Visionaries + Voices

Northside, a Cincinnati neighborhood, is known for it’s quirkiness. The main drag through town is peppered with offbeat small businesses and non-profit art and literacy organizations. So I knew I was in for a treat when I visited Visionaries + Voices.

V+V is off the main drag in a drab industrial neighborhood dominated by browns and grays: you know you’ve found their space when you see color. The two story mural is an homage to the man who inspired the creation of V+V, Raymond Thundersky.

V+V Mural

V+V Mural detail

Stepping inside, the first thing you see is their small gallery space. Beyond that are working studios: drawing, painting, ceramics, sculpture. Many artists were busy working on the day I visited. The walls and shelves were full of artwork in various stages of creation. Much of the artwork I saw was breathtakingly beautiful.


V+V Gallery

Some of the artists teach workshops at local elementary and high schools. Some of them regularly sell their work for thousands of dollars. Despite this they still face one huge challenge: being accepted into the mainstream art world. These artists are disabled, and their art is still lumped in the questionable category of “outsider art.”


Check out V+V and see for yourself. There you will find artists who are serious about their work, artists who deserve the respect and admiration of the art world. Or attend their fundraiser, Double Vision on May 18, 2013, to buy some artwork and support their cause.


Feral Barrels

I adopted Lil Bit, pictured here with her friend, Dexter.

I adopted the cone Lil Bit, pictured here with her friend, Dexter.

Last summer we were inundated with orange barrels and never ending roadwork in front of the bike shop where I work. We spent a lot of time grumbling about traffic, lack of parking, traffic, lack of communication from the city, traffic (you get the idea). But complaining didn’t accomplish anything, we needed some action.

I started joking about it with the scuba people next door. That started the ball rolling. I couldn’t stop thinking about them on my drive home. 20 minutes thinking about orange barrels.  20 minutes! Thinking. About orange barrels.

On my drive, there is a special stretch of road. If I’m mulling something over when I hit this section, inspiration strikes me. I don’t question it, I just accept it. That’s where the Feral Barrel Adoption Program was born.

I was ate up with the idea. It really cracked me up. The program was very successful for about a month. By the end of that month the roadwork was pretty much done. The barrels soon disappeared…I mean were adopted.

Everyone hates orange barrels. I don’t particularly like them either. But I can no longer look at a poor little barrel without wondering if it will make it back to its natural habitat, wherever that might be.

Do you have an annoying problem? Try looking at it from a different angle. You might be amused by what you see.

My New Coat


I read a lot. I like to read fiction. Usually something that stretches me a little. Like the classics. But lately I’ve ventured into another reading arena. I’m reading nonfiction classics, mostly of the philosophical bent.

I’m wading through selected readings from Immanuel Kant, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx. I’ve started reading Plato and Charles Darwin. Soon I’ll delve into Rene Descartes, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud and others. I’m vaguely familiar with some of these writings, but most of it is new material for me.

As I expose myself to the ideas of each of these writers, I try each of them on as if it were a new coat. I wear it for a while, and see how it fits. Parts of them fit great, others I discard. If I ever finish this experiment, I expect my coat to be a great patchwork of ideas that I have made my own. A very colorful quilt of a coat that always has room for another patch.

Learning about these ideas in the context of their times helps me understand how we got where we are today. I can draw on these ideas, and from the luxury of hindsight, see what worked and what didn’t. I’m finding many correlations in the history of those times and the times we are going through now. What worked then might work now.

Study the writings of these men. Think about the historical context in which they were written. Try on their ideas for a while. Do you see any similarities with today? Do you think some of their ideas might be relevant today?

Rousseau the Rabble Rouser

Jean-Jacques Rousseau: a civilized man, but a ...

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you measure Rousseau against the definition of enlightenment that was popular at his time, he would not appear to be enlightened. The “enlightened” of his time believed education in the arts and sciences would lead to equality and freedom. However, if you measure him against Immanuel Kant’s definition, it is obvious that Rousseau was enlightened.

Immanuel Kant’s definition of enlightenment is as follows:

Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another. This immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another. The motto of enlightenment is therefore: Sapere aude! Have courage to use your own understanding!” (An Answer to the Question: “What is Enlightenment?” Immanuel Kant, 1784)

Kant’s definition means that an enlightened individual would not follow the herd, and may very well have been a rabble rouser.

