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Arts

Make your FREE reservation now at reservations@under-main.com

UnderMain invites you to attend Critical Mass III: In The Mid March 15th & 16th. In its third iteration, after being hosted in Lexington and Louisville, the conversation will now move to Northern Kentucky to be held at The Carnegie Center in Covington. The Critical Mass Series is based in a common desire to create a platform for critical thinking in the arts: including artists, art critics, and curators.

CMIII: In The Mid will center on the experience of art professionals living and working outside of the major art centers for contemporary art. The panel-community discussion will also examine the role that written criticism plays in engagement of regional artists and institutions in a national and international dialogue.

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Natalia Zuluaga, Featured Panelist and second Critic-in-Residence for the Great Meadows Foundation and INhouse.

UM is partnering with The Great Meadows Foundation and INhouse and their second Critic-in-Residence, Natalia Zuluaga. During her residency she will make studio visits to a number of artists in the region as part of the foundation’s goal to help strengthen and support the critical growth of Kentucky artists.

Matt Distel, the Exhibitions Director at The Carnegie and moderator of the event, has also invited the following panelists to attend: Valentine Umansky, Annie Dell’Aria, and Sarah Rose Sharp. The focus of CMIII: In the Mid is Regionalism. Matt states that the aim is to discuss questions like ‘What is Regionalism and how does it inform opportunities for artists and writers?’ ‘What are the practical concerns for artists that are working outside of major arts centers?’ And ‘What role does art criticism (and critical dialogue in general play) in the careers of “regional” artists?

This event will bring forth ideas and topics relevant to anyone who values cultural critique with a focus on practical outcomes. The format promises interaction and discussion punctuated with artist presentations, accompanied by light bites and brunch cocktails.

UnderMain President, Christine Huskisson, thinks that the event will help build more meaningful and productive connections between people in the arts whether that be artists, curators, critics, or collectors. ‘My hope is that the Critical Mass Series, now in its third year, could become a space where we can discuss critical topics relevant to our growth as artists and develop a collective voice strong enough to be heard on the larger stage of the contemporary art world.’

Matt Distel believes the time is critical, ‘With any event of this nature we are really hoping to increase the level and, frankly, quantity of critical discourse around the arts. It’s such a vital component to the overall health of an arts community to receive and engage in dialogue around art projects and exhibitions. As mainstream news outlets drift further away from that sort of coverage, it feels like a really crucial time for the artists, writers, curators, collectors, galleries and administrators to ask what we want from the art critical conversation in this region.’

CMIII: In The Mid will take place on Saturday, March 16th at The Carnegie in Covington and will run from 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM. We hope you will join us the night before on March 15th for gallery opening of Open Source, featuring artist Sky Cubacub.

Make a reservation for free attendance at reservations@under-main.com. The Carnegie is located at: 1028 Scott Blvd Covington, KY 41011. You can reach them at their phone number:  859-491-2030.

Meet the Featured Artists:

Sky Cubacub is featured at The Carnegie’s Gallery opening March 15th. Cubacub first dreamed of Rebirth Garments in high school when they didn’t have access to buy a binder. Rebirth Garment’s mission is to create gender non-conforming wearables and accessories for people on the full spectrum of gender, size and ability.

“I am especially interested in Rebirth Garments being accessible to queercrip youth and I’m working on creating a program for making free/reduced priced garments for people in need… In my practice, the intensive handwork makes the process the most important part and gives me inspiration. For me, everyday is a performance where I bring my body as a kinetic sculpture into the consciousness if the people I interact with in passing and on a daily basis. I embody the spirit of Radical Visibility, and Rebirth Garments is my soft armor.”

http://rebirthgarments.com/#customclothes

Lindsey Whittle received a BFA, in painting, from the Art Academy of Cincinnati in 2007. She pursued a master’s degree in fashion at the Scholastic’s of the Art Institute of Chicago from 2012 – 2014, studying under “Soundsuit Artist” Nick Cave, all while maintaining her position as the Master Crafter at Kiki Magazine from 2012-2015. Presently, she co-instigates and co-coordinate unique art experiences at PIQUE art gallery and bed and breakfast.

