ArtPlace America: Birthdays & Anniversaries Edition

I like birthday parties as a rule, but when attending one leads to new friends, new work, and new travel possibilities, my like grows into love.

Such was the case a year ago last May, when I met Sarah Westlake—esteemed writer, teacher, and editor of the ArtPlace America blog—at a birthday party in (where else?) Brooklyn. It turned out we had some friends, some favorite beers, and some editorial pursuits in common. She told me she might have some work for me in the future, and before parting ways, we exchanged business cards. I was excited, but tried to keep calm, since I’ve learned anything can happen in the wild world of freelancing.

ArtPlace Annual Summit 2018 Polaroid Louisville Kentucky

A vision of things to come
(portrait by the singular Eli Keel: twitter.com/thateli)

Happily, this chance meeting was not my last with Sarah. Fast forward a handful of months, and I was pitching her story ideas and starting to write some posts. (You can peep the first few here, on the topics of: health equity and art; preserving black culture in gentrifying neighborhoods; and a public utility’s investment in their community’s story.)

I was already stoked with the new gig, but when Sarah asked if I could cover a couple of upcoming creative placemaking conferences happening in other states, my stoked-ness increased. While I’ve learned that traveling for work has its ups and downs, I still get a kick out of it. Plus I had never been to Madison, New Jersey (“A Town Right Out of Central Casting“) or Louisville, Kentucky (home of bourbon, baseball bats, and that famous derby), which meant one more uptick on the stoked-o-meter. So I packed my bags and experienced every major public transit typology to help document the Creative Placemaking Leadership Summit’s Northeastern Corridor Conference on May 3 & 4 and the ArtPlace 2018 Annual Summit, May 21 – 23.

If I were to sum up these trips in two words, I would use the words: GOOD STUFF.

My posts from the events are still in process, so I’ll have to leave you with that verbal cliffhanger for now, but I can share a handful of my choice snaps from in and around the proceedings:

Woven tapestry featuring people

One of Ebony G. Patterson’s remarkable photo tapestries
(exhibited at the 21c Museum Hotel Louisville)

Shine Bright cardinal mural downtown Louisville Kentucky

Rad mural in downtown Louisville
(if anyone knows who painted it, please leave a comment!)

Skippy in the trash can

One or another of America’s finer airports, exhorting you to throw your perfectly good food and toiletries into the garbage

A big thank you to Sarah, ArtPlace, and a couple of groovy U.S. states I don’t often get to for extending me such a warm welcome this past year. I hope our relationships can enjoy that most oft-uttered of birthday wishes: many happy returns.

Ireland: You had to (have to) be there

I lived in Ireland the summer of 2002, right after I graduated from college. I shared a house with a gaggle of girls on the outskirts of Galway; worked in an old men’s pub in the evenings and a coffee shop during the day; and left town as much as I could on the weekends to see the neighboring sea cliffs, sheep fields, matchmaking festivals (events run from “after Mass, till late”), and all the other things that make this diminutive green country so very Irish. (I would paste up a photo or two here, but they were all taken with real film!!)

When Arthur was tasked with going to Dublin for work earlier this month, I happily packed up my laptop and tagged along. While he was in the office, I worked from our third-floor walk-up accommodations in the amazingly named neighborhood of Ballsbridge, venturing occasionally to our local chapter of Insomnia Coffee for a sweet treat and some B-grade European pop music. We took a couple of days off at the end of the week to travel around, and I could shower you for hours with anecdotes of all the wonderful Irish-ness we encountered, but you probably only have time for a wee dose, so I’ll just pick a few.

