After a month of touring, American Expressions tour took much needed respite at Salem Art Works in Salem, New York. I had the honor of receiving an Artist Fellowship in 2013 and spent 4 months in this idyllic artists community. It has taken 3 years, but I finally made it back to this very special place. My sincerest gratitude to SAW Director Anthony Cafritz for having me back for a short stay and sharing amazing dialog about my project.
I was pleasantly surprised to see all my old SAW friends had already found an opportunity for my project. Ms.Ann Delay, gardener, musician, & puppeteer arranged for American Expressions to visit a summer camp for the local kids. I thought, "why not? let's get some young American interaction." After some consideration I decided that letting kids put their hand prints on the flag was the best way for them to all easily interact with the artwork. As summer camp goes, I thought this would be easiest. Little did I know that the camp instructors would just send 40 kids at me with little supervision. Needless to say, I skipped the long patriotic explanation and got right down to the business of hand printing the flag. We had a ball! I filled up a couple plates of paint and the kids took laps passing the flag, plastering it with little red, white, & blue hand prints. Their inquisitive nature kicked in and I got several questions about "why?" are you doing this. I explained that I love our country and I want other people, all people to be grateful for the lives we have here. I got some squinty eyed approval, which I consider a tremendous success.
The true propose of the project was not missed on the high school students who were running the summer camp. I found the simple penciled statement "I feel powerless" written on the back of the flag. I can only imagine what it might be like coming of age in our times, in a rural community. Previously insular to the greater ways of the world, now technology has opened the hidden corners of our country to the major news and movements of our day. A portion of what is happening in our country today is an erosion of the thinking "this is the way we've always done it." Wider ideas are more readily available to younger people and I image it can be scary for both them and their parents. Ideas of acceptance and diversity that may not be planted in smaller communities now invade with every news cycle. This barrage against "the way we've always done things" puts the youth in a tough spot. They are the future, but they're being imbued with the past, a past that's more homogenous, more religious, possibly more privileged. What are kids to think when they might hear their parents rail aloud against the transformations of our country. Formerly, there was rarely the opportunity to develop into your own sense of being, but now information and ideas reach everyone, everywhere, all the time. We are all collectively being pushed to think for ourselves, subsequently reformulating and mutating our traditional morales. I'm sure being born in the past and constantly hearing about a different future can make a young person feel very powerless.
The stay at Salem Art Works was a wonderful rejuvenation of the creative spirit. There was much dialog and quality interaction about my touring artwork. Being around other artists is such a treat and very rewarding. Again my appreciation to Anthony Cafritz for his continued dedication to his vision for SAW and the poignant discussion we had about my project, good feedback is crucial. When you decide you must drag a GIANT flag across the country, you cherish the attention of fellow artists because they understand the risks. The risk of "Why?" it must be done. They see the details and finer metaphors of what is being communicated. They grasp the context and understand the importance to the creator. Each artist I encountered gave meaningful insight because they genuinely are interested in the "Why?" Each of us as artists have to answer it and we each know how hard it is to explain something we feel we must do to a world that wants us to fit in their box. It was a great way to recharge and prepare to have more discussions about politics and America as I cross to the midwest. When I get weary on the road, I can remember the shooting stars on Cary Hill and refresh the strength I gathered at SAW. It is gift from a magical place.