“I am a fashion/performance artist that makes colorful transformable objects as as starting point to collaboration with others. A single piece of my work often has many applications and the work functions best when those applications are in flux. It can function as an installation, on the wall, as a sculpture or on a body etc. There are elements of exploration, change, transformation, interactivity and possibility in everything I do.”

http://www.sparklezilla.com/lindsey-m-whittle

Social Circle Site specific installation at The University of Cincinnati, Blue Ash. Found objects, enamel paint, screen print. David Wischer, 2018

David Wischer  was born in Henderson, Kentucky. He received his B.F.A. in Graphic Design from Northern Kentucky University and his M.F.A. in Printmaking from Purdue University. He has taught courses in Printmaking, Foundations Design, and Digital Art at both Northern Kentucky University and Purdue University and is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital and Print Media at University of Kentucky. Through his use of printmaking, animation, video, and sound, David melds topical humor, nostalgia and social commentary with his work. His prints and video pieces usually function as an inside joke for a generation that grew up absorbing their worldly knowledge through television and the internet. David’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, and he has been included in many private and public collections. His work is currently on view in The Carnegie’s Exhibition, ‘Open Source.’

http://davidwischer.com/

“I Am The LEAST Racist Person You Have Ever Met” – Harry Sanchez Jr,  2018

Harry Sanchez Jr. was born in El Paso, Texas in 1980. He was spent much of his life on the border with Mexico, bust he also lived in many parts of the country doing menial jobs such as working in construction and the restaurant industry, providing maintenance to a golf course and ushering at a movie theatre. His mobility allowed him to experience and understand life and this society from the perspective of people from different social classes and races. In his earliest works, he used the same tools and techniques he learned as a cake-decorator, but replaced the icing with oil paint. He squeezes oil with a pastry bag over the canvas to explore the relationship between painting, sculpture and abstraction. In his most recent work, Harry gas used installations, prints, and other media to make artistic statements from the position of a racialized minority in the United States. He uses his artwork to comment on global matters such as the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the double-identity of whistleblowers who are hailed as heroes or condemned as traitors, and to denounce the separation of families following the deportation of undocumented migrants.

http://harrysanchezjr.com

Rose (for MM), 2015. Wilted rose sprayed with a mist of Balenciaga Rosabotanica.

Joey Versoza was born in Michigan and currently resides in Northern Kentucky. He has been a professor at the Art Academy of Cincinnati since 2013, and received a BFA from the same institution in 2000. He has shown several solo exhibitions at institutions such as the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, and has shown in group exhibitions in Chicago, Baltimore and Louisville- to name a few. Speaking on his work he said, “It kind of exists as both; as a question and then also as an affirmation. His show, This is It at the Contemporary Art Center in 2013, was in part about “challenging the idea of masculinity in the midwest.”

Make a free reservation for CMIII at reservations@under-main.com

About UnderMain: UnderMain is a Kentucky 501(c)(3) dedicated to arts and cultural affairs in the region. Our vision is to become a digital meeting space that empowers Kentucky creatives by presenting arts of all kinds, community issues, controversies, contests, events, people, and critical reviews. UM is serious and fun. We love playing in the digital sandbox and presenting vivid content to you, ad-free, as we offer support to some of Kentucky’s most talented writers, artists, and performers.

About the Great Meadows Foundation: The 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 mission of Great Meadows Foundation is to critically strengthen and support visual art 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.

About The Carnegie: The Carnegie is Northern Kentucky’s largest multidisciplinary arts venue providing theatre events, educational programs and art exhibitions to the Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati community. The Carnegie facility is home to The Carnegie Galleries, the Otto M. Budig Theatre, and the Eva G. Farris Education Center.  More information about The Carnegie is available at www.thecarnegie.com or by calling (859) 491-2030. The Carnegie is supported by the generosity of more than 40,000 contributors to the ArtsWave Community Campaign. The Carnegie receives ongoing operating support from the Cincinnati Wine Festival, The Greater Cincinnati Foundation, Kenton County Fiscal Courts, the Kentucky Arts Council and the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile Jr. / US Bank Foundation.

About the Featured Critic: Between 2007 and 2012 Natalia Zuluaga was the manager of foundation programs at CIFO (Cisneros Fontanais Art Foundation) where she managed the foundation’s core programs, and from 2016 through 2018 she was Artistic Director of the ArtCenter/South Florida, where she developed exhibitions, residency programs, artist development initiatives, and adult education programs. Since 2014 she has been the co-director of [NAME] Publications, a non-profit press and cultural office, and most recently she launched and is the co-editor of the bilingual online journal Dispatches (www.dispatchesjournal.org).

