Interim Director Stephen Reily On His Plans, Hopes For The Speed Tuesday, Apr 25 2017 

Stephen Reily leads me through the back halls of the Speed Museum into the center gallery filled with white marble sculptures. He points to one of his favorites, “Nydia the Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii,” an 1850s work based on the best-selling novel “The Last Days of Pompeii.”

“And what it shows is this beautiful marble sculpture made in Rome by one of the first American artists to settle in Italy,” Reily says.

He points out the intricate detail of the sculpture — the wind-blown appearance of Nydia’s cloak, for example — as well as its historical context. “Nydia the Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii” is representative of a time in American history when many politicians, artists and philosophers were saying that in order to improve the country, we’d have to pattern ourselves after the civilizations of Greek and Rome.

“But at the same time, in the 1850s, there were artists and others who were looking to that story of the destruction of Pompeii as an example of what America was going through and slavery in some ways was our Mount Vesuvius, ready to explode,” Reaily says. “Which it did and caused a lot of destruction, but one we had to work through as a country.”

During Reily’s three weeks as interim director — in addition to the 10 years he served on the museum’s board — he’s gotten pretty well acquainted with the art. Despite that, the pace of learning about the organization’s complete inner workings has come as somewhat of a shock, especially in the midst of hanging “Southern Accent,” their most ambitious contemporary art exhibition yet.

“It’s like drinking from a fire hose,” Reily says, laughing.

Courtesy Speed Art Museum

Stephen Reily

Reily is perhaps best known locally as an entrepreneur who chairs IMC, a holding company for three companies he founded: Vibrant Nation, IMC Licensing and SUM180. But he has a deep love of the arts.

He currently serves as chair of the board of directors of the Creative Capital Foundation, a national grant maker in the arts, and is a member of the board of trustees of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York.

Reily officially took the position of interim director on April 1 following former director Ghislain D’Humieres’ decision to move back to France. Reily has committed to 18 months at the Speed, and says he’s come into the museum at an interesting time.

“One of the fun things about the moment that I got to come in is that we were just celebrating the first full year in the new building, so it’s been a moment to look back and see how we did,” Reily says. “The Speed welcomed over 130,000 people and that’s a 74 percent increase over the number of people we welcomed the year before closure.”

Of those 130,000, nearly half visited the museum on their free-admission Owsley Sundays — which has become known for drawing more diverse crowds to the institution than throughout the normal week. This leads into one of Reily’s main goals as interim director.

“One thing we know is that we want it to always look like Sundays,” Reily says.

“I think there’s so many divisions in America right in cities and states like Kentucky — art can be, and in some ways has to be, part of the ways we come together and connect with each other, connect with the issues we have a hard time talking about.”

Didn’t Like The Thunder Over Louisville Music? Science Can Explain Why Tuesday, Apr 25 2017 

Thousands of people packed the waterfront last weekend to watch Thunder Over Louisville, the largest annual fireworks display in North America.

But it wasn’t long after the sky went dark and the music stopped that — wait for it — people took to Twitter to complain about this year’s event.

The most common criticism? The music.

Louisville Orchestra conductor Teddy Abrams selected the soundtrack, which was filled with songs that have local ties. They were then edited and mixed by Thunder producer Wayne Hettinger.

It was an innovative choice, but one that also divided people into two camps: those who showered Abrams with praise for his selections, and those who complained the music was disjointed from the fireworks. One commenter likened it to watching a video with a sound delay.

Complaints are par for the course. But why was this such a common one?

“Music tends to make people more sensitive to temporal irregularity,” says Elizabeth Margulis, who directs the Music Cognition Lab at the University of Arkansas.

She says music is more effective than visual stimuli in alerting people about patterns or the rhythm of upcoming events.

“So in the fireworks case, just the fact that there’s music is probably orienting people more to this time dimension and kind of exposing the mismatch,” Margulis says. “Just the fact that there’s music there is doing that.”


Click on the image to watch video of Thunder Over Louisville 2017 from WHAS-11 TV.

