“The more time I spend with students outside the classroom and in the community, the more I realize what fantastic students we have.”
Here’s how art professor Kurt Gohde and his frequent collaborator, English professor Kremena Todorova, think: Let’s ask a renowned local poet to write a love letter to Lexington, and then let’s ask hundreds of local residents to get phrases from that love letter tattooed on their bodies.
And the amazing part? Nearly 250 people volunteered within a week of the Facebook request.
Bianca Spriggs ’03 wrote the poem, and Gohde and Todorova divided it into nearly 250 phrases. They then designed a special typeface for the text as well as a textured background for each tattoo. In early 2013 they will photograph the final tattoos and then assemble the photographs like a puzzle, so the textured background of all the tattoos reveals an image that, at the beginning of the project, only Gohde and Todorova and the tattoo artist knew about.
Eventually, they will also make a video that synchronizes a recording of Spriggs reading the poem with images of the tattoos flashing across the screen.
Gohde hopes to share their finished work with poetry classes at Lexington public schools. As Gohde explains, “It’s a poem to Lexington on the bodies of Lexingtonians.”
Sharing it could help young students realize that art and poetry are not inaccessible, lofty forms of expression reserved for silent museums and dusty books. We can all participate.
And that’s a common theme in Gohde’s work.
Gohde has found that Lexington makes it easy for Transylvania students to participate in the local arts scene. The vibrant community of working artists and galleries welcomes student involvement.
“Lexington is a fantastic city for artists. It has the culture of much larger cities. And there is a general knowledge and understanding of art that probably doesn’t exist in a lot of other communities in the state.”
When he first arrived at Transylvania, the university did not have a student gallery. So Gohde looked for places where students could exhibit their work. “Every semester I would arrange at least one exhibit off campus. Exhibits might be at the Kentucky Theatre or at Wingspan Gallery. And I realized for all art students the idea of having an exhibit is exhilarating, especially when it’s off campus.”
The connections he made led to classes taking on small community projects. At first, Gohde heard the typical grumbling about group projects. But once they got out in the community, students tended to work harder and shoulder more responsibility.
“Nobody likes group work. As soon as you say you’re going to do a group project, everyone moans. My son’s in fifth grade and he does the same thing. In reality, every job after you leave college is group work.”
In the end, the students get very excited about the community projects, even those students who initially tend to be shy. They commit.
And they develop confidence and communication skills they take with them when they leave campus. That makes them attractive graduate school applicants and job candidates. “They interview well, they speak in complete sentences, and they have ideas.”
For his part, Gohde makes a memorable contribution to many of these communal efforts: he supplies the ice cream.
“I make fantastic ice cream. The flavors are seasonal. In the summer I grow a garden that’s devoted to ice cream flavors, like basil pine nut, lemon basil with blueberry, or rosemary ice cream with balsamic raspberry.”
And despite whatever trepidation you may have about joining a community of artists, you won’t want to miss that.