REVIEW: Florence Foster Jenkins starring Meryl Streep & Hugh Grant



Florence Foster Jenkins starts with a bird's eye view of 1944's New York City then cuts to an unconvincing monologist reciting Hamlet's long-butchered second soliloquy to a room filled with elderly couples in suits and derby hats.  The curtains of the Verdi Club stage open to reveal a man dressed as Stephen Foster, "the father of American music", suffering from writer's block.  Florence Foster Jenkins descends from the stage rafters, unevenly lowered by thick black cords, dressed as the Angel of Inspiration, complete with wings.  She smiles and waves her hands around, until Foster suddenly pounds the famous notes of  "Oh! Susanna."  The brief scene closes without Jenkins having said a word.  Off stage, she is dissatisfied with her performance, having not fully "embodied" her role.

Florence Foster Jenkins is currently being shown at the Nickelodeon Theater, starring Meryl Streep and directed by Stephen Frears.  The movie is based on the true story of its eponymous main character, an American socialite who showed great patronage to the early 20th century music scene.  She is convinced of her singing ability, despite the fact that, as her pianist Cosme McMoon describes, "her vocal chords, they don't phonate freely.  Her phrasing is haphazard.  As for her subglottal pressure, it defies medical science."  Her singing is encouraged by her second husband St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), the opening's mediocre Hamlet, who pays friends and reporters to praise the small concerts Jenkins performs.  He hides negative reviews and is fiercely protective of Jenkins' feelings, but this task becomes overwhelming when Jenkins decides to give a public performance at Carnegie Hall.

Though the movie easily could have easily fallen down the slippery slope of slapstick comedy, it attempts a much more complex path.  Jenkins is suffering from syphilis, which she contracted from her first husband on their wedding night.  A combination of her illness, along with the arsenic and mercury she was using to treat it, likely affected both her hearing and ability to accurately evaluate her own voice.

This movie explores the idea of codependency — between people, lying and happiness, comedy and tragedy.  The characters defy tropes, each one a combination of good, bad, and delusional.  They are constantly redefining loyalty, questioning how much they owe to each other and how to display it.  They also reshape notions of truth, questioning whether it is better to keep Jenkins happy and ignorant, or reveal the city's true perception of her.  The movie makes you want to laugh at Jenkins, while simultaneously hating any character who does.  It illustrates the irony of happiness and the wholesomeness of lying.

The movie is most notably a testament to human resilience. Jenkins has suffered through life childless, abstinent, and publically mocked. She is vain, placing one wig on top of the other instead of switching them out. She is self-righteous, commenting that she doesn't need a second take at the recording studio. However, she is also easily affected and open. She is shocked to hear sailors laughing at her performance in Carnegie Hall, one man even shouting "she sounds like a dying cat." However, the crowd is so impressed by her bravery and charm that they chant for her to continue singing until she belts out. The movie closes with Jenkins whispering to Bayfield, "people may say I can't sing, but no one can ever say I didn't sing."


Frozen Ghosts, Black Hole (2010) by Columbia, SC native Osamu Kobayashi, born 1984 - oil on canvas)  

"This is the simplest form / of current: Blue / moving through blue; / blue through purple; / the objects of desire / opening upon themselves / without us.” — "The Way Things Work", Jorie Graham


This is how it feels to walk through the Columbia Museum of Art's Big & Bold exhibit. The  exhibition room is flooded with bright color and light, every painting and sculpture seems iridescent.  For example, the painting Cape II by Sam Gilliam is a series of currents and pools of color, threading against and bleeding into one another.  The piece looms over spectators, several feet taller than any person.  Most art exhibits are curated under a certain theme, typically unified by the subject of the work or similarities between the artists.  However, Big & Bold isn’t a collection 20th century cigar paintings, or a display of Southern female photographers.  The work displayed was chosen for its emphasis on artistic concepts outside of the subject — every work seems to be an exploration of texture, luminosity, or medium.  The exhibit also seeks to answer the question: does size matter?


