A Conversation with Kelsey Montague about #WhatLiftsYou

Taylor Swift in front of Kelsey Montague Wings – @taylorswift

Kelsey Montague toiled in the artistic trenches for years before this moment. In an interview for Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, Kelsey spoke about rejections from art gallery after art gallery and how she finally decided to create her own artistic path. Like many of us, she avidly followed the dark political work of artists like Banksy and Shepard Fairey but Kelsey wanted to make her own statement, something positive and uplifting.

Kelsey painted her first set of wings on a New York City corner in Nolita and added the hashtag #WhatLiftsYou. Taylor Swift took the above picture and posted it to her Instagram account. A day later people stood in lines down the block to take their own winged pictures. Just like that, Kelsey Montague was on the map. And while obviously Taylor Swift has massive influence and social media frenzies create viral sensations, I like to think it’s also an instance of artists reaching out and helping each other up.

Because now Kelsey and her wings are a worldwide phenomenon.

Art by Kelsey Montague – Nashville, TN

I caught up with Kelsey a few weeks ago to ask her some questions.

Gypsy Queen: You’ve spoken before about your public street murals and how your wings were inspired in part by your grandfather’s artwork and his connection to birds. But how did you come up with the hashtag #WhatLiftsYou?

Kelsey Montague: I wanted to give people the opportunity to reflect on what is most important to them and that is how the hashtag #WhatLiftsYou was born. I also wanted to encourage people to post something positive on social media. There is an epidemic of cyber bullying online and I wanted my work to counter that.

GQ: Knowing that your public street art could disappear over time, does it matter to you that what you create won’t survive?

KM: I want it to survive long enough that it makes an impact in the community but I also kind of like the transient nature of street art. I think the fact it will eventually disappear gives it a kind of specialness.

Art by Kelsey Montague – San Diego, CA


GQ: Your #WhatLiftsYou interactive wings are very inspirational in a time that feels very emotionally charged, politically and socially. Do you feel that street art has the power to make positive changes right now, even in the face of all this turmoil?

KM: Absolutely. Again I think that street art should get us to ask important questions of ourselves and our world. What Lifts You really is about constantly reflecting on what is truly important in your life and escaping, for a moment, the negativity that surrounds us.

GQ: You’ve created a new hashtag, #WhatUnitesUs. What kind of subject matter do you plan to use for these murals?

KM: I want to focus on love as a superpower. My first #WhatUnitesUs mural features hearts coming from a person’s hands. I want people to reflect on our similarities instead of our differences and our power to spread love.

GQ: Did Trump’s election have an effect on your art? Or your artistic choices?

KM: I launched the #WhatUnitesUs campaign to give people a chance to reflect on our similarities instead of our differences, in response to such a divisive election.

Art by Kelsey Montague – San Diego, CA

GQ: Have you noticed a change in the art community since the election?

KM: I think the street art movement has continued to grow and gain steam in the wake of the election. I think that communities are even more open to street art because the need for beauty and comfort in our communities is so strong right now!

GQ: If you could send a message to the nation right now, what would it be?

KM: Let’s unite around our similarities, instead of fighting about our differences.

GQ: What’s next for you?

KM: I’m working on continuing to spread the #WhatUnitesUs and the #WhatLiftsYou message around the world this year! I’m also working on some cool projects and interesting products.

Thank you so much for your time, Kelsey!

If you’re want to track down Kelsey’s murals you can see a list here on her website. You can also follow her on Instagram.

If you’re in India, South Africa, Los Angeles, Miami or San Francisco, Kelsey will be coming to town to paint murals somewhere near you. Just look for the wings!

Art by Kelsey Montague – Nashville, TN

Mansions, tornados and the Nashville Parthenon

I had a long day of flying and crossing time zones yesterday. I got into Nashville and “home” to my best friend’s parent’s house around midnight. When I got up this morning I had that weird post-vacation disorientation of not knowing where I was or what I was planning on doing and spent a quiet morning over pancakes and sausage figuring out my plans for the day.

And then it started raining.


Whoever is in charge of this nonsense needs to quit it! I’m glad it didn’t rain in Mexico or I’d need to change my name to the Rain Queen instead of the Gypsy Queen. I’m beginning to feel responsible!

However, it wasn’t raining very hard so Mrs. Wilson and I made plans to get together with some of her girlfriends and make food for a brunch they are having tomorrow. We met at a beautiful house in Brentwood in a location called Belle Rive. Doesn’t that name conjure up visions of antebellum dresses, mint juleps and gracious living?? I didn’t take pictures in our hostess’s house, because that’s just tacky, but if you look at this site you can get an idea of the size and scope of her house.

I’d also like to point out that when I google “Nashville mansions” the houses are 4x this size, which gives you an idea of how gigantic they grow their houses out here. This lady’s house was beautifully laid out and had every possible kitchen item, tool, dish and appliance you could ever want as well as a free standing granite topped island the size of most people’s kitchens. A delight to work in.

We made egg casseroles and overnight french toast and cheese grits while it poured rain and the ladies critiqued the TV weather girl’s style (“why would she leave the house without doing her eyes and lips?? Someone needs to find her a better fitting jacket!”) but then the sirens started up and the TV wailed out a tornado warning.