Savannah Wills is a Chellgren Fellow and senior at the University of Kentucky. Graduating with Bachelor Degrees in Art History and Arts Administration in Fall 2019, she previously coordinated Critical Mass II in 2018, and will be working with Under Main again to help coordinate Critical Mass III.  

Arts

UMRadio Debuts on Eastern Standard

UnderMain joins forces with WEKU’s weekly current affairs program Eastern Standard to bring you regular coverage of the arts in central and eastern Kentucky. You can listen to our first contribution to the show on this week’s edition (88.9 WEKU at 11 am / 7 pm Thursdays, 6 pm Sundays. You can live stream Eastern Standard from WEKU.fm or esweku.com, download the WEKU app from your device app store and listen live, or find our podcast on NPR One, iTunes, Google Play or Stitcher.)

Arts

Nam June Paik

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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

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

topical

Gov. Beshear on Kentucky’s Heroin Crisis

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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.

Arts

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.

original works

UnderMain Essay: The songs of the caged birds

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As with most people who have access to Netflix, I fell in love with the series Orange is the New Black. My dedication to watching the show began with the typical interest in the novelty of prisons, institutions that take people away from society, making them disappear.

The series is about a rich white girl who has to leave her comfortable life and do time in prison for a past offense.  As I continued watching, I fell in love with the stories of each individual character. I became so interested in seeing just how they got to where they were in life. By the third episode, however, I became very sad, not only for the fictional characters in Orange but for women in prison in real life – for those real women in my life.

My experience with visiting women’s prisons began when I was seven. My cousin was arrested and convicted as an accomplice to the murder of two people, one of whom was a child. At the time my cousin was young, the age I am now (20), and in a tumultuous marriage. Needless to say, drugs were involved. She was driving the car the day her husband shot and killed a man and his child in their home.

I can remember feeling scared for her as we drove her mother to the scene of the crime. I remember the court trials and going to visit my cousin in prison.

I remember talking to her, sitting right in front of her but having to use a phone to talk to her. I thought of how lonely it must be to have a glass wall between you and everyone you have ever known, to never have privacy and never to be able to go out in public.

The prison seemed like the inside of a metal lunchbox to me. It was crowded with visitors who were loud. I remember not being able to hear my cousin because the phone had a bad connection. Her mother would always cry whenever we visited her but I was always confused. I didn’t understand what was going on or why she had to be behind a glass wall. I didn’t understand why I had to walk through metal detectors before I was even ten years old. I also didn’t understand how my cousin could behave as though this place was normal. I never understood how she got used to it.

Our entire town saw her as different from other people. She was put away, “disappeared.” She was the subject of gossip for a few months, and then she was forgotten. Everyone felt “safe” and they moved on to something new.

My next experience with women’s correctional facilities involved my older sister. The first incident happened within a few months of our mother’s death of pancreatic cancer. I was fifteen and my sister was thirty-eight. I had known that my sister had been on drugs for years by that point, but the death of our mother caused such emotional trauma that her drug problem became much worse. She was arrested one night for driving under the influence and for having Meth under the passenger’s seat in her car.  Later that year she was arrested again for making and selling it.

I still have all the letters from my sister and my cousin. Little crochet key chains and Precious Moments coloring book pages from my cousin…confessions and apologies from my sister.

I would always receive the letters, with their names and ID numbers on them and become excited. It was like a pen pal, almost. At the beginning of their sentences, I became very excited to get their letters. They would ask me about soccer games, guitar practice and school. They never had much to say about their lives though, except for apologizing about their pasts and telling me about things that they missed. I couldn’t quite understand how they missed certain things. They missed biscuits and sitting on the front porch stringing beans with the family. My cousin even wrote me once explaining how badly she missed showers. As I got older, the letters between us became less frequent. I let myself get caught up with the outside world and forgot about the comfort those letters gave them. When the letters became fewer and fewer they were able to find comfort in other outlets.

I knew about the letters, but what I did not know about was their personal writings.

The women in prisons have to experience personal writings and expression and art in a different way from those of us who are on “the outside.”  Women have been oppressed for generations and limited in their ability to be in the public sphere as easily as men due to society’s judgment of women in writing. But women inmates have an even more difficult time with having their voices heard.

