Public Art

Sculpture, Public Art

Legacy: Marvin Finn (1913-2007)

“A Flock of Finns” at the Louisville Waterfront

“A Flock of Finns” at the Louisville Waterfront

When I was a student at the long ago-defunct Louisville School of Art, the school gallery in the Cloisters building hosted an early exhibition of the work of Marvin Finn. I remember the gallery being filled with a menagerie of wooden animals (I purchased a small bull for $11), but also intricately tooled machines: monolithic cranes, personable bulldozers, and magnificent biplanes hung from the ceiling at daredevil angles. The retired African American gentleman making all of this within the confines of his tiny Shelby Street home in the Clarksdale housing “projects” was the talk of the town, and his work was collected by the wealthy and powerful.  

Finn embodies the meaning of the Folk Art aesthetic. His love of carving wood came from watching his sharecropper father whittle as a young boy in Clio, Alabama, and his lack of any formal art education and adherence to simple forms fits the concept perfectly. He spent many years making wooden toys for his children and grandchildren so that there was also a purity in the motivation.

Marvin Finn photographed by Geoff Carr.

Marvin Finn photographed by Geoff Carr.

“There were ten boys and two girls in my family, and most of them older than I was, so I didn’t have toys except I made them,” said Finn when recalling his childhood on the farm in Clio. “I thought my old man was everything. When I was little I stood right up under him when he was whittling, and I learned it from him. I always tried to make my own toys when I was coming up as a kid. Anything that looked like a toy I would go into the woods and find me a tree and make it. But I remember a lot of Christmases when I never even seen me a toy.” (1)

After first exhibiting at the Kentuckiana Hobby and Gift Show in 1972, Finn’s profile rose over the next ten years, even though his prices did not. In the 1980’s the show at LSA and attention from the newly formed Kentucky Art and Craft Foundation (now KMAC) cemented Finn’s status as one of the most beloved and respected artists in Louisville.

Eighteen years ago, Louisville Mayor David Armstrong and an advisory committee developed the concept for the use of Marvin Finn’s work as the inspiration for a major public art initiative.

“Public art is more than an amenity in the streetscapes and open spaces in our city,” said Mayor Armstrong. “It evokes pride and awe in our city from passers-by, and it is a gift to every citizen.”

Photo: Kentucky Museum of Art & Craft

Photo: Kentucky Museum of Art & Craft

Thus, the idea for the flock of Finn’s was hatched. Dozens of owners of Finn’s art presented their originals to the Mayor’s advisory committee and 32 pieces were selected as models for the public art project. Colorful steel renditions, some as tall as nine feet, were cut out of half-inch thick steel and painted with graffiti proof paint by a cadre of artists mimicking the unique colors and patterns of Finn’s work. In April of 2001, the “Flock of Finns” landed in Waterfront Park in downtown Louisville.(2)

Finn’s work bridges traditional distinctions between craft and art. Although there is little functionality in the work, they began as toys but were almost never vessels or implements, it always expressed the naivete often associated with folk art, with a balance of rustic imagery and polished finish that enabled him to be embraced as easily by the fine art culture. The bright patterns of color were also seen as evocative of West African art, a connection to ancestry that is another important thread found in most Folk Art.

Today, Finn’s inspiration continues unabated, as many Louisville art teachers’ curriculum includes a ”Marvin Finn” project, most often in which children make their own brightly painted cut out birds.

Louisville Visual Art Summer Camp - 2017

Louisville Visual Art Summer Camp - 2017

Wooden Rooster by Marvin Finn, private collection

Wooden Rooster by Marvin Finn, private collection

(1) (2)

Written by Keith Waits. Entire contents copyright © 2018 Louisville Visual Art. All rights reserved. In addition to his work at the LVA, Keith is also the Managing Editor of a website,, which covers local visual arts, theatre, and music in Louisville.


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Public Art, Sculpture

Vignette: Matt Weir's Statue of Colonel William Oldham

Sculptor Matt Weir at the July 21st unveiling.

Sculptor Matt Weir at the July 21st unveiling.

