WALL/THERAPY in Rochester, NY

Art by Icy and Sot – Rochester, NY

Believing in the healing power of pictures, Dr. Ian Wilson, a radiologist and former graffiti artist from Brooklyn, in 2011 initiated the WALL/THERAPY project in Rochester, NY.

“The idea behind the project last year was to inspire the youth in the community to believe in something, anything,” Wilson said in a 2012 interview with Rochester’s City Newspaper “Because so many really don’t have any belief in anything, whether it’s the value of their own life, or their future….I wanted to produce something that spoke to them specifically, to charge them to believe in something.”

Art by Omen – Rochester, NY

Untitled (Chained Eagle) by Liqen – Rochester, NY

An international, all-star group of artists accepted Wilson’s invitation to come paint, and all of the buildings involved in the WALL/THERAPY project donated their walls. The public reception was so positive that the WALL/THERAPY project has grown every year since 2011, bringing over 100 murals to this modest sized city.

Fight Club by Conor Harrington – Rochester, NY

Art by Joe Guy Allard and Matthew Roberts – Rochester, NY

And then it actually worked.

In a 2015 In-Training article depicting some of the social challenges unique to Rochester, editor-in-chief Ria Pal says, “The murals proved to be an organic way to desegregate the city, bring new customers to small businesses, create dialogue, encourage residents from different areas to take pride in their neighborhoods and rediscover the city… No one would call WALL\THERAPY a panacea, but it does seem to be one successful way to mobilize once-stagnant neighborhoods and foster stewardship.”

Art by Mr PRVRT – Rochester, NY

 

“Color creates energy, energy creates inspiration, inspiration creates change.”

– WALL/THERAPY

 

While the public art is stunning, the WALL/THERAPY project goes deeper than the surface of the beautiful murals themselves. Wilson partnered the artistic endeavor with his other business—the Synthesis Collaborative, a company dedicated to providing radiology services and equipment to the developing world.

Got that?

One lone guy from Brooklyn simultaneously is providing colorful inspiration to kids and communities in Rochester, stimulating imaginations, and providing them with hope and a sense of what’s possible, while he also facilitates X-ray images of sick people in the developing world to help provide diagnostics, health, hope, and thus a longer life.

By this equation one could say pictures + hope = possibility.

Sleeping Bears by ROA – Rochester, NY

I was born white and English-speaking in America. I have a college education and a good job and I see a lot of art, so I thought I knew what I was looking at. But after Rochester and my experience reading, researching and experiencing WALL/THERAPY, I’ll never look at public art in the same way again.

Where I once simply saw beautiful pictures, I now always will wonder about the kids walking by these murals and dreaming of a better lives, lives they always will be able to link back to a mural and their first artistic taste of a wider world, beyond the limits of their own neighborhood.

Rhapsody by Faith47 – Rochester, NY

The Street Art Revolution

Art by Guido Van Helten - Reykjavik, Iceland

Art by Guido Van Helten – Reykjavik, Iceland

Not long ago I had dinner with close college friends so we could bemoan the election results. All my friends were sure we were in for four years of bullshit, but I shared an idea that only recently had occurred to me:

What if the next four years also brings an explosion of incredible art?

As protest. As a means of speaking truth to power. As a vehicle for rage and outrage, solidarity and organizing, grief and hope and persistence.

Historically art has thrived under oppression. When artists have to scrape and work and struggle, art acquires depth and context. It becomes a sounding board for expression that becomes urgent and relevant. Give artists something to fight for or against—boundaries to exceed, trespass, or transgress—and we get better art.

For the last nine years, I’ve been working as a wardrobe supervisor on tour with Broadway musicals. I’m on the road 52 weeks a year and I don’t have a home. I live in hotel rooms and when I’m not working, I travel for fun.

For the first couple years of my touring life, I was a tourist. I made an effort to visit all the must-see places in every city. I ate at the hot restaurants and experienced the tourist attractions that made each city unique. This is “been there, done that” traveling—experiencing a city as a microcosm.

