Category Archives: News

News

Jeb Bush honored by Nevi’im, The Hebrew Testament Prophets Society

In a ceremony in front of the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall, Nevi’im, The Hebrew Testament Prophets Society, honored Jeb Bush as the Hebrew Calendar Year 5776 Prophet of the Year. Making the presentation on behalf of Nevi’im, the Prophets Samuel, Jeremiah, and Micah acknowledged the single moment of prophetic brilliance of Bush’s losing campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

Samuel noted that Bush turned out to be “a loser, not an anointed one”, but that he appeared to be visited by heavenly hosts when he exclaimed during a primary debate about eventual winner, Donald Trump “…But he’s a chaos candidate. And he’d be a chaos president.” Micah chimed in that Bush’s dismal campaign certainly was in keeping with the prophet’s admonition to “walk humbly”. “Maybe too much humble walking!”, exclaimed Micah with a wink to the gathered mighty multitudes.

Jeremiah added that it is still not clear whether Bush’s prophecy will make him eligible for major or minor prophet status. An Assembly of the Angels of the Lord gathers every thousand years to determine the final placement of honorees in the pantheon of prophets.

At the ceremony, The Golden Calf Award for False Prophet of the Year was presented to David Plouffe, architect of Barack Obama’s election victories, who in June of 2016 made this prophecy in a widely-read tweet: “The race is not close. And it won’t be on November 8th. 350+ electoral votes for Clinton.”

In presenting the award, the Prophet Samuel, assisted by Satan’s Minions, said that the award was extraordinarily competitive this past year with so many deserving nominees, but that Plouffe’s prophecy stood out for its certainty and utter and complete error. Ordinarily the winner of The Golden Calf award is smitten by the hand of Samuel at the awards ceremony, but this year mercy was dispensed to Plouffe because “…even the Angels of the Lord bet wrong on this one”.

Plouffe, bound in chains, dressed in a sackcloth, and smeared with ashes, looked visibly relieved as he was led off the platform.

Nominations are open for the year 5777 awards. One nomination has been received to date for a dual award for the Prophet of the Year and the False Prophet of the Year, an unheard of celestial event. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway have been nominated for the prophecy, “And the winner is…La La Land!”.

The awards ceremony ended with the sacrifice on the National Mall of two bulls, a sheep, and a goat.

News

An Experiment in Love

The way of nonviolent resistance … is ultimately the way of the strong man. It is not a method of stagnant passivity… For while the nonviolent resister is passive in the sense that he is not physically aggressive toward his opponent, his mind and his emotions are always active, constantly seeking to persuade his opponent that he is wrong.

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Six Pillars of Non-Violent Resistance and the ancient Greek notion of ‘Agape’

The full story from Brainpickings

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News

Post Truth or Post Trust?

What a mess we’re in. We seem to have entered a strange new era in which we no longer know who or what to believe. A 2016 presidential campaign in which the victor, Donald Trump, used “people are saying” to such insidious effect, has left us struggling to distinguish between accusation-driven and evidence-based information.

Just how serious is this? Stanford political scientist Francis Fukuyama:

There is plenty of complicity to go around among purveyors and consumers of information.

NYU journalism professor and press critic Jay Rosen recently took news media to task for accepting false equivalencies as balance. “Instead of defining public service as the battle against evidence-free claims, they will settle for presenting the charge, presenting the defense, and leaving it there, justifying this timid and outworn practice with a ‘both sides’ logic that has nothing to do with truth-telling and everything to do with protecting themselves against criticism in Trump’s America.”

Consumers of news and information can be forgiven for becoming overwhelmed by a constant flood of digitally-conveyed content. But we also have been all too willing to accept an assertion as fact and letting it go at that, too busy or even too lazy to take on some responsibility for discerning the basis of the information shaping our perceptions of our world.

Americans’ trust and confidence in mass media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly” has dropped to its lowest level since the Gallup Poll started asking the question in 1972. Now, only about a third of the American population, 32 percent -down eight percentage points from last year- has any trust in the Fourth Estate, a stunning development for an institution relied upon to inform the public.

The reasons for such pervasive distrust are many, but recent culprits range from the massive failure of mainstream media polling in the recent presidential campaign and a perception that news anchors and reporters have given up on asking tough questions, to the outright mass manufacture of false news stories posing as legitimate. Indeed, the editor of the nation’s second largest newspaper says he will not report Trump lies, even if he lies:

Mr. Baker has since clarified his position. You can read it by clicking here.

“Let’s properly define the problem,” writes Steve Inskeep, co-host of NPR’s Morning Edition. “History and experience tell me it’s not a post-truth era: facts have always been hard to separate from falsehoods, and political partisans have always made it harder. It’s better to call this a post-trust era. In general,” notes Inskeep, “traditional news organizations are more reliable because their business model is to paint the clearest picture of the world that they can manage. But in the post-trust era, we know that any news source can steer you wrong at times, and they’re likely all jumbled together in your news feed anyway.”

Your news feed.

Until only very recently most of us did not fully comprehend, much less possess our own customized “news feed.” And now that most of us do have streams of external information pouring non-stop into our smart devices, we don’t necessarily manage them well, leaving us ever more confused and even misled, exhausted, and bewildered.

What could be more destabilizing to democracy, the cornerstone of which, according to none other than Thomas Jefferson, “rests on the foundation of an educated electorate”?

“The news-savvy consumer is able to distinguish fact from opinion and to discern the hallmarks of evasive language and half-truths. But growing evidence suggests that these skills are becoming rarer,” notes Marcus Banks in an article for American Libraries Magazine.

As this ability to distinguish real from fake information erodes, “nothing less than our capacity for online civic reasoning is at risk,” according to Sam Wineburg, director of the Stanford History Education Group, commenting for Banks’ article.

A November 2016 study by Wineburg’s organization found large majorities of the 7,800 students studied – at times as much as 80 or 90 percent – have trouble judging the credibility of the news they read and are apt to overlook clear evidence of bias in the claims they encounter. These challenges were found to persist from middle school to college – a generation that is by far more computer and internet savvy than older Americans and therefore might be expected to be more adept at sorting out what is real and what is not.

In an interview with NPR’s Kelly McEvers, Wineberg suggests the ability to determine what is reliable or not reliable has suddenly become the new essential skill in our society.

Conveyed by the speed, reach and impact of social media, fake news has converged in “perfect storm” fashion with decades-long efforts to steadily undermine the legitimacy of professional journalism.

“Fake news is the everyday news in the mainstream media. They just make it up,” Rush Limbaugh recently opined on his radio show. Limbaugh’s comment is rich in irony. (Click here to read my own behind-scenes recollection.) Limbaugh and now even the president-elect have appropriated the term “fake news” and turned it against any press they view as hostile to their agenda.

“In defining ‘fake news’ so broadly and seeking to dilute its meaning, they are capitalizing on the declining credibility of all purveyors of information, one product of the country’s increasing political polarization,” writes Jeremy Peters, a reporter in the NY Times Washington bureau in an article about the influence of rightwing talk show hosts and pundits. “And conservatives,” Peters continued, “seeing an opening to undermine the mainstream media, a longtime foe, are more than happy to dig the hole deeper.”

This delegitimization has been taking place for a long time. Laying this at the feet of American conservatives might serve some as a reason to stop here, writing off this article as just another “attack” by “the liberal media.” Conservative media, however, has for some time dominated the American information landscape, free of counterpoint. Non-partisan, evidence-based journalism has become a casualty.

“If the mainstream American news media are to have any hope of avoiding potentially catastrophic results—both for themselves and for American democracy—they need to change how they report on American politics, and on the ideological apparatchiks they continue to describe, misleadingly, as ‘journalists’,” argues Princeton history professor David Bell in a column for The Nation.

This disintegration of trust is dangerous enough when confusion between fact and fiction pertains to politics and governance. But it is life-threatening when people begin to doubt authoritative reports alerting them to immediate threats to public safety – perhaps the derailment of a freight train resulting in spillage of toxic chemicals; or maybe the imminent approach of a devastating tornado – the latter an example of another convergence: this recent acceleration of general distrust in media occurring on top of years upon years of often wild-eyed “boy-who-cried-wolf” hyperbole by broadcast meteorologists.

A mess, indeed. But the situation is not altogether hopeless,

Back to NPR, All Things Considered host Ari Shapiro, and a follow-up to the interview with Stanford Professor Wineburg that looks at efforts to bring “news literacy” to the forefront in education:

Peter Adams, the News Literacy Project’s senior vice president for educational programs, writes for the website edutopia.org about encountering teacher after teacher over the last five years who can recall two kinds of digital experiences with students.

“The first I think of as digital native moments, when a student uses a piece of technology with almost eerie intuitiveness. As digital natives, today’s teens have grown up with these tools and have assimilated their logic. Young people just seem to understand when to click and drag or copy and paste, and how to move, merge and mix digital elements.

The second I call digital naiveté moments when a student trusts a source of information that is obviously unreliable. Even though they know how easy it is to create and distribute information online, many young people believe — sometimes passionately — the most dubious rumors, tempting hoaxes (including convincingly staged encounters designed to look raw and unplanned) and implausible theories.”

Adams notes that “news literacy is a relatively new field in media studies that focuses on defining and teaching the skills that all citizens need to evaluate the credibility of the information they encounter, and on examining the role that credible information plays in a representative democracy.”

In addition to the News Literacy Project’s interactive “Checkology” program, the Center for News Literacy at the Stony Brook University School of Journalism just launched a six-week online course on distinguishing fake news from reliable information. Making Sense of the News: News Literacy Lessons for Digital Citizens is described as “a groundbreaking massive open online course (MOOC).

An extensive news literacy curriculum has been developed for the classroom by the American Press Institute.

The Trust Project at Santa Clara University takes advantage of its location in the heart of Silicon Valley “to imagine technology that can bake the evidence of trustworthy reporting — accuracy, transparency, and inclusion –plainly into news practices, tools, and platforms.”

The Trust Project was kickstarted with funding from Craigslist founder Craig Newmark:

Google is contributing financial support to the Trust Project which is also sponsored by the Markkula Foundation.

In Britain, the recent Brexit vote has given rise to so-called “Constructive Journalism.” This more solutions-focused approach to reporting “draws on concepts from positive psychology, moral psychology, and prospective psychology and allows the spotlight to be put on the immense potential for constructive solutions within society,” according to Giselle Green in a guest blog for the Association of Journalism Education in the UK. “Reporters/writers actively look for evidence of what’s working, or what could work,” she writes. “This isn’t about ignoring negative stories or searching for happy, fluffy stories. Or about advocacy journalism. It’s about rigorous reporting of serious issues which are framed to show what people are doing to address problems.”

The concept has been adopted by the New York Times, the BBC, the Guardian, the Huffington Post and Upworthy, among others.

It seems safe to say that until reality itself vanishes, we will never occupy a “Post-Truth” world. The truth is not perception. The truth is verifiable, undisputed fact.

“Trust,” on the other hand notes Northeastern University psychologist David DeSteno, “implies a seeming unknowable — a bet of sorts, if you will. At its base is a delicate problem centered on the balance between two dynamic and often opposing desires: a desire for someone else to meet your needs and his desire to meet his own.”

News

Breakthrough Announced in Outrage Storage Technology

Officials at the Argonne National Laboratory, the U.S. Department of Energy’s research facility outside of Chicago, announced today a breakthrough in storage technology which will enable the utilization of surplus supplies of individual and mass outrage. The technology was developed in a secret accelerated research and development program over the past year subsequent to the release of a Surgeon General’s report, States of Exhaustion: Outrage Depletion Syndrome (ODS), A Public Health Crisis. The report documented the increasingly widespread occurrence of ODS, especially in the Northeast and West Coast and other isolated population pockets. The spreading syndrome has escalated to epidemic proportions over the past several months, making the research efforts urgent in nature.

Outrage Depletion Syndrome has been found to be most frequently characterized by a prodromal phase lasting weeks to months during which individuals experience massive, serial episodes of outrage, with some reporting as many as ten to twelve episodes a day. The depletion stage of the syndrome which follows is characterized by glassy-eyed apathy, defeatism, over-dependence on sarcasm and rationalization, and heavy use of Jimmy Fallon. Individuals with ODS are at increased risk for substance abuse and Multiple Feline Acquisition Disorder.

Describing the breakthrough, Dr. Bernice Foliedeux, Director of Argonne, reported that special remote sensing technology enables the kinetic energy from an individual’s volatile outrage surges, captured by bracelets, watches, and bite guards the individual wears or uses, to be transferred to newly developed battery storage cells, the Affective Battery Array. The wearable devices then allow the user to access surplus stored outrage when the devices measure the inception of the depletion stage of ODS. In this way the user has access to outrage on a more consistent and usable basis.

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Argonne is working with its commercialization partners, Apple and Fitbit, to produce and market the wearable devices, and Tesla will produce the Affective Battery Arrays. The entire system will be branded ODiouS Synergistics. Initially the battery arrays will be produced for individual users, but it is anticipated that mass storage banks will be developed in the near future to aggregate the outrage of millions of individuals in different locations across the country, allowing much wider access to large inventories of stored outrage. Dr. Foliedeux predicted that while use of the new technology might be geographically limited at the initial sales stage, she is confident that within a year it will have established a strong market presence throughout the country.

The Argonne researchers revealed that the outrage storage project is the first step in a much larger alternative energy program, The National Emotional Energy Storage Initiative. Dr. Foliedeux announced that the next target affect state will be dumbfounded. Concluding her remarks, Foliedeux admitted that, “Outrage is easy. It’s much harder to capture the energy in dumbfounded”.

News

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News

More Context

John Hunt Morgan, “Thunderbolt of the Confederacy”, is safe in his construction cocoon. Protected from debris and damage during the much-anticipated renovation of Lexington’s historic courthouse, the statue of Morgan was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1911, during the dark century of continued subjugation in the South of freed slaves and their descendants following the Civil War. The Morgan statue will greet visitors to the courthouse’s main entrance upon completion of the renovation.

The Morgan memorial, and its companion statue in the courthouse plaza, erected in 1887, of John C. Breckinridge, Vice-President of the United States, slave owner, defender of secession, Confederate general, and the last Secretary of War of the Confederate States of America, create an heroic tableau that some have called “history”.

The statues were erected in the public square, on a block which was, in the first-half of the nineteenth century, the site of major slave auctions, and marked in recent times by a small, lonely plaque.

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At the end of a summer riven by blood, outrage, fear, and protest, is it still important to talk about some statues?

The conversation about Lexington’s courthouse statues, begun after the massacre at “Mother” Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, continued last fall. Mayor Jim Gray charged the Urban County Arts Review Board (UCARB) to make recommendations concerning the future of the statues, highlighting the need to reflect “shared values”, diversity, and inclusiveness.

The Board studied the issues exhaustively, heard testimony from experts and the public, and encouraged submission of letters of opinion from the general public. They received many more letters in support of retaining the statues in their locations in the courthouse square. Nevertheless, in November the Board recommended that the statues of Morgan and Breckinridge be moved from the courthouse block to other publicly accessible, appropriate places.

At the meeting where this and other recommendations were made, the UCARB members looked on incredulously as, at the eleventh hour, city officials informed them that removal of the statues might very well jeopardize the federal historic tax credits that were a vital part of the financing of the courthouse renovation. The extensiveness of discussions with federal historic preservation officials concerning this issue has never been publicly disclosed.

After the November UCARB meeting the public conversation about the statues went into a deep sleep.

In mid-February of this year, Chris Corcoran, an advisor to Mayor Gray, announced that the Mayor had decided to keep the statues in place, telling the Arts Review Board:

“The mayor’s intent is to keep those statutes where they are and provide more context,” (italics are mine) Corcoran said. “We are not pursuing moving the statues.”

Conversation over.

They say that history is written by the victors, and all across the South in the decades after the Civil War the believers in “The Lost Cause” retained the symbols of the Confederacy and valorized its heroes. It was a victory after defeat and a message of warning to those who would try to upend the renewed and revived architecture of domination and subjugation. The new heroes, inheritors of the mantle, were men in white robes, police officers with dogs and billy clubs, and governors standing in schoolhouse doors.

So what would be more context for our statues, presiding in place in our public square?

Perhaps this:

The statues of Morgan and Breckinridge stand as testament that history can be warped and defiled. That a gauzy cover can be applied to it to encourage a recasting of the true history of a vile cause. That a history of a place, our public square, the site of untold suffering in the decades before the Civil War, can be nearly erased. These statues are not “history”, they only mark the attempts by people in history to rework history. Mark this; the statues were erected not just to memorialize heroes of “The Lost Cause” but to serve as a warning to those who would attempt to impede that revision of history and challenge its contemporary malevolent regime.

Not enough more context?

The men valorized by these statues were inhabited by an evil and degrading ideology. An ideology of racial superiority in service of a system that required centuries of enslavement of other human beings. So, Africans stolen from their homelands and their descendants, were subjected to the most cruel and inhumane conditions, treated and tortured as beast of burdens, and bought and sold as property of others on this very spot. These slaves were instrumental in building the early America.

The fever of this racist malignant ideology and system was only stanched by a most bloody and wrenching civil war. It still remains to be fully extinguished. Slavery in the United States takes its place amongst the most horrific and prolonged injustices and acts in humanity’s known history. It is the cause for which Morgan fought and died and Breckinridge avidly served. This is the true history to be remembered in this place amongst these statues.

We whitewash or forget this truth at our peril.

But perhaps the most appropriate more context, would be this image, suggested in a conversation with UK Art Museum Director, Stuart Horodner, and projected large throughout the courthouse plaza:

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For another response to the courthouse statues see Tom Martin’s UnderMain piece about Kurt Godhe and Kremena Todorova’s latest community engagement art project, Unlearn Fear+Hate.

Slave auction announcement image courtesy of University of Kentucky

Ali-Morgan image courtesy of Chris Rosenthal 

News

Green’s Guide to Safe Refuge

For African-Americans, travel by car through Lexington and across the USA during the Jim Crow era was a harrowing experience. Some whites, like Lexington’s Joe Duff and his father and brother, welcomed motoring blacks to pull over, rest, refresh and fortify. But the Negro Motorists’ Green Book was a coast-to-coast Godsend. Here is its story.

~ O ~

For much of the nation’s history “the democratic idea of getting out on the open road, finding yourself, heading for distant horizons was only a privilege for white people,” observed Cotton Seiler in Republic of Drivers: A Cultural History of Automobility in America.

For traveling Americans who happened to be black, relying on the kindness of strangers was risk with a capital R.

Office of War Information Photograph Collection, Lib. of Cong

Office of War Information Photograph Collection, Library of Congress

The Kentucky Civil Rights Act enacted in 1966 prohibits discrimination in public accommodations based on race, color, disability, religion, or national origin. But before ’66 and prior to the 1964 passage of the Federal Civil Rights Act, the tripwires of racial segregation in Lexington and most everywhere else in America were strung taut across the country’s landscape.

A Washington Post account of the Green Book notes that “Jim Crow laws across the South mandated that restaurants, hotels, pool halls and parks strictly separate whites and blacks. Lynchings kept blacks in fear of mob violence. And there were  thousands of so-called ‘sundown towns,’ including in northern states like Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan, which barred blacks after dark, an unofficial rule reinforced by the threat of violence.”

Green Books were sold at Esso service stations, one of the few gas station chains that served African Americans.

At the time, as today’s Baby Boomers were in their formative years, Joe Duff worked for his dad at the family service station on the corner of North Broadway and the newly constructed New Circle Road in Lexington, Kentucky.

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The year was 1954. There was a Jerry’s Restaurant across the street. It was for whites only. But the word was circulating among traveling African-Americans that although Duff’s was not an Esso station, Joe’s father was a kind and accommodating man…

For African-Americans increasingly on the move for work, play and family visits, there was a premium on reliable information about places of refuge like Duff’s Service Station in Lexington, Kentucky – knowing where to and where not to make a rest stop, let road-weary and irritable kids out of the car to stretch their legs, find a decent meal, relieve a bursting bladder or refresh with a good night’s sleep.

Eighteen years earlier, when Joe Duff was only a toddler, Harlem postal employee and civic leader Victor H. Green had heard one too many accounts of humiliation or violence against blacks traveling across their own nation and was inspired to come up with a credible improvement to often fatefully inaccurate word-of-mouth.  

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The Negro Motorist Green Book organized by state and city places along the nation’s highways where it was safe and welcoming to make a rest or overnight stop.

An introduction in the 1937 edition states: “The idea of ‘The Green Book’ is to compile facts and information connected with motoring, which the Negro Motorist can use and depend upon. We are appealing to the Motorist and Business places for their whole-hearted cooperation to help us in our endeavor, by contributing ideas, suggestions, travel information and articles of interest.” It concludes with the appeal: “Let’s all get together and make motoring better.”

The guide listed cities and places across the country where black motorists were welcome to make a pit stop, check into a motel for the night and have a meal and even in some places like Lexington, enjoy some live music – if not much else.

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Soon, those who needed to know about “The Green Book,” had become well aware of it. To much of the rest of America, the “Go Guide” as some readers referred to it, was virtually unknown. The guide was in limited supply with no more than 15,000 printed annually.

And despite Green’s efforts to develop a network of correspondents across the country, there were gaps in the information that left travelers passing through places like Lexington continuing to count on the grapevine. Duff’s service station, for example, never appeared in its pages.

In an interview with NPR’s Neal Conan, the late social activist and civil rights leader Julian Bond recalled how his family relied on Green’s handy guide, by then tucked into the glove boxes of many black-owned vehicles from family cars to musician and baseball team tour buses. “It didn’t matter where you went, Jim Crow was everywhere then, and black travelers needed this badly,” he said.

Washington Post staff writer Courtland Milloy began his own account of a family road trip to the American south by recalling fidgeting in the back seat of his father’s Buick Special for the long drive to Grandma’s house. “The trip started with gaiety in the dark hours of the morning, but as the day wears on it becomes a nightmare. It is 1958. I am almost eight years old, quenching my thirst with bladder-busting cold drinks while riding through the hot, dusty South in an unairconditioned car with my two younger sisters.

Mom is seated attentively next to Dad. He is usually all-powerful and in control, but today, for some reason, he is uptight.”

“The Green Book tried to provide a tool to deal with those situations,” noted Lonnie Bunch, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in an interview with the New York Times. “It also allowed families to protect their children, to help them ward off those horrible points at which they might be thrown out or not permitted to sit somewhere. It was both a defensive and a proactive mechanism.”