After more than three years of work, Matt Weir’s statue of Colonel William Oldham was unveiled on July 21, 2018. The 7-foot bronze and limestone statue, positioned in front of the Oldham County Courthouse, was introduced to the public as part of Oldham County Day festivities.

Weir was commissioned by Judge-Executive David Voegele to create what is, surprisingly, the first public art in the county. Oldham County was named after Colonel Oldham, who served in the Kentucky militia and was killed during the Revolutionary War

In an article about the issues surrounding public art published in just one year ago, Weir discussed the work, then in progress:

“There is a sense that he (Oldham) would have likely served as a public official if he had lived,” Weir says. “It’s unclear exactly how they came to name the county after him, but there is really no public sculpture in Oldham County, and Judge Voegele wanted to change that, and this seemed like a good place to start.”

Wier photographing Will Oldham at Locust Grove. Photo: Brian Bohannon.

Wier photographing Will Oldham at Locust Grove. Photo: Brian Bohannon.

There were no previous likeness of the Colonel for Weir to use as reference, so musician and songwriter Will Oldham, a descendant of the Colonel, was a crucial participant in the development, posing in a Revolutionary War uniform complete with saber and musket while Weir exhaustively photographed him from every conceivable angle, and allowing a wax casting of his face to be used as reference in the final rendering of the figure.

Weir in his studio with Will Oldham. Photo: Elsa Oldham.

Weir in his studio with Will Oldham. Photo: Elsa Oldham.

Unlike so many historical military statues, the uniformed figure is positioned closer to the ground, an accessible monument that reflects the contemporary aesthetic of bringing history into an easier relationship with everyday life. The open right hand fairly invites visitors to grasp it.

The installation includes an historical display with details about Colonel Oldham’s life and a plaque listing donors will be mounted on an outside wall of the courthouse. The historical display will also list the names of Revolutionary War soldiers who are likely buried in Oldham County.

The statue was cast and fabricated by Falls Art Foundry in the Portland neighborhood of Louisville, which was established by Weir, Tamina Karem, and Scott Boyer in early 2017.

Scroll down for more images.


Written by Keith Waits. Entire contents copyright © 2018 Louisville Visual Art. All rights reserved. Photos courtesy Matt Weir except where noted.


Public Art

Feature: The Reactionary Dynamic In Public Art


This article is an updated version of material originally published by in August 2017. Used with permission.

Entire contents copyright © 2017 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

“The word ‘deface’ derives from ancient Rome,” explains sculptor Matt Weir, “where the public would smash away the faces on images of leaders after they had been disgraced. Emperors would have statues of themselves everywhere, and if they were overthrown they were erased.”

In the aftermath of the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, Louisville joined other American communities in the struggle over public monuments honoring Confederate leaders when the statue of General John Breckinridge Castleman near the Cherokee Triangle was vandalized with bright orange paint. Within days Showing Up For Racial Justice organized a passionate but peaceful public demonstration at the location, and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer issued a statement directing the Commission on Public Art (COPA) to conduct a review of all public statues in the Metro area to determine what issues need to be addressed.

It seems a worthwhile and important response to community outcry, but in all of the press generated, there has been very little written about how artists feel about all of this, especially sculptors of public art who are today creating such monuments.

Early iteration of Matt Weir’s statue of Colonel William Oldham. Photo by Keith Waits.

Early iteration of Matt Weir’s statue of Colonel William Oldham. Photo by Keith Waits.

Matt Weir is working to complete a commission for a historical statue in Oldham County that will commemorate Colonel William Oldham, a Revolutionary war figure for whom the county is named. The statue, which will be approximately seven feet tall, is to be installed in front of the LaGrange Library by July 2018. The uniformed figure is captured in a humble posture, rifle resting on his shoulder, and the horse’s bit and bridle dangling from his right hand is a nod to the tradition, missing here by deliberate choice, of showing military figures atop a stallion.