Miriam Lense of Vanderbilt University’s Program for Music, Mind and Society says our brains have a particular specialty: They can integrate information across the senses really well.

“So if that information wasn’t aligning [and] the people or the attendees were expecting that information to be aligned, that could have been one reason for the unsettling experience,” Lense says.

In fact, she says, there is far more space in our brains dedicated to the integration of our senses than to isolating them.

This is everywhere in our daily lives.

Mentally walk through the process of making coffee. You probably envision both the sound of the coffee percolating and the little light that flickers on to let you know it’s brewing. It’s a complete sensory package (not to mention the aroma).

If you need more evidence, Margulis points to a study where researchers had participants describe the pitch difference between two notes, which is called an interval.

“They found that people are pretty much as good at judging the size of these intervals if they are just looking at the images of the face producing them, and not even hearing anything at all,” she says. “So that’s how tightly intertwined what we see is with what we hear.”

Margulis says there’s something really special about the fact that we have all this different sensory information bombarding us all day long — yet we have this unified experience of the world. It’s like our brain is performing magic tricks all day long.

So, that’s why it’s so disconcerting when what we see and hear don’t connect.

And that’s why, science aside, Miriam Lense totally gets what some members of the Thunder audience were feeling.

“I certainly have been to fireworks displays where it’s not coordinated with the music,” Lense says, laughing. “So I know that experience of when you expect the largest fireworks to come at these large times on the music when the beat is expecting something to be happening. I think I get where your audience is coming from.”

Clifton Center Closing After More Than 22 Years Sunday, Apr 23 2017 

After more than 22 years of hosting performances and cultural events, the Clifton Center will cease operations at the end of the year.

St. Frances of Rome Catholic Parish — which is the landlord of the Center’s building on Payne Street — has decided to repurpose the former school building for other uses, according to a news release.

The Clifton Center began in 1994 as a nonprofit partnership between leaders from St. Frances of Rome, the Clifton neighborhood and community cultural leaders.

Since that time, it has received support from organizations such as the National Endowment for the Arts and the Kentucky Arts Council.

The Center will continue hosting events until their official closing date of Dec. 31, 2017.

Sign, Sign, Everywhere A Sign — But What Do They Say About Louisville’s Culture? Friday, Apr 21 2017 

I’m standing on the corner of Lucia Avenue and Bardstown Road with Bryan Patrick Todd — a corner most people in Louisville probably know pretty well, thanks to him. He points to a black brick wall in front of us that’s covered in three big orange words.

“Weird, independent and proud,” Todd says, slicing the air with his hand to punctuate each word.

To the side of those is a slim line of letters that runs down the bricks to spell out the word, “Highlands.” The mural was commissioned in 2012 by the Highlands Commerce Guild, and has since become something of a fixture in the neighborhood.

“I think it really ended up complimenting the building,” Todd says. “And I think when people are driving up and down the road, it’s made for kind of like, sort of a landmark in the Highlands neighborhood.”

Ashlie Stevens |

Bryan Patrick Todd in front of his mural.

And these signs — the ones unique to an area, made by locals — are something that Nikki Villagomez says can tell us a lot about a city.

Villagomez is a designer and the author of the book “How Culture Affects Typography,” a topic she’ll be speaking about next week at an event hosted by AIGA Louisville, the local chapter of the Professional Association for Design.

She first became curious about the topic when she was serving as the president of the South Carolina AIGA chapter. During that time, she suggested doing a “design exchange” with the chapter from Honolulu.

“We boxed anything and everything that had to do with South Carolina, shipped it to Honolulu,” Villagomez says. “They did the same for us. It was literally South Carolina in a box.”

Included in the box were some fun things like a bag of grits and some tea from Charleston, but they also sent examples of pieces designed by South Carolina designers for South Carolina clients.

“On the day of our event, we opened up the box from Honolulu, and it really felt like Honolulu exploded,” Villagomez says.