In the parallel universes of a racially segregated society, what had become a staple to some was virtually unknown to many. Green ceased publication in 1964 with passage of the Federal Civil Rights Act and its prohibition of discrimination in public accommodations. In theory, at least, selective “No Vacancy” had been outlawed. That’s not to suggest that bigotry at the lunch counter or registration desk magically disappeared. It takes quite a long time to bring about change of such magnitude. Vestiges of Jim Crow linger in America to this day.

Writers, artists, academics and the just plain curious have been dusting off Victor Green’s publishing legacy and finding within its pages a nuanced context for how things once were and what informs and influences the perspectives of today.

The reason Courtney Milloy’s father and so many like him steeled themselves when behind the wheel is illuminated in Candacy Taylor’s video, “The Negro Motorist Green Book Project: Documenting Sites of Sanctuary. Taylortravels-while-black” one of America’s most iconic highways, offering an eye-opening reminder of how the road trip, so readily taken for granted by many Americans, was for some fraught with gut-churning dangers of all sorts, mile after mile.

The guide, now reemerging from history’s shadows, is the focus of The Green Book Chronicles. A film crew led by Calvin Alexander Ramsey, author of the children’s book Ruth and the Green Book, and Becky Wible Searles, an animation professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design’s Atlanta campus have interviewed some of Mr. Green’s relatives and have tracked down families who owned sites mentioned in the books or who relied on it for travel suggestions.

Ramsey discussed the Green Book in an interview with public radio’s Rick Steves.

The Green Book is a central fixture in the 2015 film 100 Miles to Lordsburg, set in 1961, the fictional story of Jack and Martha, a young, African-American couple, traveling across the country for a new job opportunity in California.

The Dresser Trunk Project, a traveling exhibition organized in 2007 by William Daryl Williams, then an Associate in the University of Virginia School of Architecture and now director of the School of Architecture and Interior Design at the University of Cincinnati, used the Green Book to inform the designs of boxes based on a dresser trunk — the case musicians used to carry their clothing and gear — to tell the stories of African-American artists who traveled along the Southern Crescent train line. The trunks feature stories, photographs, maps, and computer-generated models documenting the clubs, hotels, boarding houses and other places that accommodated black musicians in eleven cities along the Crescent line (currently the Amtrak service connecting New Orleans and New York).

A dresser trunk created by artist Lisa Henry-Benham for the Carver Inn in Charlottesville, Virginia -- later demolished for the expansion of a street -- which was the only hotel listed for black travelers in the "Negro Motorist" Travelers Guide. Photo by Lisa Henry-Benham.

A dresser trunk created by artist Lisa Henry-Benham for the Carver Inn in Charlottesville, Virginia — later demolished for the expansion of a street — which was the only hotel listed for black travelers in the “Negro Motorist” Travelers Guide. Photo by Lisa Henry-Benham.

As the pages of the Green Book indicate, the Lexington of the 1950s didn’t offer much at all to the traveling African-American. Still, there were people like the Duff brothers and their dad, letting it be known that some empathy and accommodation could be found on one corner of North Broadway and New Circle Road.

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Duff, now 82, has had a lot time since those days to reflect and observe the people who pull up to his gas pumps or bring their vehicles to his service bays…

~O~

Related:

Art Shechet on status of Confederate Statues in downtown Lexington

Recent articles by Tom Martin:

Post Truth or Post Trust?

In Search of Another Way

Friendship in Troubling Times

The Wedding Day Kiss

News

In search of another way

We can’t pass the course on humanity
if we keep failing the lessons
on harmony
and until we unlearn fear and hate.

“I believe that fear is at the root of hate” author and Affrilachian Poets founder Frank X Walker said in explaining the order of the key words in a phrase of his celebrated poem Love Letta to De Worl’.

The phrase “unlearn fear and hate” has become the central theme of educational initiatives unfurling across Lexington, a prelude to an all out effort in service to civility and understanding among neighbors.

Walker’s poem was commissioned by Transylvania University’s prolific artistic collaborators Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova. With the poet’s blessing, they have transformed the phrase into the equation “Unlearn Fear + Hate” and a clarion call for close examination of what makes us fearful of others and how those fears are often expressed in anger, violence, racism and xenophobia.

“It suggests that fear and hate are behaviors we have learned, that they are not our natural state,” Gohde and Todorova state in a synopsis of their initiative. “By extension, it also expresses hope that we can unlearn them. Everyone has something or someone they have learned to fear. We believe that everyone has the capacity to unlearn fear and prejudice. Our artwork gives people an opportunity to consider their fears and to commit to unlearning them. It is based on our belief that we can all benefit from unlearning hatred and, instead, learning to treat others with respect, compassion, and justice.”

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If you have driven or walked along the Upper Street side of the 21c Hotel in downtown Lexington, you may have glimpsed the symbol the artists have designed and created, funded by two LexArts Community Arts Development grants and a Neighborhood Development Grant from the Lexington City Council. The 4-foot wide stainless steel “halo” is attached at eye level to the exterior wall. If it could see, its gaze would be fixed upon the nearby statue of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan. 

“In the summer of 2015,” the pair have written of their inspiration and intent, “communities around the country began reconsidering monuments and memorials to the Confederacy as a response to the increasing publicity around acts of racial violence in the United States. In Lexington this conversation centered on the monuments of John C Breckinridge and John Hunt Morgan, both located in an iconic downtown space: not only the present location of Saturday’s farmers’ market and numerous public celebrations, but also the former site of a prominent slave market. The debate about these monuments included both people who passionately advocated for the removal/relocation of them and people committed to keeping them in their current location. Like many conversations about religion, the debate surrounding the two Lexington monuments ended without changing the hearts or minds of participants on either side. Thus, the way in which Lexington attempted to address the tensions caused by the monuments was not effective, but it was not unusual either. We are fearful of people we don’t know. We are fearful of difference. We are afraid the cost of change will be the loss of things important to who we are. This fear sometimes causes us to hate the agents of change.”

Two billboard-size prints of photographic portraits of Lexingtonians made with the symbol are to be mounted on the sides of buildings at prominent downtown locations, according to the artists. And a Spanish version reading “borremos el miedo y el odio” was mounted on the Versailles Road side of the Village Branch of the Lexington Public Library on the same day as the 21c installation.

Word reaches the Lyric Theater. A call is placed.

When Ashley Smith heard about the initiative the Lyric Theater Development Director contacted the Transy professors popularly referred to around town as “Kurt ’n Kremena” or simply “K&K” to talk about the $2500 grant she had secured from the Kresge Foundation to fund an Arts and Humanities Festival. “Being familiar with the phrase ‘unlearn fear and hate’ and the work that’s being done by ‘K&K’,  it’s just a perfect opportunity to combine the arts, education and this beautiful initiative,” she said.

On October 11, school buses carrying some 800 students from 11 schools in Lexington’s District One which shares territory with Transylvania will roll to the curb outside the Lyric on 3rd and Elm. “We have a great incentive for schools to participate,” Smith said. “A barrier that we previously realized in putting on various field-trip programs was that schools just didn’t have the transportation stipends for the buses. So we are offering transportation stipends for these mainly Title I schools.”

When the curtain rises, Gohde and Todorova will host a 90-minute, five-act production of music, theatre and poetry mutually developed by the Lyric and Transy students. According to Smith, here’s what the students will experience:

Smith said she hopes students leave the event better prepared “to navigate these very heavy topics and conversations,” equipped with:

Four blocks west of the Lyric, Transylvania University is itself joining the initiative.

Expressing difficult truths through the arts

In November, Transylvania will host students from Lafayette High School and the School for the Creative and Performing Arts (SCAPA) in a performance based on the theme. “We all resonate most with ideas that are relevant and incite emotional connection, especially young adults who are heavily influenced by art through social media,” said Lafayette Dean of Students Caryn Huber. “Unlearn Fear + Hate” will allow our students to create a forum at the grassroots level to reach a broad group of diverse students that represent our community, and we hope, these students will carry home to their social circles.”

Under the direction of Cathy Rowland, the students will offer interpretations of the theme through their preferred art forms.

“In preparation for the performance,” Huber said, “the students study the theme (understanding, analyzing, and evaluating), then move to creating, using tools they’ve gained from their courses in creative writing, drama, visual arts, dance, and piano.”

Plans call for the performance at Transy to serve as a springboard for the development of a theme-based educational curriculum with students expressing the imperative to unlearn fear and hate through original works in music composition, art, poetry, dance, monologues, and personal narratives.

The performance, at 7pm on November 30 in Transy’s Haggin Hall, is open to the public.

Halo 3

Theme to drive campus-wide buzz

Throughout the coming fall and winter terms, the Transylvania campus will be abuzz with discussion and thought revolving around the theme “Unlearn Fear + Hate.”

When introduced to Gohde and Todorova, Laura Bryan, Transylvania’s new Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the University, learned of their Unlearn Fear + Hate initiative, and embraced it. “I like the phrase because it is action-oriented. The phrase assumes that we learned fear and hate, and thus, we must be able to unlearn fear and hate. I also like it because it does not restrict the discourse to only one target of hate, but can encompass all targets of fear and hate in our society.”

Dr. Bryan proposed the phrase as a theme for Transy during this academic year. President Seamus Carey and the other cabinet members agreed, signaling a green light to set up programs and activities.  

To ensure consistent programming while raising awareness of the theme, Bryan also asked Jeremy Paden, Director of Creative Intelligence, to use the theme for the university’s series of endowed lectures.

As a result, speakers in all of Transylvania’s 2016-17 endowed lectures in Philosophy, English, Music, Religion, Social Sciences, Business and Economics, Classics, and Theater, as well as its Creative Intelligence Series have been invited to address it in some way.

This is new to the 236 year old institution, according to Paden. “This is the first year where we are trying to provide a theme to our lectures. The intent behind theming is to both provide coherence to campus conversation during the school year and to show how any given theme can be approached from each of the various disciplines. That is, we hope this approach will show the liberal arts moves to find interconnections between disciplines, questions, and problems.”

Paden, an associate professor of Spanish, said while many speakers and performers have committed, work continues to secure additional lecturers.

Committed:

Convocation – Kentucky novelist, music journalist, environmental activist and columnist Silas House is featured speaker.

September 9, 2016 – 3:30pm | Haggin Auditorium

The Smith Concert Series​ ​will host Time for Three, a high-energy string trio of super virtuosos who refer to themselves as a “classically trained garage band.”  They perform music in a wide variety of genres, from rock to Bluegrass, jazz and classical to hip-hop.

Tuesday, Oct. 11 – 7:30 pm​​ | Haggin Auditorium

The Moosenick Lectureship in Judaic Studies will bring in Professor Reuven Firestone, Regenstein Professor in Medieval Judiasm and Islam at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, CA.

Dr. Firestone is one of the country’s leading authorities on the relationship of Judaism and Islam and the author of numerous books; including Journeys in Holy Land; Jihad: the Origin of Holy War in Islam; Children of Abraham: An Introduction to Judaism for Muslims; An Introduction to Islam for Jews; and Who are the Real Chosen People: The Meaning of Chosenness in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

He will present at Transylvania on Tuesday, November 15, and at Ohavay Zion Synagogue on Thursday, November 16, 2016

The Kenan Lecture will feature the poet Claudia Rankine. Her book Citizen: A Lyric, is a collection of lyrical essays or poetic prose​ that bears witness to the experience of everyday encounters with racism. It moves in and through the feelings and thought processes of ​a person trying to understand the experience of these injustices. ​In this way, “​Citizen​”​ names and narrates these experiences. And in reading and listening to the poems, i​n learning from them, our world is enlarged. Rankine’s book was shortlisted for the National Book Award and won the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, the 2015 PEN Open Book Award, the 2015 Hurston/Wright Award in Poetry among many others.

Rankine will deliver the annual Kenan Lecture on February 16, 2017

Paden is continuing to fill the calendar with lectures and performances related to the theme. “Creative Intelligence is collaborating with the Morlan Gallery to bring in a major Affrilachian reading. The reading, which will take place on January 19 at 6 pm in Carrick Theater, is part of an anthology release and an exhibition of Affrilachian visual art,” he said. 

Paden added that he is currently in discussion on dates and times with two professors and poets, one who works with the Latino Immigrant community in Kentucky and who teaches poetry to immigrant and refugee children as a means of owning and telling their own story, and another who teaches in the area of writing and Disability Studies. 

All of the Transylvania events are free and open to the public. The Smith Concert Series and the Kenan Lecture, however, will be ticketed.

We will hear and see much more in the near future about fear and hate and how they might be unlearned. Todorova and Gohde have established project partnerships with the Lexington Public Library, The Downtown Arts Center, Lexington, Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, LexingtonUnited and the NAACP of Lexington Chapter-3097.


Transy students on Bourbon Ave - Video by Chelsey and Susan Olson
News

McNeese Interviews Scorsone on Evolution of LGBT legal rights in Kentucky

Polar opposites somehow manage a fragile co-existence in Kentucky. It’s a place where the mayor of one of its most dynamic cities is openly gay but sixty miles to the east a county clerk, citing religious ideology, once commanded prime time international attention for her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples.

The history and evolution of LGBT legal rights in Kentucky was a focus of conversation between Patrick McNeese and Fayette Circuit Court Judge Ernesto Scorsone on VoiceBox, the weekly interview program McNeese hosts on Lexington Community Radio station WLXU (93.9).

Click here to listen to the entire conversation on Lexington Community Radio.

News

Great Meadows Foundation Announcement

PRESS RELEASE

August 1, 2016

Great Meadows Foundation is pleased to announce the award of 19 grants to artists in the Kentucky region through the inaugural cycle of the Artists Professional Development Grants program. Supporting artists from across the state, the grants will enable recipients to travel to visit conferences, major exhibitions, art fairs and biennials, and to connect with professionals in the field whose expertise can help them develop their practice.

Speaking about the inaugural program, Al Shands, founder of Great Meadows Foundation, says: “we are thrilled that Kentucky artists are so ambitious in terms of what they want to see, who they want to meet, and how they see these grants benefitting them.” Julien Robson, Director of Great Meadows Foundation adds: “We received 36 very good applications for this inaugural program and are proud that, with these 19 grants, we will be able help a total of 20 artists fulfill travel projects that will expand their horizons, help them build new connections, and support their growth as artists.”

Grantees were selected with the advice of an external reviewer, a professional in the field from outside the region. The amount of support given in the 19 grants totals $40,768.-, with individual awards ranging between $1,000.- and $4,980.-. Grantee artists will be enabled to travel to American cities like Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and Pittsburgh, as well as to Cuba, Denmark, France, Mexico, Italy, Korea, UAE, and the United Kingdom in pursuit of their proposals.

Grantee artists in this inaugural cycle are: Kayla Bischoff, Louisville; Mary Carothers, Louisville; Dave Caudill, Louisville; Valerie Sullivan Fuchs, Shelbyville; Brian Harper, New Albany; Kenneth Hayden, Louisville; Jacob Heustis, Louisville; Amira Karaoud, Louisville; Jonathan McFadden, Lexington; Elizabeth Mesa-Gaido, Morehead; Neli Ouzounova, Bowling Green; Letitia Quesenberry, Louisville; Stacey Reason and Andrew Cozzens (collaboration), Louisville; Kristin Richards, Louisville; Nathan G. Smith, Louisville; Skylar Smith, Louisville; James Robert Southard, Lexington; Richard Sullivan, Louisville; and Sarah West, Mount Sterling.

Artist Professional Development Grants is an ongoing program of the Great Meadows Foundation and will have deadlines three times each year. The next cycle will beannounced at the beginning of September, 2016 on the foundation’s website and

Facebook page. www.greatmeadowsfoundation.org

Great Meadows Foundation is a grant giving foundation, launched in 2016 by contemporary art collector and philanthropist Al Shands. Named for the home that Al and his late wife Mary created, the vision of Great Meadows Foundation is to strengthen and support the visual arts in Kentucky by empowering our community’s artists and other visual arts professionals to research, connect, and participate more actively in the broader contemporary art world. Artist Professional Development Grants are focused on supporting and forwarding the careers of Kentucky artists. This grant program promotes the growth and development of visual art in Kentucky by helping improve the skills, resources, knowledge, and connections of artists. The grant program aims to further artists’ careers by encouraging them to engage with the broader art world and raising the bar for art being produced in the region. Developing artists’ awareness of and participation in the national and international art world, Artist Professional Development Grants aim to strengthen the level of discourse and practice among artists in the state.

For more information, visit: http://greatmeadowsfoundation.org

Arts, News

Speeding Towards Impact: A Conversation with Miranda Lash

Visual arts in Lexington are in an exciting and reinvigorated phase. Lexingtonians are eagerly anticipating the opening of 21c Hotel, with its presentation of provocative contemporary art. The bold and exciting repurposed building for the UK School of Arts and Visual Studies, under the leadership of Rob Jensen, faces outward towards the community and holds great promise for increased university and community dialogue and interaction. Stuart Horodner has, not without some discordant voices, taken complete charge of UK Art Museum and turned around the museum with exciting programming, an open and inviting spirit, and increased attendance. And the Lexington Art League has refocused and reenergized after several years of crisis, and is presenting a signature show, Artist:Body, curated by Julien Robson, former contemporary curator of the Speed Art Museum in Louisville.

With increased commercial and not-for-profit gallery activity, such as the LexArts gallery at ArtsPlace, more frequent and well-attended Gallery Hops, and the still-to-open breathtaking new Living Arts and Sciences space, the visual arts in Lexington are, indeed, on a major upswing.

However, what will be, undoubtedly, the most important and impactful news on the visual arts scene in the region will occur in a few short weeks with the reopening of the Speed Art Museum after a more than three-year major renovation and expansion. Funded by a highly successful $60 million capital campaign, the new Speed Art Museum will be poised to move beyond a role as a regional art museum of some significance to becoming an essential cultural institution on a national level.

Closed since late 2012, the central elements of the expansion of the Speed involved the demolition of the often-controversial 1972 addition, the construction of a three-story north building and two-story south building, and connecting the two to the original temple of high art built in 1927. The design of the new buildings emphasizes light and transparency, inviting the public into the new museum. Surrounded by redesigned outside spaces that include an art park, plazas and patios, and a large, shallow pool, the openness of the museum is a marked contrast to its somewhat foreboding, pre-expansion past.

Speed4

Of equal importance to the expansion and redesign, is the new leadership at the Speed. Ghislain d’Humières was hired as Director of the Museum in 2013, succeeding Charles Venable who left for the Indianapolis Museum of Art. D’Humières, formerly Director of the Fred Jones Jr. Museum at the University of Oklahoma, and prior to that Assistant Director of San Francisco’s Museum of Fine Art, headed up the major expansion of the latter museum. His successful leadership of that project clearly made him a very appealing candidate to lead the Speed.

Since assuming his new position, d’Humières has made several critical hires to help him usher in the new era of the Speed Art Museum. Included in those new leadership posts is Erika Holmquist-Wall, formerly assistant curator of paintings at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, hired in 2014 as Mary and Barry Bingham Sr. Curator of European and American Painting and Sculpture. In that same year Miranda Lash, formerly curator of modern and contemporary art at the New Orleans Museum of Art and one of the young rising stars of the curatorial world, joined the Speed as Curator of Contemporary Art.

Lash’s departure from NOMA was much lamented in the Crescent City, where she had arrived in 2008 in a city recovering from Hurricane Katrina. Known at NOMA for deep engagement with the artistic and broader community culture, and for commissioning site-specific works for the museum by local artists, Lash deepened that institution’s commitment to a broadened range of contemporary art and helped to make it a more accessible and popular cultural space. Her hiring by the Speed was seen by many as a real coup for the museum.

Lash

On a rainy afternoon turned sunny last summer, UnderMain went on a tour of the still-under-construction museum with Lash and the Speed’s Director of Marketing and Communication, Steven Bowling. The boldness of the design of the expanded museum and of the vision for the new Speed came through loud and clear on the tour and in a delightful early evening dinner with Lash. A place for the Speed in the conversation about great American museums is clearly on her radar.

Much of the expansive new gallery space of the Speed will be dedicated to contemporary art and will enable Lash to bring a wide range of exhibitions to Louisville. She clearly is eagerly anticipating what that square footage will allow her to do programmatically. The new outside spaces are also allowing her to commission a number of site-specific works for the Art Park and newly landscaped areas.

Significantly, the increased gallery spaces inside the museum will allow more of the Speed’s permanent collection, numbering over 13,000 works, to be shown. The museum’s reopening exhibition, A Celebration of the Speed Collection, will show more of the permanent collection than the museum is likely to show again in one exhibition for the foreseeable future.

Deeply interested in art as a portal into themes of culture, identity, and history, Lash resonated to and was inspired by the vivid, multicultural, free-flowing, tragicomic New Orleans story and vibe. It will be interesting to watch how she responds to a more buttoned up, nearly-Southern, nearly-Midwestern city. It’s clear that Lash will use her position at the Speed to deepen visitors’ engagement through contemporary art with the broader world and with issues and questions that resonate beyond the confines of our Kentucky space.

As a follow-up to our visit and conversation, Miranda Lash generously agreed to respond in writing to a number of questions that were posed to her.

UM: After, by all accounts, a successful tenure at NOMA, what in particular appealed to you about the position at the Speed?

Lash: First and foremost I was attracted by the opportunity to build something new. The Speed is on the verge of embarking upon a renewed era of innovation in contemporary art largely enabled by three factors: 1. the opening of a new wing for the contemporary collection in beautiful, large-scale galleries designed by Kulapat Yantrasast; 2. A substantial commitment made by the Speed to support the commissioning of site-specific pieces by leading international artists. These commissions will populate the new Art Park and the interior of the building; and 3. A commitment on behalf of the Speed to support the generation of nationally relevant contemporary art exhibitions and publications that will circulate around the country.

UM: Give our readers some idea about the breadth and depth of the Speed’s permanent collection in contemporary art. With the museum renovation and expansion, will there be opportunities to see more of the contemporary collection?

Lash: The Speed’s contemporary collection spans from wonderful examples of Abstract Expressionism from the 1950s to video artworks made just in the last few years. Visitors will be able to contemplate a large range of work, from great paintings by Helen Frankenthaler, Frank Stella, Alice Neel, and Sam Gilliam, to more recent pieces by Yinka Shonibare, Ghada Amer, Carrie Mae Weems and The Propeller Group.