The weary, home-from-the-front attitude is a contrast to the heroic Castleman on horseback but reflects the common, everyman quality of the history. Weir states that Oldham has no significant military accomplishments of note, and he was killed in his early 30’s at The Battle of the Wabash, in which his unit was decimated by Native Americans onto whose land they had entered as part of a troop movement north. “There is a sense that he would have likely served as a public official if he had lived,” Weir says. “It’s unclear exactly how they came to name the county after him, but there is really no public sculpture in Oldham County, and Judge David Vogel (who commissioned the statue) wanted to change that, and this seemed like a good place to start.”

When asked about his feelings on the issue, and the Castleman statue in particular, Weir speaks in thoughtful terms that reflect his conflicted feelings: “Some of these pieces that are coming down in Baltimore and Durham, to my eye, looked like beautiful work; examples of important sculptural techniques, and, as an artist, I do feel sad they are disappearing. The Castleman statue is, I think, the only horse and rider statue in Louisville, and it’s a landmark that the neighborhood has used for a long time in its branding.” Weir shows me a cup from the Cherokee Triangle Art Fair showing the event logo that incorporates an image of the statue.

Ed Hamilton at work in his studio. Photo by Sarah Katherine Davis/courtesy of LVA.

Ed Hamilton at work in his studio. Photo by Sarah Katherine Davis/courtesy of LVA.

Ed Hamilton has made his reputation as a sculptor of memorial statues, primarily recognizing African American History, and he echoes these thoughts in his own observations: “As an artist, we need to look at work, and I had studied the Castleman statue over the years because it is a gracious, artistically rendered piece. I didn’t even realize for a long time that it was a Confederate officer because he is not wearing a designated uniform. But now I need to rethink the underlying meaning of that statue.” Hamilton’s most recent work, a bust of Underground Railroad conductor George DeBaptiste, was for Madison, Indiana. Among his other monuments are The Spirit of Freedom, a memorial to black Civil War veterans that stands in Washington, DC,  as well as monuments dedicated to Booker T. Washington, Joe Louis, York (William Clark’s manservant on the Lewis and Clark Expedition), and the slaves who revolted on the Amistad.

Ed Hamilton’s statue of York, who was part of the Lewis & Clark expedition.

Ed Hamilton’s statue of York, who was part of the Lewis & Clark expedition.

Hamilton was previously a member of COPA, and he says that the commission expected to follow the process that they took in making a recommendation on the statue at the University of Louisville that was relocated to Brandenburg Kentucky. A series of public meetings were scheduled and the first meeting was held in September, but soon Metro Government and COPA decided to develop a different approach, one which will attempt to establish a contextual foundation for approaching public art and the winds of change.

Sarah Lindgren, Public Art Administrator for Metro Government explained the shift in perspective: "We are working on our plans for a community conversation about race and the history of slavery—and how it impacts our world today. The topic of public art and monuments is just one component of a larger plan that Mayor Fischer will be discussing in the near future. The Commission on Public Art began a process of reviewing artwork and monuments in public spaces during a public meeting in September, and that process will continue along with the community conversation."

 COPA has set up a link for the public to provide comments here.

These kinds of public sculptures demand substantial research, often as a part of a proposal the artist submits before they even know if they have the job. “It is a job,” Weir tells me. ”I do personal work which reflects my particular aesthetic, and that that is very different from this sort of commission, but my name is on that statue forever, so I want to feel good about it. We don’t know exactly how long bronze lasts, but the oldest surviving bronze statue is thought to be 6000 years old.”

But would he take a commission for a statue honoring a Confederate figure? “For me, personally, no, I wouldn’t do it.”

Historically bronze statues are almost always tributes to individuals of power and influence. The cost of such projects means they are often driven by wealth and privilege, and the innumerable Confederate statues throughout the United States are inextricably tied to a campaign to reinforce Jim Crow laws across the American South in the years between 1890 and 1920, a period often referred to as “the nadir of race relations in America” by historians, so there should be no mystery about their original intention. More were erected in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s as a response to the Civil Rights Movement. “What’s happening now is reactionary,” claims Weir. “Just as the statues themselves were reactionary. Idolatry through figurative art has always been reactionary – always driven by the new regime.”

