Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Mural postcards at Essential Goods in Lawrence

You can now buy postcards of most of my Lawrence murals (including the restored Seeds mural below) at Essential Goods, 825 Massachusetts Street.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Will East Lawrence become as pretty as a French Neo-Impressionist picture?

Lawrence City Commission elections are right around the corner and candidates have been pulling out all the stops to appeal to voters. This includes using all sorts of media from internet ads to yard signs and mass mailings, with one even appropriating a famous French painting to bolster their message.

For as long as there have been politics, politicians have understood and used the power of art and music to influence voters. These days it seems like every presidential candidate has a well-known and carefully chosen pop song playing at their events - just think of Bill Clinton and Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop (Thinking about Tomorrow).” And with visual art, Barack Obama got a real boost from Shepherd Fairey’s hugely popular “Hope” poster (although Fairey ran into copyright issues for the photo he based his poster on). Most candidates know not to use an artist’s work without their permission, some are uninformed, and a few figure they can get away with a little appropriation here and there and not get caught.

One of the best examples of this was Ronald Reagan’s co-opting of the Bruce Springsteen song “Born in the USA” during his 1984 campaign for president. Reagan not only didn’t have the musician’s permission, he didn’t understand the song’s meaning, which he took to be a patriotic cheer even though the lyrics clearly express the struggles of Vietnam veterans returning home to a broken system. More recently, Florida Senate candidate, Charlie Crist was sued for appropriating the Talking Heads song “Road to Nowhere” and eventually had to make a public apology.

Even when artworks or songs can be licensed, most institutions and individual artists specifically prohibit the use of their work in political campaigns. The reason is clear - associating a work of art with a particular candidate or political platform implies that the artist or institution supports them.

This is why I was surprised last week to find in my mailbox a campaign postcard that appeared to be in clear violation of those prohibitions. On the front of the card is a reproduction of Georges Seurat’s beloved 1884 painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte.” Superimposed over the bottom of the image is the word ARTS, while a banner runs along the top of the card that reads “March 3 – Vote for Bob Schumm.” Turning the card over, the campaign message deals exclusively with Mr. Schumm’s support for the East 9th Street corridor project, but nowhere on the card is credit given to Seurat or the Art Institute of Chicago which owns the work.

It's hard not to come to the conclusion that the juxtaposition of Seurat’s painting with Schumm’s campaign message represents the candidate’s vision for the future of East 9th Street.

Setting aside the issues of licensing and copyright (which probably are applicable in this case), I’ve been considering what else this campaign ad is communicating to voters. Looking again at Seurat’s painting and then thinking about the neighborhood of East Lawrence, I wondered if this bucolic fantasy is really what proponents of the East 9th Street project envision, and if so, what that means for those of us who live and work there now.

In Seurat’s painting, Parisians (all of them white) lounge along a riverbank. Women hold parasols, men wear top hats, one couple has a pet monkey on a leash. They are still and apparently silent but for one trumpet player - playing the tune to “Road to Nowhere” perhaps? This may be an accurate representation of 1884 France, but East 9th Street in 2015? It’s an unusual choice. With so many great artists in Lawrence (let alone Kansas), it begs the question - why Mr. Schumm chose to appropriate this famous painting instead of using the work of a local artist for his campaign postcard.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Half Empty

For the next six weeks I'll be working with students at Washburn University on Half Empty, a campaign to inform and advocate on issues related to water in Kansas. We have a blog for the project that you can check out here.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

East 9th Street and the Allure of Creative Placemaking

Over the past couple of months, there has been lots of conversation about the Lawrence Arts Center’s proposed development for East 9th Street. At City Commission, East Lawrence neighborhood meetings, in the Journal-World and on the street, people have been discussing the potential impacts and opportunities of this ambitious and first of its kind project in Lawrence.

Reflecting on the origins of this project, and studying recent evaluations of the new practice of creative placemaking, may help shed light on many of the concerns and questions that have been raised.

East 9th Street
In 2010 Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa Nicodemus completed “Creative Placemaking,” the National Endowment for the Arts report that introduced this practice to a wider public. It was this report that launched the creative placemaking funding initiatives Our Town and later ArtPlace, which are at the center of the proposed East 9th Street project.

But just two years after co-authoring the NEA’s paper, Markusen wrote of her unease about how ArtPlace was measuring creative placemaking success. She writes “ ArtPlace is developing “measures of value, which capture changes in rental and ownership values…” This reads like an invitation to gentrification, and contrary to the NEA’s aspirations for creative placemaking to support social cohesion and community attachment.”