She continues: “Everyone got leis, they sent sand from Waikiki. But the pieces designed by Hawaiian designers for Hawaiian clients, really you could tell how their culture affected the typography and design choices they were making.”

According to Villagomez, there was lot of sans serif typefaces — the kinds without feet or wings on the letter — and a lot of blues and green. The next year, they did an exchange with Las Vegas.

“Vegas clients by Vegas designers were such a stark contrast from the year before,” she says. “A lot of slab serif, thick typography, a lot of sharp angular, bright colors. Again, their culture plays a part in their design and typography choices.”

Since then, Villagomez — now based in North Carolina — has studied font and typeface all over the world, and takes a look at how local culture and history shape what we see on our signs.


Welcome to Schnitzelburg

In preparation for her discussion in Louisville, design professionals from all over the city have sent her images of their favorite local signs. She won’t give away all her findings until the presentation, but one thing stood out to her:

“I got a lot of pictures that have to do with neighborhoods — it seems like the city is very much separated by what neighborhood you’re in,” Villagomez says. “Whereas, for example in comparison, or I guess in contrast, my presentation in Orlando was all about the city of Orlando.”

On that note, Bryan Patrick Todd says he’s painted about seven neighborhood-specific murals across the city.

“Each neighborhood has a uniqueness to it and they’re proud of the differences,” Todd says. “You go to Crescent Hill and the vibe is totally different than the Highlands, and I think that as small as the city is compared to Chicago or New York, we love how different these blocks are.”

Ashlie Stevens |

When Pigs Fly — another of Todd’s neighborhood-specific murals

Villagomez wants to stress that none of these things — whether it’s something small like font choice or something bigger like how we use signage to designate our surroundings — is an accident. It’s all very much rooted in and reinforced by a city’s history and culture.

And she hopes through discussing these distinctions, it will cause people to really notice the constructed world around them.

“Especially for people who are born and raised in the same city where they currently live, it’s very easy to not see the signs around you,” she says.

“How Culture Affects Typography” by Nikki Villagomez will take place on April 27 at the Tim Faulkner Gallery. More information is available here.

Bill O’Reilly Is Out At Fox News Wednesday, Apr 19 2017 

Fox News is parting ways with Bill O’Reilly, who for years stood as one of cable news’ most popular hosts. The network’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, announced the move Wednesday in a statement.

“After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the Company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel,” the statement read.

The host’s top-rated program, The O’Reilly Factor, had recently suffered an exodus of advertisers amid revelations that O’Reilly, Fox News and 21st Century Fox quietly paid out roughly $13 million in settlements to people who had accused him of sexual harassment.

As we reported last week, an independent analysis by the the ad-tracking firm showed O’Reilly’s program had lost about half its advertisers in a span of several weeks due to the allegations.

O’Reilly had been on vacation and planned to return to the program on April 24. It remains unclear whether the network will allow the host to say a farewell of his own on air.

Tucker Carlson will replace O’Reilly in the 8 p.m. ET time slot.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit

NERVE: Documentary Tells Story Of Kentucky’s Chemical Weapons Problem Tuesday, Apr 18 2017 

After coming home from the Vietnam War, Craig Williams was looking forward to some normalcy. But in 1984, he discovered that the Department of Defense was tasked with getting rid of over 500 tons of toxic nerve gas and other chemical weapons that were stockpiled in his small Kentucky hometown.

That’s when, filmmaker Ben Evans says, Williams and other concerned citizens began the fight of their lives, which ultimately sparked the formation of the Kentucky Environmental Foundation.

“It really started as a small group of Kentuckians in Berea who were trying to figure out how to stop this plan to incinerate a bunch of chemical weapons that are stored at the Bluegrass Army Depot out in Richmond,” Evans says. “Right there next to Berea.”

Now, nearly three decades later, Evans’ latest documentary “NERVE: How a Small Kentucky Town Led the Fight to Safely Dismantle the World’s Chemical Weapons” chronicles the process.

