On Man Bartlett’s desk on the second floor at Zephyr Gallery is a contraption that looks a bit like a guitar player’s distortion pedal, except there are two lights ever flashing — one red, one yellow.
“I keep that there to remind me while I work,” he said.
Bartlett is a New York artist who is more or less on loan in Louisville as part of an intriguing artistic installment at Zephyr Gallery — it’s a collaboration between Louisville’s IDEAS 40203 and an organization based in the Big Apple called Residency Unlimited with funding from ArtPlace America, the National Endowment of the Arts and the Educational Foundation of America. Bartlett, a multidisciplinary artist, will conduct research into the dietary habits of Louisvillians dealing with Type II diabetes and pre-diabetes as part of a collaborative project with Thrive365, an app that helps people with diabetes monitor and control their diet.
The blinking lights on Bartlett’s desk are flickering reminders of why his work is important – the red light represents every person in the U.S. with Type II diabetes, while the yellow light represents each person who is pre-diabetic. In the course of a year, he said, the red light would theoretically blink 29.1 million times, once for each Type II patient. The yellow light would go through a mind-boggling 86 million blinks (based on 2012 statistics).
IDEAS 40203’s mission locally is to pair creative thinkers like Bartlett, artists of all types and ethnicities, with startups, entrepreneurs, existing companies, whatever, with a need — such as Thrive365. This pairing also provides an artist with a way to showcase his or her work and utilize his or her talent to make money.
Think of it this way: Anyone who has worked in corporate America, or experienced pretty much any typical “desk job,” has worked with someone who was making their way selling time to “The Man” as a way of paying the bills and simultaneously funding an artistic passion.
You know those people well — they are the computer programmer who actually aspires to be a full-time musician, the graphic designer who is preparing for her first gallery exhibit. Artists are everywhere; there just aren’t a lot of paying, full-time jobs available that play directly to their talents. Hey, a novelist has to sell manuscripts to make a living, because Acme Inc. isn’t going to pay her to sit around and make up stories.
But for every creative mind, there is also a creative problem-solver. In other words, the weird guy in the corner of your cubicle farm with the messy desk and Nerf Herder tattoos might seem like just a scatterbrain, but he also may be more adept at specific roles than the highly-paid CEO in the spacious corner office.
Theo Edmonds is a co-founder of IDEAS 40203, an organization focused on what he calls “creative place-making” — a creative chamber of commerce, in other words, which is precisely how IDEAS identifies itself. The Zephyr installment of IDEAS 40203, which is being called “Project 6: Who’s Louisville?” (or “The Zephyr Project”), will feature visual exhibits, two months of events and projects like Bartlett’s (see sidebar for schedule overview). But it’s about more than simply being a unique art exhibit — it’s also about working as a community-minded effort.
“It’s not so much about real estate for us as it is about workforce development,” Edmonds said. “Ours is a human resources approach to developing Louisville, and we believe artists have valuable contributions to make in the development of our city. The opportunities we are looking to create are for all income levels and backgrounds.”
“We’re focused on leveraging artists as agents of change,” added Josh Miller, also of IDEAS 40203. “Workforce development, job force training — using these creative minds to find new ways to do engagement in the community.”
Zephyr regularly works with different curators to turn the gallery space at 610 E. Market St. into a different artistic installation of some kind, and Project 6 is the art installation of choice for IDEAS 40203.
“So it’s a little bit different take” on your typical installation at Zephyr, Edmonds said. “We will be engaging in a huge amount of programming activity at the space, connecting people from different parts of the city. We’ll be spending the time here really investigating what is the emerging identity of the city of Louisville, specifically as it impacts our work.”
Project 6 kicked off Tuesday, Feb. 3, with an opening “Mix+Pivot” event, wherein artists and other creative thinkers get together for cocktails and conversations that strive to “describe, design, challenge, invent” the city’s economic and social landscape and future. On Wednesday, Feb. 4, the Zephyr Project continues with guest interviewees Dr. Shiao Woo and John Shaw-Woo, a Think Tank session and Bartlett’s exhibit opening, as well as music by AMPED (Academy of Music Production and Development).
Each week through March will feature similar events; guest interviewees will be chosen weekly by Edmonds and LEO Weekly executive editor Aaron Yarmuth, both of whom will interview the guest on a live webcast with conversations based on updated versions of questions used by statesman Benjamin Franklin in his Leather Apron Club, or Junto, an organization he created in 1727 to debate morals, politics, philosophy, as well as business and cultural affairs.
The Think Tanks will be live and social media events (#wholou) to propose questions that will help collectively identify opportunities for creative place-making in Louisville. Information gathered will then be used as a source for creating IDEAS 40203 advocacy platform and identifying new creative place-making possibilities.
And each week will also offer a cultural event, including artist talks, exhibit openings, performances, etc. Examples of featured artists from outside Louisville include Bartlett, Koren Shadmi, Jakub Szczesny, Alex Schweder and Urban Matter, but local artists will be involved as well.
