat and curved glass, plastic, aluminum, and wallpaper. For the uninitiated, it was an eye-opening demonstration of the range of applications that could be executed with homemade digital designs – now so commonplace that Walmart is a purveyor. The textural richness of draped and knotted cloth and a heightened sensitivity to touch were leitmotivs linking the range of both coarse and fine stuff in the show.

Printmaking’s democratic heritage is important to Begley, especially its origin as a means of extending access to images that would otherwise be unaffordable to a wide audience. While he has worked as an arts administrator, gallery director, and professor, his core discipline is printmaking, which he studied as an undergraduate at the University of New Mexico and as a graduate student at Indiana University Bloomington. As an assistant printer, he worked at Landfall Press on editions by William T. Wiley, Chuck Close, Jack Tworkov, Claes Oldenburg, John Baeder, and Peter Saul. As director of the New Harmony, Indiana, Gallery of Contemporary Art, he ran a print studio and taught printmaking through an affiliation with the University of Evansville. It was a period of intense interaction with other Indiana arts and crafts programs, including weaving and ceramics workshops. For 19 years he was director of what is now Louisville Visual Art. Thereafter for 13 years he taught at the University of Louisville and launched its Critical and Curatorial Studies Master’s Degree program. When Sam Gilliam was a visiting professor at UofL in 1997, Begley was a member of the team working with him on several prints.

“Proposed Solipsism”, digital drawing on dye sublimation printed fabric, 80 inches by 61 inches, 2019. Photo by Ted Wathen

Proposed Solipsism was a wall hanging approximating the size of Mark Rothko’s standard vertical format, but followed from very different premises. It was a five-layer digital print made with Brushes XP. Ripples and folds fell freely. Densities of the imagery varied greatly, although all were translucent. Geological and vegetal references shifted across the cloth. Spontaneous linear digressions and wispy cirrus clouds of red, green, yellow, purple, and violet played against more studied passages resembling slices of geodes. Indeterminate, open-ended, resistant to allegorical readings, the hanging posited that a phenomenology of color, line, and texture is appropriate for abstraction originating in the range of effects in digitally based printmaking.

“Abstraction, Figuration and Appropriation” inkjet printed digital drawing on archival paper, 18 inches by 18 inches, 2020. Photo by John Begley

Begley constantly plays with the surface of his smaller prints. New World Metamorphosis was printed on paraffin-waxed handmade paper and has the set-into-the-surface quality of a monoprint or stained glass (think of John Lafarge). In contrast, For MFedderizzi, an inkjet print on archival paper, took advantage of the crisp clarity of digital generation. As a traditional lithograph or silkscreen, this print might require dozens of pulls through a press. Economy of production is another of Begley’s democratic biases. Lost Idol, also on handmade paper, was reminiscent of the surrealism and interest in the automatism of the printmaker Stanley William Hayter.  In Abstraction, Figuration and Appropriation, an inkjet print on archival paper, an abstracted still life varied from hard- to soft-edged shapes. It is a pastiche of several artists’ autograph moves:  I saw references to Matisse, Hofmann, and Hockney for starters. The structural components of image-making are dissected and joyously re-ordered and endowed with a humorous pitch. Begley possesses a variety of artistic identities through his daily practice, evading the shackles of a signature style. His diversity of manners and eclecticism echo Duchampian and Fluxus evasions.

In all of these experiments, one sees Begley’s joy in mark-making and, in parallel, pleasure in manipulating cloth. Begley’s abstract line is continuously varied in its gait or motion of progress, at one moment sharp and angular and at another moment gliding with ease. (This was especially evident in abstract videos in the show.) The iPhone line allows precise clarity and crispness or alternatively, melted edges and gradations of color and tone. The billowing folds, knots, and droops in his printed cloths function as low relief sculpture. “The mutability of the digital artifact,” Begley’s recurring theme, reverberated especially in the cloth pieces, and reinforced the notion that art could no longer be static and fixed.

