Posts Tagged With: arts events

Bibelots and other nautical hijinks

A few months ago I was asked to judge Improbable Baubles at the Headley-Whitney Museum in Lexington. This hands-on program is designed to give Fayette, Franklin, Jessamine, Scott and Woodford County public and private school children the opportunity to create, perform and respond to art.  Participating students “learn the history of George Headley, his artwork and bibelots, and his significance to Kentucky.” This event benefits participating schools, as it directly ties into the Kentucky Department of Education Program Review in Arts and Humanities. The museum curator provides materials and lesson plans from which each child can make his or her own bibelot. Students then write artist statements, critique the work or their peers and choose among themselves who will go on to the main competition.

That’s where I came in. This must be a red letter year, because I have been invited to participate in four arts-related activities in as many months. They have all been fun, exciting and fulfilling, but this was by far the most amusing. And, this was just the judging!

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This Saturday, Improbable Baubles opens to the public with a grand reception, complete with a candy buffet. First, second, third and fourth place awards will be given, and each of us bestowed a judge’s choice award. Thanks to Toyota, students 18 and under will receive free admission for the duration of the exhibit, so don’t miss these objets d’art.

Sarah Schmitt, arts access director 

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Remembering our great ones

The problem with a being an arts administrator is that you spend so much time administering the arts that you have little occasion to enjoy them. Wonderful opportunities offered by our Kentucky Arts Partners and program artists pass over our desk, and we lament not having the time to attend or participate in all of them.

We are pleased to report that this year, the planets aligned in such a way that we will be able to join the celebration during the Living Arts and Science Center Day of the Dead Festival at the Old Episcopal Burying Ground in Lexington.

We are creating an altar honoring late Kentucky artists with Kentucky-centric ofrendas. Our intention is to be faithful to the spirit of the traditional Dia de los Muertos celebration, while offering a cross-cultural interpretation that is also true to the Commonwealth. We look forward to learning and sharing on Nov.1 and, of course, having some fun.

 John Tuska style papel picado

Papel picado we made in the style of John Tuska, one of Kentucky’s great artists.

We will feature photos of artists who have passed like Rosemary Clooney, Bill Monroe, Rude Osolnik, Skeeter Davis, James Baker Hall and many others. Ofrendas will include all those foods and items a Kentucky artist might miss if far from home.

Heine Brothers’ Mexico Maya Vinic

There are layers upon layers of meaning in this offering of Heine Brothers’ Mexico Maya Vinic.

It’s inspiring to watch a Day of the Dead celebration become a part of the annual fall landscape in Lexington. This holiday from another country and culture certainly has resonance in a new home. This is likely because the participants — whether first –generation Kentuckians or tenth-generation Kentuckians — place a strong value on remembering those who came before. Nowhere is this value more evident than in our art. You can hear it in our musician’s songs and read in our author’s words. Kentucky’s strong sense of place has as much to with people who walked it and were inspired by it throughout their life, as it does with the land itself.

Sarah Schmitt, arts access director

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Q&A with Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X Walker

Tomorrow is Kentucky Writers’ Day, the Kentucky Arts Council’s annual celebration of the state’s literary heritage and history. In advance of Writers’ Day, Emily B. Moses, arts council communications director, asked Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X Walker a few questions about his first year as poet laureate. Walker, along with six past Kentucky poets laureate, will read and sign books at a public ceremony tomorrow, April 24, at 10 a.m. in the Capitol Rotunda. For more information about Kentucky Writers’ Day, visit artscouncil.ky.gov.

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Frank X Walker and past Kentucky poets laureate, Kentucky Writers’ Day 2013.

Can you share a highlight from your first year as Kentucky Poet Laureate?

My favorite experience is between being invited to share an original poem as part of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Frankfort and sitting in a classroom of fourth-graders at William Wells Brown Elementary on the day that it was officially announced to the public that I was the poet laureate. Looking out at those kids’ faces and knowing that I use to be one of them made me feel like I was in the ideal place to be and actively engaged in the business of being poet laureate.

As an educator, you have talked about how important it is to you to remain open to learning and discovering new things. What have you learned from your Poet Laureate experience thus far?

I’ve learned that the citizens of the state are very proud of their poet laureate. I can’t believe the number of keys to the city, resolutions, proclamations and Kentucky Colonel certificates I’ve received.

You recently were nominated for, and then won, an NAACP Image Award for your collection of poetry about Medgar Evers. Did you feel at all – or was it ever your intention – that you had helped Evers’ work in life and/or his life’s legacy come full circle through your work?

It was absolutely my intention to help impact Evers’ legacy with the publishing of “Turn Me Loose.” To receive the image award from the NAACP, given their history of social activism, was very meaningful. To stand on the national stage on television and have the world hear me say Kentucky into the microphone was also a proud moment that I had a chance to share with all my friends, family and literary community back at home.

What are your plans related to being Kentucky Poet Laureate for the final year of your term? Are there any goals you would like to accomplish?