ART MEETS COMMERCE
The place-making cooperatives generated by IDEAS 40203, and Project 6, can take on many forms in a wide variety of economic and cultural situations. And as evidenced by the partnership between IDEAS and Residency Unlimited, led by director Ayelet Aldouby, it stretches outside the immediate community as a true exchange of talent and ideas.
Bartlett is a prime example. In 2012, he took over the social media channels of an organization in another city as a way of developing new ways for that organization to engage and to, as he put it, “subvert expectations.”
He explained, “People approach social media as a broadcast tool for personal promotion — what I had for lunch, selfies. I’m more interested in how we communicate and the depths of those communications, and getting people to see those exchanges in a different way.”
He said the takeover ultimately benefited the business, but the collaboration didn’t end there. While he was taking over the social media identity of this business, a group of other artists took over his social media identity. Speaking of selfies, that’s a scary proposition that Bartlett said was just as unnerving as one would think.
“I actually almost had a breakdown,” he said, seeming to be only partly joking. “I started getting trolled at the very end of the project. These nine people were responding to this troller while I watched in horror.”
But the point is that each collaboration is unique in its own way and also has an element of art and/or experimentation. The organization or business benefits from getting a new perspective from an outside creative mind — an artistic consultant, if you will — but the artist also gets a chance to stretch out and learn while also being compensated for his or her talents. Art meets commerce for the win.
Bartlett’s current project with Thrive365 marries diabetes research — which hopefully will help the app’s creators to provide a better experience for end users — with a visual project. Bartlett, whose repertoire includes drawing, collage, video, performance and digital arts, not only has created a fun, interactive online questionnaire to gather information about diabetes and dietary habits — when the form asks for your profession, it notes that “daft pope” is a perfectly acceptable answer — along with a diabetes-related visual exhibit.
The prints hanging at Zephyr as part of Bartlett’s exhibit include art made from images of sugar cubes as well as enlarged documents offering a peek into potentially shocking decisions made by the government and medical realms regarding health, specifically diabetes. When art meets commerce, education usually tags along.
Another project offering a prime example of this creative chamber of commerce approach is Roots & Wings, which is scheduled make an appearance at Zephyr on Feb. 20. A collaboration between Bridge Kids International, The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts and Metro Louisville Government Office of Safe & Health Neighborhoods, among others it is a theater project integrating art and performance as catalysts for restoration of self and community in west Louisville’s “Zones of Hope” neighborhoods.
It’s an interesting example of IDEAS 40203’s mission in that it brings young people from low-opportunity backgrounds together and gives them arts-related education and opportunities to which they would otherwise not have access.
The project, headed up by Stacy Bailey-Ndiaye, along with Edmonds, is a national finalist for an ArtPlace America grant, being one of 90 from an initial 1,283 applications to make it to the final round — the grant would bring $250,000 into West Louisville’s creative economy (ArtPlace will make final decisions this summer).
But the project also means more: It provides marketable skills while also paving the way for artistic endeavors.
“The skills that young people are gaining through these kinds of efforts,” Bailey-Ndiaye said, “are exactly that — there is an economic benefit to the individual and to the city as a whole. Once you have skills and also a sense of agency, and you actually can change your life. That’s something you can take to the marketplace.”
Bringing it full circle, Project 6 is making such collaborations immediate and urgent. If Roots & Wings focuses on a specific part of Louisville, the Zephyr Project casts a city-wide view and offers a way to provide all parties a seat at the discussion table.
“I think one of great things they are doing at Zephyr,” Bailey-Ndiaye said, “is putting people together who would not necessarily always be in the same room. Through these programs at Zephyr, [IDEAS 40203] is bringing in a really diverse crowd, which is a very needed outcome.”
“Diverse” may be putting it mildly. To look at the schedule of events and guests is to get a snapshot of seemingly every angle of Louisville.
During the project’s second week, which is healthcare-themed, sexual health advisors Sara Choate and Beth Henson will discuss healthy sexuality, aided by the Squallis Puppeteers. That same week, Alex Frommeyer of Beam Technologies and several other tech entrepreneurs from around the region will participate in a panel discussion about trends in consumer tech, finding talent and funding, and more.
In March, a discussion of Louisville’s need for a botanical gardens is on the schedule, followed shortly afterward by a discussion of whether making money for playing music constitutes selling out and how (or whether) money stifles musical creativity.
The installation will also feature a number of activities with the aforementioned AMPED, which is a local entrepreneurial youth program centered around music and offering a safe environment for youth to explore creativity through music. As part of Project 6, young musicians and aspiring musicians will be active in scheduling and recording live performances and oral histories in a pop up studio.
A related event in late February will focus on music and best practices for music marketing, particularly digital media. From women in art to ways of exchanging artistic talents for other services, Project 6 is going to bring the IDEAS 40203 vision into one space.