“Menacing Window”, digital drawing on dye sublimation printed fabric, found window casing, 78 inches by 32 inches, 2020. Photo by Ted Wathen

Several works in the exhibition juxtaposed Begley’s printed cloths with colored papers or framed prints. Some of these used recycled picture frames or doors, which were juxtaposed with fabrics printed with Begley’s abstractions. The cloths swirled around or wrapped the frames: it seemed as if traditional pictorial imagery had escaped the imaginary world within the frame, but remained to honor in retrospect the illusions that once occupied the dimensions within. One of the wrapped frames was formerly a cabinet door and the jagged broken glass on its edges may serve as a reminder of the protests in honor of Breonna Taylor, as well as a material danger to the printed cloth – by extension, to the creative process.

John Begley: My DIY Retirement blurred the traditional line between fine and applied arts by appropriating craft techniques and materials. Delegating fabrication to a computer app positions the artist, not as a peripheral loner isolated in his or her studio, but as a participant in global discourse and in a constantly evolving network of information and technology. In this exhibition, consumer goods were a means for an emancipatory message about the democratization of creative activity and the new ability of the computer-enabled artist to reach far beyond the constraints of more traditional practices. Begley’s affirmative self-presentation as a digital artist interrogated older shibboleths about the nature of artistic identity. How does one make art in 2021? The only answer is: as a full participant in using every possibility of the present moment.

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Consumptive Identities: Lori Larusso at Quappi Projects

Lori Larusso has a habit of providing what is appetizing. For over a decade, she has regularly tempted viewers in the region with pristine depictions of birthday cakes, cocktails and coffee, and captivating domestic settings. Still, despite the delectable nature of her painted panels and large-scale installations, there has always been that tiny rupture in her work that demystifies her graphic renderings. Larusso is clearly invested in the lexicon and paradigms of American food culture, especially when they involve notions of class and labor, status, and waste.

Larusso, formerly stationed in Lexington but now permanently living and working in Louisville, offers a remarkably subversive and consuming survey in Rogue Intensities, her first solo exhibition in her new home. At Quappi Projects, Larusso’s shaped panels arrive unassumingly inviting as serving trays, an empty pizza box, natural predators, a refrigerator, and more. Each construction, though, unpacks food rituals and practices of modern America with clever and at times hilarious juxtapositions.

“Rogue Intensities”, installation view, Quappi Projects, Louisville, KY. Courtesy of the artist and Quappi Projects.

Cakes have been a favorite motif for Larusso, and they appear here both in the spotlight and concealed. Of the two cakes in the exhibit, Mutton (2021) is prominently set, ordained with coconut flakes and vanilla wafers to disguise precisely as an Easter lamb, already sliced. A single wedge is served on a paper plate of its own, revealing an interior sponge radiating a deep crimson tonal. It would seem dessert is perfectly prepared.

As Larusso would have it, however, Mutton concurrently throbs of absurdity. The scene inquires why, in order to increase the appeal of food, we dress all sorts of dishes and serveware to come across as animals and other objects, especially those we kill to use in separate meals. In Mutton, this curiosity is stressed by the cake’s red coloring suggestive of the animal’s blood – in Larusso’s version, the chef has taken the extra step to make the lamb lifelike. Why would we intentionally disguise a sharable treat as something that is normally not devoured in that state? Throughout Rogue Intensities, Larusso uses familiar imagery to grapple with some of our strangest tendencies around food and what motivates them.

The cake slice in the foreground of Mutton, equipped with bright red plastic utensils, likewise elicits notions of labor and consumption. By simply being there, the single piece, having to have been placed by someone in Larusso’s scenario, calls into question who baked, decorated, and served the cake as well as who is allowed to eat it. It cannot be guaranteed that these are the same people.