Cape II - Sam Gilliam (1970 acrylic on canvas)

Gilliam (born Tupelo, MS 1933) is a color field painter, meaning he poured acrylic paint directly onto an unprimed canvas.  Except, color field painting was too flat and literal for Gilliam.  He began bunching up the canvas, so that the paint flowed in the particular direction he wanted.  The canvas itself was used as art, adding newfound element — a more holistic, immersive feeling to the work.  Similarly, David Budd's painting Mars Black is a plain, all-black canvas, at least from afar.  However, closer, one can see that Budd was obsessed with what goes into making a painting, every little brush stroke.  It shows each layer of glimmering paint, each lifted scale, a city of texture.  This piece illustrates how much effort goes into each individual stroke, the entirety of the excoriating art-making process.  Each work in Big & Bold has a sense of innovation to it and a larger-than-life history.


For example, the most famous piece is inarguably a print from Andy Warhol’s Mao series.  This 1976 print displays Mao Zedong, the totalitarian Chinese ruler, in gaudy neon colors, lathered on his face like stage makeup.  A man named Bruno Bischofberger encouraged Warhol to paint a picture of the most important person in the 20th century, suggesting he do Albert Einstein.  However, Warhol chose to do Mao.  With that, he turned a man who campaigned against individualism and capitalism into a monument to artistry and consumerism.  Warhol rapidly reproduced the prints of Mao in different sizes and color schemes — the height of product availability, a harlequin oxymoron.


Phil III by Chuck Close

Big & Bold displays that size does matter.  It helps convey a feeling and a story.  A photorealist, Chuck Close’s Phil is a hyperrealistic, enormous portrait of the composer Philip Glass.  Close (born Monroe, WA, 1940) suffers from face blindness, a neurological disorder that affects the patient's ability to recognize faces.  The photograph confronts that troubling reality, and emphasized his ability to overcome his disorder, with two-dimensional, stationary faces being all that he can understand.  This struggle would not seem merely as pronounced if Phil could hang in a bathroom.  Amy Fichter’s illustration Breasts, a series of colorful lines that form a women’s boldly stuck-out chest, stands against the societal rejection of women’s bodies.  It wouldn’t be nearly as rebellious and unabashed if it could fold into a back pocket.  Most strikingly, however, Big & Bold shows how important certain things are to the artists, and what they want to say the loudest.


The exhibit runs through October 23, 2016 - for more info check out Columbia Museum of Art



25 The Columbia Museum of Art is currently displaying "Daufuskie Memories", an exhibition of photographs by Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, being shown until August 7.  Through the late 70s and early 80s, Moutoussamy-Ashe explored the people, customs, and buildings of Daufuskie Island, a sea island off the coast of South Carolina.  The series is comprised entirely of black-and-white gelatin silver prints.


The island is famous for its rich preservation of Gullah as result of its tight-knit community and isolation from the mainland.  Gullah is a culture and language developing from the descendants of enslaved Africans in the Lowcountry region, a fusion of Africa and the English South.  In "Emily's Son at Nursery School During Naptime", a young boy is sprawled out on a mat beneath a stove. Hung up behind the stove is a sheet that reads, "moja — 1 // mbili — 2 // tatu — 3," and continues to ten.  The words are numbers in Swahili.  The stove is also labeled "stove", this time in English.  On the other side of the room, propped against the wall, is a Dr. Seuss-themed corn-hole board.  The Daufuskie islanders are suspended between two worlds, yet still largely separate, wedged between the stove and the wall.



The photos display a wide range of activities, each with its own motion, emotion, and composition of light.  "Shrimper Pulling in his Line" shows a young man at work, dressed in a striped shirt and a bucket hat, pulling a net onboard a ship.  Fishing was the nucleus of the island, a staple at the dinner table and the main sector of the economy.  The island was also deeply religious, and home to the First Union African Baptist Church.  Several photos — of weddings, young piano players, a woman fixing her daughter's shoes — feature the starkly white, thin-pillared church.  The western influence on faith becomes undeniable in "Susie Standing Next to a Holy Picture", where a woman tightly smiles next to a picture of an unrealistically Caucasian Jesus.


There are pictures of people at funerals, on oxcarts, and drawing water from cast iron hand pumps.  There are scenes of boats in winter, of children buried in each other's arms.  However, the vast number of photographs are of just of people — mid-sentence, smoking cigarettes, gazing deeply back at the viewer.  Moutoussamy-Ashe emphasizes the roles of both human interaction and solitude throughout her collection, reminding the viewer that everyone is so much more than a single action the camera catches them in.