I’ve adjusted my own goals a bit. If I could just handle all of the requests for my time without stealing too much time away from my own work, I’d be happy.

Are you working on any new projects that you would like to share with our readers?

I’m hoping to complete a final draft of my novel this year and have it released by the end of my term. It’s set in Kentucky. I hope it will add to an absence of published black male fiction in Kentucky since William Wells Brown.

Emily Moses, communication director

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The Method of the Moth

 

I’d like to tell you that my appearance at the Moth happened by accident.

What I’d like to say is that I was discovered, minding my own business, telling a personal anecdote to a friend in a Highlands coffee shop when a cigar-chomping man in a pinstripe suit, and a Yankee accent handed me his card and said “Son, you got a STORY there. Would you like to tell that in NEW YORK CITY?” And I said, “Who, ME?” and reluctantly agreed, aw-shucksing myself all the way to Manhattan.

But that would be fiction, and the first rule of Moth stories is they have to be true.

The truth is that I had wanted to perform at the Moth Mainstage for years and campaigned to get there. Unlike the MothStorySLAMs, which are open-mic, the Mainstage series is curated, meaning the Moth invites the tellers, a list that’s included Margaret Cho, Neil Gaiman and Salman Rushdie. I’ve been performing stories for years, mostly working with children. For me, the Moth is Broadway.

I thought I might have one unusual, personal story that could get me there — and I was right. What I didn’t realize was that getting the invitation was in some way, the easy part. The Moth’s tagline is “true stories told live,” and on their stage, you have nowhere to hide, not even from yourself.

The first time I ever laid eyes on my father was when I was 12 years old and he showed up on the CBS Evening News.”

That was the basic pitch I sent to Moth senior producer Jenifer Hixson, whom I’d met when she came to Louisville in 2011 to help launch the local edition of the Moth StorySLAM. When I first mentioned the story to Jen, she said, “That’s incredible,” and asked me to email it to her. I did. Time passed. I periodically emailed again, knowing I was treading the line between persistent and irritating.

The truth is I felt a little like I was cheating by offering this particular story. That’s because it sounded like a bigger deal than it actually had been. I grew up with my mom and my adoptive stepfather (also known as Dad). My birth father had been a combat veteran who later became close with the mother of a fellow soldier who’d been killed. A CBS reporter did a story about them for Memorial Day 1983. Seeing my birth father for the first time this way was weird, sure, but it hadn’t changed anything, and in the “Pitch a Story” section of the Moth website, it says, “Tell us … how your story changed you.”

Nonetheless, two months ago, Jen asked if I’d be interested in telling my story as part of a Mainstage show called “Pulling Focus: Stories of Insight.” Co-sponsored by the PBS series “POV,” the event would feature four other tellers who’d been involved in documentaries, either as producers or subjects. The Moth would fly me to New York, where I would be paid, lodged, per diem-ed!

I said yes.

Soon, Jen and I traded dozens of emails, texts and phone calls at all hours, laughing, crying, swearing, and indulging our inner story-nerds: Which moments should be described in detail? Which summarized or cut? If I set up this question here, does the answer pay off there? A married mother of two who prefers newsboy hats and vegetarian food to pinstripes and cigars, Jen showed a kind of X-ray vision for narrative; tell her your tale and she’ll see simultaneously

a) the story you’re trying to tell
b) the story you’re telling without meaning to
c) the story you’re trying hard not to tell

The process took on some urgency, because we both knew that soon, I would be standing on stage at The Players club in Manhattan, telling this story to a discerning crowd of storytelling devotees, some of whom had paid upwards of $400 to be there. My story needed to be shaped and whole, needed to answer the audience’s potential questions, like:

Did you and your parents talk about your father he was on TV?” Jen asked.

Not really,” I said.

Did you ever meet your father?”

Yes, a few years later. He eventually became kind of like a weird sort of uncle.”

Why aren’t you angry?”

What?”

You don’t seem angry. You were a kid, your father’s not around, nobody wants to talk about him, he shows up in this weird way. Why wouldn’t you be?”

 I laughed because I had no answer.

Two days before the show, my wife and three sons wished me luck when I flew to New York to rehearse in person for Jen and the Moth staff (nearly all of whom, interestingly, are women). When I arrived at their crowded, bullpen-style office (which is literally on Broadway), I realized that the Moth was investing thousands of dollars, untold hours and some measure of its own reputation in me telling one story for 10 minutes. I didn’t want to let them down.

The morning of the show, I tried to embed the story in my brain by whispering it to myself on a meandering walk from Midtown to SoHo. (I figured it was New York — what’s one more guy talking to himself?)

Moth-style storytelling requires a balance because the story has to be structured, focused and articulate, but the teller needs to sound conversational, needs to avoid what Moth-ers call “head-in-the-desk-drawer syndrome.” That’s when tellers — bless their hearts — get so focused on remembering the exact wording of their story that they’re not fully present for the audience, which undercuts the whole point of the Moth, which is to connect people through stories.