Rousseau fit that description.

Rousseau, in his studies, was not searching for freedom or equality. He was searching for the truth. And by searching for the truth, he dared to use his own understanding. Rather than follow blindly with the other “enlightened” men of his day, he went beyond their studies. Rather than jump on the negative bandwagon against the enlightenment, he came to his own conclusions about it.

“How can one venture to blame the sciences in front of one of the most scholarly societies in Europe, praise ignorance in a famous Academy, and reconcile a contempt for study with respect for truly learned men?” (Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1750)

This is a quote from a man who had the courage to use his own understanding. Rousseau claimed that the “enlightened” man of his age was a “happy slave,” wearing flowery chains of iron. The public’s education was not making them free or equal, but instead made them complacent and hid the fact that they were neither free nor equal.

Rousseau continued to describe his vision of what would come about as a result of enlightenment: uncertainty, suspicion, uniformity,and dishonorable vices disguised as virtues. Speaking of the Germans, Rousseau said,

“They were not ignorant of the fact that in other lands idle men spent their lives disputing their sovereign good, vice, and virtue, and that proud reasoners, while giving themselves the greatest praise, shoved all other people together under the contemptuous name of barbarians. But they looked at their morals and learned to despise their learning.” (Discourse on the Arts and Sciences)

While his contemporaries celebrated knowledge, Rousseau saw in it all that was bad in his world: “…these vain and futile declaimers move around in all directions armed with their fatal paradoxes, undermining the foundations of faith, and annihilating virtue.” (Discourse on the Arts and Sciences) He went on to lament how, once every great civilization in the past started to be more concerned with fine arts, they lost their edge and were easily dissolved or overthrown. Their citizens became soft and weak.

This lifestyle, in Rousseau’s estimation, also led to moral decay. Citizens shirked their duties, students were not taught right from wrong, and didn’t understand what they should do or how to do it. They didn’t know how to think. And he placed the blame squarely on the enlightenment. “From where do all these abuses arise if it is not the fatal inequality introduced among men by distinctions among their talents and by the degradation of their virtues? There you have the most obvious effect of all our studies, and the most dangerous of all their consequences.” (Discourse on the Arts and Sciences)

No one wants to hear that the course they have embarked upon is headed for disaster. Who but a rabble rouser, a person audacious enough to think for himself, would dare do tell them so? According to Kant, an enlightened man would. According to Kant, Rousseau would.

Gallery to Go

One of the many options available at a Gallery to Go paint party.

One of the many options available at a Gallery to Go paint party.

Interview with Chris Smith
I recently had the pleasure of going to a paint party where I met Chris Smith, founder of Gallery to Go, based in Ft. Thomas, KY. I was impressed with everything about the party, from the concept (Chris brings everything you need to create a painting) to Chris’ easy manner in instructing all of us in our painting. So impressed that I later met with Chris so we could talk about her business, and some of her favorite parties. What follows are her thoughts and why these parties are some of her favorites in Chris’ own words.

The mission of Gallery to Go is to bring people together while pushing people out of their comfort zone. The paint parties are fun but often have a greater purpose as well. One friend described it as a paint party with a heart. They bring out the potential in people, how they relate to one another and often how they see themselves. It’s not just a party but an experience.

Gallery to Go provides everyting you need to throw a painting party.

Gallery to Go provides everyting you need to throw a painting party.

The Parties                                                                                                                                                                                                                              The thing that I think is very interesting is you really start to see people’s personalities. You can really see the Type As and the Type Bs. If you’re trying to make it perfect, you’re missing it. Cause it’s not about that perfect painting at the end. It’s about the party, not about the painting.

Life needs to be more like that. It’s got to be about the journey. It’s about experiences, this night together with friends, family members, whoever. It’s not about getting a piece of art up on the wall. I’ll have people who have that expectation, that they’re going to put something above their mantle and then you’ve immediately squeezed the fun out of it.

A Christmas gift for the father in this blended family.

A Christmas gift for the father in this blended family.

Blended Family
This party was for a blended family…it’s his kids and her kids. All of their kids together with her did this for him for Christmas. They were teenagers and teenagers are a hard crowd. You’re not going to get a “woohoo!” But I could tell that they really liked it and thought it was a cool experience.