“We will be engaging in a huge amount of programming,” Edmonds said, “connecting people from different parts of the city. We’ll be spending the time here really investigating what is the emerging identity of the city of Louisville, specifically as it impacts our work.”
BRINGING IDEAS TO LIFE
Specifically, IDEAS focuses on three key areas where artists can make a difference: the business world, public policy and civic innovation.
“What we are … using this Zephyr space for is part chamber of commerce and part entrepreneurial engine and think tank that is designed to help us further uncover an open source if you will platform through which we can build new creative place-making,” Edmonds said.
Like with Bartlett, creatives who get involved in place-making are part of a process that involves the artist, the organization and an entity such as IDEAS 40203 and/or Residency Unlimited. First, the agency determines the artist’s skills set, and then identifies a need in a partnering business or organization. Two or three artists who likely will best match that organization’s needs are introduced to the company, after which an artist is chosen by that company.
Edmonds said IDEAS will then broker the relationship. An artist matched with a local business will relocate to Louisville for roughly a month to problem-solve, and then outcomes are measured over the following months.
“This is a new working relationship for artists and businesses,” Edmonds said. “Traditionally, there has only been a philanthropic relationship between most businesses and artists. I know that there is untapped potential there. One of the things we’re setting out to do is provide higher-wage jobs for very skilled artist professionals, to allow them to supplement their income.”
It’s how Bartlett got started. He was an artist in residency at Residency Unlimited, which has led to several projects. It’s also how he met Edmonds and eventually came to be part of Project 6.
“It’s a phenomenal setup that really benefits everyone – the business or organization and the artist – equally,” Bartlett said.
The goal, of course, is that this creative chamber of commerce approach, of getting organizations to recognize what artists have to offer in the business world, will become a permanent part of Louisville’s culture.
Meanwhile, like the subtle gadget on Man Bartlett’s temporary desk upstairs at Zephyr Gallery, the light of creativity and innovation continues to blink in Louisville. Slowly but surely, businesses are taking note. Art meets commerce, for the win.
PROJECT 6: WHO’S LOUISVILLE SCHEDULE
Each week in February and March will feature various events with rotating themes. Guests and think tank questions will be chosen shortly before each event takes place. Event hours vary; find the full schedule at issuu.com/zephyrgallery/docs/weblayout
Feb. 2-6: Lifelong Wellness & Aging
Feb. 3: Mix+Pivot
Feb. 4: Who’s Louisville guest interview; Think Tank; Cultural Event: Man Bartlett opening; music by AMPED
Feb. 6: First Friday Trolley Hop; IDEAS feature artist: Bartlett; music by AMPED
Feb. 9-13: Healthcare
Feb. 11: Who’s Louisville guest interview; Think Tank; Cultural Event: Sexual Selfie: A Glimpse of Sexuality; Squallis Puppeteers, more.
Feb. 13: Startup/Entrepreneur Round Table featuring Alex Frommeyer of Beam Technologies.
Feb. 16-20: Public Safety
Feb. 18: Who’s Louisville guest interview; Think Tank; Healthcare Industry Roundtable;
Feb. 20: Roots & Wings Poetry Jam; Lance Newman and poets; music by AMPED; Launch of Art Book Drive with Steam Exchange
Feb. 21: Bookmaking Workshop with Steam Exchange; Musicians Collaborative
Feb. 23-27: Youth Development
Feb. 25: Who’s Louisville guest interview; Think Tank; Cultural Event: Women in Performance co-hosted by Stacy Bailey-Ndiaye
Feb. 26: TEDx Kick-Off Reception; music by AMPED
Feb. 27: Bridge-Kids & KRM FirstFriends Louisville; Screen Printing with Steam Exchange
Feb. 28: TEDx at University of Louisville; MRT Topic 2: The Business of Music
March 2-6: Agriculture
March 3: MIX+PIVOT at Louisville Ballet
March 4: Who’s Louisville guest interview; Think Tank; Cultural Event: Sara Owens Artist Talk
March 6: First Friday Trolley Hop; IDEAS Featured Artist: Sara Owens
March 7: MRT Topic 3: Economic Power of Music
March 9-13: Human Services
Machr 9-12: The Awesome School: Coffee and Creative Placemaking (mornings)
March 11: Who’s Louisville guest interview; Think Tank;
Cultural Event: Koren Shadmi Artist Talk and Gallery Show Opening
March 14: AMPED Live Recordings
March 16-20: Maker Culture
March 18: Who’s Louisville guest interview; Think Tank; Cultural Event: “The Louisville Table” Presentation/Dinner by Artist Jakub Szczesny
March 19: Manufacturing Roundtable
March 20: Urban Matter, Inc.: Artist Talk and Launch Party
March 21: AMPED Music Mash Up: East Meets West
March 23-27: Technology, Logistics and eCommerce
March 25: Who’s Louisville guest interview; Think Tank; Economic Development & Creative Placemaking Roundtable
March 27: Closing Event