IMG_1056 (1).JPG

When I ask him how he feels about the Durham statue being pulled down in the dark of night, he offers: “As a sculptor, that really hit home – what if that were MY work? I would rather see these changes occur through public dialogue. It’s an opportunity to heighten awareness of public art and the issues surrounding these Confederate monuments.”

“Whatever happens,” observes Weir, ”it seems like there is no win here.”

This Feature article was written by Keith Waits.
In addition to his work at the LVA, Keith is also the Managing Editor of a website,, which covers local visual arts, theatre, and music in Louisville.


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Public Art

Feature: Sarah Lindgren

Sarah Lindgren

Sarah Lindgren

Raising The Ante On Public Art

Sarah Lindgren is a government employee, which makes her, almost by definition, a bureaucrat - a terrible word with little positive association. Yet, as Public Art Administrator at Louisville Metro Government, she is the top authority on public art in the city, a job description that sounds anything but monotonous.

In conversation, Lindgren speaks of the issues surrounding public art with detail and confidence, but she also effectively illustrates the complexity of the topic. With substantial experience in museum administration with The Speed in Louisville and the St. Louis Art Museum, she clearly has the bona fides for the job.

Public Art Administrator is a job that never existed before 2014, a creation of the long in development Louisville Public Art Master, which in turn gave birth to COPA, the Commission On Public Art. Part of Lindgren’s role is to, in effect, head up COPA. But what does a commission on public art do exactly?

“COPA was established to advocate for all of the recommendations in the Master Plan, which included a position for Public Art Administrator,” explains Lindgren. “My job is to help artists and arts organizations navigate their way through the bureaucracy of public art. What permits are needed? What is required to site artwork in the right-of-way?”

So COPA is an advisory body making recommendations to Mayor Greg Fischer and the Metro Government on such questions as how to adequately archive and maintain the rich history of public art in the city. How much does the general public know about the significance of sculptures that have been a part of the fabric of the city for generations? How often do you drive past the Daniel Boone statue at the entrance to Cherokee Park with any thought to the fact that it was created by one of the most important women sculptors in the United States, Louisville-born Enid Yandell (1869-1934), who studied with Auguste Rodin? How many of us know with assurance where to find all of the Barney Bright statues in the city? Or works by Ed Hamilton?

That archive was one of the first tasks implemented from the Master Plan, with the help of Kristin Gilbert, Lindgren and photographer Luke Seward, who took fresh pictures of many of the pieces. But there also is a need to build consistent public policy towards public art, both old and new.

Beneath the Surface by Mary Carothers. Part of the 2015 Connect/Disconnect: A Public Art Experience.

Beneath the Surface by Mary Carothers. Part of the 2015 Connect/Disconnect: A Public Art Experience.

COPA is what Lindgren calls “a nexus for various areas of expertise to come together to address public art policy.” In some instances, city and state government might cross paths, and if the topic involves an institution such as the University of Louisville, the paths between action and accountability can be difficult to chart. “We also work with city departments and overlay review committees. Depending on the project, it can be a lot of moving parts.”

Most cities have requirements in place for new construction that demand developers include initiatives public space and/or public art, and so does Louisville. “We have a unique formula in the Land Development Code,” explains Lindgren, “which stipulates outdoor amenities or focal points be included in building plans for large-scale developments, or the developer can choose a fee in lieu of the amenity or focal point which goes into a restricted fund for public art.” The result is the establishment of a funding opportunity that will be offered in the next fiscal year, a grant application for funding new public art. The size and availability of this opportunity will, of course, vary depending upon the volume of new construction each year and developers that opt for the fee-in-lieu to support public art. “The fee-in-lieu option was added to the Code in 2010, but the recession slowed down construction. By 2016 with an increase in new development projects, there is also an increase in this type of funding for public art.”