Moutoussamy-Ashe captures these lives in an incredible transition and tragic disintegration.  In the early 60s, Daufuskie islanders started to sell their land to private corporations and disperse throughout the mainland.  Moutoussamy-Ashe caught the last historical glimpses of the island before it became known for its 20-hole golf course and its members-only residential club.  The photographs hold a spirit and landscape that has been widely gentrified in the 21st century.  The photographer herself spoke on the subject, "because the Daufuskie I photographed no longer exist, I know now that these photos are an invaluable archive for the islanders and greater American society."




"They could tell you how they painted their landscapes, but they couldn't tell me how to paint mine." -- Georgia O'Keeffe

On July 19th, the Tate (a network of four contemporary art museums in London) released a two-minute short film directed by Canadian photographer Petra Collins on their official Youtube channel.  It opens with a girl crawling through a misty, purple desert in thigh-high leather boots.  The scene is soft, and dim, and flat.  Girls dressed in white stare off blankly, let ladybugs crawl across their skin, and lean on cacti.  There is something comical and disturbing in the set.  The desert looks like it's made of papier-mâché — intentionally simple and toylike, as if a Beetlejuice-esque sandworm might appear at any moment.  The scenery is dreamlike and the girls, glossy faced and glitter dusted, hold pensive expressions throughout.  This is Collins' re-imagining of the the work of Georgia O'Keeffe, the famed "Mother of American modernism."


Petra Collins, though only 23, photographed for Vogue, published a book, created a line of clothing for American Apparel, and has written for the Huffington Post.  Recently, Collins stepped into the world of film, with the production of her first short, "Drive Time", in January of 2015.  In this newest short film, she captures the southwestern iconography and textured style that defined O'Keeffe's work.  Collins explores the desert's tactile dichotomy by contrasting the softness of hills, skin, and silk to the hard lines of lizards, branches, and glass.  The short is not a strict retelling of O'Keeffe's work, but rather a fusion of the late artist's trademark subjects and Collins' own muted, hyper-feminine visuals.


The short also incorporates aspects of O'Keeffe's life.  The most provocative shot in the film is of a rose stitched onto underwear, an allusion to the widespread belief that O'Keeffe intentionally painted flowers to look like labia.  However, O'Keeffe repeatedly fought against these Freudian interpretations of her work.  In an interview with Vogue, Collins examined this phenomenon by stating, "people always wanted to sexualize her, to make her work about sex, to make it about the female body.  It could be, but I found it really interesting that she couldn’t paint her own landscape without people putting these connotations on it."  Through her lingering shots on shiny lips and mini skirts, Collins emphasizes the role of femininity in O'Keeffe's work, but it is displayed as separate from (if not devoid of) eroticism.  She beautifully captures the struggle of O'Keeffe, and many female artists, to be open about womanhood, while also trying to avoid sexualization.


A voiceover plays throughout the film, helping develop its complex thematic elements.  First, O'Keeffe's voice discusses the unteachability of  art.  A girl's voice then filters in, over the sounds of breaking glass and running water, musing about the connection between bodies and landscapes.  Different voices thread throughout, often repeating one of O'Keeffe's most famous quotes, "they could tell you how they painted their landscapes, but they couldn't tell me to paint mine."  With the girls echoing this sentiment, it seems to serve as a mantra, a monument to individualism.  The piece is hopeful, a pastel-clad encouragement, pleading the audience to explore their own intrinsic artistry.


Ryan mcewen 1 Ryan McEwen's Facebook profile picture is the red-and-yellow outline of a person, one hand draped over a book, the other propped under their chin. This person is vibrantly outlined yet hollowed — the tree they're lying against, and swirling patterns on the tree, can be seen through the person's abdomen. The scenery is overlaid with a series of colorful patterns that are distinct from their surroundings, yet still connected to the overall shape of the trees, sky, and grass. The connection feels almost rhythmic, like a synaesthetic daydream, where patterns appear to be pulsating off the objects around them.  The person by the tree, mostly amorphous and suspended in boldly colorful abstraction, appears calm, even contemplative.