It’s a project that has been nearly that long in the making, as much of the archived footage used by Evans was captured by documentary filmmaker Joe Gray, who in the 90s, wanted to produce a film that examined the question of how to dispose of deteriorating chemical weapons.

Although Gray followed the hearings and shot raw footage of interviews, he never received the funding he needed to edit and produce a documentary on the subject.

That’s where Evans has picked up — presenting the archived footage alongside new interviews with key players from that time, like Williams.

“What’s inspiring about the film is that they went from ‘Not in my backyard’ to ‘Not on this planet’ — to kind of borrow a line from the film,” Evans says. “They realized this would end up somewhere and someone else would suffer the consequences and the same situation was happening at these other sites.”

“NERVE,” which is the winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2016 Environmental Film Festival at Yale, has its Louisville premiere Wednesday at 7 p.m. It will be shown at Bellarmine University’s Cralle Theater and is free and open to the public. More information is available here.

2017 Grawemeyer Recipients To Discuss Award-Winning Ideas In Louisville Tuesday, Apr 18 2017 

This week, the recipients of the 2017 Grawemeyer Awards will discuss their award-winning ideas during a lecture series at University of Louisville and the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Dana Burde is the recipient of the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas for Improving World Order. Burde is a professor and the director of the International Education program at New York University.

WFPL’s Roxanne Scott spoke with Burde about her work back in November:

Jehanzaib Khan

Dana Burde

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Columbia University professor Gary Dorrien is the winner of the 2017 Grawemeyer Award in Religion for his book, “The New Abolition: W. E. B. DuBois and the Black Social Gospel.”

Back in December, Dorrien spoke with WFPL’s Bill Burton about the book and the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement:

Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary

Gary Dorrien

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The 2017 Grawemeyer Award for Education went to a pair of University of Wisconsin researchers. Diana Hess and Paula McAvoy were honored for their study on the discussion of controversial political issues in high school classrooms, including immigration, gun control and abortion.

WFPL’s Rick Howlett spoke with Hess and McAvoy about their work last year:

U of L

Paula McAvoy (left) and Diana Hess

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Marsha Linehan is the 2017 Grawemeyer Award winner for Psychology. Linehan has struggled with her own mental health for most of her life, beginning in her teens with a hospitalization at the Institute for Living during the 1960s.

She’s a professor of Psychology and adjunct professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle. WFPL’s Lisa Gillespie spoke with Linehan last year about her career path and about the mental health system:

Courtesy University of Washington

Marsha Linehan

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The 2017 Grawemeyer Awards Lecture Series is free and open to the public. The full schedule can be found here.

Festival Of Faiths: Artist Hannah Drake On Spirituality, Artistry And Compassion Tuesday, Apr 18 2017 

The Festival of Faiths beings this Wednesday, April 19. It is the 22nd year the festival, which focuses on interfaith relations and understanding, has been put on in Louisville.

Hannah Drake is a local spoken word artist who curated performers for “Compassion Rising,” an evening of artistic performances hosted by the festival. I spoke with Drake about “Compassion Rising,” how her faith informs her artistry, and how she believes the world can be changed. Listen to our conversation in the player above.

On how to be a “world-changer”:

“A lot of people think, you know. ‘I gotta be Malcolm X, I gotta be Martin Luther King, Jr., I gotta be Angela Davis, I gotta be Mother Teresa.’ You don’t have to be those people. Those people were those people. Everybody can not be called to do that. But everybody is called to do something if you really want to see change. And you can do that in small things. If you do small things daily, if everybody could just do a small thing daily, it would change the world.”

On how her spirituality and artistry are intertwined:

“One thing I am very interested in is liberation theology — how can you use theology and the word of God for liberation, because everything that I do [in my artwork] is about setting people free.”

On the diverse lineup she curated for “Compassion Rising”:

“I wanted it to be a variety of people. I wanted it to be a variety of ages, so it is very intergenerational. Different cultures, different races — because I wanted people to see all of us can come together of one accord to do one thing. It wasn’t like ‘This is an all-black event put on by a black girl named Hannah.’ I wanted it to be a mixture of all people, because that’s how the world is.