Once the Speed opens at least 8,000 square feet of gallery space will be dedicated to the contemporary collection, and from time to time there will be opportunities to display parts of the collection in additional galleries. For the opening exhibition in March 2016, the Speed will dedicate two floors (the equivalent of 16,000 square feet) to the display of the contemporary collection. This is an enormous amount of space, and I am encouraging visitors to come see this display (which will be on view through August 2016), first because this will be the most expansive display of the contemporary collection that the Speed has ever had in its history, and secondly, it may be years before the Speed is able to display the collection in such a comprehensive manner again.

UM: How has the role of museum curator evolved over the years to this point in the early part of the 21st century? Is a curator a tastemaker, interpreter, promoter, entertainer, carnival barker? How would you describe your developing role as curator of contemporary art at the Speed?

Lash: Museum curators, now more than ever, are encouraged to think globally about trends, innovations, and relevant artists and exhibitions. It is not enough to know what is happening in your region (although a curator should know this well), you are also expected to keep current on a large number of national and international art biennials, fairs, and major touring shows. Thanks to the Internet and the rapid expansion of biennials and triennials across the globe during the last thirty years, we have more access than ever to currents of activity transpiring all over the world. With this explosion of information the need for filtering, as well as constant travel and looking, becomes all the more important.

Secondly, due the shrinking of state, city and federal funds made available to the arts over the past few decades, the development and fundraising responsibilities assigned to curators can at times demand as much time as actual content development. If you believe that curators should pursue sound and thorough scholarship, and maintain their editorial independence apart from commercial and private interests, I encourage you to support museums through your tax dollars and museum admissions.

Sometimes we are tastemakers, interpreters, and promoters, but most of all I think of us as storytellers, educators, and advocates for artists.

UM: What are some of the ideas, issues, perspectives, and questions that drive your curatorial decisions about exhibitions and programs?

Lash: I look long and carefully at the artworks in my collection and I think about the narratives that are embedded within it and how I can flesh these stories out.  I think about trends and conflicts in the world, and questions we are struggling with as a nation, and ask, how can art help the us navigate the complexities of these issues? Often I think about what is bothering me and why. For example, for years I was amazed and confounded by the way both “Northerners” and “Southerners” would talk about the “North” and the “South” in the United States, using broad generalizations, assumptions and stereotypes to communicate their point. For every assumption that was made, I would find a vast number of exceptions, and no clear consensus at the heart of any of these Northern or Southern stereotypes. So, as way of working through this, now I am working with a co-curator Trevor Schoonmaker on a large group show that aims to explore, essentially: what do we mean when we talk about the South and why?

UM: What obligation does a museum have to be of its place, reflective of its surroundings, it’s culture, environment, people?

Lash: This depends on the stated mission of the museum, which varies greatly between institutions. At the Speed, we take our role very seriously as an important (and for some the only) point of contact visitors may have to artistic trends and ideas going on in other countries. We want Louisvillians to be educated and excited about what is happening in Mexico City, Berlin, and Ho Chi Minh City, and we have more capacity than any other museum in Kentucky to provide this global perspective.

At the Speed we also have an obligation to present artwork that is relevant to Louisville. As a curator I look for topics and concepts that will have resonance with this region. For example, during my time here I have noticed that Louisville as a city has a huge interest in local food cultivation, sustainable agriculture, and food activism (helping people from all economic strata have access to healthy food). As a result I have been talking with artists who focus on this in their practice to see if they could be a fit for our site-specific commissions. The Speed has and will continue to collect and exhibit outstanding artworks by artists who are living in (or have lived in) this region. The structure for this continuing endeavor will be based on the strengths and merits of the artists’ work and their chosen subject matter rather than their regional orientation.

UM: At NOMA you were known for reaching into the local community including making frequent visits to local artists’ studios. Will you be doing the same in your current position and how should an artist prepare for a visit?

Lash: Yes, I love doing studio visits. Some tips:

1. Decide what you (the artist) want to get out of the visit: feedback on a particular direction? Advice on galleries and contracts? Advice on how to package and present your work to collectors? I can help with all these things. Please don’t hesitate to ask.

2. If this is my first studio visit with you, it is helpful to get an overview of your practice, which can be efficiently done nowadays with digital images on a laptop, tablet, or phone, or even color printouts (if the artworks themselves are not readily available). At least 75 percent of the visit however, should be dedicated to your most recent work – What are you thinking about now? What do you want to do in the future? Remember, it is my job to seek out new ideas and trends that most people have not seen before. Keep in mind that most studio visits will generally last no longer than one hour, so please budget your time in terms of what you want to cover. Again, having questions or topics planned in advance can help with time management.

3. Remember that the main goal during a studio visit is for me to get an overall sense of who you are as an artist. Feel free to talk with me about big picture concepts, overarching goals and ambitions, and what techniques and discoveries you are most excited about. This is not a time to ask for money, patron contacts, or to voice complaints about other artists, local politics, etc. Exhibitions and acquisitions are often the fruits of many visits and conversations over time, and can take years to develop. Instead of focusing on what I can do for you in the immediate future, think of it as a relationship that we can potentially develop over time.

4. I often stress the importance of being “studio ready.” This means, if a curator, critic, or patron were to come through town on short notice, I know I can call you or email you and you will be able to give a polished presentation on whatever is in your studio now. If my studio visit goes well and I sense that you are capable of making a clear, succinct presentation, I won’t hesitate to send other people your way.

UM: Over the next three to five years what are your main goals and ambitions for contemporary art at the Speed?

Lash: Overall I aim to put on good looking, provocative shows and get people excited about art. If I’m doing my job right, in three to five years Louisville will be present in the minds of my colleagues in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and beyond.  Really though, I do this job for the thrill of seeing an artist’s project come together really well. It is never guaranteed to happen, but when it does the result is euphoric.  A truly successful project can take on a life of its own, spill out onto the streets, and assume a magical quality. I’ll be grateful and pleased if I can make that happen here.  Please stay tuned for more.

A Celebration of the Speed Collection opens March 12 with the reopening of the museum.

News

Water Spurts

A just-published report by the folks at Food & Water Watch found in a survey of water rates of the 500 largest community water systems that “large for-profit, privately-owned systems charged 58 percent more than large publicly owned systems.”

But there are exceptions and one, in particular, is an eye-opener.

Perhaps the most astounding finding in the report is that the publicly-owned water system in Flint, Michigan – which the state-appointed emergency city manager switched to drawing polluted acidic water from the Flint River to save money in line with the edict to “run government more like a business,” charged the highest rates of all the systems surveyed. That’s right, the poisoned water that residents of Flint were drinking which contained toxic levels of lead and other metals that had leached from pipes due to the acidic river water, cost residents more than water provided by any other large municipal system in the country. The malfeasance, negligence, and utter disregard of Michigan officials, who stonewalled and denied the problems with Flint water for months, keeps magnifying.

In this survey there is some interesting information for us here in Lexington.

The data indicate that the rates charged by Kentucky-American Water, a private for-profit company serving Lexington and other smaller communities in the region, and which recently filed an application for a rate increase, has the 69th highest rates among the 500 water systems surveyed. This is in contrast to the publicly-owned Louisville Water Company, which has a rank of 308 in the survey and whose annual bill rates are 60% of those charged by Kentucky-American.

Something to drink about?

News

Lexington Philanthropist Makes Huge Gift to Facebook

In an unprecedented act of generosity during the season of giving, Lexington philanthropist and artist Dmitry “Dima” Strakovsky, announced that he is gifting his valuable digital art property, facebookportrait.com, to the Facebook corporation. The property, which according to its latest valuation is worth between $11.39 and $1.28 billion, uses Facebook images and likes that a user posts on the site to create a self-portrait of fast-changing images.

In a letter posted on a website, addressed to “Ethel”, whose identity UnderMain is unable to confirm, Strakovsky acknowledges that Facebook has raised a trademark claim and requested/demanded that he cease using facebookportrait.com. Perhaps inspired by the recent record-shattering gift of Facebook stock worth $45 billion by Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, Strakovsky gave the corporation outright ownership of the contested domain, no strings attached.

In the letter, Strakovsky makes clear his intent to provide Facebook with an unrestricted and inspired gift:

Facebook is an entity that has the unenviable responsibility to satisfy and control billions of individual desires through a host of services, both monetized and otherwise. An immense part of the public communications sector is impacted by its every decision. This must be a lonely and difficult task. I hope to bring a moment of happiness and respite to your employer, and it is my sincerest hope that Facebook, Inc., will enjoy this GIFT.

UnderMain will be following this story closely and hopes to have Mr. Strakovsky address the issues raised by his gift in a future post.

Environment, Green Building, News, Sustainability

The Living Building Challenge: Visionary from the Start

Designers and builders have long looked to rating systems for “how-to” guidance on green building. From the early days of the current environmental movement they were intended to serve as recipes for improved performance and environmental stewardship. Looking back at the earliest iterations we see a snapshot in time that describes a tension between our desire to improve and the relentless influence of market forces.

Variations in the early standards were a reflection of their author’s priorities. Some were heavily influenced by corporate interests who professed a commitment to sound environmental practices – until it impacted their bottom line. Some positioned themselves just ahead of the marketplace in a mission to gently lead economic transformation while others, in recognition of a rising carbon count, ignored economic constraints and advocated for a leap beyond sustainability toward a regenerative approach. After all, describing a marriage as merely “sustainable” would not be high praise. Perceived as too expensive these standards were mostly ignored.

Though they all sought popular embrace it was, of course, impossible for one standard to provide universal satisfaction. After all, much of the construction industry held fast to the notion that a market economy is America’s only true core value.

As the aughts became the teens the plight of the polar ice caps entered mainstream consciousness, catastrophic weather patterns became increasingly commonplace, and our complicity in climate change more widely accepted. Jurisdictions around the country began to embrace legislation requiring credible compliance, building codes were rewritten to reflect increased urgency, and an army of skeptics (from architects and engineers to general contractors and their subs) had no choice but to hook up to the bandwagon. Even reluctant manufacturers began to recognize the value in environmental branding and compliant materials became increasingly affordable. The marketplace was transforming.

Rating systems, too, evolved to reflect this new economic paradigm and while consensus remains a distant target it is safe to say that they are becoming increasingly alike. They are, in fact, learning from and moving toward the most ambitious and visionary standard, the one that never allowed economic forces to dictate: the Living Building Challenge (LBC). Launched in 2006 the uncompromising principles described by the LBC attract the curiosity of the others with a gravitational pull commensurate to the ever-widening recognition that we have run out of time to simply reduce our environmental impact. In fact, the extent of our past misdeeds demand that we must, as quickly as possible, learn how to build environments that surpass sustainability by replenishing and recharging our resources. Anything less would be like approving spousal abuse as long as it is “occasional”.

Utilizing the metaphor of a flower the LBC posits that buildings should, like flowers, be rooted in place, harvest all of their energy and water on site, be entirely pollution free, and support the larger community through equity and inspiration. These are principles that were inconceivable to the earliest rating system authors and, yet, they represent a target that has been certifiably attained by 25 industry leaders with many more closing in.

Organized by seven “Petals” and 20 subset “Imperatives” the LBC standard further expands the definition of minimum requirement by going beyond the usual standards. It insists that our built environment should

  1. Give Back. Net positive water, energy and waste means that these buildings are providing energy and water for others and putting waste back into productive use.
  2. Reconnect. Biophilic design principles seek to right a long standing imbalance  by encouraging daily connection with nature. We spend 90 percent of our lives indoors. Even our neighbor’s access to nature cannot be impeded.
  3. Inspire. Recognizing the value of both sides of the brain the standard encourages an embrace of design elements solely for human delight – alongside the analytics that ensure efficient performance.
  4. Respect. By creating built environments that uphold the dignity of all members of society regardless of their physical or economic capacity the LBC aims to harness the power of transparency as a force for social change. Some LBC programs worthy of further exploration: the JUST Program for social justice, the DECLARE Label for chemical toxin transparency and the new Equitable Offset Program which accumulates funds to provide renewable energy infrastructure for charitable enterprises.

Beyond continued advocacy one can only give thanks to visionaries like co-creator Jason McLennan who chose to see beyond the allure of the almighty dollar and to believe that humanity can, if so informed, live in a “socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative” manner. While this is clearly easier said than done, the way is being paved and the rest of us must simply face the right direction and place one foot in front of the other.

You can reach Clive Pohl at clive@pohlrosapohl.com

News

Cheapside Statues: An Opinion

Editor’s Note: The Urban County Government Art Review Board (UCARB) has held several special meetings to consider the status of the statues of John Breckinridge and John Hunt Morgan in Cheapside Park. UnderMain has published a number of pieces about this issue since the Charleston church shootings in June. The UCARB is now in the process of developing its recommendations to Mayor Gray, to be presented in November. The following opinion piece, intended as a statement to the UCARB, is by Van Meter Pettit, a local architect. Input into this issue may be submitted directly to the office of Mayor Gray at mayor@lexingtonky.gov or by calling 859 258-3100.

I am writing to recommend that Lexington consider carefully relocating the bronze Confederate monuments currently located in Cheapside Park. This is not meant, as some have alleged, to erase or destroy history. On the contrary, it is to recognize more appropriately a buried history that deserves to be honored in this unique location where it took place.

The bronze figures of Breckinridge and Morgan have no specific tie to this precise location except for the fact that they were located there a long time ago. Morgan could be more appropriately located near the house museum where he lived. Breckinridge or Morgan could be more appropriately recognized in the Lexington Cemetery because it is where their bodies are buried. Since Henry Clay and countless war dead are located there it would in no way be disrespectful to relocate these landmarks there. They would be in good company.

Why go to the trouble of moving landmarks that have stood in this public space for a century or more? Because for 150 years our guardians of history have had that chance to tell the story of slavery and racial violence that was ritually and publicly conducted in this civic space but have failed to do so. It is time to clear this ground of pro-slavery landmarks installed during an era of racial oppression and terror in order to convey a very significant history that is tied specifically to this place. Confederate monuments and the Civil War have no specific claim on this ground. They actually serve to obstruct an important story that has yet to be properly honored.

What appears to be wholly missing from the community conversation about Cheapside is its unique history as a public square. In addition to serving as a marketplace and a seat of justice and public administration, it is also a place where more African American slaves were sold than any other place in the state1. Men, women, and children were sold in the thousands like livestock and split from all known family and relations. It was legal, it was commonplace, and it made many white families in Kentucky very rich. There is a building on Upper Street that still has evidence of basement pens used to hold slaves awaiting sale.

From eyewitness accounts as early as 1816, the courthouse square was used regularly as a place to whip slaves who were guilty of an infraction as benign as missing a curfew. It was a public spectacle that regularly drew crowds even when the town was very small2. For nearly a century these ritual beatings were a form of social and political entertainment. Less frequently, but yet repeatedly, this site also hosted lynchings, where blacks accused of a crime could be killed without trial or legal recourse.

During the era when former Confederates dominated state and local politics3, men who registered black Lexingtonians to vote could be murdered in front of numerous witnesses without the perpetrators being brought to justice4. From a high of nearly 50% in 1900, the population of African-Americans in Lexington quickly dropped to below 15%. Unrestrained night raids by vigilantes against black residents were an obvious motivation for black Lexingtonians to migrate away.

This post-confederate ‘Birth of a Nation’ style reign of terror made famous by D.W. Griffith’s grotesque heroic depiction did not end until a 1920 race riot of several thousand that led to six deaths and scores of injured. A mob stormed the courthouse where a black man was being tried for murder. They intended to beat him and hang him rather than allow him to stand trail. Kentucky Governor Edwin Morrow called in federal troops to maintain order5. This event happened after both bronze statues were installed. This is the political environment in which they were created and sited.

Thousands of humans sold as slaves, hundreds of the enslaved brutally and publicly lashed, and an untold number of before and after the Civil War publicly lynched… and we have only a state highway marker that has been vandalized. Almost no one knows this history of our oldest public square. Instead we are discussing pro-slavery bronze figures that as historical figures are footnotes outside of Lexington.

John C. Breckinridge and John Hunt Morgan were both elite Confederate generals who chose treason against the nation in order to defend and protect the institution of slavery, something Ken Burns refers to as “America’s original sin”. These monuments need to be recognized as a statement of cultural and political defiance against the outcome of the Civil War and the subsequent elevation of African-Americans to a status of full citizenship. Kentucky failed to ratify the 13th (abolishing slavery), 14th (citizenship to former slaves, equal protection under the law) and 15th (right to vote) Amendments to the U.S. Constitution until 1976. Kentucky elected former Confederates or their sympathizers to political leadership for decades after the Civil War.

These statues must be evaluated based upon the context of the politics and public discourse of their time. Their creation and placement were political and philosophical acts that have not lost their original meaning. To suggest that they no longer possess a very toxic cultural baggage would be willfully naive.

These landmarks hold a similar cultural message as the statue of Jefferson Davis that stands in the state capitol. Seventy-two university historians agree that the Davis monument should be relocated away from the Capitol Rotunda because, “The statue’s presence in the Capitol rotunda ‘minimizes the significance of slavery as a cause of the Civil War, downplays the human suffering of millions and endows the Southern cause with a nobility it does not deserve’, said a letter signed and sent to state lawmakers by the current and former historians6.”

In my opinion the Cheapside pro-slavery artifacts share a message that willfully and intentionally obscures the blight of slavery in our history in favor of a fictionalized ‘nobility’ born of victim status from northern aggression. That the pro-slavery Cheapside monuments stand in a place where slaves were brutally and publicly whipped, murdered and sold away from loved ones makes them all the more impossible to ignore or absolve.

These landmarks can be understood as the defiant and unrepentant gestures of a former slave-owning elite who dominated the politics and economics of Kentucky during this period. White supremacy and nostalgia for the slavery era is their shared context. I sincerely believe that to allow these to remain in places of honor is to endorse the messages they were made to convey.

If we fail to act in this pivotal moment we will send a message that we are still culturally unreflective of the gravity of our past and that the slave-holding old guard still have our implicit respect and tacit blessing.

Thank you for your thoughtful consideration.


1 Cheapside Slave Auction Block By Tim Talbot from explorekyhistory.ky.gov

2 An 1816 account of Lexington recorded by Samuel R. Brown and recounted by J. Winston Coleman, Jr. in Six sketches of Kentucky, published by the Henry Clay Press

3 How Kentucky Became a Confederate State, by Christopher Phillips New York Times, May 22, 2015

4 Kentucky Historian George C. Wright in his book, Racial violence in Kentucky, 1865-1940 : lynchings, mob rule, and “legal lynchings” at least 353 lynchings took place in Kentucky up to 1940. A majority of the victims were African American men.

5 History of Governor Edwin P. Morrow from Wikipedia

6 72 history professors sign letter urging removal of Jefferson Davis statue from Kentucky Capitol Lexington Herald-Leader by Jack Brammer jbrammer@herald-leader.com, August 31, 2015

News

Homage to a Hot Burrito

I cried. Big old alligator tears. A few songs into the Hot Burrito Show, a Sunday afternoon mainstay for scores of Lexingtonians, former Lexingtonians and others who somehow or another heard about this great radio show broadcast by WRFL from the University of Kentucky campus, John Fogle mentioned that the Hot Burrito Show would air its final program at the end of August.

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Like a number of other listeners who cherished our Sunday afternoon twang, alt-country, and Americana music, I scrambled for my phone and called the station as soon as John played the next song. Nothing but a busy signal. Tried again with the same result. The Burritoid nation was blitzing the station with calls to learn whether we had heard correctly. Turning to social media, I began seeing the posts expressing grief and sadness that the show was coming to an end, that Sunday afternoons would never be the same, that one of the best radio programs to ever hit the air would be no more.

For many it felt like a dear friend had announced a terminal disease with a scant month to live.

The remaining shows were to be cherished, celebrated through a veil of tears – both of sorrow at what would soon end, and of joy at the music that had been shared for twenty-five years.

The Hot Burrito Show had weathered many changes, disc jockeys who had shared the microphone with Rob Franklin prior to John Fogle had moved on as their lives and careers took them outside the Bluegrass and far from WRFL’s reach. The show had nearly been cancelled in 2004, but an outcry from dedicated listeners had kept the program in its usual slot even though it was reduced from a three hour slot to two. But those two hours were pure gold.

Needless to say listeners tuned in to the Hot Burrito Show noon to 2 PM for the following three weeks while some visited the WRFL studios bearing gifts, warm wishes, and fond farewells.

I recently had the pleasure of sharing a beer and conversation with Rob and John at Break Room in the Pepper Distillery campus after they had both had a week to decompress from all of the emotional farewells and fond wishes.

As an avid Burritoid, a term coined by John shortly after he began co-hosting the show, it was surprising to learn that the Hot Burrito grew out of the White Lightning Show hosted by Steve Holland, a former professor of economics at UK.

Just prior to Steve leaving around 1990, Rob showed up with a crate full of records and a love for music. The name was changed, and the Hot Burrito Show hit the Lexington airwaves, or at least the airwaves inside “the Circle,” the area bounded by New Circle Road, which was about as far as WRFL’s broadcast reached.

Some notable DJ’s shared the microphone with Rob, including Matt Renfro, Bobby Ray, and Michael Campbell. When Michael retired from the show, John likes to tell folks he “won the coveted co-host position over 50+ applicants by playing up the fact that George Jones’ bass player brought me a PBR from the tour bus back when I was the soundman for a honky-tonk in Richmond, Kentucky.” Rob adds, “I had a few people interested but John was my first pick and the only guy for the job! John has a great appreciation for folk, bluegrass and of course-sludge rawk! Nice counterpoint to my affection for country, soul, R&B and pub rock.” They were partners for the next eleven years.

Rob and John have a great rapport, and both are quick to say they’ve never argued or had any bitterness towards one another even though their tastes in music vary dramatically. Rob leans heavily towards Gram Parsons, Flying Burrito Brothers, and NRBQ while John openly professes his love for Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Who, and Shaver. In addition, while Rob went with the flow and felt comfortable with the microphone, John obsessed with preparing the music he played and labored over the details so that he kept to a firm plan and set list. In the end, though, they both appreciate one another and have had a great partnership.

WRFL

Rob and John both hail from Kentucky and grew up listening to country music of the 60’s and 70’s, but at points in their young lives left country music behind and primarily listened to rock until they returned to familiar sounds of home.

