American Expressions rolled into Louisville, Kentucky with high hopes of getting a great American experience and the city did not disappoint. My dear friend and fellow artist Andrew Marsh hosted me at his home, provided many options for posting up, and did some promotional outreach for the project. Many thanks to you my brother for believing and supporting this important project.
When I arrived in Louisville I had little lined up for events. Andrew and I brainstormed about all the happenings in the community and drew up a plan: Kentucky state fair, U of L campus, and LVA (Louisville Visual Arts) event at the Garage. Andrew had also reached out to WFPL, the local NPR station, and shared my project with them.
First stop, the state fair. I was a little unsure how this was going to go, but given the volume of people, I had to give it a go. After paying my $20 fee for parking and admission, I was directed around the far side of the property, what felt like miles away, and knew this wasn't going to be banner experience.
Instantly I was noticed by the parking crew, giant flag and all. It was only a matter of time before the golf carts descended upon me and I began answering questions about "Wut har yew doin' with dat flag?" I explained myself to 3 different patrollers, one lady pressing me "I'm not going to have any trouble with you, am I?" No mam!, it's on wheels for a reason. As I was about to depart, Ms. Ashlie Stevens of WFPL pulled up and inquired if she could do an interview about my project. We talked for about 15 minutes while a photographer took a few pictures and the golf carts circled. The media attention was too much for the patrollers and they descended to prescribe their verdict, "You gotta go." What?! No funnel cake for me?! I was not surprised by this, but Ms. Stevens was and she kept her recorder going while I was being adjudicated. I was denied a refund and couldn't convince even one of these true blooded Americans to sign the flag. The parking jury departed and a State Trooper pulled up at a reasonable distance to indicate the countdown clock had started for my departure. I thanked Ashlie for her interest in my project, loaded up, & moved on out. Hopefully the rest of Louisville would be more receptive. You can hear the WFPL interview here, ejection discussion included! Thanks for a great story, Ashlie!
Despite the coarse fair reception (#fuckyourfair), good things were in store for American Expressions. I was invited to be included in an fundraiser for the Louisville Visual Arts for upcoming mural projects. It was a great event with artists making 8' x 8' murals outside the Garage Bar and American Expressions parked on the street. There was a great amount of interest in my project and I had several quality conversations. One lesbian couple grilled me about my political affiliation, they smelled a Trump, no doubt. "I am an attorney and I need to know more about this before I'm willing to participate. Who are you voting for?" she inquired. I replied, "Whom ever I choose!" She was not expecting pushback and chaffed at the notion I would not comply with her question. Free country, lady, but ya better learn to play nice with others and not assume your intelligence is superior.
At the end of a very long day I was about to load up and roll out when a young lady approached me. "You did this? This is your project?" Yup, this is me, I am it. "I heard you on the radio, I need to talk to you," she insisted.
She proceed to tell me I needed to change the crux of my project from 'Freedom & Tolerance' to 'Freedom & Compassion.' I have had many good discussions during this trip, but none so philosophically sound and tuned into what I am attempting to do. Her point was very clear: Tolerance is the edge of hate. Tolerance is a word that solves nothing. Tolerance can not bring us together. Compassion. Compassion is what we need to aid our splintering society. I listened intently and I slightly pushed back because I've thought extensively about the method and message I am promoting. I was intrigued, but she had to pass through the acid bath of my cynicism to her opinion. She continued with conviction, "How can you understand what it is like to be another person? To have you're life shaped by things beyond your control? That everyone has their own understanding of existence?" I concurred, "Your talking about the epistemology of relativism", that everyone's reality is made up of conditions and experiences unique to themselves, therefore shaping the way they interact with the world. She exclaimed, "Compassion is the tool we need to bridge between each other, not tolerance." She was right and in that moment I knew I needed to change my artwork.
This was a gift. A beautiful moment of the art working, influencing, inspiring, and evolving. She said, "you are on this amazing journey for all of us, don't stop short with tolerance, make the effort. Compassion is what we desperately need as a country." Her personal story was the catalyst for her perspective and I was lucky enough to get her input. It has made my journey better, it has made my journey a success.
Big UPS to my man Casey Mckinney for putting a rad mural on the back of the flag. The man has got mad skillz.
Check out his talents at www.derbypaints.com
Many thanks to Ms.Mo at Revelry Gallery for including me in the Mural Fundraiser or LVA. I had a ball! Best of luck!
As with many other cities on this tour, NuLu, New Louisville (not to be confused with SoDoSoPa) is the reclamation of inner city property by a new generation of entrepreneurs creating the tightly knit, hip urban living experience. All of our American cities once had thriving city centers that suffered a uniform exodus of suburbanization, (aka whiteflight) leaving behind rich architecture, infrastructure, and identity. We bought into the American Dream of "Little Pink Houses, for you and me" and in doing so climbed in our cars and segregated ourselves from our urban history. The revitalization and placemaking craze maybe a "whiteflood" back into the inner city, but our vision is a monotoned cash green. Gentrification (often couched in black & white racial terms, but always green in motive) is a problem each of these cities must grapple with, but regeneration on the other hand, is the wisdom of renovating versus razing these dilapidated urban cores with attention paid to those who have always resided there. It is a fine line and I'm not sure it is given much thought because we're focused on the fiscal outcome instead of the cultural ones, but it is happening everywhere. Throughout my tour almost every community has reclaimed an old building and turned it into a brewery, with a coffee shop down the street, and then a Thursday farmer market pops up, and cute boutiques, and greaser barber shop opens(read hipster) and that new HOT Chicken place, where it's en vogue to have champaign with your fancy bird sandwich. This is the engine of local economies and the seeds of local communities. People may rail at this as gentrification, but it is young people, taking their ideas & energies and making them real, building communities where, by and large, communities had vanished. Can redevelopment be done conscious of existing demographics? Of course, but where is the model to follow? There is an opportunity with every redevelopment to undo the societal scars of white flight and better our whole communities. Can it be done? Sure. Will it be done? .....