The funding opportunity is just the latest initiative that Lindgren has brought to the Metro Government’s renewed attention to public art. In 2015 she managed Connect/Disconnect: A Public Art Experience, the inaugural project of COPA and Louisville Metro Government’s Public Art, which featured outdoor installations by five artists – Simparch, Jean Shin, Mark Reigelman, Jenny Kindler, and Louisville artist Mary Carothers. The pieces were only in place for a few months, but several have received national recognition. Other projects in various stages of development include:

River Monument (glomus) by SIMPARCH (Steven Badgett and Matt Lynch). Photo from Develop Louisville.

River Monument (glomus) by SIMPARCH (Steven Badgett and Matt Lynch). Photo from Develop Louisville.

The Louisville Knot

A project to install public art and lighting features to enhance the Ninth Street underpass, it is being developed in coordination with the Louisville Downtown Partnership. A multi-disciplinary team led by Interface Studio Architects (ISA), based in Philadelphia, and includes Shine Contracting, Louisville; Core Design, Louisville; Element Design, with offices in Lexington and Louisville; and LAM Partners, Cambridge, MA, would seek to turn the area under the 9th Street I-64 ramps into “an engaging and enticing public space tied together by local influences and traditions, providing a destination for exploration, commerce, and play.”

Love In The Street

An initiative by local poet and artist Lance Newman to curate a selection of poems by local poets and stamp them in a newly laid concrete sidewalk on 4th Street, between Chestnut and Broadway. The poems are intended to be love letters to the city. The project has a target completion date in spring 2018.

"Opportunity Portal" by Don Lawler & Meg White. Photo courtesy Meg White.

"Opportunity Portal" by Don Lawler & Meg White. Photo courtesy Meg White.

Bike Sense Louisville

Bike Sense Louisville is a public art project designed by Todd C. Smith. By providing sensor units to 100 Louisville cyclists (Citizen Cyclist Volunteers), data will be translated into helpful maps online as well as drive a public sound composition on the pedestrian Big Four Bridge. The resulting dataset will be open to the public and used by the city at the project's end to help in developing further improvements in bike infrastructure and planning.

Marquis Marie de Lafayette by Jean-Antoine Houdon (after). Photo by Michael Popp

Marquis Marie de Lafayette by Jean-Antoine Houdon (after). Photo by Michael Popp

It’s fair to observe that the creation of a Public Art Administrator position and the formulation of COPA represent a renewed focus on arts and culture that accompanied Greg Fisher into office, so given the shifting political landscape that characterize America in the last few years, how long can Louisville expect an arts professional such as Lindgren to have a seat at the public policy table?

“Well, my job is as vulnerable as any to a change in administration, but COPA is a public commission without salaries or budget of any kind – members are appointed by the Mayor and serve as volunteers, so it would be difficult to imagine why any new administration would not see their value.”

The recommendations are not limited to the benefit of the current administration or the city of Louisville but also extend to the uncertainty and lack of protections for individual artists. “As an artist, you deserve to work under a proper contract, to be paid appropriately and on time, and, when necessary, to have liability insurance in your project budget provided by your client. I want Louisville to raise the ante in advocating and implementing for best practices creating art in public spaces.”

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This Feature article was written by Keith Waits.
In addition to his work at the LVA, Keith is also the Managing Editor of a website,, which covers local visual arts, theatre, and music in Louisville.

Entire contents copyright © 2017 Louisville Visual Art. All rights reserved.

Are you interested in being on Artebella?  Click here  to learn more.

Are you interested in being on Artebella? Click here to learn more.

Public Art, Conceptual

Q&A: Todd Smith

“I am increasingly interested in developing projects that engage the community…”
— Todd Smith

Louisville artist Todd Smith is currently an Adjunct instructor at Bellarmine University and Indiana University Southeast. He is now in the prototype phase of an ambitious public art project commissioned through Louisville’s Commission on Public Art’s (CoPA) ARTmovesLOUISVILLE alternative transportation project initiative. His project, Bike Sense Louisville, will need over 100 citizen cyclist volunteers to use custom sensor units to track their bike usage around the city for one year. He took the time to answer questions about his work and this unique project.