But nearly a decade on, I’m looking for a different kind of traveling. I want to see the world in a broader context. I want to find the things that unite us, particularly now when my home country feels so fractured, practically pulsating with outrage.

The great Paul Bowles says this: “I feel that life is very short and the world is there to see and one should know as much about it as possible. One belongs to the whole world, not just one part of it.”

Untethered, perpetually homeless and belonging nowhere grants me an unusual perspective. I see a lot of the world. More than most people. And because of that, I notice and pay attention to things that most locals no longer see.

For the last two years I’ve been noticing, documenting, and contemplating the rise of street art across the nation and around the world. In every city I visit, I see huge, beautiful murals on public buildings, often funded by governments and massive corporations.

Art by Charley Harper - Cincinnati, OH

Art by Charley Harper – Cincinnati, OH

It feels like, rather suddenly, everywhere I look there are street art expos and fairs and celebrations and paintings and other forms of street art such as wheat paste, stencils, and stickers. It’s as if there were a cultural earthquake and myriad new public works of art are the aftershocks.

I grew up in an age when public (spray) painted art was called “graffiti”—a dirty word. Graffiti was found on buildings in “dangerous” neighborhoods, signifying gang territory. Municipal governments bonded together, seemingly unified in their hatred of graffiti art and its artists, labeling them vandals and passing legislation aimed at eliminating such defiant forms of artistic public expression.

These days, however, I see street artists everywhere expressing themselves publicly in staggeringly beautiful, powerful ways. And cities throughout the world are protecting, promoting, and funding their efforts, turning public, urban art into a boon rather than a bane.

Street art is ephemeral. It’s exposed to the elements and it fades and chips. People paint over it and build things that block it or demolish the buildings where the art lives. I love the transient aspect of this art form. For all the times that street art is a public roar of defiance and a statement of intent, it’s also quite delicate and disappears quickly.

Wheat paste Stick-Up - Chicago, IL

Wheat paste Stick-Up – Chicago, IL

I’m in a different city every week, and I’ve realized of late what an unusual lens this street art revolution affords me. Every city promotes different kinds of art and displays that art in a unique way. Some of the artwork is explicitly political in nature and some of it is utterly mystifying, yet each city contains street art treasures that say much about the spirit of the people who live there. In all my years of travel, street art is one of the most interesting ways I’ve ever discovered to experience a city.

Here’s an important caveat: I am never on the crest of the wave when it comes to trends or trendspotting. I’m late to every party in life and in the virtual world, so I am very aware that the artistic revolution I perceive has been happening for much longer than I’ve realized.

But I see it now.

It’s February and we’re more than a month into a new presidential administration and a commander-in-chief nobody knows how to handle. No one knows how much to protest and how much to sit tight and wait. And yet, there are many artists who have made up their minds, decided what to say and how to say it and art is exploding.

Everywhere.

Paul Bowles also says, “Before there can be change there must be discontent.”

Well, we’ve arrived. I can’t remember an age of discontent quite like this one. But with it has come change. Massive colorful powerful artistic change.

I want to explore these works of street art, document them, think about them, and remember them for posterity. I want to be a repository for this artistic roar and watch the echoes change the world long after the edifices on which they were created have crumbled and the artwork itself physically has disappeared.

Street art is changing the world as we know it. I’m going to start writing about the revolution here.

More to come.

Art by Natalia Rak - Providence, RI

Art by Natalia Rak – Providence, RI

Kava and a Lovo on Ono Island

We chose Ono Island for our first stop in Fiji. On the map, Ono is a specific island northeast of Kadavu on the southern edge of Fiji. In reality, there are a zillion little islands out here. Some appear on maps and others exist only in reality. We asked the locals the names of these other islands and they said “Ono.” They’re all called Ono? Ono is a group word and not a singular word? Are these questions only foreigners ask?

I never really sorted this out.

What I do know is that the big island of Ono has 3 resorts, 6 villages and no roads connecting any of them. Each little occupied unit hugs the coast separately from the others and is accessed only by boat. The middle of the island is mountainous and covered with trees and when I asked what’s there, the Fijians shrugged and said “no one goes there.”

