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.
M.F.A., Syracuse University, 1998
B.F.A, New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, 1995
Courses Taught at Transy
Community Engagement through the Arts
Visions (exploring visionary people and ideas)
Corporeal Commodity: the Body in Science, Religion, and Art
Areas of Specialization
Henry Clay Ambassador, awarded by Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, 2012 (recognizes Lexington citizens who have made significant contributions to the local community)
Dr. Byron and Judy Young Faculty Development Grant, 2012
Jones Faculty Development Grants, Transylvania University, 1999–2012
LexArts Community Arts Project Grants, 2009–13
Phi Kappa Tau Faculty Member of the Year Award, Transylvania University. 2009
Kentucky Oral History Commission grants, 2008–09
Bingham Teaching Fellowship for excellence in teaching, Transylvania University, 2005
Art Teacher of the Year, National Society of Arts and Letters, 2001
Al Smith Fellowship for individual artists, Kentucky Arts Council
“Discarded Documents.” North of Center, 2 Feb 2011. Co-authored with Kremena Todorova.
“Passing Through Laramie to Find Humanity in Lexington.” Progress Lexington online journal, 21 April 2010. Co-authored with Kremena Todorova.
“Stitching the community together: Transy Students and North Limestone.” North of Center, 13 Jan 2010: 1, 2. Co-authored with Kremena Todorova.
Kaffir Lily, poems by Bianca Spriggs, cover illustration, 2010.
“Head First Slide: Creative Collaboration Within a Homeless Community.” International Journal of Arts in Society, Volume 4, Issue 3.
“Building Community on North Limestone.” Peaceways, August 2008: 3. Co-authored with Kremena Todorova.
“Community, art and economics on North Limestone.” Business Lexington, 16 May 2008: 29. Co-authored with Kremena Todorova.
Don’t You Remember? A memoir by George Ella Lyon, cover illustration, 2007.
“To Have & To Hold.” exhibition catalog, Morlan Gallery, Lexington, Ky., 2007
“Head First Slide,” baseball cards of homeless people printed for mass distribution throughout Cincinnati, 2006.