Where did the idea for Bike Sense originate? How long have you been developing the project?

Just after completing my MFA in Buffalo, NY last spring I got an email from Sarah Lindgren from CoPA about their latest public art call for proposals. The theme was ARTmovesLOUISVILLE, with a focus on projects that engage and educate the public in alternative transportation issues in the city. I was moving back to Louisville and excited to have the opportunity to potentially participate in the city’s growing public art programming.

From the call, I began to think about biking and biking infrastructure. I am an avid biker and have been trying to get lost all over Louisville since I was a kid in the Goose Creek neighborhood. Since then I have lived in 7 different neighborhoods in the city and watched the infrastructure change. I commend the city and the last couple of mayors on their initiatives to make Louisville more bike friendly, but I have also seen the efforts come slowly and with mixed results. I have experience biking in Portland, Oregon, and New York City, where separated bike lanes and bike sharing have been well funded and implemented. Louisville has a bike share program that I have rarely seen used and painted bike lanes that many cars ignore. I wanted to come up with an idea that would help the city get more information about bike usage that could be used to raise awareness about biking in the city and potentially be used to improve bike infrastructure.

My most recent projects in grad school were based around data and sensor technology. I had created a glove with pressure-sensitive fingertips, which in its prototype phase, measured the quality of a handshake. The intention is to create a pair of pressure-sensitive gloves and shoes that can measure the relative distributions of pressure in a tree climb and give it to multiple climbers to see how climbing techniques vary.

In my thesis project I embedded an accelerometer into a large Y-shaped branch that was attached to a sturdy steel frame. I placed that branch in the center of an abandoned grain silo and invited people to climb onto it. As they moved and shook the branch the lights in the silo would flicker and a hidden subwoofer would rumble at very low frequencies. The intent was to make the participant feel as if their movement on the tree branch was causing the destruction of the silo. Essentially it’s an interactive metaphor for the history of the industrial site: man makes concrete silo infrastructure, industry booms and busts, vegetation begins to spread across the site inserting roots into cracks allowing water and rust to slowly destroy it.

My idea for Bike Sense Louisville is to take sensor technology and give it to citizen cyclist volunteers, collect their usage over one year, and interpret that data into a real-time sound work that will be broadcast on the Big Four Bridge. In a way, it is a combination of the two previous projects I described, only it’s about micro-measurements of where people are biking and creating a responsive sound piece that draws the public’s attention to bike usage and infrastructure. I also want to add ambient temperature and carbon monoxide sensors in an attempt to see how weather is changing across the city, as well as monitoring the worst part of car exhaust. Then at the end of the year-long project, the entire dataset will be open and available for anyone to see and use, and maybe even help to determine ways of improving Louisville’s bike paths and routes.

I submitted my idea to CoPA in June 2016. I then was selected to develop a more detailed proposal and budget in the fall. CoPA helped to facilitate meetings with members of the city from their bike program, innovation, parks and more. I also met with the Louisville Waterfront Corporation who graciously agreed to broadcast the project on the pedestrian bridge. Then on December 12th I presented my project to the public art commission committee. The project was approved and the prototyping and marketing phase is beginning now. We hope to launch the project with 100 cyclist volunteers by late summer.

You’ve secured support from Metro Louisville and the Commission on Public Art? How are they helping?

CoPA is funding the project, helping to organize PR, public outreach, and facilitating partnerships with the Louisville Waterfront Corporation, Bike Louisville, and more to make sure the project is successful. They will also start a speaker series this summer to be held at Metro Hall and I hope to participate and present the project in relation to art and infrastructure.

This is pretty conceptual with a capital “C”, was it difficult to get that level of municipal involvement?

The most difficult part of the project is explaining how the technology will work and be translated into art. Once I broke it down to the basic concept and explained the possible benefits from such a massive dataset, the project was very well received. The sound portion will be accessible and the complexity of sound will directly relate to the level of bike usage. No bikers = no sound. A few bikers = simple sounds. A lot of bikers in a lot of different locations = lots of sounds...and all in the vein of a wind chime or wood blocks. I control the harmony and chords so that the differing sounds firing at random will work together, just like the tones of a wind chime are made of notes in a harmonious chord. It involves public interaction, citizen science, and lots of potential for public good. I didn’t find that it was difficult at all to get people on board.