Clicking through McEwen's Facebook, the primary way to view his work, there are many similar pieces — flowing, unbroken lines that curl across the width of the canvas. Inspired since high school by Salvador Dali and M.C. Escher, McEwen is captivated by surrealism and mathematical repetitions, such as the reoccurrence of the Fibonacci sequence in nature. "The most beautiful things are soft, flowing curves... the growth of a flower, a hurricane on a satellite, a spiral galaxy," he explains. However, there are also photorealistic paintings, graffitti art of monochromatic patterns, and chalk art reminiscent of art nouveau. One of his most poignant paintings, a woman on a sailboat at sunset, is almost indistinguishable from the photograph it is based on. His style largely depends on the piece, and his emotion about the subject. He draws inspiration from artists such as Alphonse Mucha, William Adolphe Bougereau, and David Walker. McEwen also finds the beauty in everyday objects and attempts to capture them, or tweak them to their ultimate aesthetic potential. He describes himself as someone who will rearrange a flower bouquet in someone's living room to make it look more pleasing.

ryan mcewen3


McEwen describes one of his earliest memories as being about making art. It was '86, he was three years old, and his family had just bought their first VCR player. He recalls drawing Indiana Jones after they watched the Temple of Doom. McEwen is self-taught, aside from classes in high school. "I remember each one of my art teachers I had growing up. Each one of them certainly gave me attention and supported all of my efforts.  Having said that, I have to mention my family.  My parents and siblings always encouraged and promoted me," he explains of his training. His first painting was a surrealist piece, which he gifted to his brother.


McEwen has grown in popularity through word-of-mouth and his Facebook postings. He has accepted commissions, but he typically creates pieces either for himself or as gifts for his loved ones. He explains that fame and money are not what his art is trying to accomplish; it is more important is to have meaningful connections, to make someone smile. When asked about his mission, he says, "Humbly, I feel like I do have something to offer the world.  I never really feel like I'm competing with anyone or anyone's art directly, except for myself.  I'm always trying to top myself, with every new project."

ryan mcewen 4




"This documentary is so invasive of Weiner's personal and political life that the audience is left asking, 'why did he let them keep filming?'"


Weiner is a recently released documentary directed by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, following Anthony Weiner, former representative of New York's 9th district, and his attempted reascension to political prominence.  The film revolves around Weiner's run for mayor of New York in 2013, in which he tries to distinguish himself from a humiliating sexting scandal that led to his resignation from Congress in 2011.  He was caught sexting multiple women nude pictures of himself, and the media backlash was unrelenting.  Despite this, for the first half of the documentary, he seems to be remarkably successful.


His wife and Hillary Clinton's top aide, Huma Abedin, speaks fondly of him when he announces his newfound mayoral campaign.  His office space, which initially housed only a single folding table, grows into a city of makeshift cubicles, overflowing with frenetic twenty-somethings.  A Quinnipiac poll taken from July 18th to July 23rd places Weiner as the frontrunner.  On July 23, in the middle of filming, a second scandal shocks the American public, the film crew, and even Abedin.  Weiner had continued to sext various women after the first scandal broke, this time under the nom de plume 'Carlos Danger.'


One of the most compelling aspects of the film is the relationship between Weiner and Abedin.  When the second scandal breaks, Weiner and Abedin begin a mission of inscrutable damage control.  The team is gathered into a small, whitewash room with nothing but an economy table, a few shattered chairs, and a mounted television.  Anxiety seems to vibrate off of the group as the details of Weiner's sexts display dimly off the television.  Abedin appears calm while making calls, the phone wedge between her shoulder and ear.  Then, she glances at the television and sees one of the explicit images her husband sent.  For the first time in the documentary, Abedin's facade breaks, and her jaw hangs open.  She turns to Weiner and they stare at each other silently for more than twenty agonizing seconds, recorded in high definition, before Weiner asks everyone to leave them alone.  While many documentaries have to dramatize glances and grasp at faux pas, Weiner's spectacle is held in the unflinching authenticity of this silence.  This documentary is so invasive of Weiner's personal and political life that the audience is left asking, "why did he let them keep filming?"


