Tipping Point: Twelve Years of Latitude Artist Community in LexingtonAt University of Kentucky (UK HealthCare)
Curated by Phillip Jones
The Latitude Artist Community’s unwavering dedication to this community and the people it serves is best expressed in the words of Bruce Burris, one of the organization’s founders, “The lives for many of us with disabilities are unreasonably difficult, and there are few occasions to function as a fully realized human – with a creative life, a sexual life, a life of possibility,” he says. “Thearts help in this capacity, allowing us to – at the very least – share intimate potential without negative consequences and with the possibility that sharing can lead to change.”
The Latitude Artist Community is a radically unique organization with the fundamental belief that the defining mark of a human being, that phenomenon which provides both purpose and pleasure, is our inherent human need to contribute to our community in a meaningful fashion. They believe that all people have this aspiration and thus create vigorous and innovative supports from which those of us who have traditionally been denied this civic opportunity and responsibility are enabled to contribute to the community through their own inspired efforts. As a community versus medical program, Latitude emphasizes two essential platforms: a facilitated studio space and social advocacy projects. Each of these activities creates and supports vigorous and innovative community outcomes.
The Latitude Artist Community is now at a tipping point. For the past twelve years, under the guidance of Bruce Burris and Crystal Bader, Latitude has provided opportunities and supports that encourage people to create, explore and develop their interests and abilities as art makers. Inherent to their mission is the insistence that Latitude Artist Community serves all people. The program does, however, place emphasis on those thought by some to have a disability and aims to create meaningful, inclusive community interactions which allow its participating artists to contribute culturally and politically to the life of their community. In October of 2012, the organization announced the sale of the business to a third party, as both Crystal and Bruce enter new phases of their lives and careers. This exhibition is not intended to memorialize the work previously done but rather to glance back toward some of the artists, programs, and initiatives that have defined Latitude over the past twelve years, acknowledging the program’s accomplishments and looking forward to whatever the future may hold.
Over the past twelve years, the Latitude Artist Community has occupied several buildings but they have all been non-descript and rectangular, surrounded or adjacent to a parking lot. The buildings’ interiors are sparse and furnished only with paint-splattered folding tables and chairs. The immediate community fluctuates but generally hovers around 30 members and a staff of three or four people. It is open from 9-4 PM, Monday through Friday.
The Latitude Artist Community is known primarily as a studio arts program and its artists have been internationally recognized with exhibitions in New York, Paris, London, Russia, and beyond. Many have also been featured in national print and text media where they are presented as cultural contributors. This exhibition features artworks by eight artists, past and present, from the Latitude Artist Community: Ralph Reynolds, Kenny Taylor, Paul McGurl, Beverly Baker, Norma Barnes, Tony Dunn, Albert Moser, and Mary Fields.
While this exhibition focuses on the visual work of six artists, it also acknowledges Latitude’s programming beyond the studio which is designed to engage the daily lives of its participants. Latitude’s immediate community is continuously built and maintains an open-door policy, and its members are encouraged to thrive in the distracted society that generally overlooks or mistreats them. Under the leadership of Bruce Burris and Crystal Bader, Latitude has grown into a full-time studio arts program and full-time advocacy group. The unintended consequence of Latitude’s commitment to its members, and our larger community, is that the rest of us are made aware of our own limitations, but more importantly of our own strengths.
Latitude has consistently found creative ways to address injustice and hardship, responding with rallies, sculptural installations, workshops, and even gardens. They have taken their programs into the streets of Lexington presenting works and projects in government buildings, public libraries, and on busy street corners. The members of Latitude’s community are considered to have a disability by society-at-large, but that does not prevent them from being engaged citizens or inspiring artists. Indeed, they are expected to be both.
Bulletin BoardThis bulletin board highlights some of Latitude’s programs and accomplishments in a format generally reserved for universities, dorm hallways, churches, and community centers. Over the past few years Bruce Burris, co-founder of Latitude, has maintained several bulletin boards at Latitude filled with press clippings, awards, artworks, and other documents that reflect the various accomplishments or general organizational on-goings. Please take a moment to look (but not touch) the various documents on the board and learn more about Latitude’s rich history of programming and accomplishment.
Some things to look for:One of Latitude’s most significant advocacy accomplishments was the creation of Project Easy Access Lexington, an advocacy organization which focuses its efforts on accessibility education forums, rallies and related events including the annual “Citizen Advocate of the Year Award”. Most significantly (PEAL) initiated the formation of Lexington Fayette Urban County Government’s Mayor’s Commission for Citizens with Disabilities.
PEAL was created by former Latitude artist Belinda Sellers to bring attention to the inconsistencies and general disregard for the lack of access to the public infrastructure of downtown Lexington. In this capacity PEAL has organized public rallies, sponsored awareness events, given awards and recognition, taken nearly 1000 people on our “In Accessibility” Tours and most importantly created The Mayor’s Commission for Citizen’s with Disabilities.
Latitude Artist Community has also organized various programs, exhibitions and events with numerous local partners like Third St. Stuff Coffee, Institute 193, the University of Kentucky, Transylvania University, ELandF Projects and a long list of individual artists, musicians and writers. Latitude has received numerous awards and accolades but most significantly, perhaps, was its receipt of the 2012 Kentucky Arts Council Governor's Awards in the Arts.