You are asking for volunteers who use bicycles on a regular basis? What is it exactly you need them to do?

First, I am asking all interested cyclists of all kinds go to and fill out a volunteer survey. I am interested in seeing who you are, where you live in the city, how often you bike, where you bike, etc. Then I will select 100 volunteers that best represent all the different kinds of Louisville bikers, plus a waiting list. Then I will hand out the sensor units to the volunteers with these instructions:

  • Use the sensor unit whenever you bike.
  • Keep the sensor unit charged.
  • Return if it stops working or you no longer wish to participate.

Your work is very focused on the subject of urban ecology, and is dominated specifically by trees. This is relative to that, but also different. How would you characterize the relationship between this and your previous work?

During my time in Buffalo I made the conscious decision to expand my practice beyond tree-climbing. I believe this was a natural evolution from all my time in the treetops, seeing all the ways in which humans impact trees and natural spaces. A large part of my Daily Climb project involved walking, biking, and driving around Louisville in parks and neighborhoods to find trees to climb.

Over the many years climbing, my observation of trees inspired me to research the heat island effect, tree canopy studies, writings about invasive plants vs. native, tree and urban ecology, previous weather disasters and floods, and more. I also spent countless hours up close with varying infrastructure in the city. In learning how every creature, plant and thing are connected in our ecology, I found more and more ways to approach making art that draw attention to our impact on our environment. When it all comes down to it, I still love trees and believe that the more people bike instead of drive and the more people support initiatives to improve bike infrastructure, the better the trees will be.

I also believe the more people in the community become directly involved in issues like alternative transportation and collecting data about bike usage, getting their hands dirty planting trees with groups like Louisville Grows, the more they will care about their city. Most of my previous work was about me and my personal experiences climbing. I am increasingly interested in developing projects that engage the community in activities that can provide positive results.

Tell us about an important moment of transition for you as an artist?

I have experienced 3 important transitions as an artist. The first happened in undergrad in 2002 when a visiting artist challenged me to share my perspective as a climber. From that moment forward I stopped drawing and painting and started using whatever means necessary to share my experiences climbing trees.

The second was when my Daily Climb project ended in July of 2010. It was unexpected, incredibly sad, and my obsession was broken. It was a relief, but also such a hard place to rebuild after so long. It has taken me since then to slowly let go of my identity as strictly the tree-climbing guy. I still haven’t let it go completely.

The last transition just recently happened in grad school. I came into my first year ready to discard tree climbing and start new. The first year beat me down, confused me, and cornered me into re-embracing tree climbing again. Then finally, one month before my thesis exhibition was to open in my last semester, I had an on-site meeting with my 3 committee members. They finally saw my idea to share my tree-climbing experience with projection and virtual reality in an abandoned grain silo and they all thought it wasn’t right for the site. They challenged me to reassess. I went back to the drawing board, spent hours walking the site, and through some research and countless discussions and writing and sketching, I came up with an idea with two weeks left. It still may have had an element of trees and climbing, but it went beyond sharing my own perspective as a climber. I finally moved on. It allowed me to create works focused outward. It’s where I find myself now.

What's the most challenging part when starting on a new work?

Every project presents different challenges at different times in the process. I’d say for Bike Sense Louisville, my challenge was how I would translate the data into sound. I went to a Sound Builders meeting at LVL1 Hackerspace and asked them about programs that can translate data streams into sound, and someone recommended Pure Data. This open source programming language has been around for a while and is incredibly flexible. I started teaching myself by watching YouTube tutorials and fell in love with it. It’s been a steep learning curve but it has been really exciting to add another tool to my toolkit.

Plus, every new language or skill I learn I look for opportunities to include it in my teaching. My students teach me so much in return when I see what they do with these skills. I can’t wait to have the opportunity to teach Pure Data and physical computing using sensors. Teaching and creating has really become a rich back and forth.