Somewhere around Gramercy Park, I realized that I if I was going to be honest with the audience, I had to be honest with myself.

Of course I was angry. Had been for 30 years, but couldn’t admit it. Seeing my father on TV instead of in person had hurt and confused me, as had my parents’ unwillingness to talk about him. Even as a child, I was already telling stories – like the one I’d made up to explain his absence and their reticence: I told myself it had all been my fault.

There, on the sidewalk, I understood all this for the first time, and also realized that I would have to say this onstage or else the story I’d come here to tell wouldn’t be true. I ran back to the hotel and called my mother in Kentucky.

My mom has devoted herself to loving and caring for me for 42 years. I knew what I had to say would hurt her, and I didn’t want to, didn’t know if I even had the right. But about an hour before soundcheck, I told her everything I’d always been afraid to put into words.

I understand, honey,” she said. “And I’m so sorry.” She said they hadn’t really known what to do, when or how to talk about our family past. I asked Mom, who’s also a writer, how she’d feel if I talked about it in front of a bunch of New York strangers.

It’s your story,” she said. “Tell it.”

I was the last teller of the night. I felt nervous until the host called my name, then it was too late to be nervous. The spotlight hid most of the 265 faces in the room, but I could hear the audience, and they offered me a deep and nourishing silence. I found the words, one by one, to tell them my family’s whole story of confusion, fascination,  anger, fear, regret, acceptance, forgiveness.

At the end, the applause of those New York strangers carried me to my seat, through the night, and all the way back to Louisville.

The Moth helped me understand that sometimes, the stories we want to tell aren’t the ones we need to tell. And sometimes, even true stories, like the people who live them, can change.

Read a text version of the story Graham told at the Moth

Originally published in the Louisville Courier-Journal, August 25, 2013. Reprinted with permission.

GShelby

Graham Shelby is a communications expert with extensive experience in broadcasting, education, business and the arts. He earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kentucky and a master’s in creative nonfiction from Spalding University.  

 

Categories: Literary Arts | Tags: , , , , ,

Students shine at Poetry Out Loud Finals

After months of preparation, the Poetry Out Loud state championship took place March 13 in Frankfort at the Capital Plaza Hotel. The winner, Taryn Syck, of Pike County Central High School, will travel April 28-30 to Washington, D.C., for the National Poetry Out Loud Championship to represent Kentucky. While she was a tough competitor through the first two rounds, it was Syck’s third poem, “The Great Blue Heron,” by Carolyn Kizer, that put her on top.

I love the moment when everything comes together: The words, the delivery and the passion. Before I became the arts education director for the Kentucky Arts Council, I was not overly impressed with the Poetry Out Loud program. I did not appreciate the value of reciting poetry written by other people. I have seen some very powerful performances at high school poetry slams. So I believed having students perform their own poetry would be much more effective.

Today, I understand the value of this kind of poetry recitation. All 14 school champions were impressive. I am so glad I was not a judge. Each student in the program had been coached by one of the arts council’s teaching artists. They won their school competitions to advance to the state finals. All competitors recited two poems and then five finalists made it to the final round.

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Mary Hamilton, one of the teaching artists that worked with the champions, attended Thursday’s championship and later shared some of her thoughts about the day with me.

“There were three specific performances today that, if they would be available for Kentucky Poetry Out Loud programs to view, would provide excellent examples of very specific performance successes,” she said.

“Beautiful Wreckage” — recited by Titus Carter — “That recitation was stunning, absolutely stunning. He so captured the emotion of that poem. A video of that performance would provide a wonderful demonstration of how thrilling and amazing a recitation can be when the student allows their emotional connection to the poem to come charging through.  So many young men tend to be exceedingly reluctant to allow feelings to show. I think providing his recitation of ‘Beautiful Wreckage’ as an example of an emotional connection to a poem would especially encourage young men to give themselves the permission he clearly gave himself for that recitation.”

“I Remember, I Remember”  recited by Gabrielle Thompson  “That recitation provides a fantastic example of how pauses are not empty, but full. The spaces between the two ‘I Remembers’ at the beginning of each section were handled superbly. Sitting in the audience we could feel strongly that all memories are not remembered the same way. Her face, voice, and especially her communication during pauses, were wonderful to behold.”

“Famous”  recited by Haley Reed  “This is a lighter poem, and Haley did a marvelous job of clearly conveying the lighthearted nature and even the humor within the poem. There was also a clear change from when she was talking in third person and in first person. I considered it a wonderful example  well worth providing for future Poetry Out Loud students.”

Each of these performances, as well as Taryn Syck’s recitation of the “Great Blue Heron,” will soon be available on the arts council’s website. I invite you to visit our website to view these amazing performances by high school youth. And, next year, I hope other teachers and schools across the state will give their high school students the opportunity to participate in the Poetry Out Loud program.

Jean St. John, arts education director

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