For the last six years, artists in the KC region have been winning Rocket Grants. As the name suggests, the cash grants have been boosting artists, giving them resources to think big with ambitious, socially engaged projects. The grants are supported by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and administered by the Charlotte Street Foundation and the Spencer Museum of Art.
To mark six years and 60 projects, the Charlotte Street Foundation’s La Esquina Gallery is featuring “Traces and Trajectories,” an exhibit curated by Melaney Mitchell and Blair Schulman. The gallery space holds paintings, videos, books, archived material, photographs, sculptures and ephemera from seven different artists and collectives, including Don Wilkinson, Judith Levy, Blanket Undercover, Michael Toombs, Amber Hansen, Darryl Chamberlain, Dave Lowenstein and Plug Projects. In addition, throughout the month of February, grant recipients will present various lectures, discussion groups and events at the gallery.
Entering exhibit, it’s hard to miss Broom Wagon by Don Wilkinson, who is also known as m.o.i. or the Minister of Information. His customized bicycle, with flashing lights and brooms of different sizes, was used to clean KC’s bicycle lanes. Beneath the vehicle is dirt, grit, trash and other detritus pulled from the city streets. A video on a nearby wall demonstrates the Broom Wagon at work.
In a further demonstration of Wilkinson’s activism, his display includes a sample of the dirt and a letter to city officials arguing for the safety of cyclists and explaining the need for cleaner bike lanes
SHADOW, a 13-minute film by Judith Levy, is a humorous but poignant fake interview and documentary in which Levy plays both the artist, Judy G, and her split personality ,Lee J. The polite public persona of Judy G talks to the cameraman about all of the trouble she has with her wild, rambunctious shadow Lee J, while Lee J bemoans that Judy G is too restrained and that it is Lee J who is the muse for all of their artwork. The film ends with both characters sitting together in front of a camera, finally opening up to each other, and Judy G picking up Lee J’s riding crop and descending into the basement, the domain of her shadow, to dance and let loose.
Levy, who won a Rocket Grant for her film, NV in KC, has other projects on display, including photographs of immigrants who live in Kansas City and posters about her own family’s immigration history. One poster shows the complications of culture and change that come with immigration. The poster displays picture of a family member and describes how he left Germany as a socialist and later became a “Reagan Republican.”
Large graphite drawings by Amber Hansen address issues in livestock and food production and serve as part of her extremely controversial project, The Story of Chickens- A Revolution. Hansen’s initial idea, to raise live chickens on public view to heighten awareness about the reality of meat production, prompted so many online threats that she opted to refocus the project in other mediums. Also on display at the exhibition is a large packet of online comments about the project from supporters, critics and trolls. The archive, collected by Rocket Grant Program Coordinator Julia Cole, is an interesting bit of ephemeral Kansas City history containing the voices of well- known KC artists and personalities.
One wall of “Traces and Trajectories” contains exhibition cards, critical reviews, photographs and other ephemera from Plug Projects, a local and now well-established gallery that got its start through a Rocket Grant. For anyone who has been frequenting Plug’s gallery, the wall is a pleasantly nostalgic way to remember all of the amazing exhibitions and programing that Plug Projects has done over the last six years.
Rounding out the show, an installation by Blanket Undercover includes a large book documenting the group’s Mini Vinnie Bini project, in which they recreated artworks and installations from the Venice Biennale in various Kansas City galleries, businesses and venues. Darryl Chamberlain’s “Artists for Life” posters advocate against gun violence and community silence. And there are paintings and photographs by Michael Toombs, who, as part of NedRa Bonds’ Art Heroes project has been creating artwork with kids on the topic of social justice and community history. Dave Lowenstein’s “Give Take Give” project documentation shows a dumpster in Lawrence. It functioned as a nexus of a local gifting economy while the area around it was slowly gentrified.
These installations and artworks are just a small selection of many fine Rocket Grant Projects. During the show’s run, the gallery space will also hold a few events. Already, Levy and Jessica Borusky, who received a grant for her Queerafest Destiny project, have given a talk on their video and performance art. On February 11, Toombs and Bonds talk about community, arts and race. Plug Projects will host one of its Critique Nights at La Esquina on Feb. 25, bringing in more artists and art for a lively and open discussion.
Pulling together an exhibition about the history of the Rocket Grants program is no small task. Many of the project were temporary and exist now only as documentation. Other projects live on, some as permanent art venues around town. But reading over the exhibition literature and a list of the 60 grant recipients and their projects, it’s easy to see how much the Rocket Grant program has done, launching careers, raising up communities and engaging the public.
“Traces and Trajectories” continues at La Esquina Gallery, 1000 W. 25th St., through March 5th. Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday; noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and by appointment. For more information, 816.994.7730 or www.charlottestreet.org.