Latitude Artist Community serves all people - with an emphasis on those thought by some to have a disability - by creating meaningful, inclusive community interactions which allow participating artists to contribute culturally and politically to the life of their community.
Sollee partners with Latitude for Merch that Matters
By Niah Soult
“100 Community Values”, a creative collaboration between the Latitude Artist Community and one of Lexington’s finest musicians, Ben Sollee, is one of the more refreshing demonstrations I’ve witnessed of Visual Art functioning as a Walking, Talking, Living thing. Designed to promote the importance of community inclusiveness and more socially conscious practices, the project has resulted in 100 painted canvas bags reflecting 100 different values. The bags will be sold in place of generic concert memorabilia while on tour with Ben Sollee.
Though I say “end-result,” it is truly only the beginning of a larger campaign Sollee calls, “Merch That Matters,” one that he hopes will help shape new attitudes and behavior amongst those seen toting the painted value bags around. Sollee also hopes the merch will inspire other musicians to become more concerned with the message they broadcast beyond their lyrics.
As most professional musicians will tell you, merchandise is a vast resource for generating revenue for touring and recording expenses. It’s also good for advertising fan support and broadening audience demographics.
For Sollee, merchandise was also viewed as an opportunity to amplify his upcoming album,Inclusions, while showcasing the artistic capacity of a community. The locally made artwork, it’s hoped, will inspire others in a thoughtful and meaningful way.
Thus, “Merch That Matters.” Who better to help give life form to this idea, Sollee thought, than Latitude Artist Community, an organization aimed at providing inclusive and creative experiences with people relegated to having a “disability.”
100 Community Values aimed to recruit Lexington Artists to partner up with those at Latitude, mobilize and serve as a powerful language from one community to the next while on tour. As an outgrowth of that project, “Merch That Matters” now serves as a new vehicle for Sollee’s own contribution towards social change.
In additon to inspiring other artists to incorporate “Merch That Matters”-type sales into their tour-gear, but that it will also elevate levels of awareness and more inclusive social practices amongst audience members.
“100 Community Values is a powerful link, connecting real people from one community to another, and the effect is immeasurable,” says Sollee. “[W]e plan to include a variety of artisans from the towns we visit on tour.”
My story: Fireworks at Lattitude
Back in February while fetching my fix for a Dirty Chai Latte at Third Street Coffee (home to many Latitude Art exhibits), I noticed an open invitation that described the project and reached out to local artists. As one who finds the creative exchange more than fulfilling, I eagerly contacted Bruce Burris and Crystal Bader, co-founders of Latitude, who invited me over to participate.
Having only discovered my own advocacy for community about 6 years ago when I relocated to the corner of N. Limestone and York, I’ve been inspired by other artists who have not just actualized the power of artistic expression as a language but who also are compelled to utilize the creative process as a form of community engagement. Artists and community activists like Burris and Bader share my motivation.
For those of you who have never visited Latitude, its 167 Saunier Street entrance is very unassuming, aside from the black and white horses painted next to it on a garage door. The energy emitted upon walking in is best described as a secret hideaway discovered for the first time in childhood. On the day of my visit, a workshop led by Lonnie Holley, an internationally exhibited artist, was scheduled that was organized by Institute 193 founder Phillip Jones. Sollee was also in attendance.
The community that Burris and Bader have created is extremely open and all-inclusive. Colorful and radiating with creativity, my excitement was hard to contain as I watched, demonstrated, learned, painted, talked, joked, and shared the creative process with my partner at Latitude.
We received “Fireworks,” one of the designated themed bags Burris drew blindly from a pile of incompletes. It was a perfect depiction of the explosive and transformative experience lighting me up from the inside out. It was also a good description of the Latitude community itself, which mixes all ages, ethnicities, genders, and “abilities.”
My partner and I adapted some of the techniques taught by Holly earlier that morning, allowing us to create two pieces of artwork at the same time! The end result was a night sky lit up with bursts of color atop a silhouetted crowd of people, their arms stretching into the air. In the top right corner of the bag is the word “Boom,” which is probably my favorite element, for it reminds me of the best imitated sound-effect of a firework I’ve ever heard.
I suspect, Merch That Matters will quickly become a sideshow traveling alongside the concert experience. I’m proud to be a resident of Lexington, where we are fortunate enough to have passionate artistic activists who are redefining what it means to live in a commonwealth, a group of people linked by something they all have in common: music, art, and matters of the heart.
The Ben Sollee tour kicks off May 4 and 5 at the Lyric Theatre, where Merch That Matters will be introduced and 100 Community Values painted canvas bags will be available for purchase, benefiting a local charity. Look for Sollee’s new record Inclusions to be released May 10. For more info contact Bruce Burris at (859) 806-0195.