“We all have something to say, whether it was through playing music, through dance — we all had different faiths, what we believed in. But like I said, the undertone of what we wanted to see was compassion. It didn’t matter, none of that mattered.”

Review: Despite Awkward Ending, ‘We’re Gonna Be Okay’ Is Sharp And Funny Monday, Apr 17 2017 

The best historical plays also resonate in our own time, and that’s certainly the case with “We’re Gonna Be Okay” by Basil Kreimendahl, which premiered at the 2017 Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville.

At a moment when the threat of nuclear annihilation is once again top of mind, when President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un are playing a global game of chicken, “We’re Gonna Be Okay” takes us back to October 1962 and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Two neighbors, Sul (Scott Drummond) and Efran (Sam Breslin Wright), are discussing building a bomb shelter for their families to share in case of a worst-case scenario. Even though they live next door to each other, in near-identical houses, we clearly see their differences: one family is focused on prosperity and perfection, the other family is only aspiring to it. While Efran is grilling up tasty steaks, Sul has humble hot dogs.

We see how each member of the two families — both men are married, and each has a teenage child — is restricted by societal expectations of the time, and has a different reaction to the possibility of total destruction. For some, like Efran, it’s a disaster to be prepped for and waited out; for others, like Sul’s daughter Deanna (Anne-Marie Trabolsi), it could be an opportunity to make a whole new world, far from the daily concerns of high school life.

Bill Brymer

Scott Drummond and Sam Breslin Wright in “We’re Gonna Be Okay”

In the first act, the men decide to start digging in their shared yard, then we hear the announcement from President John F. Kennedy about missiles in Cuba, and both families head underground. An elaborate set change at intermission (which is worth watching in itself) brings us to the bunker, which feels surprisingly spacious, although unfinished. The second act is less assured than the first, as most of the family members start to stretch out and enjoy their relative freedom away from the constraints of society, and Efran has a nonstop freakout about all the change happening around him.

The script is sharp and funny, playing with 1960s stereotypes while not becoming mired in a “Leave It To Beaver” satire. Performances are especially strong, especially Deanna’s song in the second act, which provides a moment of beauty and peace amidst the upheaval.

This exploration of what could really happen at the end of the world is somewhat marred by a murky ending that seemed to leave a number of audience members confused. The play feels like it simply stops instead of having an ending (which is different from having a resolution), and I found myself wondering if we’d suddenly stepped into an alternate history.

Despite this awkwardness, “We’re Gonna Be Okay” asks audiences to pay attention to our current situation and ask who we might truly let ourselves be, deep underground.

Festival Of Faiths: Using Comedy To Bridge Cultural Divide Monday, Apr 17 2017 

One effective way of bridging a cultural divide is through comedy. Azhar Usman is a Muslim comic trying to do just that.

Usman has opened for comedian Dave Chappelle more than 50 times, and he’s the co-founder of the international comedy showcase “Allah Made Me Funny-The Official Muslim Comedy Tour.” He’s is in Louisville for the Festival of Faiths and will be performing his standup Friday night.

The Chicago-based comedian talked with me about his path to comedy, his hope for the Festival of Faiths, and growing up in predominately Jewish Skokie, Illinois. You can listen to our conversation in the media player above.

On growing up in Skokie:

“I do a joke that I went to so many bar mitzvahs I started waiting for one of my own and had no context or idea that I wasn’t going to have one. Because growing up, that was what was around me. Now looking back on it, I think I was very fortunate to have grown up in a diverse community.”

On going from law school to comedy:

“I ended up in law school like a lot of people do, you know they call getting a law degree the haven for the undecideds. But during that time is when I really started getting serious about my stand up as well and was touring a lot on the weekends and performing a lot on the road and building my comedy chops.”

Comedian Azhar Usman will perform during the Festival of Faiths on Friday, April 21. There’s more information about the festival here.

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