That’s incomprehensible to an American. Do you mean there’s beautiful island property, up high on a hill and out of the range of hurricanes and typhoons? It has a 360 view of the South Pacific and no one has built a giant mansion on it and carved out a private road? How can this be?

The Fijians laughed when I said that, which is why this place is so great. Because no one thinks like that. Everyone wants access to the ocean so they live close to it. No one needs a road because they all have boats. Why build on top of the hill?

Why indeed.

Mai Dive resort is one of the primary resorts on Ono Island. It’s a tiny place with a 16 person capacity when it’s chock full up. This is a terrible picture to show you the scale

Mai Dive Ono Island

And a better one of the inside of our little ocean front cabin (called a burre)

Mai Dive Ono Island

And then a jealousy inducing view from our porch

Mai Dive Ono Island

The ocean was literally right there and this is me sitting in that tree on the right of the picture above, an epic overgrown place perfect for climbing

Fiji tree

Every resort in Fiji has a food plan. You can custom it for allergies or preferences – Dani is vegan, for instance – but  you don’t get choices or a menu. You sit down family style with everyone in the resort, and they serve you food. Fortunately, the food at Mai Dive was some of the best we had all trip. This is a lunch of fish cakes on watercress. Doesn’t it look scrumptious?

Mai Dive Ono Island

Mai Dive has a staff of 14 who did everything in their power to make us comfortable. These sweet ladies were the best

Mai Dive Ono Island

They were hilarious and so friendly. When you live in a tiny place with 30 other people, you spend a lot of time hanging out with them, hearing about their families and watching them interact.

Dani and I spent 5 days on Ono. We dove in the mornings and sat on our porch reading in the afternoons. We taught ourselves to play gin rummy, we saw a giant sky full of stars with no light pollution, we met a great American couple from San Diego that we’ll see again this fall, and some raucous Aussies that fought us for the last bottles of Sauvignon Blanc.

It was super chill and easy until Friday night when the Mai Dive crew cooked us a lovo, a big Fijian feast cooked on hot rocks buried in the sand. Dani and I expressed avid interest in this feast so the lovo chefs – Ahmet and Waise – came to get us every time they moved to the next stage so we could watch that whole process from the beginning fire

Lovo fire on Ono Island

To the piling of insulating leaves and shoots

Lovo on Ono Island

then meat wrapped in foil – chicken, beef and pork – followed by taro root and plantains

Lovo on Ono IslandAnd then the whole shebang covered by palm fronds. They said that the traditional covering is banana leaves, not palm fronds, but they don’t have banana trees on this island so they improvised

Lovo on Ono Island

And then a tarp and sand.

Lovo on Ono Island

After which we left it to cook for a couple hours and whiled away the time with a little kava!

Kava is the root of a pepper plant native to the South Pacific. It’s dried, pounded and soaked in water to make a traditional drink. Many Fijian’s drink this instead of alcohol. There’s a lot of hysterical writing warning foreigners off of kava lest they hallucinate, get addicted and never leave the island like some kind of lotus eaters.

Here’s the reality: It looks like dirty water

Kava on Ono Island

And tastes earthy and a little spicy but not particularly unpleasant. The drink sizes come in low tide, high tide and tsunami, you clap once to receive the drink and three times when you finish it.

drinking kava on Ono IslandI felt a tingling in my tongue and lips when I drank it. It has a mildly narcotic effect so everything slows down a bit in the middle of the kava ceremony and some people report really vivid dreams afterwards. I didn’t get dreams but I don’t often remember my dreams anyway.

The great thing about kava is the community. Everyone sits cross-legged on the ground around the kava bowl

Kava on Ono Island

you share a common drink and talk or play music in between drinks. It’s fun and easy and there’s always lots of laughter.

Sai on Ono Island

After a few cups of kava, it was time to unbury the lovo

Lovo on Ono Island

and eat it!

Lovo on Ono Island

Doesn’t it look romantic? This night ranks at the top of my most favorite memories of Fiji.