One of the linchpins of the Hot Burrito Show has been the music of Gram Parsons, a member of the Flying Burrito Brothers and The Byrds. The show’s tagline, identifying the genre of music played, is a Gram Parson’s quote, “cosmic American music.” Two of Parsons’s most well know songs are titled “Hot Burrito #1” and “Hot Burrito #2” for reasons unknown to either John or Rob, but the name clearly evokes a style of music that combines country, rock, soul, and even gospel, much like a burrito includes a variety of ingredients that once combined create a delicious meal. On any given Sunday, listeners might hear anything from Billy Joe Shaver to old REM to Drive-By Truckers to Nick Lowe and all points in between, almost always with the most requested artist John Prine in the mix. Rob’s song list for the last show and John’s song list for his last solo show represent what once captivated dedicated listeners.

Over the years they say they have had great fun, taking requests from “Larry on the Deck” and a host of regular listeners like me, jamming to Shaver, hosting artists like Hayes Carll in studio, and eating pies fans brought to them.

When they turned the tables and asked whose music I liked, I rattled off a couple of mainstay country and Americana or alt-country artists, to which they nodded affirmation, but when I mentioned Jimbo Mathus, they both laughed and said, “You’re the Jimbo Mathus guy!” They also knew me as the Slobberbone guy, the “Bloody Mary Morning” guy, and the “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, and Loud, Loud Music” guy. For many listeners calling in a request, talking with Rob and/or John, and hearing their favorite songs played validated tastes in music and built a sense of communion.

During one of their shows years ago, a caller requested that they play a track off of a Sunday Valley album. When they told the caller they didn’t have the album, Sunday Valley’s bass player drove to the studio and gave them a copy. They played the request. At the time few had heard of Sturgill Simpson, the front man for Sunday Valley. The Americana Music Association just awarded him as Best Artist.

Without a doubt the living, breathing DJ’s like Rob and John who love music and appreciate other music fans earned the Hot Burrito Show a loyal following who placed Rob on a “Best DJ of Lexington” list when their broadcast was basically limited to downtown Lexington.

Now that they have left the airwaves they say they look forward to continuing to listen to local bands, especially the likes of Warren Byrom, Chris Sullivan, Bear Medicine, and Rebel Without a Cause, as well as tuning in to WRFL’s Honky Tonk Happy Hour, Asleep at the Wheel, Neverland Ballroom, and the Pacobilly Hour (WRFL Broadcast Schedule). They also sing the praises of Steve Holland’s Rolling with the Flow on uwave.fm saying that he is the one that started it all and never ceases to satisfy. In fact, Steve has enlisted Rob to be his new music consultant.

In many ways dedicated listeners of the Hot Burrito Show regret that Sundays now seem a little less like Sunday and miss the music that brought joy into their lives, but like me, and like John and Rob, they will seek out “cosmic American music” whether old or new and wish John and Rob the best. Now that the curtains have closed, I’d like to dedicate “Plastic Silver Nine Volt Heart” to Rob and John and all of the other Hot Burrito Show DJ’s for being our friends on the air.

News

Cheapside: A Call to Action

Hey! Remember the issue of those statues in Cheapside Park and the near-forgetting of its history as a major slave auction site? Admittedly, after the Summer of Trump it’s difficult to get back to the business at hand. Trump’s dog-whistling about immigration and political correctness reminds us that demagoguery and prejudice come in a multitude of flavors, and provides an apt segue to resumption of the community’s conversation about Cheapside.

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government Arts Review Board (UCARB) will be conducting its public forum meeting on Monday, September 21, at 6PM in the Council Chambers. Members of the public will be invited to offer their thoughts to the Board at that meeting. Word is that the great majority of opinions that have been received at City Hall to date have been in favor of retaining the statues at Cheapside. At the meeting of the UCARB on September 16, a panel of consultants were fairly evenly split on the issue of whether to remove or retain the statues in Cheapside.

If you care about this issue make your voice heard at the public forum or through communications to your city council member or the mayor.

You can also send UnderMain, using the form below, your ideas for a re-envisioned Cheapside, where the truthful story of that place is revealed.

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News

Is a picture any longer worth a thousand words?

(Illustration: Venice multi exposure by Stephen Wilkes)

With apologies to the written word, there may be no more powerfully influential medium of communication concerning global affairs than photojournalism. “Seeing is believing,” right? But what happens when we can no longer completely trust the veracity of the image before us?

Just as there’s a time to stop talking about girls and boys and to talk instead about women and men so it is with photography; something has changed so radically that we need to talk about it differently, think of it differently and use it differently. Failure to recognize the huge changes underway is to risk isolating ourselves in an historical backwater of communication, using an interesting but quaint visual language removed from the cultural mainstream.

– “The Next Revolution in Photography is Coming” by Stephen Mayes. Please read on.

News

Of Levees, Lagniappe and Lexington

Full disclosure: I am a New Orleanian. No matter where I live, or how long I live there, I will always call New Orleans home.  I know how to pronounce Tchoupitoulas, am still confused why bars don’t offer to-go cups and can make a roux with my eyes closed. 

I go to Domilise’s for my po-boys and the Spotted Cat for my jazz.  When I was a teenager, I used to sit on the Mississippi riverbank, elephants and monkeys waking up at the Audubon Zoo a few feet behind me, watching the barges and driftwood compete for current.

When I was a little girl, we’d go to the French Quarter to eat souffléd potatoes and grits and grillades.  When we walked into a restaurant, my mom always asked the waiter for an extra tablecloth to wrap around me because air conditioning is its own element in New Orleans. 

My best friend and I would sneak out and take the streetcar down to Jackson Square when it was a full moon and have our fortunes read at midnight.  We paid for it with our babysitting money.

fortune

I never made a plan past what are we eating for dinner?  New Orleans doesn’t require a plan.  In fact, it’s probably best enjoyed without one – which is only a problem when a Hurricane is threatening to demolish the city.  And when the infrastructure  fails and the city marinates in its own filth, not having a plan is a catastrophe.  That is where we are today, 10 years later … picking up the pieces from that catastrophe. 

After Hurricane Katrina blew through the Gulf Coast, the levees burst and many thousands were left stranded, either literally or in limbo. 

The Superdome became a breeding ground for all things horrific, and it was valuable real estate. To give you some perspective, when the dome reached maximum occupancy, people were shuffled to the nearby Convention Center.  John Burnett, an NPR reporter was there, and gave this stark summary of the Government’s epic failure:

“They couldn’t send them to the Superdome, which was already overcrowded and squalid. Yet more and more people were emerging wet and bewildered from their flooded neighborhoods with nowhere to go. Officials later estimated that 25,000 people were huddled inside the vast convention center — the length of four city blocks — and on the sidewalk. Day after day they waited for buses, but no one came. The fiasco at the convention center came to epitomize the disorganized, inadequate response to the disaster by local, state and federal officials.”

The disaster Burnett described, playing out in a structure that only days prior had hosted Wheel of Fortune, is best understood through imagery.

Katrina was a trauma when it happened, and remains a lingering trauma today.

Walk into any bar on Frenchman Street now and you will hear the sultry, bluesy sounds of poets and showmen weaving the storm into their lyrics.

Like gumbo, Mardi Gras beads in the Oak trees, streetcars and potholes, Katrina has become a part of the fabric of the city.  It remains one of those divisive events that slices through a life, separating it into two categories: pre and post. 

It was a category 3 storm. The death toll was over 1800, making it the third deadliest Hurricane in history.  The third deadliest, yes … but it tops the list in cost: over $100 billion. These numbers do not take into account the many who had no choice but to flee the city, their lives forever altered.

Now, a decade later, the dislocated are hearing appeals to return, with promises of a new land.  Mayor Mitch Landrieu recently gave a speech in Houston and while he was thanking the Texas city for providing refuge for the displaced, he summed up a sentiment about the Big Easy that anyone whos spent time there can agree with:

“We don’t talk the way anybody else talks, we don’t dance the way anybody else dances. [Others] don’t eat the way we eat, they don’t hug the way we hug, and they don’t love the way we love. It’s just different. And it’s wonderful.”

Tens of thousands of New Orleanians escaped the storm. Most settled in Houston. Many have returned, but many others have relocated, resettled and are trying to move on with their lives.

Wayne Lewis is one of those people. He and his wife sought shelter in Austin, TX, Raleigh, NC and eventually landed in Lexington Ky, although he admits that he will always call New Orleans home.  Wayne is many things; a new father, a husband, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership Studies at the University of Kentucky, an education reformer, and a passionate musician – to name a few. 

We caught up with each other in a dimly lit bar in downtown Lexington.  Boisterous, serious and lit from within, Wayne immediately captured my attention.  Had I not known he was from New Orleans, I would’ve assumed as much, which is the best compliment I can think of. 

SAX2bw

Before we talked, he pulled out his saxophone and took a few requests from his captive audience. As the honey poured out from his golden horn, my feet instinctively started moving. Mayor Landrieu is right, we dance differently.  The sound that is created by a New Orleans jazz musician is raw, sweaty, alive and gets right on into your blood. In fact, it’s possible that the first note of When The Saints Go Marching In has an invisible thread tied to your big toe; making it impossible not to dance.

That was the scene in Willie’s Locally Known at 10:00am on a Tuesday morning in Kentucky: two New Orleanians lost in the music, talking about the lagniappe of our lives. 

Wayne is above all else, a man of faith.  When he looked back, he attributes his faith as the saving grace through it all.

“I remember the moment I realized we’d lost everything very clearly,” he said. “My wife and I had just gotten our first apartment in Raleigh. We went to the Walmart to shop and when we walked through the doors, we both looked at each other and, at the same time said … ‘we need everything.’”

I remember the moment I realized we’d lost everything very clearly,” he said. “My wife and I had just gotten our first apartment in Raleigh. We went to the Walmart to shop and when we walked through the doors, we both looked at each other and, at the same time said … ‘we need everything.’

Not some things … EVERY thing. 

“But you know what Lillie, we laughed about it,” he recalled.  “We laughed.  Not once throughout the whole thing did we feel hopeless.  It was just understood that God was going to take care of us.  And he did.”

He went on to tell me about how the storm changed his perspective about life in general. 

“When you lose everything and realize that you’re ok, that you’re still the man you were before, maybe even stronger … when you know that in your heart, then you can really see what living is all about.”

saxBWSo, what does living look like for Dr. Lewis these days? Well, for one thing, he plays his sax as often as he can, which admittedly, is not often enough. 

Currently, he plays in a band called The City. One of their songs, The Levee, composed by lead vocalist/guitarist Gene Woods and featuring a solo by Wayne, is a message of solidarity with those left behind in Katrina’s awful aftermath. The song is haunting in its contradiction and counterpoint: a traditional, upbeat N’awlins second line rhythm that defiantly marches the barely concealed pain and heartbreak of abandonment through the sodden streets of the Lower Ninth Ward, past a preacher shouting from atop the ruins: “Hold the line! Don’t you succumb! You gotta find the will. To carry on.”  Sad and honest, mysterious and revealing; it tells the tale of New Orleans after the levees broke. 

Like Wayne, like New Orleans, like many of us, the profound injustice and sadness is disguised behind a facade of determined joy.

The Levee is an appropriately sad song.  Katrina caused immeasurable sadness in the souls of many. She wreaked havoc on the bayous and flooded the streets with hate and anger. 

But in the end, The Levee is a song … because that’s what New Orleanians do. We deal with the heartbreak by making beats, beans and boudin.  We dance when we’re up, we dance when we’re down.  We let the music explain us and guide us.  It guides us to the food most of the time, where we are the happiest, eating lunch and talking about dinner.

What can you do to help New Orleans today?

Go there. Experience it for yourself.  Eat.  Dance.  Fall in love and spend your money on an experience that will change you forever.  Feel alive. Feel it all.  Let your sunglasses fog up when you walk outside and embrace it as the city’s way of crying for you. Cry on your own.  The river will take it.  In the words of Rebirth Brass Band, just “Do whacha wanna do …” and Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler.

If you need recommendations (which you don’t btw), Wayne Lewis is happy to give them to you.

News, Review

Racial Divide Creates Convenient Amnesia

The Chinese Whispers Game. Broken Telephone. It goes by many names, but you know the one: you tell the person sitting next to you a secret, then they tell it to the person next to them, and so on until it gets back to you. And more likely than not, the message has been misinterpreted, massaged and mangled until it no longer resembles anything close to the original.

After reading Anne E. Marshall’s “Creating a Confederate Kentucky” (2010 The University of North Carolina Press), the only logical explanation I could come to was that Kentucky’s Civil War history had fallen victim to the antics of this prepubescent game.

But that would be an easy out because the historical facts that Marshall brings to light could not be more clear. Kentucky, the so-called Switzerland of the Civil War, planted its flag of neutrality. Yet like most other states, Kentuckians had predetermined their allegiance. Some were Confederate supporters, others were ready to don the blue of the Unionists. But take a look at Kentucky’s historical afterward, and what you would infer is that Kentucky fervently championed the Confederacy.

And it all comes down to one reason: race.

Blue, Gray & Black

Marshall filters all of Kentucky’s Civil War history through a sieve of scrutiny. There are few presumptions or inferences, which is really what makes Kentucky’s future Confederate affinity so bewildering.

In the introduction, Marshall writes: “Union memory in Kentucky became too closely associated with emancipation and African American progress for white Unionists to accept it as their own.”

And there it is. Many Kentucky whites fell on that side of the war because they felt the Union was more apt to support their political and business ideals … and one of those businesses was slavery. The way the state legislature pitched it to Kentuckians was that their Unionist loyalty would actually insure their rights to own slaves. (Obviously, this was before Abraham Lincoln introduced the first version of the Emancipation Proclamation; emancipation was not one of the original catalysts of the war.)

Then when northern abolitionists took it upon themselves to liberate slaves, Kentucky whites saw the writing on the wall. Add to that the recruitment of blacks to the Union Army, then even gradual emancipation was out of the question for these early Unionists.

The Lost Cause Narrative

So when the story that unfolded post-war wasn’t the one most white Kentuckians preferred, they simply held onto the notion of the Lost Cause – the movement that sought to reinstate traditional Southern values while blaming the loss of the war on government betrayals, and idolizing Confederacy leaders. Kentucky whites never admitted they were wrong for supporting the Union but their actions said as much. At the end of the day, the majority of white Kentuckians wanted slavery to continue, at least long enough to get compensation for their “property.”

Winners and losers united after the end of the war once they realized that their main post-war concern – the politics of race – was more important than the color of their uniforms.

Marshall includes several examples of newspaper reports that eluded to Kentucky’s backwards attitude toward slavery. “Oh wise Democracy of Kentucky, hugging the relic of slavery to your bosoms, holding on to slavery because it used to pay, forgetting that the times have changed…” wrote the Cincinnati Gazette.

Instead, many white Kentuckians simply countered with their own translation of the effects of the war. John Fox Jr.’s “The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come” conveyed the notion that Kentucky was Confederate in sympathy if not in uniform. Annie Fellows Johnston’s children’s book, “The Little Colonel,” which was set in a fictionalized version of Peewee Valley, vigorously perpetuated the notion that Kentucky was a Confederate state.

And perhaps the most relevant was the erection of Kentucky monuments honoring Confederate leaders. Again, just a reminder, the Confederacy did not win the war. Yet these grand displays of honor say otherwise.

Hustle & Flow

Marshall’s research and relevant theories inarguably validate what many Civil War historians have known: despite being on the “winning team,” Kentucky has historically celebrated the leaders and philosophy of the Confederacy.

There are so many WTF moments in “Creating a Confederate Kentucky” that will incite instant fury if you are a purveyor of justice. But the journey to get to these realizations is a bit laborious.

The book, all 188 pages of it, is peppered with dozens (and dozens) of examples that cast a light of inexplicable ignorance on those in power in Kentucky during this era. There is no question as to what was (is?) at play here: dressing up racial inequality in a seersucker suit and a dapper bowtie as to camouflage it in southern charm. But these truths are obstructed by the stumbling blocks caused by the flow.

Editing is to blame here (confession: I am an editor by profession, so I admit to a bias, but I’d argue this point even if I wasn’t). The book is divided into subjects as well as time periods within the 1865-1935 timeline. But because politics is the real driving force behind the Lost Cause argument, there are a great deal of redundancies throughout the book. Unfortunately, this waters down many of the solid points Marshall makes.

She does draw some interesting parallels that I hadn’t put together before, namely the influence of Appalachia’s eastern Kentucky. The region boasted the absence of slavery and was a major white base of the Republican party at the time. In fact, Vanceburg, Ky., is home to one of the strongest memorials to the Union. (Kentucky is home to around 70 Civil War monuments, 6:1 in favor of the Confederacy.)

If you go into the book looking for a Civil War narrative that neatly shows Kentucky’s convenient amnesia about its role in “The Lost Cause,” you will leave empty-handed. But for a Civil War reference book that directly addresses Kentucky’s flip-flopping allegiance, Marshall’s “Creating a Kentucky Confederacy” is truly engaging. It is also a reminder to never take things at face value. You don’t need to devour the book in one setting. In fact, allowing the absurdity of Kentucky’s rejection of the final outcome to truly set in helps to explain a lot about the Civil War legacy the Commonwealth has left its citizens with today. The issue really is black and white.

News

Climate Change Radicals Issue New Manifesto

Those well-know climate radicals at the Risky Business Project, including former New York City mayor and founder of Bloomberg, L.P., Michael Bloomberg, former Secretary of the Treasury and former CEO of Goldman Sachs, Hank Paulson, and former Secretary of State George Schultz, have just issued a new report about the projected impacts of climate change on the Southeast United States and Texas. This report includes projections about Kentucky, that well-known island of climate change invulnerability. The Project “…focuses on quantifying and publicizing the economic risks from the impacts of a changing climate.”

In the latest of a series of climate change regional impact reports, the report on the Southeast and Texas projects ominous regional and state impacts if we stay on current emissions paths. Among its findings:

  • The Southeast and Texas will experience by the end of the century dangerous levels of extreme heat. For instance, the average Arkansas citizen will likely experience between 65 and 135 days above 95 degrees, more than the average citizen of Arizona currently experiences.
  • There will be large-scale losses and damage to coastal property, in the tens of billions of dollars, by 2050, with substantial impacts experienced by the year 2030. Louisiana and Florida will be most impacted, with rising sea levels and hurricanes and coastal storms interacting with rising sea levels accounting for much of the losses. Charleston, South Carolina will experience a mean sea level rise of 0.9 to 1.4 feet by 2050 and of 2.1 to 3.8 feet by the end of the century. Get your dose of low country cuisine now.
  • Several major Southeast commodity crops, including corn and soybean, will see steep declines in yields, beginning over the next five to twenty-five years.

So, how about we take a peek into the report’s projections for the Commonwealth? Some of the reports findings are:

  • By 2020-2039, the number of days above 95 degrees is likely to reach up to 23 such days and then reach up to 44 days per year by mid-century—more extreme heat than Texas experiences today. This rise in temperature will have substantial effects on crop yields including our most valuable commodities, corn and soybeans. Climate changes will also impact labor productivity, and energy costs.
  • Our most valuable crops, corn and soybeans, are projected to have the third highest yield losses in the nation due to climate change. The report states,
Absent significant agricultural adaptation, state corn yields will likely decrease by up to 22% by 2020-2039 and by up to 47% in the following 20 years. Soybeans, the state’s most valuable crop, will likely see crop yield declines of up to 13% by 2020-2039 and by up to 29% by 2040-2059.
  • Rising electricity demand due to climate changes are likely to increase energy expenditures in the state by 5% over the next twenty years and by 9% by 2040-2059.

Kentucky’s political leaders, in thrall to coal and other related interests, continue to rail against the Obama administration’s assertive steps to confront the threat of climate change. Sacrificing the future well-being of citizens of the state to maintain power in the present is a failure of leadership of the first magnitude.

Local culture, News, People, Social

A tale of the stripmall store and the people within

Photo: cardomain.com

Photo: cardomain.com

Like many Kentuckians, my friend Glenn is vey generous.  He gave me a car.  His silver Chevy Cavalier belonged to me every time I came to town.  The same was true for other visitors but for the two weeks I was in Lexington every year, it was all mine. 

How to repay such generosity?  I thought hard. 

Sidenote:  Where I live, such acts of kindness must be reciprocated.  It’s actually a law: one must not offer nor receive a gift or gesture without repayment in kind within a certain time to be determined by the giver.  Should that time be exceeded, the recipient will be advised by The Silent Treatment. 

Using my best “I-pretend-to-be-from-Kentucky-even-though-I’m-not” thinking, I came up with the perfect thing – I would repair the trunk!  

Lately, as you were driving along, the latch had taken to randomly releasing the rear hood causing it to catapult forward and threaten to smash the rear window.  In my case, I was often so startled I would slam on the brake causing the trunk lid to stop bolt upright completely obscuring the rear view. Alternately, it would latch so securely that the only way to retrieve one’s belongings was to crawl thru a tiny rear seat opening into a pitch black trunk with a flashlight and screwdriver to search out the offending clasp. Being in the latter position in dressy clothes more than once, I decided that fixing the trunk would be perfect repayment.

Discovering the culprit to be a plastic mechanism that had dislodged from the trunk hood, I headed where anyone living in Versailles would: to Terry’s 5 & 10 cent store.  I was pretty sure I’d find plastic cement, or “see ment” as its sometimes called, among the penny candy, 1950’s housewares and way in the back, my personal favorite, live fish and turtles.  The promise of being greeted by the aroma of roasting cashews alongside the 25 cent mechanical horse with a Western saddle had me on my way. 

From Terry's Facebook page

From Terry’s Facebook page

Now if you have ever been to Terry’s in Versailles, you know it’s a shopping experience like no other, particularly if Terry is in the house.  Wandering the aisles can be like hypnotically clicking link after link of Facebook pages where u find things you were unprepared to come upon.  Over the years, I had stumbled upon everything from a music box that plays My Old Kentucky Home topped with a model of Ashland to every kind of party and Christmas decoration to pink flamingos, ruffled lace by the yard and something resembling saran wrap that was labeled “Adult rain bonnet with visor.”  Young family members were delighted with purchases I could not resist such as the Volcano Making Kit, ant farm, bow and arrow, pirate patch, chattering teeth and a “96 Shot” package for cowboy guns.  Honestly, you can get lost in the place.

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From Terry’s Facebook page

 

But Terry’s is unique in one very important way: the people who work there KNOW WHERE ALL THE STUFF IS!  I was led directly to the shelf of adhesives where I began reading labels.  After the 4th one I was completely confused until I heard a voice close to my ear say ” What’re you lookin’ to fix?”  And from that point on, Terry was in charge.  