The film does not portray Weiner as a sulfur-and-smog noir villain, a trope all too popular in political television dramas.  Weiner isn't characterized as a buck-toothed, big-headed caricature, mindlessly throwing out buzzwords.  Instead, Weiner is a relatively charming, impassioned man with a fatal flaw.  His downfall echoes the pattern of a Greek tragedy — a successful man is brought down by his own unrelenting lust.  The documentary does an excellent job of providing a balanced view of Weiner.  The filmmakers rely heavily on their own footage, but also give the perspectives of news outlets, comedians, and those who campaigned for and against Weiner.


The film is unpredictable and remarkably compact, jamming an incredible amount of incendiary gossip into just 96 minutes. Weiner explores the depth of political corruption and the complexity of marriage in the public eye, and shows us more than we ever wanted to see of Anthony Weiner.


But What if we're wrong "I've spent most of my life being wrong," states Chuck Klosterman in the opening sentence of his newly released book, But What If We're Wrong? (Blue Rider Press, 2016.)  From this initial confession, Klosterman builds his model of universal wrongness, stating that many theories held to be objectively true will inevitably be deconstructed in the future.  He deals with the durability of the theory of gravity, the importance of the U.S. Constitution, and predicts a morphing in the literary canon.  He supports his claims by including brief interviews with experts in these various fields, and even when they disagree with him, he continues to develop his theories.

The most striking aspect of this book is Klosterman's shamelessly egocentric assumptions.  Klosterman makes a series of bold claims about the future of literary greatness predicated on one single idea: that the person who will define our generation is currently unheard of.  This obscurity won't be in the sense that we define Kafka as "obscure."  Kafka was published and in a circle of writers and intellects.  But rather, Klosterman suggests that this person will be entirely unread in their lifetime.  In theory, this person is holed up in their room right now, shoving their work in a padlocked trunk.  Greatness will be defined by some ramblings on privacy, rotting away on the Deep Web, which archivists will comb through like archeologists to find a hidden piece of the 21st century.

While these ideas are intriguing, they rely on a series of assumptions about the future that Klosterman himself admits are impossible to predict.  Nonetheless, he fixates on the idea that future greatness will be attributed to someone unknown, even providing a list as to what they may write about.  Klosterman puts blind faith in every baseless conviction, coming to this conclusion via internal logic, despite most of history and experts advising otherwise.

Klosterman is dealing in pop philosophy.  He claims that someone unknown will rise to prominence because the future will want fresh perspectives.  Not only do they want a different perspective, but also one that has been entirely unheard of.  Because with the creation of the internet, most perspectives have been heard, and therefore the future will search for increasingly obscure writing.  Hence the Deep Web.  As evidence, Klosterman references Junot Diaz's idea that the literary canon is inevitably going to become more diverse.  Almost all well-read people agree with that.  This trend has already begun.  But from that idea, Klosterman assumes that the canon will rapidly become so diverse that the only new wealth of information will come from someone entirely unread.  While it is an intriguing concept, it is hyperbolized to the point of absurdism.

In the second half of the book, Klosterman deals with ideas such as "what if gravity isn't real?" and "what if democracy isn't so great?"  But these are not new ideas.  People have already philosophized, researched, and put into practice these theories.  On the flip side, the people who don't know these ideas are not given sufficient evidence to ever get a comprehensive understanding of them. The entire book feels like a summary of an offhanded remark Malcolm Gladwell made about the state of the world.

What If We're Wrong? still seems like it will culminate at the end; We feel like Klosterman will explain why he has chosen to predict the future of the literary canon, rock 'n' roll, the US Constitution, and the concept of gravity.  Instead, he just rambles about a series of things that he finds interesting, with little to no cohesiveness.  But he vehemently claims at the beginning of the book that it isn't a collection of essays.  He means to create an image of the future and a paradigm for examining the present.  But most of his arguments are predicated on platitudes, making the entire book feel underdeveloped, unsubstantiated, and unoriginal.