And Ono ranks as my most favorite island in all of Fiji. Were I to come back, I’d head straight to Mai Dive. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Thank you to Jason the owner, Joe and Joanna the managers, Ahmet, Emily, Sai, Koleta and all of the kitchen staff, Dee and Waise the dive instructors… All incredible. The diving was also spectacular and I’ll devote a whole post to that.

Mai Dive on Ono Island

Vinaka vakalevu, Mai Dive!

Welcome to Fiji!

I’m doing a lot of international travel this year. Obviously.

I get a lot of questions about how this is possible so here are the basics: I’m on tour with a theatre show and I have no home. When I’m working, I travel with the show and live in hotel rooms.

This year on this particular show, we’ve had several weeks of layoff where our show isn’t booked anywhere. Because I’m a homeless person, I have to go somewhere when the show is dark and I’m not working. Fortunately, I’m well paid so I can choose where I go.

Now I could/can/do also choose to spend my non-working time visiting friends and family. But I can also choose to go out of the country. It’s all money and time and effort no matter what I choose.

This is not your average lifestyle. Obviously. And because it’s not “normal” it has a lot of downsides and pitfalls and difficulties that regular people never have to think about on a daily basis. Plus a life of constant travel can be exhausting and stressful and time consuming. But the upsides are incredible. I’ve been out of the country three times this year and it’s only July. And because of my job, it is easier for me to travel than your average person because I’m already in the travel groove. I don’t have to transition from “normal” life to “traveling” life.

So that’s the story. I travel a lot because I want to. And because I have to, given the structure of my job and my life. But mostly, I just love it. I want to see the world and I’d rather spend my money going places and having adventures than buying a big screen TV and a hot car.

So, that said, we had a three week layoff recently and I went to Fiji with my friend Dani, who is also a homeless touring theatre person with an insatiable desire to see the world. She’s a super cool chick, we hang out together a lot at work and I knew we’d be good traveling companions.

We chose Fiji by literally googling “best places to visit in 2016.” Fiji was in the top 10. I’m a scuba diver and Dani wanted to get certified. Who doesn’t love an island vacation? It seemed like a perfect choice.

But the first thing we had to do was get there.

Bee-tee-dubs, Fiji is FAR AWAY from the USA. Like super far. We got a flight out of Los Angeles, into Nadi – the capital of Fiji – and it was a 12 hour direct flight. But we weren’t in Los Angeles, we were in Denver; so, we had to get a connecting flight to LA.

Since we were arriving in Nadi at 545am, we opted not to stay in that city and instead to go to one of the smaller more remote islands so we could start diving immediately. Of course a “small remote” island means no airport so our connecting flight took us to a neighboring island and then we were promised a boat transfer by our resort.

Here’s our travel “day” to Fiji in an abbreviated fashion:

Monday 330pm: arrive at Denver airport.

Monday 450pm: Fly to LAX

3 hour layover – eat dinner, make phone calls, enjoy the last of our cellular access.

1030pm: board plane for Fiji

1045pm: take sleeping aids and sleep – uncomfortably – through a 1am “dinner service,” several beverage services and crossing the internal date line at 45,000 feet

Tuesday: never happened.

Wednesday 4am – breakfast

Wednesday 545am – land in Nadi

We then faced a long customs line, which we jumped because we had a connecting flight, got our passports stamped and changed money. Fijian money is so pretty!

Fijian money

brushed our teeth and found the wee domestic terminal with plastic lawn furniture

Nadi domestic terminal

Got on a 20 seat plane

plane to kadavuFlew over verdant green islands

Fiji

Fiji

and 37 minutes later we landed on Kadavu in front of a very classy airport situation

Dani in Kadavu

We were met by Zachy, a delightful representative from the resort who helped us drag our luggage down a dirt road

Kadavu island

He hauled it down a stony embankment before hoisting each suitcase to his shoulder and wading out thru the surf to put it in the boat.

Kadavu

You know you’re traveling with the right person when you travel 23 hours straight to what feels like the end of the world but STILL isn’t the end of your travel day because you still have a boat trip and instead of being mad, you race each other to get your shoes off (Dani wins) and laugh saying “this is absolutely perfect!” And then you roll up your pants and wade out to the boat

Dani on Kadavu

We spent 2 hours zipping through the South Pacific Ocean before finally landing on Ono Island.