This is not a surprise. Gadwa Nicodemus and Markusen alerted us to the potential of creative placemaking to spur gentrification in their original NEA paper when they wrote, “Arts-initiated revitalization can set off gentrification pressures that displace current residents and small businesses, including non-profit arts organizations.”

And they are not alone in their concern.

In his 2013 essay, “Placemaking and the Politics of Belonging and Dis-Belonging,” Roberto Bedoya, Executive Director of the Tucson Pima County Arts Council, writes, “The blind love of Creative Placemaking that is tied to the allure of speculation culture and its economic thinking of “build it and they will come” is suffocating and unethical, and supports a politics of dis-belonging employed to manufacture a “place.”

These comments by respected arts leaders are clearly reflected in the dialogue that has emerged around the proposed East 9th Street project. Although East Lawrence was represented on the Cultural District Task Force, which made general recommendations for the Cultural District, the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association (ELNA) was not consulted in the development of the actual ArtPlace and Our Town grants related to East 9th Street. Concerns about this lack of agency in the process, led ELNA to initiate forums for discussion around the project’s implications, including facilitated public meetings and a three-hour “Imagine East 9th Street” event. 

Imagine East 9th Street event, November 16, 2014
Comments from many participants at these meetings expressed the need for accountability and the desire for full participation in the overall process. These ideas taken together concern social equity - the idea that fair access to livelihood, education, and resources; full participation in the political and cultural life of the community; and self-determination in meeting fundamental needs is a social good intrinsic to healthy and just communities.

In her 2014 article, “The Gentrification of Our Livelihoods: Everything must go,” about an ArtPlace funded project in San Francisco, writer Megan Wilson speaks directly to this need for equity. She writes, “To achieve these ends, we must work to put far more pressure on our city officials and hold them accountable to provide the best services, opportunities, and amenities for residents, while ensuring that existing communities are protected and supported through high functioning planning, permitting, and legislation with strong and clear avenues for oversight and accountability by their constituencies.”

This is what many East Lawrence residents have been advocating for – genuine accountability and an acknowledgment of the value that their unique experience and knowledge can bring to the process.

Hiring the city’s first Director of Arts and Culture, Christina McClelland, whose task it was to facilitate the East 9th Street process, was a step in the right direction. Her expertise and experience were shown to be integral in creating an informed and equitable process. Unfortunately, that position is now vacant and we’ve been left adrift without a Director of Arts and Culture to navigate the complex and sensitive dynamics of that project.

But perhaps this is a good thing. Maybe it’s exactly what we need - a time to pause and reflect on the underlying questions and concerns the proposed East 9th Street project has surfaced. Doing so will go long way to ensuring that those impacted most by the project have a strong voice in its planning and implementation. It will also allow us to be much better prepared when the new Director of Arts and Culture arrives, and the process of the East 9th Street project resumes.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015



January 17- February 22, 2015
Gallery hours: Wed-Sun, 12-6pm
Opening Reception: Saturday, January 17, 5 to 8pm

Smack Mellon
92 Plymouth Street @ Washington
Brooklyn, NY

I am participating in this remarkable exhibition and series of events responding to the continued failure of the United States to protect its black citizens from police discrimination and violence.
More from Smack Mellon here, and a review of the exhibition from the New York Times here.

Ruth Fremson / The New York Times

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

People's State of the Union

Join the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture for this new national event.


Once a year, the President delivers the State of the Union address, a speech meant to highlight important national issues from the past year and suggest priorities for the coming year. It’s a broadcast from one to many. But what if, once a year, we could all speak and listen to each other? What if We the People reflected in our own communities on the condition of our culture and the state of our union locally, nationally, globally? What if we could supplement the President’s stories with our own? The People’s State of the Union is an invitation to do just that. 

There will be two opportunities in Lawrence to participate in the People's State of the Union. If you are going to participate, plan on a three hour event (with snacks). Seating will be limited. Please RSVP to  usdac.lawrence@gmail.com

The Lawrence Percolator
(in the alley behind) 913 Rhode Island
Saturday, January 24th

Lawrence Creates Makerspace
512 E. 9th St.
Sunday, January 25th

Friday, December 19, 2014

Amazon Army print now available

Fans of the Celebrate People's History project can buy offset 2-color prints, including my just released contribution "Amazon Army," from the Just Seeds website. Click on the image below to find out more.