Response from Kyle Petersen, Assistant Editor of Jasper and Frequent Cultural Apologist:

I get your frustration, Olivia, and it seems reminiscent of a lot of the criticism of Klosterman's writing for his NYT column The Ethicist: that he is self-serving, represents other people's ideas incorrectly or superficially, and spirals around a bit in his own meta-reflections rather than advancing a cogent argument.

That being said, your point about "pop philosophy" is well-taken and seems to excuse the book in some sense. Since the concept of the book is patently absurd and admittedly impossible to pull off, and that Klosterman admits all of that right from the get-go, makes this a bit of self-aware sophistry that finds some amusement and stimulation in its own intellectual cul-de-sacs. Klosterman makes the kind of (relatively) astute points about literature, music, and television that he's known for while also providing plenty of the self-ingratiating humor that marks his signature style. He's a bit weaker on the science and politics ends of things, but it also feels like a nice way to illustrate how arguments about culture are always kind of arguments about how we understand the larger world as well. If the ride gets bumpy and digressive in parts, well, he warned us about that too.

There's a moment near the end of the book, in between talk of baseball statistics and octopi, where he gets to the nut of the rationale behind the book: "There is not, in a material sense, any benefit to being right about a future you will not experience. But there are intrinsic benefits to constantly probing the possibility that our assumptions about the future might be wrong: humility and wonder. It's good to view reality as beyond our understanding, because it is. And it's exciting to imagine the prospect of a reality that cannot be imagined, because that's as close to pansophical omniscience as we will ever come."

Whether or not the arguments in this book are uniformly solid (we can probably all agree they are not), the value in spending a few hours going through Klosterman's experience feels edifying, for precisely the reasons he suggests.

REVIEW: The Lobster by Olivia Morris


"Lobsters live for over one hundred years, are blue-blooded like aristocrats, and stay fertile all their lives," David explains, wedged between a floral bedspread and a flat-affect hotel manager.  The characters exist in shades of blue and gray, with their drab clothing and the hotel's muted decorating scheme.  A suited man stands silently in the corner, his head cut out of the frame.  David's voice is monotone as he explains why he would want to be transformed into a lobster, if it came to it.

Colin Farrell stars as David, the central and only named character in the recently released film, The Lobster, whose wife has just left him after twelve years of marriage.  By the laws of this dystopian universe in which the film takes place, any adult person without a partner is required to move into a hotel for six weeks, in order to find another spouse.  If they fail to find a suitable partner, they will be changed into an animal of their choosing.


In this dark comedy, Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos examines the highly inorganic aspect of modern relationships.  On Tinder, people make snap decisions about potential partners, depending on their appearance or the few character cues that can be explained in under 500 characters.  In real life, an adult who has never been married is considered odd or antisocial.  Teenagers feel an immense amount of social pressure to secure a date to prom.  Lanthimos takes these cultural imperatives to the extreme and places his characters in dire situations if they don't have a mate.  The characters cautiously revolve around each other, not looking for love, but rather looking for someone with whom a relationship might seem convincing, at best.  They are attracted to each other because of miniscule details, like something as silly as both individuals being prone to nosebleeds, and even then some of the idiosyncrasies are cultivated. But Lanthimos does this with such an exacting formality that the viewer is left finding humor in the absurdity.  David is completely serious as he explains that he would like to be a lobster because he "like(s) the sea very much."

Lanthimos has been elevated into the class of visually compelling, emotionally provocative sci-fi filmmakers, reminiscent of the work of Spike Jonez, Charlie Kaufman, and Michel Gondry.  Lanthimos gives the dystopian film a sense of contained surrealism.  The most science-y aspect of the film, transforming humans, is left almost entirely untouched.  The overarching tone of dystopia is largely just a catalyst for exploring the real and superficial aspects of human affection, with cutting cynicism.


The brilliance of the movie comes from its perfectly balanced juxtapositions.  From start to finish, from the weather to the wallpaper, from the forest to the city, the color palette of the movie is incredibly bleak.  The colors are muted and underwhelming, in a way that makes every scene seem drained of livelihood.  In a similar fashion, the characters speak clearly, matter-of-factly, and in emotionally blunted tones, blundering awkwardly through comically literal conversations.