South Pacific

Total travel time: 25 hours

Travel conveyances: one car, one train, one shuttle bus, one boat, three planes

Days lost: Tuesday

Sunset? Perfect.

Fiji sunset

Welcome to Fiji!

Greek Memories

The Greek flag might be the prettiest of all the flags, especially flying on an island that is blue and white forever

Greek Flags

I loved the street art in Athens, particularly.

Athens street art

But I found this beautiful piece on a Heraklion building at the ocean’s edge right across from the bus station, immortalizing Icarus for all time.

Mykonos street art - Icarus

These little shrines are everywhere

Greek orthodox shrine

made of every possible material and containing icons, candles and occasionally statuary. They’re sometimes quite big and grand

Greek Orthodox Shrine

I saw so many different shrines along our road in Crete and wanted Corey to stop at every one so I could take pictures but we all know I wouldn’t have lived to write this post had I done that…

And speaking of driving, can we talk about the parking?

Greek parking

I mean, do whatever you want. Shade is the best. Obviously.

There aren’t enough words for Greece’s beautiful beaches

Falasarna beach

Or their Greek salads.

Greek salad

Americans could learn a thing or two about that cheese – > veggie ratio. And Corey was rapturous about the oregano.

Greece you’re lovely in every way. I can’t wait to see you again.

Mykonos

The Beaches of Crete

Crete was our crap shoot at the end of the trip. We both wanted to visit another island, I was in favor of Santorini but it looked a lot like Mykonos so Corey talked me into Crete. The downsides were that it was far away, about as far as you can get from Athens and still be in Greece, and that it’s a huge island so we had to choose what parts we wanted to see. But then the guys who worked our hostel in Athens heard we were headed to Crete and gave us all kinds of recommendations of where to stay and what beaches to visit so we decided it would be worth it. We got a ferry from Mykonos (5 hours!) and landed in Heraklion around evening on Monday.

Heraklion is a big messy city with a gorgeous medieval wall running along the bay

heraklion

We were only here one night so I have very little to say about this city except… street art! I liked this little guy.

heraklion

The next day we got on a bus and headed to our real destination, the town of Chania in the upper west side of the island. We literally got off the bus, went directly to the airport, rented a car and headed straight to Elafonisi Beach. We didn’t have much time here and didn’t want to waste it.

It was only 72km from Chania but the roads were narrow

Crete

And windy

Crete

And it took awhile. Like 2 hours. Ish. Fortunately we had tunes and snacks

Oregano lays

And gorgeous views

Crete

And nothing to do but drive; so we did.

Elafonisi is counted as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. It did not disappoint

Elafonisi beach

That sand is pink!

IMG_2160

Crushed coral I believe. And the water is the clearest I’ve ever seen anywhere. We sat on the beach for hours, I think I read a little bit and just stared at the ocean. The water was chilly so Corey got in. I did not.

Corey at Elafonisi

We drove home after a few hours and enjoyed a delightful dinner in Crete

Crete

And collapsed at our hotel. We stayed at the Splanzia Boutique Hotel and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Corey said the real subtitle of our Greek vacation (right behind “Beer and Cats”) is “Why are we not staying here longer??” and I said it the most about Chania and especially the Splanzia.

My room was so beautiful, especially in the morning light

Splanzia Boutique Hotel

and I even enjoyed some coffee on my teensy balcony

Splanzia Boutique hotel

And a massive breakfast spread with the best Greek yoghurt I’ve ever had in my mouth, covered in local honey.

Greek yoghurt

Thus fortified, and with a flight to Athens late that afternoon, we got back in the car to hit one more beach. Falasarna.

Falasarna beach

Falasarna was my favorite.

Kaitlyn at Falasarna

The water was crystal clear and warm enough to swim, I loved these beach chairs

Falasarna beach

And I spent a sizable amount of time just sitting. Drinking beer. Looking at the ocean.

Falasarna beach

Definitely amongst my top #5 favorite vacation activities.