Given how project oriented you work is, how long do you usually spend on a specific piece?

This is a difficult question to answer. I suppose there is no “usual.” At times, I have felt frustrated when I compare my productivity to other artists who work in more traditional media. I see them pumping out a series of paintings or object-based work they can do by themselves and I feel the pressure to be as prolific. But I don’t usually work in a studio where I can go and make something. I am more interested in larger projects that are outside and involve long periods of learning new technology and working with other people. I finally came to accept that I work a different way and that’s okay. That’s why I have really come to enjoy teaching at a University. It allows me to fulfill my teaching passion as well as make connections with students and faculty that might be interested in collaborating. The time in the classroom feeds my art while also providing a way to support projects that don’t always pay.

"the GOOD GUY glove" by Todd Smith (2015) |  Click here  to learn more about this project

"the GOOD GUY glove" by Todd Smith (2015) | Click here to learn more about this project

That being said, I recently participated in one of Zephyr Galleries Project shows with a series of photographs called Conic Sections . The series was inspired by my hobby of doing parkour. I had discovered that I could use my iPhone to take panoramic pictures, but rather than scan from side to side, I would arc backward or scoop the phone in a “U” shape and get really interesting images with 2 horizons. I asked a close friend to do parkour through spaces around Louisville and New Albany while I shot the pictures. He was often in the picture 2 or 3 times in different locations, moving as I slowly bent over backwards. The results were really disorienting and playful.

It all depends on the idea I suppose. That idea came to me one day walking around in a park and playing with my phone. The moment I realized I could capture two horizons I had the idea in a flash. I scheduled the shoot, spent a few hours shooting and then ordered the prints from the best few shots.

Other project ideas pop into my head at random moments and I keep a list. Then when opportunities present themselves like public art calls, I look back at my previous projects and my list of ideas and see if any apply or can be tweaked or altered to fit. The bike project wasn’t something I had thought of before, but elements of previous projects helped form the final concept.

How do you feel about local art scene in Louisville? Would you change anything about it?

I see two sides to the art scene here. One, it’s cheap to live and still relatively cheap to rent studio space. The culture is supportive of the arts and there is more and more programming going on with public art. Plus, with U of L and IUS and Bellarmine and KyCAD there are programs producing young artists...I just don’t know where they go after they graduate.

The flip side is that there is a very small group of people/collectors who support all the arts in the city. It doesn’t seem like Louisville is a draw for outsiders to look in and see what’s happening here. That means it’s up to us artists to look elsewhere for opportunities. And then many leave. Because of that, great galleries and art spots like Land of Tomorrow are forced to close. I love the energy that Dan Pfalzgraf is bringing to the Carnegie in New Albany.

He’s trying new things, getting local institutions and artists involved, and he’s especially open to young, local talent. It would be great to see all the curators from all the local museums and cultural institutions get more hands on with local artists and include them in programming. I assume it is happening more than I know and am just not aware of it.

Another example I did recently see was Human Abstract at the Kentucky Center put on by Louisville Ballet. It featured the collaborative work of Tiffany Carbonneau, Andrew Cozzens, and Ezra Kellerman, and the show was amazing! I really appreciate that these kinds of opportunities are coming to local artists. I guess it’s up to me to stay plugged in and make sure I am not missing more of these opportunities to get out and support my fellow artists.

Hometown: Louisville, Kentucky
Age: 35
Education: MFA, Emerging Practices, University at Buffalo, NY, 2016; BA, Studio Fine Art, Amherst College, Amherst, MA, 2003

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"Inward Out: Spontaneous Reverberations" by Todd Smith (Exhibited on April 30th 2016 at Silo City in Buffalo, NY) |  Click here  to learn more about his Master Thesis exhibition

"Inward Out: Spontaneous Reverberations" by Todd Smith (Exhibited on April 30th 2016 at Silo City in Buffalo, NY) | Click here to learn more about his Master Thesis exhibition

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