I explained about the trunk.  He said “Well let’s see what we’re talking about” and the next thing I know, We’re outside with the rear hood open directly into 90 degree sunshine and Terry is climbing INSIDE the trunk so he can “get a better look”.  Once in there, he sat facing the rear, flashlight in hand.  As he began to lower the lid from inside to get that better look, I had a panicky image of it closing all the way leaving his lower legs dangling outside like those Halloween body-in-the-trunk gags. Luckily that was avoided by the arrival of another smaller man who climbed in next to Terry and turned out to be his son-in-law. 

Between the two of them, they figured out that super glue offered the fastest fix but agreed it probably wouldn’t last.  I followed Terry back inside where he encouraged me to take a 3 tube package that was better AND cheaper than the one I had picked up.  “If I was you,” he said, “I’d head over to the auto parts store for a new latch.  Then you can return this glue.  Good luck and you have yourself a nice day now.”

From Terry's Facebook page

From Terry’s Facebook page

As he walked away, I wasn’t sure what amazed me more: Terry’s willingness to diagnose and repair my car problem himself or his desire to do so with the least possible cost to me.  He all but GAVE me the glue.

And by the way, it did the trick.  

I never had to go anywhere else. 

Now that’s service.  

Editor’s note: On a recent Friday, this sign appeared in Terry’s door. Word is, it won’t be coming down. We wish the best to this good man and his family.

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News

Congratulations, Humans!

Yes, we are a species capable of utter depravity, cruelty, shortsightedness, and self-absorption. But today we celebrate how creative, imaginative, inventive, and adventurous we humans can be. Today marks the completion of humankind’s initial exploration of all the planets of our solar system.

Think about that for a moment.

The audacity of the project to reconnoiter all the planets leaves one breathless. In the space of a little over one hundred years we have gone from a flight of a few seconds over the dunes of Kitty Hawk to propelling a responsive little robot photographer and scientist billions of miles to the outer reaches of our little cosmic neighborhood. If humans manage to have a future it is not hard to imagine that it lies, at least in part, out there.

Image Credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI

News

Visions of Cheapside- An Updated Update!

In our recent piece on UnderMain about the history of slave auctions at Cheapside  and the statues of heroes of the Confederacy that stand there today, we called for public art to reveal the true nature of that space made sacred by suffering. At a wonderful public forum in July at the Carnegie Center, the Mayor announced that he has asked the Arts Review Board to make recommendations.

We believe that this important conversation should be inclusive, so that a project to re-imagine Cheapside is a true community effort. The conversation is made more urgent now with the apparent deliberate breaking of the sign at Cheapside relating the history of slave auctions at the site.

In a related piece of news, the state Historic Properties Advisory Commission voted 7-2 to keep the statue of Jefferson Davis, President of the secessionist Confederate States of America and devoted defender of slavery, in the Capitol rotunda alongside Kentucky greats, like Abraham Lincoln. Davis was born in Fairview, Kentucky, but spent much of his life in Mississippi. The statue was erected under the auspices of the Kentucky Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. It was unveiled in 1936, part of a decades-long revanchist effort begun after the Civil War to romanticize, glorify, and commemorate the Lost Cause and its heroes. That cause, primarily and centrally to preserve the right to continue the enslavement of African-Americans, continued throughout the South under a different guise for another 100 years after the Civil War through an architecture of subjugation including Jim Crow laws, enforced segregation and discrimination, deprivation of basic constitutional rights, intimidation, violence, and murder.

In Lexington, the first meeting of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government Arts Review Board with the Cheapside issue on the agenda was on Wednesday, August 12. Mayor Jim Gray appeared before the Board and presented his charge for the Board to make studied recommendations concerning the status of the statues and historic marker in Cheapside. The Mayor made a point several times during his brief statement to highlight the importance of “shared values” and sensitivity to Lexington’s history, diversity, and inclusiveness in the Board’s considerations.

The next meeting concerning Cheapside of the Arts Review Board will be on September 16, at 3:00pm. At that meeting invited consultants with expertise in history, art, public art and other related fields will present information to the Board for its consideration. The meeting is in the LFUCG Council Chambers and is open to the public. Attendance by interested members of the community at this next meeting and the public comment meeting on September 21, at 6:00pm, is encouraged and urged.

We would most definitely like to hear your ideas for efforts to address the history of Cheapside. Continued involvement of the community in this effort is most important. We will compile your suggestions and send them on to the Arts Review Board, whose Chairperson, Georgia Henkel, has expressed interest in suggestions coming through the UnderMain channel. We also will highlight in a future post on UnderMain some of the ideas that we think would be “revelations”, as we called for in our piece on Cheapside. Let’s keep the conversation moving forward!

Send us your ideas here:

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News, Newsletter

What it’s like to be homeless in Lexington, Kentucky

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Everyone seems to have explanations of the homeless.

“They are just lazy bums who don’t want to work.”

“I heard that some of them make like $60,000 a year begging.”

These theories help us justify our rationales for declining to help people we see on the streets by dismissing their struggles as self-inflicted or too complex for our intervention.

But how many of us have actually sat down for a heart-to-heart conversation with someone who is homeless? A genuine conversation free of judgment, preconceived notions, and self-righteousness, entered into with only a genuine compassionate curiosity and desire to understand?

BUH---Josh-and-CaseyCasey Yohe and I wanted to do this and take it a step further. We wanted to see how these individuals who have been cast out of regular society survive and what do they do, day-to-day. So we immersed ourselves into their reality and raised some money for a homeless shelter along the way.

To accomplish this we launched #BringUsHome. The goal of this social media-based initiative was to remain homeless until our friends and family “brought us home” with donations towards our goal of $3,000 which we would then donate to The Catholic Action Center, a local resource and shelter for the homeless.

To ensure our efforts were sensitive and respectful, we got the approval not only of service providers, but individuals who are actually homeless.

And then we laid out some ground rules;

We would bring with us no belongings except a backpack, a phone, and a phone charger.

No money.

No begging for money on the street.

No returning home until we reached $3,000 on our online fundraising page.

Our guides

Ginny Ramsey, the director of the Catholic Action Center found a mother and daughter who were both homeless who wanted to serve as our guides throughout the experience, allowing us to shadow them for the duration of the project. While many of us would be uncomfortable with this level of intrusion, Pam and Sonya said they were really excited about it because they truly wanted to show the public what it is actually like to be homeless.

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When do we get to be lazy?

No money in our pockets meant we walked. A lot. Everywhere. It felt like we were constantly marching along this invisible trail of misery from shelters to churches to parks to libraries to anywhere that provided some brief reprieve from the impenitent sun. Keep in mind, this was a pleasant, dry weekend in late May. How did anyone do this in February when Lexington was rocked with blizzards and subzero temperatures? Or in March when we got pounded with more snow on a Wednesday and Thursday than any two-day snowfall in Lexington’s history?

“It got pretty bad. You find out what you are really made of,” remarked Pam, not breaking stride out of fear we’d miss out on the lunch being handed out in a parking lot.

“It got pretty bad. You find out what you are really made of,” remarked Pam, not breaking stride out of fear we’d miss out on the lunch being handed out in a parking lot.

“When do we get to be lazy?” I replied, a half-joking, half-serious inquiry as to when we get to rest.

A terrible irony of homelessness is that you have all the time in the world, yet none of it is yours. You eat dinner when the church serves dinner. You get transportation when the bus comes. You enter the shelter when they say you can and you leave when they say you must. Privacy is nonexistent and you relieve yourself in the public library’s bathroom when it opens. You have no control over your personal world because it is entirely in the hands of others.

Flying a sign

The endlessly debated moral conundrum: What do you do if you see someone holding a sign begging for money?

“Oh yeah, flyin’ a sign,” said Pam. “I can tell you right now I have never done such a thing in my life.”

I was surprised to learn that the folks we see on the corner asking for donations represent only a tiny portion of the homeless population – most people on the streets have never “flown a sign.”

“It’s upsetting because they make us all look bad,” said a frustrated Sonya.

“It’s upsetting because they make us all look bad,” said a frustrated Sonya.

This strong, palpable resentment among the homeless towards people who fly signs was consistent throughout most of our conversations; most proudly proclaimed they have never done it. In fact, most of the individuals Casey and I encountered were doing everything in their power to get back on their feet. Jessica, for example: one of the most determined individuals I have ever met, taking classes, working three jobs, and saving up money for her own place.

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The shelter

To avoid taking a bed from someone who needed it, we were going to stay on the streets until Ginny insisted that we stay at The Community Inn, because there would be extra beds due to the nicer weather, but also so we could get the entire experience of sleeping in the same place as others who are homeless.

It isn’t until you stay in a shelter that you are confronted with the engulfing brokenness that many people are struggling to overcome. It’s the underside of society that you avoid thinking about. While the rest Lexington sleeps soundly in safe homes, over 1,000 individuals each night either stay on the streets in Lexington or seek refuge in a shelter.

You quickly realize that the reasons people are homeless are often complex and intertwined. Untangling them is a challenge.

The untreated mental illness combined with an absent familial support system.

The overwhelming grip of addiction combined with one mistake in the past that makes you unemployable.

The years of violent, sexual abuse combined with a dearth of self-esteem, self-worth, and confidence.

Compassion

Within the homeless population, I witnessed more compassion, respect, and manners than exhibited by the very society that has written them off. As Casey and I became more immersed in their reality, I saw example after example of this selfless love for one another: looking out for each other; sharing food, cell phones, clothes, and other necessities.

At one point, as I was staring aimlessly in a sleep-deprived trance, my gaze was interrupted by the shine of a cold pop can that had been placed in front of me. I looked up and Pam said to me “Looked like you could use it,” with a warm smile. The beauty of that moment is nearly ineffable; a woman, beat up and beat down from years on the streets with nothing to her name but a backpack and a resilient smile still chose to spend her last quarter on a stranger.

Drugs

If you’ve never been homeless, you may have wondered why anyone would spend their last dollar on drugs and alcohol. At the peak of the misery of my experience while homeless I wondered no more: If that was my existence every day, with no sign of it ending and no idea how I would solve the suffocating problems that plagued me, I would need something to escape the unavoidable pain. I would need something to alter my reality by any means necessary to find some distorted sense of solace, no matter how detrimental it may end up being.

“Y’all gotta git”

The worst experience of my sojourn in the reality of homelessness was our visit to a local McDonald’s.

BUH---McDonaldsAfter comparing sleepless experiences and the lowlights of our sweaty nights, my homeless family and I began our nomadic march to the nearby McDonald’s to begin the morning. Somnolent and disheveled we arrived at the golden arches and were coldly greeted by this sign:

I thought it was odd but forgot about it as we sat down with our purchases, united in pleasant conversation and fellowship sponsored by caffeine and camaraderie. Despite the inevitable reality of homelessness that waited outside the door, this joyful respite provided fleeting refuge from the misery as we joked, told stories from our childhood, and nestled in the solace of our newly formed friendships.

Then, abruptly, devoid of hospitable pleasantries or even scripted perfunctory dialogue, an employee announced that if you have been there for 30 minutes or more it was now time for you to leave.

Before I could question or object, the McDonald’s employee began snatching receipts out of the hands of the paying customers I was with, scrutinizing the time-of-order details on their slips, and responding dismissively with “You’ve been here for longer than 30 minutes, y’all gotta git.”

And just like that, the restaurant chain that once touted in a merry jingle that they were “your place to be,” brusquely made it clear that that meant everyone except us.   We embarrassingly and submissively made our way to the exit, gathered our backpacks in the doorway then walked outside, reconvening near the door. Before our homeless friends could finish telling us how less-than-human it makes them feel, a different employee came outside and barked “C’mon, y’all gotta go. Y’all can’t just stand here by the door,” and we were shooed away like pesky gnats at a picnic.

And to think, some local businesses in Lexington will even allow dogs in their establishments.

The most marginalized of marginalized

It was from experiences like this abysmal treatment by McDonald’s that I realized the homeless population is truly the most marginalized of the marginalized. Imagine if a restaurant employee had ejected a customer based on their skin color? Or applied this “policy” to someone because of their sexual orientation?

During my brief time being homeless I realized that marginalized might not even be the best way to describe people who are homeless as that suggests they are still active peripheral participants of society. When you are homeless, you aren’t even on the edge of society—you are left out of the picture altogether. You’re an afterthought. People avoid talking to you or making eye contact. When you are thought of, it is more along the lines of in preparation for a storm or plague, like “How will our event be affected when the homeless come?”

homeless01

We’re all the same

When you refer to someone as “that homeless man,” it immediately conjures up an image and a stereotype that suggests the chasm between your existence and his is so wide that he might as well be from another planet. Yet as I sat at Phoenix Park on our donated blankets among several folks who were homeless, I realized that despite many of the ostensible differences between people who have homes and people who don’t, we’re all the same.
They wanted the same things that we all want, regardless of our living situations. They wanted friendships. They wanted respect. They wanted to overcome the barriers keeping them in the streets. They relied on their own community and strived to fit in amongst people. They laughed with each other, they heckled their friends, they gave in to the occasional donut, they reminisced about the old days with a hopeful vision for the future. They prayed, they thanked, they sang goofy songs. They had bad days and sometimes the bad days would win.

For some reason, this detail about their life—that they do not have a permanent home—instantly becomes the characteristic by which we define their entire existence. Yet each time I met an individual who is homeless and heard their story, I realized we are all only one or two steps away from being homeless. It could happen to any of us.
We’re all broken in some way. Some of us with homes are merely able to hide it better. When you are homeless, you often wear your mistakes on your sleeve through your appearance or mere existence. Your lack of privacy extends to the inability to conceal the errors you have made in your past and forces you to live in a transparent manner, more transparent than most of us could ever dream of being.

For some reason, this detail about their life—that they do not have a permanent home—instantly becomes the characteristic by which we define their entire existence. Yet each time I met an individual who is homeless and heard their story, I realized we are all only one or two steps away from being homeless.

Every day, whether we like to admit it or not, we all engage in a battle between hope and hopelessness. Fortunately for many of us, hope usually wins. We are surrounded by friends and family who encourage us as well as promising opportunities and goals that motivate us and allow us to believe we are working towards a better future.

Hope

We terrified our friends and family with this project. We knew this would scare them and we wanted to harness that fear for the benefit of others by raising the funds to get us home and donate it to the shelter. However, what if we looked at everyone on the streets as a friend or family member? What if we reacted to their homelessness with the same urgency and panic as our friends and family did for us? If the two of us were able to raise $3,000 in a weekend, can you imagine what could happen with just a little shift in our collective mentality?

Maybe one day we’ll be able to bring everyone home.

News

Our own tarnished legacy

Since we seem to be having, in the wake of hate-filled murder, this moment of national conversation about symbols and meaning and memory, perhaps it’s time to look closer to home.

shacklesSome time, in the dead of the night, after the bars close, after the music stops, after the college kids stumble away, long after the farmers roll up their beautiful bounty for sale, long after the cheerful sounds of fun and games quiet, go down to Cheapside. Listen with all of your self for other sounds; the sounds of whips cracking across bare flesh, of mothers wailing as they are separated from children they will never see again, of the auctioneers’ cadences pricing human flesh, the sounds of immeasurable suffering.

This is our haunted place, our house of horrors. And presiding over it all is the dignified statue of John Breckinridge; Son of Kentucky, cousin of Mary Todd, congressman, senator, 14th Vice President of the United States, defender of the right to secession, and the only United States Senator to be convicted by the Senate of treason. Slave owner and firm defender of slavery. Still ruling over human chattel, still ruling over Cheapside.

It's about time for lots of things. Time for exposing not just the blatant racists, but the dog whistlers, the code-speakers, the apologists, the deniers, and the romanticizers of a heritage of centuries of brutality.

And perhaps right here in our little corner of paradise it’s time to give an address to truth. We, the current denizens of this place are not responsible for the evils of slavery, for the compound sins of the past. We are, however, fully accountable for freeing the truth.

So, a proposition for the now of us. Take that statue of Mr. Breckinridge and put him somewhere else, not in the place where we can still hear the tortured screams of a shameful past. Maybe put him in the same museum they might put those battle flags of subjugation masquerading as state flags and symbols. And take just a bit of those millions of dollars proposed for renovation of the Old Courthouse for purposing a revelation.

Since we at UnderMain celebrate the liberating power of art, how about a commissioned piece, maybe a juried contest for a public work befitting the awful stain that was Cheapside? We love our public art in Lexington, even getting famous for it. Put it here to a purpose. Liberate the truth amidst the sounds of everyday life in the center of our city. Cheapside deserves it, we deserve it, we need it. And the voices in the night need to know we are a truthful place.

Local images provided by UK Special Collections:

Here
and
here

Arts, Entertainment, News, Uncategorized

Kuhn in the Congo – who knew?

UnderMain would like to acknowledge the work of another one of our own: Christine Kuhn. Last year Kuhn was among four muralists to participate in a cultural exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Kuhn worked with Congolese artists and students from November to December 2014 to create murals in Kinshasa, Matadi and Bukavu. Back home in Lexington, Kentucky, we knew nothing of it – Kuhn received no coverage.

For more on her experiences, check out her blogpost.

Kuhn is a working artist, art teacher and activist specializing in using art to empower non-artists and to promote liberal social change. She holds degrees in biology, chemistry and diplomacy and is a graduate of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Training Program.

“My art focuses on expressing right-brain, non-rational experiences–emotion, passion, humor, fear, symbolism, in short, the magical and mystical elements of existence,” Christine told us. “I have exhibited widely throughout the Southeastern US, in Central America, Africa and in Bulgaria and have received numerous grants from the Kentucky Arts Council, LexArts and the Kentucky Foundation for Women.”

If you are not familiar with Kuhn’s work or you just need another dose, stop by Source on High during LexArts’ May Gallery Hop for her solo exhibition – that’s Friday, May 15th – or, find these murals in and around the Lexington area. Do you know where they are? UnderMain would like to know that you know. Find them, take selfies, send them to editorial@undermain.com and watch this article grow!

Arts, Entertainment, News

Nam June Paik

Buddha Face with Red Background

Golden Buddha watches us watching ourselves. Check out the highlights of the Art Basel Hong Kong. According to Sarah Douglas with ArtNews, Nam June Paik may have stolen the show.

Did you know that Nam June Paik received significant help from the Carl Solway Gallery in Cincinnati very early in his career? With his retrospective at the Whitney Museum of Art in 1982 Paik was already recognized as a pioneer, however he was in need of supplies and a studio and Solway provided this beginning in 1983.

Arts, News

The Humor Lens: Photographers Habjouqa and Nakadate Rejuvenate May Lecture Series

In a continued effort to bring the Robert C. May Photography Endowment Lecture Series to a more prominent position at The University of Kentucky, The Art Museum will exhibit the work of award-winning Jordanian photographer, Tanya Habjouqa this winter. Alongside fellow statement show Same Difference, and the community pleasing Lexington Tattoo Project, Tanya Habjouqa: Recent Photographs will bring together two of her internationally acclaimed bodies of work for the first time.

Occupied Pleasures looks at the human spirit’s amazing ingenuity for entertainment in the glaring light of turmoil, while Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots examines the “muted testimony to loss” experienced by the women of Jordan who live in exile. The first installment of the 2015 Winter / Spring Lecture series, this collection of Habjouqa’s work demonstrates an admirable ability to document the occupied Palestinian condition from the perspective of humor, absurdity and finesse.

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Born in Jordan and then raised and educated in Texas, Habjouqa is a founding member of the all female, all Middle Eastern photography collective Rawiya. Rawiya, meaning “She who tells a story” presents  “an insider’s view of a region in flux balancing its contradictions while reflecting on social and political issues and stereotypes.” Habjouqa’s dissertation on narratives of resistance and suffering in Israel and Lebanon earned her an MA in political communications, and the academic qualifications to endorse such a socially progressive mission as Rawiya.

However, Habjouqa refuses to document the archetypes of journalistic conflict coverage and a population under duress, instead favoring elements of comedy and joy. For example, a grey, bullet-marked structure provides the background, but teens performing urban gymnastics serve as the subject in her photograph Gaza Parkour Team, Khan Younis Refugee Camp. In addition to these playful youth, Habjouqa’s subjects include teenage girls performing karaoke, grown bodybuilders, and whole families enjoying a meal on the beach. In another photograph, the border walls in the background appear less threatening because of what Habjouqa chose for the foreground: a man casually smoking a cigarette inside his car while a live sheep stares at him from his passenger seat in a comical moment of mutual respect, and sexual tension.

Habjouqa’s quest for these surreal moments does not occur coincidentally, but instead through a determined divergence from the “hyper narration” she saw put upon a place she now calls home.  In an article for the New York Times in 2014, she says, “ I really felt like I needed to find another way to tell a story, not only just to make sense of it for myself, but to make sense of it for how I’m going to present it to my children as well, since this is going to be their home too.” This bold choice in documentary style photography has won Habjouqa a World Press Award for Occupied Pleasures and Time magazine selected a photograph from There will be Apricots as one of the top photographs of the year.

Habjouqa is the second contributing artist in the R.C. May Lecture Series, curated by Janie Welker. In the wake of the captivating portrait series Strangers and Relations by artist Laurel Nakadate, the increased emphasis on the photography endowment is both evident and welcomed. Having previously worked with Nakadate in 2012 at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, newly hired director Stuart Horodner would place the expansion of her Star Portraits project in the recently expanded main room of the Art Museum’s floor gallery. While the Habjouqa’s exhibition hangs in the more contemplative room located adjacent to this space, her work does not feel under-appreciated by comparison. Habjouqa and Nakadate’s photography achieve narrative in very different ways, but their distinctive approaches to portrait photography equally allow both female artists to reach extraordinary heights of self-reflection through their portraits of others..

Both Habjouqa’s work, and Nakadate’s Strangers and Relations use two modes of theatre to accomplish and ultimately showcase their processes. Both artists must manipulate the technical components of the camera (composition, lighting, etc.) in order to frame and light their subject. Nakadate’s use of the night sky and one flashlight creates an intrusive and eerily sharp concentration on her subjects, while Habjouqa prefers natural light for a more forthright approach to her subjects. Regardless, both artists excel in their ability to foster a human connection prior to the moment of the photograph so that their subjects understand and participate in the documentation.

