A lot of our recent busyness has to do with Small Spaces: Lafayette. Our next couple of posts are probably going to be Small Spaces-related updates. The project is currently in full swing, and there are usually several concurrent painting sessions a day. For the past two months, Zach has been leaving the house early in the morning, and returning only in time for dinner (if at all). If he's not out at meetings, or trying to secure spaces to paint, he's running around with/for artists. He has graciously responded to every single person who has expressed interest in putting up a piece for the project. And even though it is his desire to give everyone a chance to paint, he's had the hard job of turning some people down. He's tirelessly put out several "fires," mediated between artists and building owners, listened to a lot of criticisms, been the punching bag of the unhappy public, the victim of social media trolls, and the recipient of a quite a lot of hate. I get it. This is, after all, his pet project, which makes him an easy target.
In the last couple of weeks, I've seen a lot less of my husband. But through his absence, I've also caught glimpses of his wholesome, generous heart. Zach has made time for everyone who has contacted him about painting a piece. He's met with most of them and gone through tons of portfolios and resumes. He has climbed ladders, mixed paint, made wheat paste, and spent time teaching those who are new to spray paint. He has given artists in town an opportunity and a voice. He is a mentor to the younger artists, a champion for new ideas, an advocate, a staunch supporter, and a cheerleader for everyone. Behind the scenes, he is also a firm defender who's had to protect some of his artists from the backlash their work unleashed. He has taught me the value of trust, and shown me the compassion of giving people second chances. His motivation for this project is his admirable belief that art has the power to change lives. The goal, simply put, is to bring art to people. We expected there to be people who are less enthused about the art on display, and we were realistic enough to know that there would be objections to the project. Trust me when I say we knew it wasn't going to be all happy-happy-joy-joy all the time. But what has truly taken me by surprise, is the extent of the complaints. I would never have thought that displeasure for a piece of art is reason enough for one local businessman to threaten to move his business out of town and another for publicly cussing out my husband on a street corner.
The latest controversy over Sagan Newham's piece is quite exhausting (I won't go into the details, but you can read about it here). Some people hate her painting. They make enough noise that the piece is going to be taken down at the end of October. A piece of art that elicits hate? Nothing revolutionary here. In fact, I love that Sagan's piece has evoked that much passion. It goes to show how art is able to actively engage its viewers and demand that they exercise their cognitive faculty of judgment in response to it. But what the haters' reactive kind of response to Sagan's piece gets wrong, however, is that it places the evaluation of the complex ideas about art and artistic practice at the mercy of a very specific definition of art. And if one work of art (out of over 50 pieces) is the sole measure of the value of this project, the innovations and revolutionary concepts that are communicated through Small Spaces have little chance for recognition or survival in this community.
Sure, Small Spaces could have been all about rainbows and unicorns, puppies and bunnies (we do have some of that!). The participating artists are certainly more than capable of producing formulaic, pre-digested art that is easily consumed by audiences. But we are also looking for challenging expressions, such as the ones Sagan and Molden's pieces shared. I am proud of this Small Spaces project, of the diverse art it showcases, and even prouder of the work Zach is doing. If you see him before I do, be sure to give him a few words of encouragement! I know he could use some right about now!
Update: read my follow-up thoughts on the Sagan Newham controversy here, and here.