By exploring monuments in art exhibit, Metro Hall also investigates identity and community values

Detail of “Paragraph Princess” by Victor Sweatt

“Imagined Monuments,” a collection of new and recent works by local artists, is currently hanging in Metro Hall, and instead of the now-ubiquitous fight over who we should stop honoring, it asks who we should start honoring.

“Imagined Monuments” curator Keith Waits spoke with Insider Louisville about the process, working with Sarah Lindgren, Louisville Metro’s public art administrator, and why he doesn’t usually call himself a curator.  

“When Greg Fischer got elected, he said, ‘Why do we have no local artists in the building? We should do something about that,’” said Waits.

Keith Waits | Photo by Zachary Burrell Photography

Since then, a myriad of local artists have graced the walls of Metro Hall. The responsibility for finding those artists has fallen on the shoulders of various people — such as Althea Jackson and Daniel Pfalzgraf — until it finally came to rest on Waits’ shoulders.

The longtime Louisville Visual Art employee has had many tasks and job descriptions. Now, selecting artists to feature in Metro Hall is one of them. But he usually insists that he is selecting art, not curating it.

“I’ve always been careful not to call myself the curator out of respect,” he said.

The word may get thrown around these days to discuss how one chooses pictures for their Instagram feed, but in the fine art world, the term “curator” is much more formal.

The process of selecting art for Metro Hall has generally not been one stuffed with innovation.

“The people in the administration have to sign off on it,” said Waits. “We had to have digital images of exactly what was going to go up. It ended up being a fairly conservative exhibition.”

Detail of “Helen Lang” by Moon-he Baik

Recently that’s began to change due to an initiative spearheaded by Sarah Lindgren. She and Waits put their heads together, partially taking inspiration from New Orleans’ Paper Monuments,” and came up with the “Imagines Monuments” concept.

Then Waits set off to find the art and artists, and Lindgren went to sell the idea to her bosses and move it through the cogs of government.

As Waits went about the process of selecting artists. he focused first on conversations like the one he had with poet Hannah Drake

“She was really instrumental,” explained Waits. “Helping me to sort of think through what my approach needed to be, the crucial elements of things like, you know, if you’re going to have an African-American subject, that means we need to have an African-American artist.”

Drake’s work is featured in the exhibit as well since Waits decided to include words and text. Drake’s poem “Let Us Dance” focuses on her collaboration with Louisville Ballet dancer Brandon Ragland, a soloist and emerging choreographer whose work,Force Flux, was featured in the ballet’s fall concert “Mozart.” 

Photos of Ragland are featured as well, by photographer Sam English. The inclusion of English’s photography is the exception to the above rule, made because of the long-working relationship Ragland and English have through the ballet, by virtue of which English may be the world’s foremost expert on photographing Ragland.

Waits had other conversations, notably one with playwright and producer Haydee Canovas, who helped him find a monumental figure in the Hispanic community.

“He Who Eats Alone, Dies Alone (portrait of Don Miquel Lagunas)” by Andrea Alonso

“I said, ‘I don’t know who is the Louis Coleman or somebody like that in (the Spanish-speaking) community.’ She said immediately, Don Miguel Lagunas,” he recalled.

Lagunas died in 2018, and there isn’t much information about him in Louisville’s English language media. But a quick look at a barebones list of his accomplishments reveals that Don Miguel, as he is always called, is long overdue for a monument.

Hopefully, Louisville can rectify that with a serious public sculpture soon. In the meantime, he is honored by artist Andrea Alonso.

The search for artists was sometimes a little more complicated. Waits wanted to avoid “othering” or limiting artists by race, gender, ethnicity or other characteristics. He also wanted to honor the identities the artists themselves claim.

“(When) I thought about Andy Perez, first I asked him, ‘How do you identify?’ Because I don’t just want to assume because I see your name … He said, ‘Yes, I absolutely identify as a Hispanic American artist,” said Waits.

The conversation about identity is tied foundationally to “Imagined Monuments.” Who we honor and hold up identifies us and teaches our values to the coming generations that will live amongst the monuments we leave them. For many people, marginalized or not, the identity Louisville proclaims with its monuments does not match their identity or their community.

Hopefully, “Imagined Monuments” will help fix that.

For Waits, the question of his own identity also was explored in curating this show.

“Hail Mary Silk” by Andy Perez

“The reason why I do say this is the first show that I really curated from the ground up … is that most of it (came from) really wonderful conversations like that,” he explained. “And I mean just sitting and talking with a person, or on the phone at length about — ‘this is what this show could be.’”

“Imagined Monuments” will continue through July 12 and can be seen anytime from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at Metro Hall, 527 W. Jefferson St.

A free reception will be held Monday, Feb. 11, at 6 p.m. Mayor Greg Fischer will address the assembly, Hannah Drake will read her poem “Let Us Dance,” and Jason Maina will perform a monologue from Larry Muhammad’s play “Jockey Jim.” Refreshments will be served. 

The full list of artists includes Andrea Alonso, Sam English, Moon-he Baik, Larry Muhammad, John Brooks, Andy Perez, Victor Sweatt, Sandra Charles, Vian Sora and Hannah Drake.