In short, the Art Museum staff has brought the R.C. May Photography Series back into a brighter spotlight. The work of these two artists alone signals positive changes in the lecture series and the Art Museum at UK on the whole, including the forthcoming exhibition of 1950s and 60s street photographer Vivian Maier.

The R.C. May Photography Lecture Series will host Tanya Habjouqa for her culminating talk about her exhibition on February 27th at 4 p.m. in the Worsham Theatre. This event is presented in conjunction with the UK College of Arts and Sciences’ Year of the Middle East and is open to the public.

Tanya Habjouqa Review

On Display January 24th  – April 12, 2015

The Art Museum at The University of Kentucky

All, Arts, News

LexArts: Artist Selected for Bridge Public Art Project

Artwork Will Create Visual Landmark for Major City Corridor 

Lexington, KY – Artist Christopher Weed has been chosen and commissioned to create public art that will soon adorn the Oliver Lewis Way Bridge, located just south of the intersection of Main Street and Newtown Pike, and bordering the Lexington Distillery District. Weed’s proposal, Origins, is a series of six illuminated, abstract sculptures,symbolically representing the charring of oak barrels, used in the aging of bourbon.

These sculptures will stand the test of time and serve as a distinguished reminder of Lexington’s storied past, present and bright future.

In September of last year, LexArts Inc., in association with 2nd District Council Member Shevawn Akers and the LFUCG Corridors Commission, issued a call to artists for the project, resulting in over 100 submissions from across the United States, Canada and Europe. An initial round narrowed the field to three finalists. After a visit to Lexington, each created site-specific proposals and presented them to the public and to a selection committee comprised of artists, arts professionals and community leaders. After significant public input and a thorough review by the committee, Weed was unanimously chosen for the project.

Said juror Andrea Fisher of Transylvania University, speaking on behalf of the committee, “All three artists were extremely well qualified, had thought carefully about their submissions, and offered aesthetically pleasing designs. However, it was the work of Coloradoan Christopher Weed that captured the history and aspirations of Lexington most profoundly. His abstracted interpretation of burning bourbon barrels is a perfect gateway into the Distillery District and the classical element of flame is an appropriate counterpoint to the waters of Town Branch running below the Oliver Lewis Way Bridge. Furthermore, the light sculptures resemble glowing torches, emblematic of hope, energy, and passion, wonderful descriptors of Lexington’s current zeitgeist.”

“Christopher Weed’s Origins will transform the Newtown corridor and become an iconic landmark for our downtown and the Distillery District,” continued Council Member Akers. “This project is the culmination of intentional design, a grand idea and a terrific collaboration between LFUCG, LexArts and the citizens of Lexington. I am so proud to be part of it. ”

“LexArts is honored to have a role in the creation of this defining work of public art for Lexington and her visitors,” explained Nan Plummer, LexArts President & CEO. “Working with the artists, the selection committee and Council Member Akers has been both a pleasure and a privilege. The unveiling of Chris Weed’s executed design this fall will be an exciting moment for everyone in the community.”

Weed will begin work immediately and will complete the project in time for dedication and unveiling during Breeder’s Cup Festival Week, a week long series of events to be held October 24-31 that will celebrate the first time the Breeder’s Cup World Championships will be held at Lexington’s historic Keeneland Race Course.

Arts, News, Uncategorized

Artist Finalists To Present Proposals for Oliver Lewis Way Bridge Public Art

LexArts Inc., in association with 2nd District Council Member Shevawn Akers and the LFUCG Corridors Commission, earlier this year issued a call to artists to create public art that enhances the Oliver Lewis Way Bridge, located just south of the intersection of Main Street and Newtown Pike.

The three finalists, Blessing Hancock, Guy Kemper, and Christopher Weed, have created site-specific proposals (links below) and will present them to the public at 5:30pm today (2/11). The presentations will be made at the MS Rezny Studio and Gallery at 903 Manchester Street in the Distillery District, a fitting location as the bridge, designed on a volunteer basis by Lexington brother-architects Graham and Clive Pohl specifically to accommodate art, is within eyesight and most guests will travel the Oliver Lewis Way bridge to arrive at the venue.

Over the past two weeks, the proposals have been on display for public discussion and voting at ArtsPlace, the Downtown Arts Center and the LFUCG Government Center. After the public presentations, a final review of the site-specific proposals, with consideration from the public’s votes, will be conducted by the selection committee and one artist or artist team will be selected to realize their proposal.

The budget for the project is $100,000, making this one of the largest public art projects the city of Lexington has ever commissioned. While the timeline for completion will not be known until the selection of the winning design, the intention is for Lexington’s newest public art project to be unveiled and dedicated in time for Keeneland and the city of Lexington to welcome guests to the Breeder’s Cup World Championships, one of Thoroughbred racing’s most prestigious international events. That event is scheduled to take place on the final weekend of October of this year.

VIEW THE PROPOSALS:

Christopher Weed

Guy Kemper

Blessing Hancock

Arts, Film, Literary Arts, Music, News

LexArts Announces 2016 Grants Opportunities

The LexArts Board of Directors announced this morning that applications are now being accepted for General Operating Support (GOS) and Community Arts Development (CAD) Project and Program grants. Grants will be awarded to individual artists and arts and community organizations for specific programs with an arts or cultural focus that have clear artistic and social benefits and are accessible to the general public.

General Operating Support grants are made in amounts of $10,000 and above and provide unrestricted funds for general operating expenses including staff, overhead, and program costs. Funded arts organizations must demonstrate strong arts mission fulfillment, fiscal responsibility, sound management, and operate on a year-round basis.

Community Arts Development Grants are awarded on a competitive basis for project or program support.  Projects may include festivals, exhibitions, readings, performances, planning grants and artist publications. Programs may include festivals, a series of visual art exhibitions, and performing arts series, including music, theatre, dance and spoken word.

Project Grants vary in amounts from $500-$2,500, while Program Grants range from $2,500-$10,000. Last year $63,000 was awarded in total to 14 organizations.

“LexArts’ support of the arts in Central Kentucky is actually the support of hundreds and hundreds of people and companies, funneled through a rigorous and objective grant application process,” explains LexArts President and CEO, Dr. Ellen A. Plummer. “Experts in many arts disciplines, along with a committee from LexArts’ volunteer board, evaluate an organization’s artistic quality, fiscal readiness, and level of service. For thirty years now, this process assures all those investors in the arts that their investments are well-placed. As a result, Central Kentucky has a  rich variety of high quality arts offerings of which we can all be proud.”

Continued LexArts Grants Committee Chair David Smith, of Stoll Keenon Ogden, “Our Grants Committee has kept firm both the general operating and community arts development grants funding throughout and after the recession, at some internal financial distress to LexArts, and we look forward once again to providing as much support in 2015 to our cultural partners as our resources permit.”

Fiscal Year 2016 programming begins July 1, 2015 and continues through June 30, 2016. The application deadline for 2016 funding is March 13, 2015. Organizations who intend to apply for GOS funding, but have not previously received GOS funding, must submit an Intent to Apply form by February 13, 2015.  Provided grant funds are available, LexArts may also elect to accept Project Grant applications for review on a quarterly basis.

A Grants Workshop will be conducted at ArtsPlace, 161 North Mill Street, at 4pm on Monday, February 23. Prospective applicants should become familiar with the guidelines prior to the workshop. LexArts staff is also available to provide technical assistance and review draft proposals via one-on-one consultation. If a draft proposal is to be reviewed, it should be sent to the Community Arts Manager Nathan Zamarron prior to the consultation. Please call 859.255.2951 or send an email RSVP for the workshop or to schedule a consultation to nzamarron@lexarts.org.

Important Dates and Deadlines
GOS Intent to Apply Deadline Friday, February 13, 5pm
Grant Workshop Monday, February 23, 4pm
Grant Application Deadline Friday, March 13, 5pm
CAD Grant Review  Tuesday, April 21, 10am-Noon
 GOS Grant Review  Tuesday, April 28, 10am-Noon

More information, including eligibility and criteria guidelines, can be found athttp://lexarts.org/participate/Grants/, and the 2016 Grants Brochure is available here.Artists and not for profit arts groups interested in finding out more information may also contact Nathan Zamarron, LexArts Community Arts Manager, at 859.255.2951 or nzamarron@lexarts.org.

Arts, Entertainment, Literary Arts, News, Politics, Uncategorized

White Ring: Reflections on the words of Wendell Berry

(Photo provided by the Carnegie Center for Learning and Literacy)

(Photo provided by the Carnegie Center for Learning and Literacy)

‘The survival of literacy in an age of illiteracy may require us to remember how physical, how much of the senses, the life of literacy is.’ – Wendell Berry (courtesy of the Carnegie Center, Lexington, Kentucky.)

I was sitting on the only piece of paper within reach – an oversize name tag reserving my chair for the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony of Wendell Berry. The paper was beige, dull, and heavy – not really of a character to form any sort of story. The letters of my name were nicely printed on it, each had serifs that matched the decorative embellishments framing the length of my name top and bottom.

Like a mother hen to egg; I guarded it as though it was something very special. The piece of paper was after all saving a chair for me in the front room of the Carnegie Center amidst some of the most dedicated writers, journalists, editors, and publishers in all of Kentucky. Equally important: I knew the opposite side of it was blank.

Guy Davenport (1927-2005), Elizabeth Hardwick (1916-2007), Effie Waller Smith (1879-1960), Jim Wayne Miller (1936-1996) and Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005) were inducted that night too. Excerpts from the writings of each was selected as carefully as were the readers of them.  Ron Whitehead read Hunter S. Thompson’s words with a volume that was maybe intended to mimic Thompson’s humor but played more clearly as the rawness of life in the absence of his long-lost friend.

Mary Ellen Miller whispered through weaker vocal chords; reminiscing – with a melancholy that each of us could sense – on her late husband’s work.  Neil Chethik’s clear articulation as he introduced Wendell Berry removed any need for us to explain why we were there.

For me, each of the voices that spoke that night resounded more intently than the words spoken. There was something in the act of reading them aloud. They were comforting, familiar, communal sounds that we all know and I hope will continue to know.

Then, it was quiet as Wendell Berry – the first living inductee to be honored into the Hall of Fame – stepped up to read what he must have prepared as an acceptance speech. But, his cadence, his tonality, his sincerity and humility, and the words that filled the then hot room in the Carnegie Center on that cold January night in Lexington, Kentucky were a marked call-to-action.

No electronic devices, scratchings of pen on paper or the turning of pages interrupted as Berry made reference to many urgent public issues. He emphatically stated that in Kentucky we have no way to vet our concerns, no public forum, no healthy outlet for the a much needed dialogue about many things including the writings of Kentucky authors. There was only silence as he spoke of the ‘cloud of silence’. Postures shifted. I gently pulled the piece of paper from its resting place.

Berry continued noting that here in Kentucky ‘we have a sufficiency of writers of books, publishers of books, and readers of books, but no space for related public discourse.’ We roost with eyes closed, content on expressing our opinions in what has now become our public – the semi-private world of the Facebook and Twitter. As Leon Wieseltier notes in Among the Disrupted (New York Times, January 7, 2015) what we prefer now is a ‘twittering cacophony’ where alacritous and terse one-liners grant the highest of merits – a like, a comment. Cackling hens that only ding.

As the co-publisher of a young, fully digital magazine dedicated to arts and culture in Kentucky, I left feeling a keen sense of responsibility – not to explain what Wendell Berry had said, but to more fully understand it for myself. How much time do we have before something more significant is lost? What is my responsibility in the digital age? How can I help move us beyond what Wieseltier describes as the ‘lag between invention in the apprehension of its consequences’?

We cannot explain it fully, but my fellow UnderMain-ers and I have agreed to bring to our readers and our listeners reviews of books by Kentucky authors as well as the occasional reading. Just as in Berry’s move back to Kentucky, we might find sustenance in a new iteration of the sounding pages.

We thank the Carnegie Center for hosting the induction and for inviting us to attend. For a copy of the full text of Wendell Berry’s speech, click here.

For The Explainers
Spell the spiel of cause and effect
Ride the long rail of fact after fact;
What curled the plume of the Drake’s tail
and put the white ring around his neck?

– Wendell Berry

All, News

Gov. Beshear on Kentucky’s Heroin Crisis

Depositphotos_29089677_original

In October, 2014 I wrote a piece for UnderMain in my attempt to understand what led to the heroin explosion in Kentucky, who it affected, and what was being done about it.  Throughout my journey I met with persevering former addicts, heartbroken family members of those we had lost to this drug, and professionals in the trenches, tirelessly battling the epidemic. One of the areas I covered was the fate of Senate Bill 5 and how its failure to win passage subsequently burst the hopes of many Kentuckians hoping for relief and protection from the heroin storm by way of legislative action. Then suddenly, with this year’s General Assembly, came a wave of optimism as the bill was resuscitated and seemed to have much stronger support by both the public and our political leaders in Frankfort. To gain a better understanding of what this bill included and how it could move from a hope to a reality, I had the opportunity to sit down, one-on-one, with one of its most ardent advocates, Governor Steve Beshear. Watch the video.

All, News

Sing them ‘Ol Courthouse Blues (please)

An UnderMain InvitatIon ~

(Credit: Ken Silvestri) - Old Fayette County courthouse with Cheapside Pavilion to left.

(Credit: Ken Silvestri) – Old Fayette County courthouse with Cheapside Pavilion to left.

UPDATE: View a pro-con discussion on KET’s Kentucky Tonight about “LIFT, Kentucky” – the proposed Local Option Sales Tax now before the Kentucky General Assembly.

For quite some time – years – there has been a lot of talk about the fate of the old Fayette County courthouse. What we’ve heard has varied on the theme that it’s a real shame to have this big, shuttered and unoccupied edifice brooding in silence as so much energy goes on all around in a recently revitalized downtown Lexington.

It has issues. Big ones. Asbestos. Mold. There’s that space created in its once open dome to house HVAC equipment. And over the years, there have been many other suffocating renovations of convenience. Mayor Gray said in his State of the City speech that “In 2014 the city shored up the critical needs of the foundation, this year we will be taking steps to save the building.”

It’s a good way to start a new year. Something new, potentially exciting and actually achievable for us to consider. The question is, what?

There’s a ton of history concentrated in that spot, smack dab in the center of our city. Important history. A lot of it is pretty awful. And there may some fairly painful and spirited debate over whether that history should be formally recognized, the legacies of slave auction victims remembered, versus whether the time has come to try to move beyond that ugly passage in Lexington’s story. Maybe some of both.

But one thing is not debatable: with a 21c Hotel taking shape directly to its east while all sorts of eateries and bars thrive to its north and west, the Old Courthouse must either be fixed up and given new purpose, or it should be torn down to make way for something artfully designed, appropriate to the site and useful. Something we can all be proud of.

Leaving it indefinitely as-is cannot be an appropriate option for a city that is seeing so much positive change.

Posting in a thread on Facebook, Foster Ockerman, Jr., President of the Courthouse Square Foundation, said results are expected soon of a study into what needs to be done to restore the building. Ockerman reminds us that the UrbanCounty Council last November approved funding to move the results of this study to the schematic drawings stage. And he notes that a small group, chaired by longtime Lexington real estate sales and leasing professional Frank Mattone and assisted by Lexington Downtown Development Authority President and COO Jeff Fugate, has been looking at potential uses for over a year.

With Mayor Gray setting the tone by placing the building’s future high on his agenda, UnderMain would like to host a community conversation that revolves around the questions: should the old courthouse be renovated? If so, what should be its purpose? How much would that cost? Or should it be demolished? If so, what should take its place? And at what cost to taxpayers?

Breathing new life into an old structure is an expensive matter. If you favor the building’s renovation, would you also support financing the cost with a penny sales tax (meaning, you would favor the passage by the 2015 General Assembly a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow us to vote on whether to permit Kentucky’s cities and towns to ask their voting citizens whether or not they would approve such a tax for such a purpose)?

Also up for consideration in Frankfort during the ’15 legisative session is something called “P3” – it stands for Public, Private Partnerships. While P3s have advantages and disadvantages, the concept does offer another way to pay for an old courthouse makeover.

So please join our Facebook discussion. We’re sure there are many more questions inspired by the prospect of doing something – one way or another – about the old Fayette County Courthouse. If you have them, please feel welcome to raise them. If you have ideas about what the building might become, let’s hear them.

(Credit: LexHistory.org)

(Credit: LexHistory.org)

All, Arts, Entertainment, Literary Arts, Music, News, Uncategorized

Our Conversation with Nan Plummer – First of Many

UnderMain would like to welcome Nan Plummer to the position of LexArts President and CEO.  What you are about to read is a recent and very casual conversation between Nan, my UnderMain colleague Tom Martin, and myself. Nan is a new-arrival on Planet Lexington and there is so much to discuss with her about the arts in our community as well as the broader Central Kentucky region. UnderMain is committed not only to opening this dialogue, but to continuing it in a series of discussions throughout the year. In future interviews, I hope to expand upon some of the concepts raised, including the viability of a United Arts Fund model for raising and granting monies and what that means for area arts organizations large and small; the role of the non-traditional arts from dance to music to the visual arts; the current state of theater; our specific history with public art; and our present and future opportunities for both the public and private sectors. Just as we consulted some of you about questions for this initial interview, your opinions and input are necessary for this conversation to evolve. We invite your thoughts via the UnderMain Facebook page.

Nan with her daughter, Maggie.

Nan with Communications Director Maury Sparrow and Operations Manager Alma Kajtazovic.

Nan with Nathan Zamarron, LexArts Community Arts Manager, and J. David Smith, Jr., Stoll Keenon Ogden and LexArts Grants Chair

Nan with Liz Swanson, artist, designer, and Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Kentucky College of Design

Nan with Allison Kaiser – Executive Director, LexPhil

Christine: Welcome Nan, and thank you for joining UnderMain today. Let’s begin by learning a little about your background and what attracted you to this position with LexArts.

Nan:   There are a bunch of things that drew me to this position. My whole career has been in the arts, mostly the visual arts, and in museums with really strong performing arts components, performing arts, and music especially. I’ve been on a diversion into being a full-time, frontline fundraiser for Arkansas Children’s Hospital – a place I have adored for a long time. And, it was just time for me to get back into the arts and take what I’ve learned in the training ground that was ACH back into something where I knew a lot more. I’ll be 60 on my next birthday and I know what I know and I do what I do. And, it occurred to me that not only would this make me happier, but I think that my best contribution will be taking what I’ve been doing for all this time and combine it with what I know and love in the arts. LexArts, because it helps so many people and so many organizations in such a broad context, just looked delicious and – you know – it just seemed like the perfect thing.

Christine: Yes, the role of the organization appears very broad in general. Do you see any real successes that you would like to continue or anything that you would like to eliminate with regard to LexArts’ recent history and its role in supporting the arts in our community?

Nan:  The big task ahead of us – because there are so many things that organizations like LexArts can do and does do across the country – is to find out what Lexington and Central Kentucky need LexArts to do right now. There are a lot of things we are very good at. The United Arts Fund model of raising money, for instance, for general operating support is not what it was in the 60’s and 70’s, but it isn’t broken and it’s still generating lots of income. So, raising money for the arts is something that I think LexArts needs to keep doing.

Tom: In that regard, LexArts has not seemed welcoming to the non-traditional music community in Lexington and I’m not sure why that is. I’m not finding fault, because I’m sure that there is some structural reason for that. Speaking for those of us who are not classical players, but nonetheless are working musicians with significant investment of funds and time and creativity, we do not feel supported by LexArts.

Nan: What would support  mean to you? Money? Which is important.

Tom: Well, it is, but it’s more than that. The compensation for what we do has to come from the market. I think we need help with marketing to the masses the fact that we have an historically vibrant music community here. Lots of songwriters, lots of musicians across a wide spectrum of genres.

Christine: It has been noted that for some in our community it appears that LexArts’  holds a primary allegiance to larger, more established organizations.

Nan: And here is the second thing I think LexArts needs to do, along with being clear about its mission: to remind people about its history. United Arts Funds were established to fund those big, grand, pillar organizations. In the 50’s and 60’s and 70’s those were the organizations that communities believed needed support in order for the arts to thrive. I think as time has gone on, people in general in UAF have figured out that an art scene is not only those great big organizations. But what would the arts be like in Lexington if those ceased to exist? So, the trick for LexArts is to remind people, this is how we got started. We don’t sit in the room and pick favorites. This is how we got started and we have to now broaden that. We tend to broaden our support maybe less quickly than the arts community springs up around us. So, while it may appear that way, it’s not a bias. Here is where we started and we can’t change where we started. That’s historical fact.

Christine: Let’s turn to our attention to the annual fund. The actual amount of funds raised for the annual fund, aside from the city’s contribution, seems very limited for a city of our size in a region as wealthy as ours. Nan, Is there anything that you think we could change to generate more giving?

Nan: Oh, absolutely. I think that there is a lot of potential to raise more money and I think that’s one of the reasons I was brought here, so that I’d spend a long time learning how to raise money. I’ve raised a lot of money for the arts in my other roles. So, sure, let’s go. There is no perfect leader for an organization, ever. No one is perfect.  Organizations, boards over time hire a series of imperfect and incomplete people whose strengths we hope  match the needs of the organization at that time. How many – have there only been two other directors?

Christine: Jim Clark was director for 14 years.  Dee Fizdale prior to that.

Nan: And the organization has changed a lot. It was founded under Dee, Jim changed it a lot. And so, they brought things that certainly I couldn’t have brought. I’m not the founder type and I’m learning everyday what my predecessor was good at that I’m not quite so good at. But, what I hope to be good at is fundraising and growing – growing the funding base and maturing LexArts’ fundraising ability so that it’s on par with the artistic activity here in Lexington. I think there’s a lot of potential. And getting back to the first question: why did I want to come here?Potential is really the core word; there is so much waiting to happen here. I’ve never seen a downtown like this, I really haven’t. It’s just the right size. I’m thinking about the skyscrapers and the lawyers and the bankers and, oh my gosh, all these artful places within walking distance. I know that there are other places like this, I’ve just never been this close to one.

Christine: And this growth, this particular sort of vibrancy is very new for Lexington. In fact, it has changed the conversation in Lexington about LexArts as a funding organization and specifically about transparency. Do you see how that that might be addressed in a more formal way? For instance, many non-profit organizations supply a 990 (a Form 990 is an annual reporting return that certain tax exempt organizations must file with the IRS).

Nan: Oh, we all must.

Christine: To my knowledge, LexArts does not make that readily available.