In contrast though, the film splices in several scenes of dramatic slow-motion, while Beethoven bursts through the speakers.  There are highly disturbing, bloody scenes that caused half the audience to cover their eyes during.  This disjointing of tonality is intentionally funny, but also adds another layer of creativity.  The overly dramatic scenes are clearly superficial and disjointed, like the relationships in the movie.


The audience had a deeply divided reaction in the theater I was in.  Some left, understandably so.  The movie gets incredibly dilated at points, seeming to stretch and repeat itself unnecessarily.  Rachel Weisz's narration is jarring and doesn't enhance the movie in any direct way.  However, these formulaic, almost robotic tendencies are exactly what thematically anchor the movie.  You cannot go into this film expecting to be blindly entertained or emotionally manipulated.  This movie will not make your heart race.  It won't make you jump or cry.  However, it will make you think intensely about what it means to fall in, be in, or lose love, and whether or not you've ever actually done any of those things.


-- Olivia Morris

A CASE FOR THE ARTS - an essay by Jasper Intern Olivia Morris


Art is a celebration of humanity's emotional and technical intelligence. It is what we build ourselves from  and what spills out of us, personal and universal at once. However, art has been pushed aside in favor of STEM subjects in schools. The Republican Study Committee has suggested the arts budget be eliminated entirely. In a world that devalues the emotional and intellectual value of art, an argument can be made in terms everyone can understand — money. Art is money. Areas with art make money.

Artistry-rich areas have a competitive advantage compared to cities without sufficient artistic activities. These areas attract visitors and businesses.  Increased art and culture in a region increases both the amount of foot traffic and the amount of money spent in the area.

In 1905, The Crane Company Building inPhiladelphia was erected as a cast concrete emblem of modernizing architecture. Built in the manufacturing district of northern Philadelphia, the building transformed to meet the shifting American demands, first as a plumbing manufacture, then as a seafood processing plant.  After years of reeking of draft horses and half-frozen shrimp, the building closed and became dilapidated through the twentieth century.  In 2004, a group of local artists restored the building and established Crane Arts, a gallery space for established and emerging artists in Philadelphia. Crane Arts's 'Icebox' art projects have garnered international attention and were mentioned in Lonely Planet's article on top ten U.S. destinations. This is one of the numerous examples of how fostering artistic expression can lead to increased visibility and visitation of a region.

Stories like Crane Arts don't only exist in major cities. In Columbia, The Nickelodeon Theater hosts an annual arts and culture festival called Indie Grits. Andy Smith, the Executive Director of The Nickelodeon, shared the figures on how much this one festival contributed to the economy. Indie Grits had 10,267 attendees this year, all in one weekend. 38 percent of those people come from out of town, and therefore increased the profits going towards hotel and restaurants. On average, attendees spent $30 outside of the festival, mostly within a mile radius of the The Nickelodeon.  That is roughly $300,000 dollars being pumped into the non-arts sector over the course of one weekend.

Additionally, arts and culture jobs proliferate into jobs for other sectors. For every arts job that was generated in 2012, 1.62 other non-arts jobs were created as a result. The arts are constantly pumping more into the economy than they are taking out. For every $1 invested in the arts, there is a $1.69 in total output. The nonprofit arts industry creates an average of $135.2 billion every year, resulting in $22.3 billion in tax revenues across the national, state, and local levels. Lee Snelgrove, the Executive Director of One Columbia, brought the Arts & Economic Prosperity IV report on Columbia to our attention. It outlines the economic impact that the nonprofit arts and culture organizations have in Columbia. In the greater Columbia area, total industry expenditures total at $35,898,074.  Columbia alone generates revenues of $1,773,000 to the local government and $2,154,000 to state government.

When 97% of employers report that creativity matters to them when looking for an employee, the fostering of art is not only important to individuals, but also to businesses. South Carolina's economy is one of the most sluggish in the nation. According to Business Insider, South Carolina ranks as one of the most economically struggling states, the fifth worst in the nation. Instead of eradicating the arts, it has proven already to be more effective to bolster them. Arts and culture invigorate the economy and are vital to placemaking. The arts are not a part of the problem, but rather a part of the solution.


