My second day in Asheville took me to West Asheville where much of the local vibe resides. Tight street and unique places were abound. I lucked out when I discovered an afternoon farmers/makers market and found a near-by parking space. I inquired about joining the event impromptu, but the directors felt my project was a little too political for their mission statement. Understandable. They were very helpful in passing me around the community of people to perhaps find a better spot, something on the street and more visible. Sure enough, there was an empty lot on the main drag and I prepared to move my rig.
Before going I had a nice stream of visitors walking to the market who engaged my project. Everyone was really excited about it and the energy continued from the night before. Except, as I was pitching my story, I noticed a blue-collar gentleman watch all this from the parking lot, a disgusted look on his face. This was not my first encounter with disapproval, but I felt it necessary to provide explanation. Then the bottom fell out of the clouds and summertime thunderstorm gave Asheville a healthy shower. I waited out the rain sitting in my truck, a good 45 minutes. As the rain let-up, I saw the mechanic walking past my trailer towards his shop. I instinctively hopped out and went to talk to him.
Upon approach I asked if he would like to know what's going on. He turned, facing me squarely said, "No. I know what's going on." I noticed his embroidered name in the classic oval, "Robert". I said, "My name is Robert, too" hoping to find a quick commonality. He folded his arms in a just manner and asked me if I was ex-militiary. "No sir." I replied. "Then I have no reason to talk to you." With that he walked off and I thanked him for his time.
The rain began to fall again, running me back into the cab, where I had the opportunity to digest what just went down. I had many thoughts about the way military people feel unappreciated by the general populace and the idea that our freedoms are provided by these people. This is misguided, but cannot be investigated in the minds of our national militia because you are never going to convince them of their function vs their perceived role. I knew I was going to encounter this, even anticipate getting punched or tires slashed out of anger for what I am doing. But I realized, with my pile of fresh stickers, Robert just proved my example. He showed tolerance for an idea that he disapproved. In that moment, we traversed free-speech, being offended, confrontation, and peaceful resolve. I have great admiration for our military personnel, which grew even more today because of meeting Robert: mechanic, veteran, patriot, American.
Driving into Asheville I came across a bridge and saw great swaths of graffiti on old factory buildings. I knew there was a brewery somewhere near-by. After a few double backs I found what I saw, The Wedge. A string of shops and restaurants with a nice beer garden gravel parking lot. I paraded my rig past the happy hour crowd, much to their curiosity, and luckily found enough parking space to post-up right at the end of the beer garden. Hoping out of my ride after a grand entrance required my pitch to primed. A small cluster of friendly folks passed me a smile I made my way for introductions.
Asheville is a welcoming, friendly, and aware city. People quickly grasped my concept and readily ascended the stairs and express their patriotism. How often do you have a regular after work gathering get invaded by contemporary art? I have taken to calling my practice #popuppatriotism and in our current times people are ready to talk about America, what's going on, what can be done, and why is it all happening. Today American Expressions was catalyst for instant current events roundtable.
This is the beginning of my Asheville stop and the initial community input was great. Many folks posting messages of love. One love. BIG LOVE. Love one another. LOVE WINS. It is not cliché and cannot be overstated. It is what we need and people know it. There were other comments of political persuasion decrying one toupeed candidate. One youngster penned "Kill the poor" (a Dead Kennedy's song). I immediately inquired about his post only to be instantly millennially-butted for not knowing this obscure reference. Ahhh...I get it, ironic. The power of words somehow doesn't always succumb to the influence of context. No one who reads that will think anything other than exactly what it says. We might debate pens and swords, but by god we all better start using our brains because words matter, no matter how cool you are.
I had the pleasure of meeting Scott of 103.3 AshevilleFM, a volunteer run radio and news organization. An older gentleman with exquisite lapidary rings of his making, he quickly reminded me of my iron casting mentor Skip Van Houten. We hit it right off because he wanted to know about that big ole flag. After giving him my pitch, he requested to interview me for the radio. We walked down in front of the flag as people were writing on it and put on the recorder. What a great experience. His questions and my answers about what and why I am doing this flowed so well. I am eager to hear the recording and will certainly post it here. Our dialog continued into other areas as Scott told me about a program in Asheville called "Building Bridges". As the name says, it is a program bringing different races together to get a sense of what its like to be black, to be white, to be a policeman, to be a veteran. He described a great method employed in the program where participants fill out a questionnaire about their life experience. For example, "have you ever been refused service because of your race?" All answers had a numeric value attached and once completed, the values were totaled. Then everyone was to line up, physically, on the scale from 0-100. Scott said the human graph depicted a cluster of white folks in the upper range and the cluster of black folks in the lower range, with a large gap in between. That's powerful stuff. That's the kind of stuff we need going around everywhere right now. We all got to see that the "pursuit of happiness" isn't equal, not by a long shot.
Getting to crash the party in grad patriotic fashion brought up everything that's happening, despite the wishes to wash away the day. I waved at a couple ladies to come sign the flag and they nodded yes, but it didn't transpire. Later on I saw them about to leave and offered again. They had to go, but told me they spent the last 90 minutes talking about the state of our country. They took the time to go over the current events and expression their concern with one another, perhaps even conjured plans of action. That there is the art at work. That is the idealistic license that artists have to interject their ideas into people's minds. It is the purpose of this trip, to get people thinking, talking, sharing, and hopefully changing that which is not right around them. Best of luck, ladies, you too are an inspiration.