Nan: Of course we do – we must. If you walk into the building and ask for it, I am legally required under federal law to provide that to you within twenty four hours. You can also get it from the IRS website and you can also go to GuideStar and get it, so it’s publicly available.

Tom: This question came from somebody who’s been looking at the websites of similar organizations and found their 990’s readily available.

Nan: Oh, some organizations put it on their own website?

Tom: Uh-hm.

Nan: Making a note. Yeah, this is public information and I guess that what it always comes down to for me is, it’s not our money. If you work in a non-profit organization, it is not your money. And neither is the city money that we re-grant or the state money that we re-grant or the federal money that we pass through the other organizations or the federal money that we spend on public art projects. It’s not our money. And that’s why non-profit boards really need to take their fiduciary duty very, very seriously. I take it very seriously. And so I think part of the misunderstanding about LexArts’ affection for non-traditional arts groups is a lack of proactive transparency – education about how we make grants with the money that we raised and the money that we received.

Tom: That’s a two-way street. There will be those who just love to complain.

Nan: Yes.

Tom: But when you say, “Okay, what are you going to do about it? What are you willing to invest?” they often seem to disappear.

Nan: That’s human nature.

Tom: I think it would be really interesting to see what would happen if LexArts were to put that challenge to the non-traditional community and say to them, “We want to engage with you, you have to tell us how and you also have to tell us what you bring to the table; what can you do – you want us to do for you, what can you do for us?” Which creates…

Nan: It is a collaborative…

Tom: I’d love to see what would happen.

Nan: I’ve had a couple of conversations where arts group leaders have essentially said LexArts has favorites, ‘you sit in the room, you pick the big guys, you just – you like classical music to the exclusion of just about everything else.’ That’s not how the process goes. It’s an open grant process. There are five general operating support partners who are the core going back to when the organization was formed. And then, other organizations of almost every size may apply for project and program support. We serve as fiscal agent for organizations that aren’t even incorporated as 501(c)(3)s yet to help them get going. And so, if we’re not supporting you or we don’t seem to be interested it might be because you’ve never come to talk to us or looked into the process.

Tom: Would you say that those organizations who would like to see support from LexArts are not stepping forward and basically need to sharpen their pencils?

Nan: I think so and I think that that process, the way I understand it is that process has been ongoing – that Jim (Clark) did a great job at that, really professionalizing the application process because again, it’s not our money and when we give it away we aren’t just saying, “Oh, we love you, here you go,” “Oh, you bother me, go away.” No. They are as objective as we can make them. It’s not who we like better and who we don’t. Everybody who works at LexArts and everyone who sits on the grants committee – and it’s a committee, not the LexArts staff who makes the decisions – is a human being, last time I checked.  And so, we – we have emotions and preferences and are not immune to the things that other human beings respond to when they made judgments. So that’s why there is this process.

I’ve told my colleague, Nathan Zamarron who’s our programs guy that I think he’s brilliant, that he is a very, very good bureaucrat and that is a compliment. In fact, I would like to restore the nobility of that term. It’s a French term like amateur and dilettante that’s gotten a bad rap. A bureaucrat is someone who practices the art of the office, the art of administering public goods for the common good. And we are trying to do that really well at LexArts.

Christine: I have a specific interest in public art and have for a very long time, from Dynamic Doors in 2002 to Horse Mania to the Outdoor Mural Project and more recent developments like the murals being installed by PRHBTN. Do you have any insight there as far how LexArts might encourage more conversation about public art?

Nan: Great, great question. I am not hearing, “Okay, we’ve got enough public art, you can stop now.” I’m seeing a lot of enthusiasm and it was really exciting to me that that article in Herald-Leader, which I was looking at online in the period between my hire and my arrival, that the lead story on Sunday above the fold with a big color picture is about art, I thought, woo-hoo! So it’s controversial.  Art is a topic about which thoughtful, intelligent, loving, well-educated, wonderful people can and will disagree. That’s the point. So, not everyone is going to love everything that goes up in a public or publicly visible private space. I don’t think everybody loves Bernini either. I’m not sure everybody thought that The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel was totally thrilled with it at first. So this is a process. And contemporary art is a conversation and while it can be absolutely beautiful, most artists are really asking you to engage with their idea, not to admire their technique.

Tom: One recent development that has received publicity is LexArts sponsoring a new theater group. Isn’t this a conflict of interest for an organization that has community arts organizations vying competitively for funding from LexArts?

Nan: Supporting a new theater group?

Christine: Athens West.

Nan: Support is a spectrum at LexArts and financial support for competitive grant process is not the only way we support arts organizations. Maybe some folks think it should be the only way we do that. I guess that’s the question, but it hasn’t been. And so, the short answer is: it’s not a conflict of interest, it’s a different interest. It’s a different way that LexArts supports the arts here. And it kind of goes to the question of well, how many things can you be to how many people? There are lots of resources that LexArts brings to the arts community. One of them is funding, and another is expertise. We’re a staff of five at this point, so every function has somebody’s name on it. The community has invested us with this (and by the community, I mean the whole nation) IRS tax-exempt status – it is conferred upon an organization by the people. So we use that to benefit organizations that don’t yet have them. So, that’s a long answer to that question.

Christine: The question arises at a very tumultuous time for other theater organizations.

Nan: Oh, yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Tom: Theater, like many art forms in Lexington, ebbs and flows and at the moment we have some new companies that are beginning to rise. And then, there’s Balagula Theatre which has brought really provocative content to the stage.

Nan: Yes, they have been a general offering support partner at LexArts. Part of my job is getting out to see all that I can. Imagine getting paid to do that. In December, my daughter and I got to see Venus in Fur on a Friday night before the announcement of (co-director) Ryan Case’s resignation. And I was just flabbergasted because it was so good. I’ve been a theater kid all my life and while I don’t see nearly as much theater as I would like, I like to call myself an expert. I like to think I know what’s good. That was really good. I thought it was wonderful. That’s me as an arts consumer. My next task is to really get to know them as an organization and learn how can we help.  So, yeah, lots of ebb and flow at the moment and I guess Lexington should consider itself lucky that there are folks who are coming to theater.  Not everything succeeds and that’s one of the reasons that LexArts exists: to level the playing field. One of the things that I would love to see happen with increased funding to LexArts is to fund artistic startups – entrepreneurial creative endeavors.

Christine: Sure. But one of the things I think is a very serious problem is the development and retention of audience. Frequently it will be to the downfall of the organization because there’s nobody coming, there’s no one attending. Goes back to marketing…

Nan: Yeah, Michael Kaiser who wrote The Art of the Turnaround and then two more books – a kind of trilogy on arts organization management, has brought forward a model to every organization that he’s helped: great arts, aggressively marketed. The two need to exist together for success. You could have something that is aggressively marketed and if it’s no good the audience figures that out pretty fast. So, they go hand in hand. I’m not sure what that would look like in Lexington, but  think that’s something that – we already do work at, you know. For the visual arts, for example, Gallery Hop has been going on for a long time, it’s one of our oldest programs, I think.

Christine: Very successful.

Nan: Very successful. We talked about how – like every arts organization, perhaps – we need to upgrade our website.

Tom: See if my impression is correct just of your vision because I think I’m hearing something here that’s a little…

Nan: I hope I’m being consistent.

Tom: You are.  It sounds to me as if you view LexArts’ role as one which creates that level playing field and makes it possible for individuals, groups, organizations to merit consideration because they are good at articulating what they want to do. It makes it possible for them to receive support based on merits versus ‘who you know.’

Nan: Um-hm. Yeah. I like the way you said that. I think that the call from the community is: we need more, we need more, we need more. And growing an arts organization – even one like LexArts that has a long history and is sort of an institution – is a little like building Brunelleschi’s Dome: you build one course and you stand on it to build the next. It’s incremental. So, it’s matter of learning what needs most to be done next and then being able to build the resources to do that, because the temptation is to say, “Sure, we will. Oh, we’d love to do that. Yeah, let’s try.” And then, you’re not doing well at anything for anyone. And, so we need to avoid that, resist that temptation and really learn strategies about saying no to a whole bunch of good ideas. And so,  figuring out our strategy based on what we can do and who are. ‘We’ are five people, ‘we’ are this board, ‘we’ are an arts organization, ‘we’ are the organizations that feed into us, ‘we’ are our donors. You know?

Tom: One last question that was raised during the search for new leadership: Is LexArts strictly about fundraising? Or is it, in addition to fundraising, also about advocacy for the arts? And can those two things be balanced without conflicting?

Nan: (LexArts board chair) John Long has said that LexArts’ mission and vision came under scrutiny at this transitional point and they thought about it a lot. Funding and advocacy are there together. And that conflict is the nature of human existence I think and again, transparency is the best solution for when those conflicts appear. If they appear, you name them: ‘uh-oh, these things are in conflict.’ That’s not necessarily bad. Conflicts get resolved all the time. And so, if there’s a perceived conflict, call it and look at it.

Christine: Under Main exists to examine things a little more thoroughly – take them a little deeper. In fact, I would love to see a series of meetings with you that incorporate video or audio about the various topics that we’ve only broached today. We thank you Nan for your time and your dedication to the arts and look forward to what lies ahead.

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Nothing Blue Can Stay: The Platoons of Kentucky Men’s Basketball

How long can the platoons last?

Each year it is with some reluctance that I transfer my affections from the University of Kentucky football team to its men’s basketball team. Their seasons’ overlap in November is awkward for me, a struggle to adjust from the wide martial arc of football to the dogfights of basketball. This tempo change is aggravated, in the John Calipari era, by the prospect of an entirely new roster of starters each year, fab freshman whose ever subdividing stages of recruitment—unofficial and official visits, verbal commitments, Letters of Intent—I do not happen to follow. Except for Nerlens Noel, who gave proof of his outsized personality and heart when he announced his choice on live TV by swiveling around in his chair to display the UK logo shaved into his nape.

Simply put, it’s hard caring about a brand new team every year. Longtime fans are accustomed to watching players develop over three, four, sometimes five years. I didn’t set foot in this state until my thirties, and without any  birthright to the Big Blue Nation, my enthusiasm relies on an interest in the players, their strengths and weaknesses, histories, personalities, and how they compete. In UK basketball, with so few returning starters each year, I was becoming jaded with the one-and-done business, despite Calipari’s laudable “players first” philosophy, which I completely embrace in theory. In 2011–12 I revolted, vowing not to tune in until conference play, and not really watching until February, thereby missing the early-to-mid-season progress of a phenomenal team and the NBA’s brightest young light, Anthony Davis. Lesson learned.

So, after the incredible tournament run of the 2013–14 team and its loss in the national championship, I rejoiced along with the rest of BBN when multiple starters announced their intentions to return. We knew another amazing freshman class was on its way to town, and we wondered, who would start? We trusted Coach Cal to work out the details, and he did, inverting Donald Rumsfeld and going to war with the army he had, which was twice as good as the army he may have wished to have. Calipari invented the system, named the system, and suddenly, the fairly urgent problem of too many star players was transformed into an endlessly fascinating new array of tactics and tempos for everyone involved. With the platoon system, we are watching something entirely new: no division 1 team has ever sustained it, because they haven’t needed to, because it’s a new problem, a now inevitable-seeming outcome of Calipari’s recruiting genius.

But Coach Cal isn’t just a recruiting guy, a marketing guy, a carnival barker as one sporstwriter dubbed him: he can also coach. Pre-season, everyone smelled blood, eager to see a clash of personalities as this plethora of star newcomers and veterans would be required to set aside their entirely reasonable expectations for games with 30–35 minutes of playing time and the resulting big statistics. Instead, they’d get 20 minutes and smaller stats through which to pursue their NBA dreams. Yet, these have become in every way salubrious platoons—for the players, the fans, the media, and the sport itself.

Ample make this team.

Make this team with awe.

In it wait till March Madness break

Excellent and Fair

Be its passes straight

Be its foul shots round

Let no rivals’ yellow noise

Interrupt this ground.

(after Emily Dickinson)

The platoon system solves several basketball problems. First, it’s regrettable that such a fun game to play and watch has the smallest roster of any team sport, only 5, versus football’s 11, soccer’s 11, lacrosse’s 10, baseball’s 9, ice hockey’s 6. That basketball is the smallest-roster team sport is a recipe for heartbreak beginning in middle school, in this town where basketball is a religion and so many youth are highly skilled at the game and expect to make their school team. “He’s one of the toughest kids in the school, but when anyone talks about the try-out, he starts tearing up,” reported my 6th grader in illustration of the widespread agony around try-out time for those who didn’t make the team.

Basketball is also the sport most vulnerable to selfish playing styles, such as ball-hogging and offensive showboating. Yet it seems that the founding articles of Calipari’s platoon system are unselfish play and attention to defense. We must credit his leadership for building a team of 10 starters who are off the charts in numbers of assists and blocked shots and opponents’ low shooting percentages. “The best defensive team in the modern era of college basketball” is what the Eastern Kentucky coach declared, having lost 82–49.

Platoons change the game, for players, opponents, and even fans. With so many games in a season, there is the temptation for busy fans to tune in only after halftime. Doing so this year would mean missing the exquisite drama of the Blue Platoon, who start the game, warming up the opponent for 4 minutes, probably with some blocked shots and alley-oops, until around 16:00 when Blue exits en masse to be replaced by the White Platoon, who also block shots and alley-oop, and so forth throughout the game in roughly 4-minute increments. Wonder which team gets tired first?

The White Platoon, which starts the second half, has just one starter from last year, Dakari Johnson, plus three freshman, Tyler Ulis, Trey Lyles and Devin Booker, and last year’s bench warmer Marcus Lee. Lee had one break-out half in the tournament last year, when he scored 10 crucial points vs. Michigan, securing him a spot in BBN’s hearts forever. How terrible it would have been, without this platoon system, to see Marcus Lee only warming that bench again this year! Thank you, Coach Cal, for finding a way to consistently play Marcus Lee. And Dakari Johnson, who stepped into a starting role after Willie Cauley-Stein’s injury last year, has accomplished very good things already, but he would likely be the 6th man again, behind Cauley-Stein and Towns, were it not for these salubrious platoons.

The Blue Platoon is returning starters Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Willie Cauley Stein, Alex Poythress, and the extraordinarily talented, well-spoken, and huge freshman Karl-Anthony Towns, whose name accurately conveys the grandeur of his person and prospects. Now all those amazing buzzer-beaters by Aaron Harrison, the reassuring game management and dribble-drives of Andrew Harrison, the nimble eccentricity of Cauley-Stein, the periodic explosiveness of Poythress: their remembered feats make fond penumbras around the new season.

Much has been written about Alex Poythress and his season-ending ACL tear on December 11. He was a team favorite, a fan favorite, and a coaches’ favorite for his achievements and character on and off the court. There is even a Twitter tribute account worth visiting, @APTheTypeOfDude, affectionately mocking his straight-arrow personality, in which every tweet begins the same, e.g., “Poythress the type of dude to use the clear nights we’ve had lately as a chance to finally test out his new telescope.” Poignantly, its tweet on December 12 was, “Poythress the type of dude to come back from his injury better than ever, whether it’s with UK or the NBA. He’ll be back.”

I asked my friend Whitney if she ever mentally assembles her favorite players into a hypothetical starting 5, say the best players from each platoon. “No,” she said, “because the platoons are so well balanced.” It’s true: scoring and other stats across both platoons bear this out, and that’s no coincidence. Balance is fundamental to sustaining the platoon system. Otherwise, if one platoon significantly outperformed the other, it would be untenable to continue giving equal minutes to both platoons. Time will tell if the balance endures, and certainly Poythress’s vacancy is a challenge to the system. “I’m on a mission to make this work for each of these kids,” said Calipari pre-season, and if the firehose of talent is to continue gushing our way with each new recruiting class, it has to. The platoons have got to be sustainable.

Meanwhile, fans are in a state of ecstasy, not only because we’re 12–0, but because we have twice as many players to love. Coach Cal didn’t invent platoons to enhance the fan experience, but he surely knew that Big Blue Nation and its attendant media could easily absorb a double helping of greatness.

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9/11

In a time when the word “hero” is gratuitously overused, when politicians pose as heroes for doing their job, or not, this piece run in the WaPo in 2011 reminds us what the word really looks like.

597px-911_Tribute_(perspective_fixed)

“911 Tribute (perspective fixed)” by KimCarpenter NJ

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Watch what we wish for?

(Credit - Natural Resources Defense Council)

(Credit – Natural Resources Defense Council)

A nod to Randall Stevens for a provocative Facebook posting about contemporary progressive urbanism – “Smart Growth” – posing the question, “What can Lexington learn from this?”

Tiptoe gingerly through the ideologically argumentative minefield and you might recall some troubling cautionary tales taken from such otherwise “cool” places as Boulder and Austin.

Please read and offer your thoughts about our own aspirations for Lexington, Kentucky.

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Let’s Focus on What We Already Have

Courthouse section

With the Rupp Arena Area Entertainment District concept now shelved, at least for the time being, attention is returning to some of Lexington’s outstanding existing historic structures in dire need of TLC and holding great potential as re-purposed public spaces.

One such building is the Old Courthouse – situated smack dab in the center of our city, yet sitting there shuttered, moth-balled even as 21c begins to take shape immediately across Upper Street with CentrePointe underway just a stone’s throw across Main. And this is not to mention the burgeoning dining and entertainment district on Short Street.

One consistent advocate of investing in the building’s renovation and return to Lexington’s civic landscape has been Foster Ockerman, Jr. He offers his thoughts in an OpEd appearing in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Please read it, offer your views and share with your friends. We believe this to be a conversation whose time has come.

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The Rise of ISIS and Why You Should Care

Transylvania University political science associate professor Michael Cairo

Transylvania University political science associate professor Michael Cairo

In the wake of two Gulf wars costing thousands of American lives and billions in U.S. treasure, Iraq is now rapidly being reshaped into a terrorist state. Transylvania University Political Science professor Michael Cairo, author of The Gulf: The Bush Presidencies and the Middle East (Studies in Conflict, Diplomacy and Peace), replied via email to a series of questions concerning the current escalation of sectarian violence in Iraq as Sunni insurgents seek to create a new ultra fundamentalist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Tom Martin: There may be confusion about the forces now in play in Iraq: Shiite versus Sunni and in particular, the full scale of the intentions of the Sunni insurgency and what its success would imply.

Michael Cairo: What most people fail to realize is that Iraq, in its present state, is a post-World War I creation of the mandate system.

Under the Ottoman Empire, the areas within Iraq were far from the center and relatively autonomous.  As long as these regions remained stable and did not upset the Empire’s interests, the Ottomans stayed out of the region.

Following World War I, the British brought three relatively autonomous groups together under one state: the Kurds in the north, the Shiite in the south, and the Sunni triangle in the center of the country.  It is also important to realize that the Shiite have a majority in the country.  Despite the Kurds also being Sunni, they share different interests than the Sunni in the center of the country.

Throughout Iraq’s existence, violence, paternalism, corruption, and patronage have been central to politics.  Saddam Hussein’s rule added to the distrust since he used violence against the Kurdish and Shiite populations and promoted the power and position of the Sunni population within the triangle.

The overthrow of Saddam Hussein contributed to distrust and violence.  The Bush administration’s de-Baathification of the country meant the removal of all those associated with Hussein’s regime, including those involved simply for employment. This created a ready-made “angry” Sunni population. The Shiite government of Nouri al-Maliki has also contributed to this by ensuring benefits for the Shiite population at the expense of the Sunni.

The current sectarian violence, thus, is not a surprise to anyone familiar with the region and its history.

TM: What US interests are at stake in the present crisis?

MC: First, there is a bit of irony here since it may serve to create additional channels of cooperation for the US and Iran.

In recent years, the Shiite Government of Iraq and the Iranian Government have developed closer relations. Moreover, the Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has called for fighting against the insurgents in the north, suggesting a possible collaborative effort between the Iraqi Shiites, the Iraqi Government, and the Iranian Government with possible assistance from the US (most likely air strikes).  Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his country is ready to help Iraq if asked, and would consider working with the United States in fighting Sunni extremists if the US decides to take action.

At the same time, this could prove problematic for the US since it might potentially increase Iranian power in the region. Not showing a degree of interest could signal to Iran that the US is willing to let Iran extend its power in the region. The U.S. aircraft carrier deployed in the Gulf has, in my opinion, two purposes – one to send a signal to Iran and two to be prepared if the president chooses an air strike option.

Second, the US most certainly has economic interests in the region.  Gas prices have spiked as ISIS has had an impact on oil fields in northern Iraq, shutting down exports from that region.  The heart of Iraq’s oil region is located in the south and an ISIS advance could seriously threaten oil exports and US economic interests in the region.

Third, ISIS could have a significant impact on Israel, Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon, putting potentially threatening and violent regimes near their borders.  Spill-over from the crisis could have a significant affect on the region and lead to a wider war, which could prove disastrous.

TM: How does the present event differ from previous episodes of civil upheaval in Iraq and the region? The Iranian angle might be one example, but anything else?

MC: The current situation could be seen as a continuation of the past, as well as retribution for the past. Sectarian conflict has been a part of Iraqi history.  Saddam Hussein’s atrocities against the Kurds and Shiites are well known.  The Shiites have dominated the system since 2003 and have used economic and political patronage, and violence, as a form of retribution and control.  The difference today is that there is an increasingly religious element to the conflict.  Saddam Hussein’s regime was secular. ISIS is an Islamist group, changing the nature of the conflict somewhat.  Iraq is also home to one of the holiest sites for the Shiites, Karbala.  This adds to the threat that ISIS presents.

TM: Is there a credible possibility that what is now Iraq might end up fragmented, giving rise to the imagined ISIS?

MC: Absolutely.  This is certainly a possibility given the fact that Iraq as a state is an artificial creation, drawn on a map with a pencil and a ruler by British diplomats. This, however, would not necessarily mean a reduction in violence since these entities would likely have conflicting interests.  In addition, control of the economic resources – oil – could become even more significant for these new entities.

TM: Why should Americans care about what is happening in Iraq?

MC: First, Iraq’s geographic position in the Middle East – surrounded by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, Jordan, Syria, and Turkey – means that it has implications for the countries that surround it.  What happens in Iraq can have significant ramifications for what happens elsewhere in the Middle East.