A paint party helped the new City Link cooperative bond.

CityLink is a city-wide initiative started by a group of social service agencies who recognized the need for integrated services. Their butterfly painting symbolizes what they do.

City Link
Crossroads church recently built a building called City Link. Anybody who needs a job or needs help can go there. They have a person from every agency in the city dealing with poverty. We decided to do a picture that came together. It all came together and made a butterfly: they are transforming the city like a butterfly transforms.

A church-sponsored couples retreat throws a paint party.

A church-sponsored couples retreat throws a paint party.

Couples Retreat
Each person had their own canvas, and couldn’t see what their partner did. They had ½ of a tree. When the canvasses came together it was the four seasons. In your marriage you’ve got to go through the seasons. You may be in winter right now but there’s a spring one day. Put in the time, there’s spring on the way. It may not look always perfect, but it’s still good because it comes together.

The staff of Cincinnati Works share their paintings.

Cincinnati Works offers a holistic approach to eliminating poverty in the Tri-State area by providing job skill training and ongoing employment counseling. Here the staff share their paintings.

Cincinnati Works
I did one for an agency called Cincinnati Works. They all did a main picture of downtown and then it had hands down at the bottom that made a heart. In the heart we put a thumbprint. We talked about how there are all these people with all this stuff going on but you have to think about the thumbprint and how different every single individual is.

Ronald McDonald House
Everybody worked on the canvas at different times. It was a big tree and they had families of animals in the trees, and then had these hands across the bottom: it was out of the work of your hands that these families have a home at the Ronald McDonald House. We put conversation cards in front of the canvas and they worked on the canvas with a partner. Every time they went up to the canvas, they immediately wanted to paint, but I told them, “What I want you to do is talk to that person that’s right in front of you and go through that conversation card”. Everyone is so focused on getting the picture to look perfect. That task will get done. That picture will come together. It’s the individual that you’re standing in front of that’s way more important than that task.

For more information or to book a party in the Greater Cincinnati area check out Gallery to Go’s website or like them on Facebook.

Squelching Dreams


Cello (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was talking with an acquaintance yesterday, and he shared a story that broke my heart.

He told me of a co-worker’s son. This boy was already an accomplished musician at the tender age of 14. He plays cello 6 hours a day (including weekends!) in addition to his regular schoolwork. He is almost good enough to play professionally. He’s obviously dedicated to it.

Yet his father doesn’t want him to pursue it. There are no “marketable” skills to be gained by playing the cello. There are only about 6 job openings a year. The excuses go on and on. The boy had even auditioned and been accepted to attend School for Creative and Performing Arts. The father is not going to allow it.

I kept thinking, “The boy is only 14! He loves what he does! Let him continue…he’s got plenty of time for learning ‘marketable’ skills.” I wanted to tell the father that there are so many parents who would love to have a child that is interested in something other than video games. Or plenty of us whose dreams have been crushed by some well-meaning person advising us to take the safe route.

Granted, I heard the story second-hand, but it still rings true. We’ve all heard this story in one way or another. Hell, I’ve even acted like the father, discouraging others from their following their dreams.

I hope the son finds a way to follow his passion, and his father finds a way to help him, however he can. That is my wish for everyone. To have the support you need to follow your dreams.

Let’s Pretend

Let’s pretend that the world really is going to end today.


Awards (Photo credit: pennstatelive)

Take a few moments from your busy day and meditate. Reflect on your life so far. Since we love to do this, make a list of your top 5-10 things you are most proud of. Then list your top 5-10 things that make you cringe.

Now it’s time to daydream. We’re going to pretend that we all wake up again tomorrow. What can you do to add to your proud list? How can you avoid the cringe list? Be as outrageous in your daydreaming as possible. Be sure to write down every idea you come up with, no matter how ludicrous it seems.

English: skydiving photo

Keep daydreaming, but this time list 5-10 things you wish you would have done before the world ended. Again, don’t worry about being realistic. Go into as much detail as you’d like. Ask yourself:

  • Why do I want to do this?
  • What will I gain if I do this?
  • Is there a way I can make this happen?

Tomorrow, when you wake up and find that the world didn’t end, look at your lists again. How can you add to  your proud list? Keep from adding to your cringe list? Do the things you regret not doing?