Deceivingly complex, Larusso’s traditional lamb cake, tied to both religion and skilled baking, pulses with the attendance of those who do not appear in view, fixating on actions performed and to be performed. As common as a holiday cake may seem for many, Larusso appropriates its familiarity – as well as that of all her subjects – to stress the pervasiveness of assuming and assigning roles based on identity and occasion.

Larusso has a skillful grip on aesthetic balance, as even the seemingly casual placement of objects carries conceptual weight within the environments of Rogue Intensities. On a presupposed surface, the artist triangulates a wine decanter, a punch bowl, and a vintage Kool-Aid serving jug, each filled with their distinctive potables ready for distribution. In the foreground, a pair of tongs made to look like talons pry at the viewer, discarded takeout food has been left on the floor, and an iPhone heart icon used for “loving” received messages blips at a distance. More noticeably, rubber household gloves are stuffed under the punch bowl; from one finger, a line of red paint streams down the wall and onto the takeout bags.

Though there are no figures in A Menagerie of the Inedible (2019-21), icons of labor abound. The gloves, whether dripping drink or blood, indicate the steps taken to concoct the refreshments we see: the opening of bottles and jars, executing various recipes, and transferring liquids between containers. Further, the used takeout boxes – unsightly and interrupting an otherwise refined display – call to mind chefs, delivery people, and others responsible for bringing this meal to fruition.

The omnipresence of labor at Quappi Projects is almost always linked to women. Larusso specifically addresses the intersection of gender, domestic roles, and work, although with discrete methods. A used napkin on the gallery ground in A Menagerie of the Inedible has been stained with a rich ruby lipstick, presumably worn by a woman, who has since left it lying on the floor. Similarly, makeup residue is stuck to the coffee cup in Coffee Service I (2020) and additionally evokes allusions of social status via the striking difference between the styrofoam from which it is made and the glossy metal of the serving set it finds itself amongst.

“A Menagerie of the Inedible”, 2019-21, acrylic on panels, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and Quappi Projects.

Larusso’s work is dynamic in this way, wherein a single gesture can broadcast a multitude of signals, disrupting everything we think we know about a given situation. This is her punctum as Barthes submits, and it takes the form of trash, an out-of-place morning blend, or an inflatable reptile.

Despite containing no depiction of (cooked) food, Alligator Alligator (2020) expands upon Larusso’s investigations into the ways in which we invite the animal kingdom into our lives through controlled likeness. In the lifesize piece, an ostensibly alive alligator seems content resting on a phosphorescent green pool float version of itself, fending off any nearby swimmers seeking time in the water. The irony here rests in the fact that, while we are perfectly comfortable with harmless objects taking the form of dangerous creatures, a circumstance becomes unlaughably troubling when the actual creature is introduced. Once again, Larusso is perplexed as to why an object such as a raft is molded, marketed, and enjoyed as something so unsafe.

“Alligator Alligator”, 2020, acrylic on panel, 30” x 65”. Courtesy of the artist and Quappi Projects.

Beyond this interrogation, Alligator Alligator, like all the works in Rogue Intensities, invokes class and consumption. Larusso is surely aware of the history of artists – notably, David Hockney – employing pools as a means to explore social status. Whereas Hockney often painted private pools belonging to the apparently wealthy, Larusso’s alligator float could be found at a public pool just as easily, wherein Alligator Alligator could then become commentary on the safety conditions of community spaces versus those of more exclusive sites. In this reading, Larusso begins to unpack the various discrepancies within a capitalist society. Of course, Alligator Alligator is about leisure as well and those who are in a position to enjoy pool time. Not everyone has the schedule or resources to use their time in this way.

Ultimately, this is what Larusso strives to bring forth for viewers: these food items and household objects we take for granted are in actuality loaded signifiers, indicative of larger systems we each play a role in, either by choice or by design. It is only when we take a moment to reflect on the things we surround ourselves with (as well as things we cannot) that we realize our personal and collective identities are performed and consumed through the lens of the otherwise inanimate.