Second, Iraq has significant implications for the international economy with its vast oil reserves.  We have already seen oil prices go above $113 as a result, in part, of the conflict.  In addition, the conflict constrains companies  from investing in those oil fields.  It is also important to remember that we are partially responsible for the current crisis in Iraq.  We opened the floodgates with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

TM: There have been observations made in media in recent days to the effect that if Bush over-reached in Iraq, Obama has under-reached. Wherever blame for any U.S. failures may rest, it doesn’t change the fact that with the rise of ISIS we have lost thousands of lives, damaged thousands more and evidently wasted billions in treasure in an attempt to stabilize Iraq.

MC: It is generally correct.  It is a tragic case of conflict.  While Bush certainly overreached, I am not so sure that Obama under reached.  Frankly, I am not convinced that increased US force in Iraq can stabilize the region without a serious long-term commitment.  The American public is not prepared for a permanent  American presence in Iraq and such a presence might only serve to increase reactions from forces like ISIS.

It is important to remember that American domestic politics matters too.  Obama could not have “overreached” even if he wanted to.  The critics often forget what he was handed.  While I certainly admit he’s made mistakes along the way, we need to be careful not to forget that he entered office facing an American public that was tired of war and ready to get out.  Perhaps he over responded to the American public, but our recent experiences in Iraq were impacting both him and the public.  The idea of fighting a long term war was out of the question for most Americans.

Environment, News, Politics, Uncategorized

Kentucky Pols: right or wrong on Climate Change?

Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo says of President Obama’s plan to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired power plants, “It was a dumb-ass thing to do, and you can quote me.”  Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from coal-producing Clay County, told the Lexington Herald-Leader he agrees with Stumbo’s assessment of the proposed regulations.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes calls the president’s plan “pie-in-the-sky regulations that are impossible to achieve.”

Will history prove them famously correct? Or terribly wrong? Please take a moment to read thoroughly Ezra Kein’s sobering assessment of just where things stand with this matter of climate change. (With apologies to the sensitive for the profanity in the beginning.)

Then, we hope you will offer your thoughts via one or some of our social media options.

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25 Years After Tiananmen Square

 

I remember watching the coverage on television, mouth agape, at the sudden exuberant explosion of peaceful protests in Beijing.  The crafting of the Goddess of Democracy statue in the square, the excited demands, hopes, yearnings for freedom of thought, expression, and democratic governance.  The hopefulness of it all.  The crazy courage and determination of protesters from all walks of Chinese life.

And then, of course, came this.

The Chinese government has not just whitewashed the brutal crackdown, in true Orwellian fashion it has attempted to remove the entire episode from national historic memory.

Louisa Lim’s new book, The People’s Republic of Amnesia, takes us back to those momentous times, and individuals whose lives were forever changed by the protests and crackdown.  National Geographic just published a brief interview with her.

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No Easy Answers

After another horrific mass killing the renewed seeking of answers, solutions, proposed interventions is understandable.  Mental health intervention is almost always proposed as a major element of a solution. Read this column in today’s New York Times to gain further understanding of the complexities of the issue.

Share your thoughts about this issue and what steps need to be taken.

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UK President Capilouto Fires Back in Letter to Rupp Task Force Chair

Kentucky Sports Radio has just published UK President’s letter dated May 20, in response to Rupp Arena Task Force Chairman’s April 25th letter to him essentially demanding UK’s public commitment to the project.  See the letter here:

http://kentuckysportsradio.com/basketball-2/president-capilouto-writes-a-scathing-letter-to-city-of-lexington-on-rupp-arena/

The letter is detailed, blunt, and is described by KSR as “scathing”.  In it Capilouto declines to support the project, citing lack of public support and other more pressing local, state, and UK priorities.  Given this letter, recent public polls, and legislative inaction, the proposed arena and convention center project appears to be mortally wounded.

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‘Book of Visions’ premieres at Transy

The world premiere stage production of Maurice Manning’s award-winning book of poetry “Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions” debuted March 27 in Transylvania University’s Lucille Caudill Little Theater. This ensemble performance portrays friendships and fantasies from the colorful life of young Lawrence “Law” Booth who imagines incredible things to escape his troubles.

Set in Appalachia in the 1970s and 80s, the coming-of-age poetic saga focuses on the adventures of the rebellious Booth, his scurrilous Mad Daddy, his best friend Black Damon, the perhaps imaginary Missionary Woman and Red Dog, his beloved canine pal.

Drawn directly from Manning’s poems, this theatrical adaptation features vivid monologues, startling revelations, choral storytelling, Appalachian music and many weird and wondrous visions all brought to vigorous life by Transylvania student actors and a professional production team.

“Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions” took Manning, an English professor and writer-in-residence at Transylvania, more than 10 years to write. It was a project he began right out of college, and although he felt unsure of what he was doing, he was certain he wanted to be a writer.

“I didn’t really know what that meant or how to go about it,” Manning said. “I just wanted to be a person who read books and carried around a pen and scraps of paper, someone who studies the world for its meaning.”

Manning must have figured it out. “Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions” won the 2001 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition. “Manning’s unfaltering audacity is equaled by its artistic control, and the result is an astonishing collection, still more astonishing as a first book,” wrote Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and contest judge W. S. Merwin in his foreword. “The individual poems…bring on a cast of characters who recur in a spectrum of forms and phantoms, luminous shapes altering the same kaleidoscope.”

It was this cast of characters that Transylvania theater professor Michael Bigelow Dixon found compelling when reading the work of his fellow faculty member. Dixon says, “I read ‘Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions’ and recognized how theatrical it was: There are continuing characters, a journey filled with dramatic events and a unique poetic voice. Then I attended Maurice Manning’s readings and realized how vibrant and engaging his work is when read aloud.”

It took theater faculty and students four months of meetings, comparisons of experimental drafts and conversations exploring the thematic and theatrical intent of the piece. Different versions of the script were read aloud multiple times by the adaptors and members of the creative team—designers, stage manager and producer. The theatrical adaptation was a team effort consisting of Dixon; Lexington-based Project SEE Theatre professionals Evan Bergman, Ellie Clark and Sullivan White; and first-year Transylvania student Theodora Z. Salazar.

Dixon describes the final product as a “bildungsroman,” or coming-of-age story, divided into three parts that align with Booth’s childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. “It’s a portrait of the artist as a young man in Appalachia,” explains Dixon, and each section includes six to nine poems that offer insight into the development of his character through conflict, friendship and fantasy.

The production includes a prologue and epilogue, reflecting Maurice Manning’s own introduction and conclusion to his collection of poems. Manning, Dixon and Ellie Clark recently talked with author Silas House about “Book of Visions” on the radio program “Hillbilly Solid.” The interview starts at 39:41 and may be heard here.

In addition to enjoying the play, guests can see a faculty/student photography exhibition curated to reflect the themes of the production and Transylvania’s many connections with Appalachian culture. The works will be on display near the theater entrance. And the Transylvania University a cappella group, TBA, has composed and will sing the poem, “A Prayer Against Forgetting Boys,” at a limited number of performances.

If you go

Performances of “Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions” will be April 5, 7:30 p.m.; and April 6, 2 p.m.

All performances are staged in the Lucille Caudill Little Theater, on Transylvania’s historic campus, located off Fourth Street between North Broadway and Upper Streets in downtown Lexington. There is ample parking in the adjacent Mitchell Fine Arts Center parking lot and handicap/disability parking and seating are available for all the productions.

Tickets are $10 each for general admission and $5 each for the Transylvania community. Tickets may be reserved by calling the box office at 859-281-3621 weekdays March 24-28 and March 31-April 4 between 1–4 p.m. The Little Theater box office is also open one hour prior to performances. For more information, contact Transylvania’s fine arts office at 859-233-8141.

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Talk To Me Please: New York City, March, 2014 (NSFW)

WARNING: This posting contains nude images.

by Christine Huskisson

I am not a blogger by nature; I prefer to tell stories. I love a good metaphor and the occasional innuendo as a way of processing what I chose to write about: the world of art. It is a topic that I am now convinced could make you sick, if not mildly insane if it were not for stories and someone to share them with.

Arts Week in New York began in early March this year with events like the Armory Show, which is America’s largest fair for the most important art of the 20th and 21st centuries. Art lovers, or should I say carnivores like myself, gorged on everything from paint to profanity, installation to styrofoam sculptures, and enormous photographs of far away places with camel bone bicycles and beautiful bullets.

I arrived early in the morning to see the sixteenth iteration of The Armory Show, which was held on Piers 92 and 94 on the Hudson River. That is where I met Oliver, my guide for the day. We had a good deal in common: those impressions on your upper nose from wearing heavy glasses so that you don’t miss a thing and the odd mix of degrees in business and art history.

Together we decided to delve into the tales told by a countless number of artists represented by 200 galleries from 29 countries. The artworks that I share with you here were not chosen because they are the most successful, the top ten, the most notable by academic standards, or the hottest items on the market today. I am sharing these with you for the simple fact that they told us – Oliver and me that is – some kind of story or allowed us to listen in on a conversation that someone else was having in another part of the world. In them, we found plenty to make our day palatable and the entire experience a bit saner.

We began on Pier 94 chatting about what most in the art world know as the ‘blue chip’ artists, well-established artists with impressive resumes represented by world renown galleries. You have to joke in the midst of this crowd. So we decided that Tony Cragg’s Distant Cousin and Georg Baselitz’s Leyk dede var were having some fun together. Imagine Baselitz’s figures, while hanging upside down in a field of tangerine oil paint whispering to one another: “Hey, how do you suppose that hunk of steel sold for a million dollars this year?” Which it did.

Tony Cragg and Georg Baselitz2

Tony Cragg’s Distant Cousin, 2008 and Georg Baselitz’s Leyk dede var, 2013

In this same area, we turned to find our images reflected in Robert Longo’s enormous photo-realist drawing depicting a Burning Man. Our reflections were standing behind the man in a cowboy hat watching what must have been a gruesome event taking place. Burning Man sold for $380,000 and these are only two of the sales made by the Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac of Paris and Salzburg. It was enough to make us want to move on to a greener crowd.

Robert Longo, Untitled (Burning Man)

Robert Longo, Burning Man
Hayal Pozanti | lithograph created during her Tamarind residency; photo courtesy of Logan Bellew
Hayal Pozanti, original print for larger work titled Sacred Canopy, 2014

Among the newer galleries in a section titled ‘Armory Presents,’ we found the Jessica Silverman Gallery from San Francisco. The works here by Hayal Pozanti, a native of Istanbul, who received her MFA from Yale University in 2011, were imbued with a sense of color, spacial relations, and humor that I found very attractive. I wanted to buy and Oliver and I had our first disagreement. Oliver snapped back at me, “The fact that the artist is so young and working with a young gallery too might end up thwarting a career.” Fact is: this young woman’s work was big talk at the show.

Serge 2

Serge Alain Nitegeka, Fragile Cargo X, 2013

Another biggie was from one of the curated booths in the Contemporary section, the Marianne Boesky Gallery brought us along the journey as told by Serge Alain Nitegeka, a South African-based artist of painting, sculpture, and installations. After hesitating just a bit due to the obvious effort involved in this installation, Oliver took my hand and we wondered into the booth climbing over and ducking under painted two by fours with heavy crates nailed all around, but mostly above our heads.

Once through the small space that felt unbelievably oppressive, we discovered Fragile Cargo X, Exterior, Silence, Tunnel VIII, enormous objects constructed of the same material through which we had to pass, only far more rewarding in their composition and presence. Oliver knew the artist’s story and shared it with me in this intimate space removed from the crowd. This was the first time Nitegeka had been shown in the United States and every work in this space sold to museums around the world. There is now a waiting list for his work at the Marianne Boesky Gallery. “This is a find!” he said. “New artist to the markets with solid representation from an established gallery.”

Polidiori 2

Robert Polidori’s Enfilade, Salle les princes royales, 2010

Standing in front of another visual wandering, fully set within a frame this time by Robert Polidori and inspired by the Palace of Versailles, I had a chance to share with Oliver a bit about my hometown in Kentucky. He was more interested in making sure I realized that Mr. Polidori is a staff photographer for The New Yorker Magazine.

Historical incident masked by beautiful color and form took us to Bullets Revisted. Moroccan artist Lala Essaydi stacked bullets in different ways to create the imagery in this chromogenic print. Oliver shared with me that the markings all over the woman’s body were Islamic calligraphy applied by hand with henna. This work in particular was part of an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston titled She Who Tells A Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World curated to challenge stereotypes and refute the notion that all Arab and Iranian women are oppressed and powerless. Instead, they are telling their stories and, as with Lalla Essaydi, they are making some of the most significant work in the region today.

Bullets Revisted 2

Lalla Essaydi, Bullets Revisited #3, 2012

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Liang Shuo’s, Fit No. 8, 2014

On entering the Focus China section curated by Philip Tinari, Liang Shuo’s Fit No. 8 from 2014 represented by Gallery Yang is clearly not a sign or signifier of China – Shuo’s China is China. The sculpture is made from mass produced, found objects. The artist did not use any adhesives to assemble this contraption. He worked until he found one piece that fit perfectly into the next, numbering each intersection so that they were clearly mated. He also provides us with a diagram of how to assemble this work.
Fit NO. 8

Liang Shuo’s, Fit No. 8, How to Assemble, 2014

Oliver and I had too much fun in the Focus China section, there was a good bit of humor there and we found it most refreshing.  Deciding to wrap up our day, we happened on Miguel Angel Rogas’ David/Quiebramales. It was so powerful and honest that our conversations turned to a whisper and then nothing really, not knowing what to say about the young Army vet posed as Michelangelo’s David. His left leg was missing from the knee down, presumably lost to a land mine.
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Miguel Angel Rogas, David/Quiebramales, 2008

In our silence, I just stood next to Oliver and realized how much I really liked the time we spent together. I could imagine that if I had been standing in front of the statue of David with him, we might discuss Michelangelo, the Italian Renaissance, a contrapposto pose, the Medici Family or the Florentine Republic. At that precise moment though, all of that seemed vapid, my mind went blank and I could not even find the right words to describe ‘hero’.

Folkert de Jong, Conference Art, 2013

Folkert de Jong, Conference Art, 2013

We wandered off to end our day with a bit of levity and found Folkert de Jong’s Conference Art, which was carved from a single piece of styrofoam. All an illusion. It was just the metaphor I needed to end my visit to the Piers 92 and 94. Without the stories told by each of these artists and shared with Oliver, I might not have been able to balance Arts Week in New York with the grace and style that I felt as I left.

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Ky Dems Differ on Conway, Beshear Appeal Duel

No one can recall anything quite like it: Kentucky’s Attorney General and Governor at odds over a federal judge’s ruling that the state must recognize same-sex marriages.

Attorney General Jack Conway announced that he would not appeal, citing opposition to discrimination and conscience. Conway’s emotional announcement was followed immediately by a statement from Governor Steve Beshear announcing that he will enlist outside counsel to mount an appeal in the belief that the matter is best settled by the U.S. Supreme Court.

As Phillip M. Bailey reports for Louisville public radio station WFPL, the split between Beshear and Conway has renewed the division among Kentucky Democrats over gay marriage.

Family Foundation Senior Policy Analyst Martin Cothran commented on Conway’s decision and fielded reporters’ questions. Watch the video from courier-journal.com

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Russian-Ukraine Conflict: Why It Matters

Dr.-Ken-SlepyanUkraine is the scene of a rapidly escalating crisis that has raised fears of a military conflict. As world leaders push for a diplomatic solution, UnderMain launches a dialogue of local perspectives on this global event.

We posed key questions to Transylvania University History Professor Ken Slepyan, author of Stalin’s Guerillas, an account of the Soviet partisan movement in WWII.

UM: Can you enlighten our readers on the relationship between Russia and Ukraine?

KS: Russia and Ukraine have a long and complicated history.  The first Russian state was actually centered in Kiev, the current capital of Ukraine.  The areas that comprise today’s Ukraine have been at different times (and often simultaneously) a part of the Russian Empire, Poland, and the Austrian Empire.  Eastern Ukraine became part of the Russian Empire in the seventeenth century, while the West remained part of the Kingdom of Poland, and then the Austrian Empire.  The borders of contemporary Ukraine  were established only in 1939 (under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact when the USSR annexed western regions from a resurrected Poland).  Because of these varied histories, the culture, experiences, perspectives, and demographics of Ukraine are quite different from each other in the East, West, and South, with Western Ukraine pulled more towards Europe and Eastern Ukraine to Russia.  However, you can find many Ukrainian speakers in Eastern Ukraine, Russian speakers in Western Ukraine, and Ukrainians who speak Russian but identify with Ukraine rather than Russia.

It is also worth noting that in the Crimea, while ethnic Russians do constitute a majority of the population (a little above 50%), the significant Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar populations do not want to be a part of Russia.  The Russian majority was achieved, in part, by the mass expulsion of the Tatar population in 1944 based on alleged collaboration with the Germans, and the resettlement of the area by Russians.  (The Tatars have been returning in large numbers since the 1990s). Also, while it is a bit of an urban legend that Khrushchev “gave” Crimea to Ukraine on a whim in 1954, there are sound geographical reasons why the peninsula was administratively attached to Ukraine, primarily because of food, water, and power needs.

UM:Why should we care about what is going on in Ukraine?

KS: Ukraine is a country that is a bridge between the rest of Europe and Russia and  the Eurasian continent.  It has a culture and history tied both to Russia and Central/Eastern Europe and “belongs” to no country in particular.  We should also care that a sovereign, democratic nation be able to choose its own political course without being invaded by a neighbor who doesn’t like the results when Ukraine poses no threat to Russia’s existence.  It also important that the European continent remain stable and peaceful.  Ignoring Russia’s actions will undermine this objective.  This said, Ukraine is more important economically to the countries of the EU than it is to the US.

UM: What are the Russian Federation’s strategic interests in Ukraine?

KS: Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has deemed the “near abroad” (former republics of the Soviet Union) an essential part of its sphere of influence.  There are three main strategic concerns: 1. The control of the naval base at Sevastopol in Crimea, the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet, and necessary for access to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.  Losing Sevastopol and Crimea would be viewed by the Russians as a catastrophic strategic defeat (however, there is no credible indication that this was a real possibility) 2. The protection of ethnic Russians living in the near abroad, such as the populations in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine; 3. The establishment of a “Eurasian Union” consisting of former states of the Soviet Union, with Russia as its head, to serve both as counterweight to the European Union and to secure Russian hegemony in the region.  Also, perhaps less important, but also possibly a factor, Ukraine’s heavy industry is located in Eastern Russia (although much of this industry is not up to world production standards).

UM:What are the United States’ strategic interests in Ukraine?

KS: What happens in Ukraine is important but I hesitate to say that in itself it constitutes a vital American strategic interest.  As part of the deals to remove nuclear weapons from Ukraine, we are signatories, along with the Russians, to the integrity of Ukraine’s borders.  It is not in American interests on principle for Russia to violate Ukrainian territorial integrity, and for the message that this sends to other Central/Eastern European nations and the other countries in Russia’s near abroad.  Moreover, Ukrainians, especially in the West look to the US for support and we cannot take that role lightly.

UM: What are the realistic response options for the United States at this juncture?

KS: As I see it, American options are very limited.  I do not think that military intervention is a realistic option or even desirable option, given our lack of immediate bases in the region, the stretching out of our forces dealing with situations, and (not least!) the fear that this could escalate in a much more serious crisis between the US and Russia (both of whom still have substantial nuclear weapons).  The response will therefore have to be political and economic: isolation of Russia (such as not participating in preparations for the upcoming G-8 summit in Sochi, or boycotting them altogether), targeted economic sanctions, possibly aimed at the business community to put pressure on Putin from that direction etc..  It will be necessary to get support from the EU and other countries for these to be effective, but it is unclear how far these other states would go along with these, especially since many EU states remain dependent on Russian natural gas (as does Ukraine).  However, if Russia believes that securing/annexing parts of Ukraine are that important to it, then our responses won’t be able to achieve much of anything, except as a signal to the Russians that we oppose this action.

However, while these measures may be necessary, we also have to remember that we need Russia’s cooperation on other important national security issues: the disabling of Syria’s chemical weapon stockpiles, our current position in Afghanistan, and continued pressure on Iran to deal with that country’s nuclear threat.  We will have to be intentional as to what our priorities are in these areas with respect to Ukraine.

All, Arts, Entertainment, Environment, Music, News, Politics

Cultural Affairs Can Be a Load of Crap

Someone I know, pondering a try at local politics, recently wondered if his ideas even mattered. Politics and public service, these days, do seem so co-opted, so corporatized by the powerful and monied that it was easy to understand and impossible to dismiss his sense of futility.

Many of us share it. No point in going into the reasons. We’re all more than aware to the point of increasing -and dangerous- cyncism of what has become of the high ideals of statesmanship.

So, can you actually make a difference? Any difference? Do you have a voice? Can your voice influence public policy and bring about positive change or improvement?

Indulge us a bit as we get this thing called UnderMain underway. We actually do believe the answer is “yes.” And part of our mission is to encourage and facilitate your voice as a powerful Lexington cultural resource.

You are invited to become a contributor to the UnderMain blog community. Send your submission for consideration to editorial@under-main.com. Consideration? Yes. There is plenty of snark out there. That’s well covered. This is a place where we talk frankly, but with respect, about moving things forward. We will offer observations of our own from time to time, but our hope is to create a carousel of perspectives and ideas about our cultural landscape and conditions.

I’d like to get this rolling with what may seem an odd question for a cultural affairs magazine. But you know? Sewage is a cultural affair.

So, this multiple choice quiz for your consideration:

How aware are you of the details of the city’s agreement with the EPA to fix the mess that is our ghastly mingled system of sanitary and storm sewers?

I’m up on it

I’m somewhat aware

I’m vaguely aware

I know very little

Huh?

Are you aware that city officials anticipate that implementation of their plan to meet the requirements of the federal Clean Water Act will cost the city at least $600 million?

Yes, fully aware

No. You’re kidding?

Did you know that this cost is being covered with a recently enacted sewage fee that most likely will have to be increased?

Yes and I would support an increase to ensure Lexington is in full compliance.

Yes, but I do not support a tax increase for this purpose

Fixing sewers is decidedly unsexy compared with creating an entertainment district in our downtown. But there is a limit to what our tax base can support. Which is your priority?

Fix the sewers

Build the entertainment district

Which of the following best describes you as a Fayette County citizen?

Actively engaged in the affairs of my community

Interested in the affairs of my community

Somewhat aware of what’s going on

Aware but too busy to care

Unaware but wish I knew more

Unaware. Blissfully unaware.