But sadly we couldn’t stay so we packed up our wet clothes, shook off our sandy feet and headed for the airport. Corey assured me we wouldn’t be the smelliest kids on the plane because “it’s Europe and it’s the height of backpacker season.” He wasn’t wrong.

And that was the last of our Greek vacation. Corey flew back to the states at the literal crack of dawn and I followed at a more civilized hour. I was sad to go and I’ll be so pleased to come back.

Greece is so easy. It’s easy to get there, easy to get around, the people are friendly and welcoming, everyone speaks English and there’s something for everyone. If you feel like you need a Greek vacation, I think you probably do.

If I manage to get my act together, I’ll do one more post with a few of my favorite memories/pictures from the trip.

Ruins upon Ruins in Delos

Rick Steves thinks travellers to Greece would benefit from a lot of prior education about the art and history of the country because “most of the cool stuff is locked up behind glass.”

He’s right about that because without a degree in Ancient Columns and Pottery Remains, I found myself flagging after Athens. There just isn’t much of anything left in Greece and all of it requires so much reading and imagination.

Delos

Every guidebook entry sounds like this:

“Over here is the remains of a (temple/sanctuary) dedicated to (Apollo/Zeus/Athena). Back in the day there were (walls/floors/statues) which have been (removed/stolen/appropriated by colonial powers) and now live in (museums/rich people’s houses). What you see here is a (replica/picture/empty space) where once there was something glorious. Imagine how great it used to be. Also, there used to be colors. But now it’s just white stone. All over the ground.”

Delos

Will I sound shallow if I say that a couple afternoons of ruined rock and crashed out columns is enough? Maybe. But it’s still the truth.

Delos is where I hit the ruins wall. I wanted everything on this island to be more than it is.

Delos

I’m also willing to admit that I did the whole trip wrong.

What we should have done is packed some food, wine and a tent, gone over on the afternoon ferry, staked out a spot on the high point on the island and put up that tent.

Then we could have eaten a picnic under the Mediterranean sun, taken a dip in the sea, watched the sun set, eaten some cheese and drunk some wine under the stars, slept on a wild remote island in the middle of Greece and woken up to see these ruined sights before there were any tourists on the island. Then we could have hopped the first ferry back to Mykonos.

THAT would be a night worth having. And maybe I’m making that option up? It sounds a 1960s version of a Greek vacation, but it certainly seems delightful, doesn’t it?

What we actually did is we bought tickets to the 10am ferry – 20 euro – and then tickets to the site itself – 12 euro – and we wandered around for a couple hours and looked at things.

And some of the things there are beautiful.

Delos

Delos was a spiritual center of the ancient world and the birth place of Apollo and Athena. At various times over the centuries it’s been a giant shipping port and a place of religious pilgrimage. Under orders from the Oracle in Delphi (her again!) all dead bodies were purged from the island and it was decreed that no one could give birth or die there. They didn’t want anyone to be able to claim the island in any way so they could preserve it’s cultural neutrality.

I didn’t cut that straight from the guidebook but it sounds like it.

These lions are famous. They were built facing east towards the lake where Apollo was born and set to guard the temple.

Lions of Delos

Lions of Delos

They are, of course, replicas. sigh.

That’s probably why I got so excited about this floor. It’s original! That mosaic floor, the one right there in the picture, was laid over 1000 years ago.

Delos

Those tiles are minute. Probably an inch across. And all laid by hand. That kind of thing blows my mind.

So after wandering around in the hot sun we had a beer, made friends with the island cats and then we went back to Mykonos. Total time = 4 hours.

Delos

Now, on the ferry we did make friends with the Caldwells from Oregon who regaled us with tales of their 7 week tour of Greece and told us about spending Semana Santa in a remote part of Greece, driving through tiny towns that all had baby lambs spit roasted in front of their homes in celebration. Their stories made the whole trip worthwhile.

Delos itself I found hot, dusty, dry (in climate and content) and very very ruined. I needed something to make it come alive and I didn’t really find it. Perhaps next time, I’ll try for the 1960s vacation version.

Delos

Fortunately the final portion of the vacation was my favorite! Crete is next.