Finally! Big ups to my new friends Better Dayz & ShammanEthan. These are a couple of my new dudes and they treated my like family. Time to go to West Asheville and get down.
American Expressions tour stop in Dalton, GA was purely social because it is the home to my longtime friends, Chad & Sonny. This does not mean that the political dialog was not in full force. You can't show up at someone's home with a big ole flag and not have a discussion of current events. I am very grateful for their hospitality and friendship, but I knew we were going to chop up the issues and have to clean up the floor.
Over the course of the evening we discussed race, class, identity issues, religion, we covered it all. And this time, unlike the other occasions when I interact with the public, I get to have my voice and not simply listen. Truth be told, it is Sonny and I who have banged heads in the past. This time around, our shared gratitude for one another kept the dialog respectful and exchanging, thanks in part to Chadwick's colorful commentary.
Sonny describes herself as "true blooded, Christian American Republican." God. Country. Party. We quickly moved through who we're going to vote for in the upcoming election, an obvious division. I inquired what has made our country so deficient of quality political candidates, kind of a rhetorical question since I am not sure any really exist. I then asked a most daring question, "what do you think about how Obama's done?" Boom. I knew I was in the listening seat for a good 20 minutes. What I heard was mostly about money, Obamacare making things worse financially, and the amount of welfare fraud (people getting handouts). I told them that I finally have healthcare because of the ACA. A mild look of shock passed across Sonny's face. I was not one of those "other" people. I then inquired about if they knew how President Obama tweaked the Clean Water Act to allow fracking to proliferate and the subsequent cheap gas and oil independence we now enjoy. We all agree fracking is bad. But none of us could absolve our love of cheap gas. See? We can agree. Thanks Obama!
As our discussion carried on, we continued to bounce off the idea there are many people benefiting from the expenditures of others. Tis a common theme in our political right. This is where I was happy to share my opinion: the political rights' morality is in conflict with its policy. Pro-life but not pro-healthcare for all? No more hand outs to the poor, but restrict women's health options to the poor? I asked Sonny "How can the Republicans lead our nation when their message is exclusive and contradictory to the common good?" Again, maybe a rhetorical question, but one that is not missed on a great many voters.
The conversation often veered back to Sonny's passion, teaching her 4th grade class. There is not a more passionate and dedicated person for this responsibility. She told me about how her teaching platform revolves around environmental stewardship and her students lead the lessons with their questions. I know teachers deserve vastly more resources, but Sonny is doing more with less and making things better for all her students. Why? Because she believes in America. She holds her students to a high standard, teaching them to hold themselves to a higher standard. Despite our political differences, Sonny invests values into her curriculum that are broad based and non exclusive. Everyone can do it, and you will do it too. I have a tremendous respect for Sonia Elkins because she is making America better, one 4th grader at a time.
We didn't solve any problems in our discussion, but we didn't cause any either. Perhaps after 8 years of congressional gridlock, the American populace can learn something from a bad example. We are nation of differing opinions and ideals. But we are also a nation of families and friends. Despite our differences, we can work together, we must work together. I think that if I and Sonny had to solve one problem, we might bang heads a few times, but we wouldn't let it stop us from being a great team. RTR.
My sincerest apologies to all my friends in Atlanta for not being able to bring the flag to town. Your community is strong and is leading the way for peaceful change. Atlanta you are making the nation proud. I hope to one day return the flag to your door and collect your American Expressions.
4th of July! The beginning of American Expressions 2016 tour was accompanied by fireworks and fanfare. Starting in Birmingham, Alabama provided a great occasion to celebrate our freedom and independence. AE visited Vulcan Park and was well received by visitors. Everyone was eager to expression their positive feelings about our country, of course, because you shouldn't talk shit on someone's birthday, it's just not proper. Many expressions invoked God to continue blessing us. Makes me curious if our faith shouldn't be placed in our abilities to compromise & coexist versus the higher power who is originally decreed as "separate" from our state.
Overall the crux of this project was well reflected in the 4th of July celebration. It was a spectrum of people all engaged in the freedom we cherish. I met families on vacation, enjoying our freedom of movement throughout our nation. A group of bikers who came along and added some colorful & pointed commentary to the flag. And there was Nick, who is from India, via Texas. He came to Birmingham and owns a convenience store off 1st Ave North. His gratitude for being in America was evident by his wide smile and eagerness to share his story. As we became friends, listening to the tale of each other's lives, I confided that I was now "homeless" since I was touring this project. Nick may have gotten my joke, but regardless, he quickly offered up a place to stay at his store. It was a really kind and thoughtful gesture not because he believes in my project, but he really believes in America. He's been given an opportunity and he wanted to "pay it forward". I hope this project inspires many people, like Nick, to take stock of all the great opportunities we have and invest in the future of their communities and this great country.
Today I departed my long time home for idealistic adventure. For the next 4 months I'll be listening to American's gripes, fears, hopes, and loves of our country. Many believe we are at a crossroads and I too see our future in polarized prediction: are we coming together or coming apart? My artistic aspirations for this journey are to simply put our collective existence into the largest context possible. To publicly demonstrate our differences matter less than our communal respect for one another. I hope our ability as free citizens to come together IS more important than our selfish desires to come apart. And to recognize the precarious tipping point we maybe upon. As my friend April succinctly put it, "RESPECT EXISTENCE or EXPECT RESISTANCE"....
This is my new blog for the 2016 American Expressions tour. We're gonna have a ball!