Women inmates have a more difficult time having their voices heard because of the negative stigma of being inmates; they are not only separate from the public sphere physically, but ideologically through the stereotypes and opinions of them. They have important things to say, but it is difficult for their words to get to us on the outside. The separation and stigma prevent women inmates from experiencing the therapeutic experience of being heard.

Just as women in general had been silenced simply as a consequence of their gender, the women in prisons are silenced for that and their inmate status.

Distinguishing between “good vs bad” enhances the negative stigma against the women in prison.  Women have been marginalized just for being women and thus cut out of the public sphere, but female inmates have to carry the labels of both “woman” and “criminal.”

The only access prisoners really have to “the outside” are through letters between themselves and family members, friends and penpals. While the rest of us can call in to news talk shows and chime in with our opinions, write letters to editors and blog about everything that angers us, those incarcerated do not have these options.

In our society, prison is a way of removing from the public eye, those who have committed crimes. They do not Facebook. They cannot have cell phones. They are limited in the amount of time they can use the prison phones and the phone calls they get and their in-person visits are timed and restricted to people on a pre-determined list.

It is easy to think, “Oh well, they are prisoners, they deserve it.” However, they are humans and separating them from society and limiting their resources only creates a cycle of low socioeconomic status and continuation of crime. It is hard to “come back up” when you are being kept down by your past mistakes.

The punishment that society imposes on inmates has the possibility of keeping them down for the rest of their lives, essentially extending their sentences even when they are eventually returned to “the outside.”

When I did a Google search on what people think about women in prison I found all of these terms: Untrustworthy; Trash; Bad; Poor; Unskilled. It is hard to carry all of these stereotypes with you – it can even make you start believing these things about yourself.

These labels lead to people deciding to not listen to what women in prison have to say. The thought of interacting with a prisoner makes people afraid and squeamish, so instead of being open to the idea of listening to an inmate, society pretends they are not there.

Who listens to the women locked in cages? Who listens to the women who are separate from their families, their friends and their jobs? Who listens to the women who are considered “violent” and “angry”?

Inmates have often been perceived as brutal, which is a false perception. In her poem, “Ready to Go”, inmate Tammica L. Summers, incarcerated at Broward Correctional Institution in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, compares the bars of prison to the bars of the zoo:

I wish I was somewhere else

Rather than this zoo

I take a long hard look at myself

And what I’ve been through.

(Women + Prison)

Summers was a college graduate who has been writing short stories and poems since grade school. However, she is not being recited at poetry clubs and appearing at poetry slams because she is incarcerated.

The legitimacy of the expressive writings of female inmates is no less than those lucky enough to receive an education in creative writing. Due to their status as an “inmate,” though, they lose all rhetorical credit and are easily disregarded.

There are many important reasons as to why we should open our eyes and ears and listen to the words of female inmates. They are humans and have the right to be heard. They are human just like all of us, which means we are just as likely to make the same mistakes they made that ended up with their incarceration.

Their words can encourage us to accept one another; to comfort one another; to listen to one another before it is too late; and to think about our actions before we do them. We are all capable of making mistakes and not every criminal is from a “rough background.”

It is easy to think that we are not capable of going to jail, that we are “good people”.

Every “good” person makes mistakes. Every person makes mistakes. We need to listen to female inmates and hear their stories and their pain. If we are unable to learn from them, then we are even more susceptible to incarceration ourselves. It is possible for any of us to also be in situations where we are one day silenced, as we as a society have silenced so many. It is even more possible that we will one day be cast away from society, just as we have cast so many away.

There are more than 200,000 women behind bars. Those are 200,000 voices that could teach us so much..

Maya Angelou, in her famous poem, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings writes,

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams

his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream

his wings are clipped and his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings

with a fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

or the caged bird

sings of freedom.

The caged bird may sing, but have you heard her?

To read the writings of female inmates you can:

*Become a penpal

*Go to one of these websites:

Angelfire

The Prison Arts Coalition

Women + Prison

*Read this book by the talented Lexington writer Bianca Spriggs.

Bridgett Howard is in her third year at Transylvania University as a Writing, Rhetoric and Communications major and Studio Art minor.  A native of Whitesburg, KY., Bridgett will graduate in May, 2015. She is UnderMain’s first intern.

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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.