Killarney National Park: Meeting of the Waters

Killarney National Park: Meeting of the Waters

  • At a Thai restaurant in Killarney, after we finished an excellent bike ride through the area’s drop-dead gorgeous national park, we were tapped by the group of middle-aged guys at the next table for our opinions of one guy’s sock-and-shoe choice (a potent combo of orange and blue striped stockings with tan leather Oxfords). Our hearty approval touched off a good 15 minutes of conversation, in which our suspicions that the Irish and American definitions of “salty” and “spicy” vary considerably were confirmed. (Arthur used to work with an Irish woman who, in fact, told him of their famously bland food, “Ah yes, we do consider salt a spice.”) One of the men pointed to the bottle of Kikkoman soy sauce on the table and called it “Kill a Man.” When another asked if I’d tried the Sriracha and I said we had a bottle in our fridge at home, he just put his head in his hands.
Paddy Fahy's pub in Galway, Ireland

Paddy Fahy’s pub in Galway, Ireland

  • It was fascinating to go back to Galway and see my old haunts. Or really, try to see them. I found I remembered relatively little, at least geographically, of my time there. Thankfully, I still had the address of the pub stowed in my mind, and we were able to find it without trouble (though it was shut tight on a Saturday night—Paddy, where are you??), but I couldn’t locate the big yellow house I’d shared with the girls, the town’s centerpiece Eyre Square could have been dropped in from Barcelona for all I knew, and I realized I had no memory of the routes I’d walked between home and my jobs every day. (The locally owned coffee shop, we deduced, was gone, most likely replaced by a Mocha Beans, the national chain that seems to be everywhere now.) I’m sure I’ll be stewing on the reasons for this mental blank-out for a while; for now, I can only chalk it up to all the other stuff I’ve crammed my brain with in the past 15 years putting the squeeze on older memories!
Bobby Sands mural in Belfast

Bobby Sands mural in Belfast

  • We took a “black cab” tour of Belfast, something I’d wanted to do but been a little nervous about when I was last in Ireland. I’m so glad we did it this time, though it did indeed put me on edge to hear someone who had lived through it tell of the decades of violent struggle the people here have endured—as well as the fact that, despite never hearing a word about it in American news anymore, the conflict is still not resolved. Aside from the sights we saw (which included many haunting murals, images of the frightening bonfires still held in Protestant neighborhoods today, and the “peace wall”), it was the nature of the tour I found so arresting: a professional cab driver, a Catholic native to Belfast, was our only host, so the tour was super visceral, emotional, and biased. I loved it. Yet I was so caught off guard by everything I internalized in such a short time (such as the concept that this isn’t so much a religious conflict as one between colonizer and colonized) that, even though I had about a hundred questions flying through my mind, I noticed myself keeping as mum as the Swiss couple who shared our cab. Stupefying though it was, the experience was a pointed reminder that, no matter how well we think we’re keeping up with news from abroad, there’s no substitute for being there to help round out our understanding of the world.

By the end of our trip, I had absolutely drunk the Irish kool-aid (and, this time, I don’t mean the Guinness!). Despite some pretty crap weather and a few meals no amount of salt or hot sauce could save, I felt the magic and soul of this little dewy island that’s seen so much. Thanks for having me again, Éire.

Bearded Men O The West postcard Ireland
Red window with pink flowers in Galway Ireland
Near the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge in County Antrim

Colorado photo tour -slash time warp

America the Beautiful Park in Colorado Springs

Arthur and I just spent four days and change in the big square state of Colorado (from which I originally hail), and boy was it a hatful—for reasons beside our inaugural start-to-finish screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show! (Tim Curry: respect.)

Yes, multiple factors led to the head-spinning:

  • Going back to where you’re from, when you don’t go regularly, is all but guaranteed to be a trip. “Is that what XYZ really looks like? Where did XYZ go? I can’t believe I used to do XYZ here!!”
  • Colorado is different from New York in many ways: more sky, more dry, more guns; you hear fewer different languages spoken on the street—and fewer people are walking down the street to begin with, and the streets are steeply crowned to deal with the occasional flash flooding. That’s just a few, of many more, off the dome.
  • Taking a break from your usual routine and surroundings is a shake-up—even if you’re just spending the night on a friend’s couch. There’s nothing quite like shoehorning yourself into a different place temporarily to shift your perspective and put it in… perspective.

I could easily go on, and I don’t want to image myself out of blog-writing business!, but pictures are probably the most apt expression tool in this case. Ladies and germs, prepare to feast your eyes on… Colorado, Spring 2016!

Readers! Care to show and/or tell me about a trip ‘home’ you’ve taken?