Mourning and then moving on
Tom Eblen columnist Lexington Herald-Leader
August 27, 2008
How do you mourn the loss of a historic building or a favorite nightspot?
That's what artist Bruce Burris wanted to know last month when he sent out a call for mourners.
Burris asked how people would like to mourn the demolition of 14 old buildings on the downtown Lexington block being cleared to make way for the CentrePointe development.
Sound a little goofy? That's what I thought, too.
However, Burris got 18 proposals from people who wanted to mourn the buildings, which included Morton's Row, built in 1826 and one of Lexington's oldest commercial structures, and the century-old building that housed The Dame, a popular music club.
One of Burris' ongoing art projects is called Greengrief. Its mission is to provide "compensation to mourners for grieving, praying, singing and for giving thoughtful consideration and sincere apologies to our Earth for the environmental and cultural devastation wrought by us humans to it in the Commonwealth of Kentucky."
Usually, Burris said, Greengrief doesn't focus on real estate development, or even large sites of destruction, such as strip mines. It looks at small places where human activity has hurt the environment — such as Wolf Run Creek along Southland Drive. "Little projects that hardly no one notices," he explained.
CentrePointe wasn't a typical Greengrief project, but after hearing a lot of people upset about it, Burris said, "What the heck?"
He chose three mourners from the 18 applicants, each of whom will receive $100 from his pocket to help fund their projects. They're now seeking the necessary city permits for their events, which are all planned for Sept. 12 and 13.
"The three of them are very different. And not anything like what I expected, either," said Burris, who operates the Latitude Artist Community on Saunier Alley, which works with adult artists who have disabilities. "I really couldn't decide, so I just went for three."
Jenny O'Neill, an English teacher at Tates Creek High School, decided to apply right before the Aug. 1 deadline. She's writing a historical novel set in Lexington in 1833, when the oldest of the recently demolished buildings were in use. She also was touched by the destruction of The Dame, because her three children — ages 30, 28 and 22 — all loved to go to shows there.
"I was so angry about the way this thing (CentrePointe) has come down," she said. "But anger is one of the stages of grief. And I'm in grief. We were so insensitive to our history, and our young people."
Her idea is to have a public funeral at 10:45 a.m. Sept. 13 in Phoenix Park. She will ask those who come to write about what they'll miss most about the block the way it was. "I'm giving people a way to grieve in a public way for what they've lost," she said.
O'Neill plans to ask those who attend to then walk three times around the block — the first time expressing their grief, the second time in silence "in respect for what has died," and the third time with music. She hopes to recruit some musicians who will begin by playing a dirge, then end with New Orleans-style jazz. "That's the time for moving on," she said.
Lyndsey Fryman, 26, of Paris, has a much different plan, scheduled for noon on Sept. 12.
"Dressed in Victorian-era mourning clothing, I will create a dollhouse-size replica of the buildings during that time," she wrote in her proposal. "I will walk around the block while creating paper flowers on stems and other mementos that will be left as I pass the replica ... . The arrangement will hopefully evoke symbolic attachments to the process of mourning (being a form of memory), and a spiritual rebirth of those things gone."
Fryman said she comes from a military family, so has lived many places. "I have a great appreciation for this history and the architecture that has been lost," she said. "It was part of history, a part of Lexington."
Brittany Clark, 23, who works for a marketing company, hopes to re-create one last '80s party like the ones she enjoyed at The Dame. She hopes to begin this one at 1 a.m. Sept. 13 in Cheapside Park.
Clark says she went to the Dame once a week for more than a year. "It was a very big part of my life," she said. "It was a dive bar. It wasn't the same genre of people you run into at other bars. You ran into people from all different groups. I was more comfortable there than anywhere else."
She also is angry about the way CentrePointe was sprung on the public. "I felt like everything was done in the worst possible way," she said. "No one took any time to listen to anyone. I wanted to let people know how I felt about it."
It should be an interesting weekend.
Reach Tom Eblen at (859) 231-1415 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 1415, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.