Top image: Coffee Service I (2020). Courtesy of Quappi Projects and the artist.

“Rogue Intensities” runs through June 12th at Quappi Projects in Louisville.

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June Fest Celebrates Mountain Literary Heritage

The 2021 Mountain Heritage Literary Festival is on June 4-5 at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee. Undermain’s Tom Martin, host of WEKU’s Eastern Standard, talks with festival director, Patrick Wensink. (Pictured above from the 2019 festival: Darnell Arnoult, Joseph Bathanti, Jim Minick, Abigail DeWitt, Charles Dodd White)

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Tom: Hi, Patrick.

Patrick: Hi. How are you today?

Tom: Great. A quick bit of background. This festival was founded I believe by the Kentucky writer, Silas House. And Silas is your keynote speaker this year, correct?

Patrick: He is.  We’re coming full circle at the Mountain Heritage Literary Festival. Silas founded the festival 15 years ago when he was the visiting writer at Lincoln Memorial University, and so we thought it would be fitting to welcome him back as our keynote this year.

Tom: And will this year’s event be in person or is it online again?

Patrick: It will be virtual this year. Hopefully next year in 2022, it will be in person again.

Tom: Fingers crossed. 

I understand that you have a whole new mission for the festival. Tell us about that?

Patrick: Yeah, absolutely. I’m very proud of the work that the Mountain Heritage Literary Festival has done in the previous 15 years, and I see this is as an opportunity to expand and to grow and encourage a new set of voices in Appalachia.

As we all know, Appalachia is a really diverse place and those are oftentimes voices that don’t get as much encouragement as they should for creative writing, whether it’d be fiction or non-fiction or poetries. 

And so, that’s a big mission of ours is to make sure that we’re reaching out to all the different communities that make Appalachia so special and to uplift those voices and celebrate them and encourage them in every way possible. 

Tom: And will that be reflected in the agenda for this year?

Patrick: Absolutely. I think that we have a really diverse faculty that’s coming aboard and they’re bringing just a different vision to our workshops that are building on traditional storytelling and poetry writing techniques, but in unique and really exciting ways.

Tom: And, what sort of workshops and events will be available during those couple of days?

Patrick: We’ve got some, yeah, as I’ve mentioned we have fictional workshops, poetry workshops, non-fiction workshops. Some of our non-fiction workshops I think are some of our most exciting. We’ve got Cinelle Barnes, a really great memoirist; she’s talking about writing about your family. 

Emily Hilliard, who is West Virginia – is the West Virginia state folklorist. She’s teaching an oral history class and a food writing class, which I think is going to be really exciting. 

Carter Sickels, who teaches at Eastern Kentucky, actually.

Tom: Right.

Patrick: In the creative writing program there. He’s teaching a workshop on how to write really complex realistic characters in fiction. So, those are just a few of the really exciting courses that we’ve got.

Tom: Okay. Patrick, what are the dates and how can our listeners get more information? I take it there’s a registration required?

Patrick: Absolutely. Yes. Our dates are June 4th and 5th. You can go to – you can just Google Lincoln – or Mountain Heritage Literary Festival. It’s probably the best way because our website is a million miles long. [laughs] 

Or you can find us on Facebook as well. It’s $150 for the two days and you’re free to visit any of the workshops you would like. 

And we also really highly encourage folks to check out our scholarship opportunities. We have the online format that allows us to have an abundance of scholarship opportunities. 

So, if you are a person who can afford it or perhaps maybe are just curious and this is not something that’s in your usual comfort zone, I really highly encourage you to reach out and apply for a scholarship. It’s very easy and we have a lot to offer this year.

Tom: All right. That’s Patrick Wensink, Director of the Mountain Heritage Literary Festival in the Cumberland Gap, set for June 4th and 5th. Thanks, Patrick.

Patrick: Thank you. 

Visit the festival site

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