Ordinarily, I’d keep working and just watch the weather pound away outside unless trees started flying around or something but the lady who owned the house had survived a tornado as a child in Missouri. She and her family went to their basement during a tornado warning and came up afterward to find the top floor of their house had disappeared. They lost everything. She takes tornado warnings seriously and that made everyone else antsy so we retreated to the far hallway and shut all the doors during the worst of it.

It was pretty bad but the worst of it passed by us. The rain went sideways and trees in her yard with trunks I could barely put my arms around shook back and forth in several foot arcs. We drove into another neighborhood later to find pear trees in pieces with long limbs sheared off like a giant hand had reached down and pulled them off for toothpicks.

Wild. Lots of destruction but as far as I know, no one was hurt. When the rain finally lessened, we finished up the cooking and left to have a soothing taco and mojito at Swanky’s Taco Shop.

I would have liked to do some more sight seeing that afternoon but between the continuing rain and the power outages and traffic snarls with hysterical moms in SUVs trying to get their kids out of school in the worst hit areas, we called it quits in the late afternoon and came back so I could do laundry, repack and figure out the rest of my week. The trend continued later in the night when we went out to Station Inn to hear the Time Jumpers, but the entire place was sold out with this sign on the door.

I love the paper plate but Booo! Foiled at every turn today! I guess that’s a sign to pack up and get out of here.

So I’ll leave you with something big:

That would be a scale model of the Parthenon. Init purty with all those lights? I’m told that Nashville is the “Athens of the South” because of the prevalence of higher education institutions. They built this replica in 1897 for the Tennessee Centennial  and then turned it into a museum afterward. It’s a popular place for wedding photos and parties, for obvious reasons.

And here’s something small:

A sign that the rain is good for something.

Tomorrow: Indiana, hot yoga, old friends and Christmas?? Let’s see what happens.

Fortune telling and Nashville barbeque

I love Nashville. I think there’s a little more country in me that I like to admit. I love the southern-ness and the music and the people. Nashville has a nice mix of southern charm and business so people here are polite but can actually define the word “urgency,” even if they don’t like to demonstrate those attributes in their off time. They’re also remarkably calm about their crowded downtown driving conditions, which are possibly the worst I’ve seen since LA.

I got a lot of errands done today (despite the traffic) and spent the rest of my afternoon seeing the sights and going to the Country Music Hall of Fame. I’ve been to this museum several times because my best friend’s mom is a docent there and I can always get tickets. Now I just breeze in to see the newer exhibits because I’ve already seen the rest of it. But I always take a walk through the glass cases full of country star clothes. I love the fearless way these old school music stars dressed. It’s sequins on top of sequins and when you run out of room, throw a handful of rhinestones at it. Still not there? Perhaps I can recommend some fringe? Don’t forget your eyelashes and your fake nails! Now put on those pointed toe boots, tease up that hair and sing like you mean it!

And yet all these stars considered themselves down home country girls at heart. Consider this display of hand picked cotton in a crystal dish from Tammy Wynette:

It’s the great paradox of country music. Flash and glitter with a side of mama’s biscuits. Kinda like Nashville.

After the museum I wandered up and down Broadway and got my fortune told by Elvis and Willie Nelson.

Elvis recommended that I be true to myself and said I was “coming out of a fog” so I think he might be a little bit psychic. Willie said “so much happiness is in store for you that the most brilliantly lighted stars will be put to shame by the brightness of your life” and then said he’d be happy to follow that up but I needed to give him more money. How could he possibly come up with anything better than that? Ever since I saw the movie Big I’ve been a fan of the fortune teller in a box so I think I’ll take these fortunes to heart for the rest of this trip.

I visited Hatch Show Prints and bought some postcards. Loved this one particularly:

And then went to get some Texas style barbq at Judge Beans. I sat at the bar, which I’ve done often on this trip. I find I have a much better chance of meeting and talking to people at the bar than at a table.  The minute I sat down the woman next to me looked over and said “Hi there honey, you want something to drink?” And I thought, “Customers serve customers here?” But instead she (Mary) is the catering director of the restaurant. She’s been in Nashville for 17 years and is ready to get out of here and move to Costa Rica and open a restaurant/bar on the beach.

So Mary and I talked on and off between the times that she’d run off to deliver food and seat people. I think fellow travelers recognize each other so we exchanged cards at the end of the night and she said “Let’s keep in touch and when you’re in Costa Rica you can stay with me.” A year ago that would have sounded strange coming from someone I met an hour ago but last month I spent a night at esta’s place in New Jersey and I met her in a restaurant in New York 2 years ago when we were both sitting at a communal table.  I’ll also see Greta in Albuquerque who was my manicurist in New York about 3 years ago but is also a writer and a painter. So you just never know.

And as for dinner:

Doesn’t that look delicious? Smoked brisket with potato salad and green beans and I poured spicy barbq sauce all over it. Finger licking good! But it’s about time I get out of the south before my Bikram output and my food intake cease to equal each other.

I’ll leave you with a Nashville landmark, nicknamed the “Penis de Milo” by the NashTrash girls, for reasons somewhat un-obvious in this picture so use your imaginations.

I’ll be posting somewhat sporadically over the weekend while I’m in Cabo chasing the sun but I promise some beach pictures. I’ll be back to Nashville on Monday and on the road by Tuesday. Next week I’ll be in the Midwest: Indiana, Chicago and Missouri.

Have a great weekend.