Olivia Morris


Monifa "When I think about where I was, it was just me, and my daughter, and a hundred flyers," says Monifa Lemons, co-founder and director of The Watering Hole, a South Carolina-based poetry collective dedicated to poets of color. When she moved South Carolina, Lemons felt displaced from the creative scene in her hometown of New York City. Lemons, then a working, single mother of a seven year old, was determined to create the change she wanted to see. She secured an open-mic night venue at the Jamaican restaurant This, That, and the Other in Five Points and Cool Beans Coffee Company. Lemons and her daughter walked down Main Street together, posting flyers for the spoken-word scene she had created. That was 1998.

Today, Lemons directs The Watering Hole (TWH). Started as a Facebook group with just eighteen people, TWH now serves as a safe space to over 500 members. In 2016, TWH was invited to present at James Madison University's Furious Flower Poetry Center, the first center in the nation to be dedicated to African American poetry. This poetry conference only occurs every ten years. Furious Flower has honored nationally revered poets such as Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka, and in 2016, Rita Dove. TWH also offers an annual Winter Retreat, where they offer expert education to Southern poets at economical prices. "I don't create it if I can't buy it," explains Lemons.

Lemons has also has recently been published. Her work has been chosen for an anthology of Southern poetry entitled Home is Where, edited by Emmy award winning poet Kwame Dawes. Lemons's poetry, like herself, is incredibly dynamic. In the beginning, she was strictly a spoken word poet. Also an accomplished actress, Lemons would jot down poems between scenes, drawing inspiration from 90s-era hip-hop. Presently, however, she has focused her poetry to reflect the many facets of herself. She writes about motherhood, specifically what it is like to be a single, black mother. She also writes about womanism (a form of feminism that emphasizes women's natural contribution to society, used by some in distinction to the term feminism and its association with white women) and injustice. Her spoken word poetry is ever-changing. She reworks one piece in particular, "For Brown, for Rice, for Garner," every time she performs, putting her poetry in a perpetual state of metamorphosis. In "Black Girls," (below) she talks about her daughters praying over cereal and hoping for decorated pencils. In "B's and H's", she provides a cutting condemnation of misogyny in the music industry. Lemons is a poet who can do it all, and do it all well.

When ask if her poetry is confessional, Lemons responds, "it is confessional, but it speaks for a sect of people who are not represented well." Lemons has dedicated much of her time and craft to bringing to light what much of the poetry world ignores. Lemons is continuing the adroit work of her inspirations, Nikky Finney, Patricia Smith, and Roger Bonair-Agard. Though Lemons is a New York native, she also has a bracing Southern perspective in her work. In her youth, she spent her summers raising hogs and feeding chickens at her grandmother's farm in Camden, South Carolina. "I've always been a kindred spirit to South Carolina ... when opportunities came up to move back to New York, I never would," she says. With Lemons's recent publication, she is adding to the rich literary legacy of South Carolina, while also providing her own idiosyncratic commentary on motherhood, hip-hop, and injustice.

Two Poems by Monifa Lemons


Black Girls    

I know Black Girls

Black girls running around in panties.

Black girls praying. Even over cereal.

Black girls bouncing. or sitting on stairs.

Black girls lit at the gift of notebooks and decorated pencils.

I know black girls

Black girls who hug with the wholeness of their arms

Fast black girls. Free.

Black girls who smile at no one.




I know black girls who pass mirrors and do their own hair.

Black girls showing off.

Black girls screaming.

I know black girls who silence when grandmothers speak.

I know them.


Black girls.


I know black girls who arch backs to drum beats and sax who make it truth because they say so they told them on the way here to us black girls who believe in their sisters hood who don’t ask for black dolls they expect them black girls who strut through your space and whip their hips passed newsstands they know they know they know they know black girls who blow and hush and hum and rhythm and concoct and draw and spell and conjure up you and you and you and you. i know them. I know them black girls and they comin’ for you.



You look good. You. Look good. Yeah Good. Looking good. What are you doing? Now what are you doing? You

Look good. What have you been doing? What. What have you not been doing? What were you not doing? When did you care? When did you care about looking good? When you do that, you look good. Look. Look, you are good. You are good. Now. You care now. You now care. Care has been taken. Now. What were you doing? What have you done? You care. Now. We'll care now look at you. We care to look at you. You look good. Now.