In addition to writing my weekly movie column for The Contributor, I’m also a singer/songwriter, a poet and the creator of the Pikes Project photo essay series I’m making in partnership with WPLN Nashville Public Radio. This past November the project won a THRIVE award from Metro Nashville Arts Commission. The funding is supporting a campaign on Nashville’s east side that celebrates Gallatin Pike and Dickerson Pike. That campaign puts the project in the hands of our neighbors allowing them to share their photos together on Instagram using #pikesproject. This is my story of the Pikes Project at the start of a citywide conversation spoken in shared images. While marketers and media scurry to define the next iteration of the new Nashville, #pikesproject is the story we tell ourselves about us here, now.
Over the years I’ve done a handful of arts stories for WPLN as an on-air reporter. I’ve profiled historic buildings, presented breaking art news and remembered treasured musicians. After completing a story about a local museum exhibition, WPLN and I started talking about creating projects for their website. I suggested an online photo essay of Gallatin Pike.
I moved to Nashville’s east side in 2012, renting half of a duplex less than a block off that main vein through the Inglewood and East Nashville neighborhoods. On countless trips up and down the pike, my girlfriend regularly noted the beauty and “DIY” spirit embodied by the road. I was eager to search and discover every inch of my new neighborhood – I’d recorded music at Blue Bourbon Studio in Inglewood for 16 years, but I didn’t have the day-to-day lay of the land. In addition to finding the best groceries, the local hardware store and the closest record shop, I also started noticing hand-painted signs and murals, graffiti and street art posters, historical markers, poetic detritus and gorgeous garbage.
I hope I’m shaping this remembrance into a clear and reasoned story, but it didn’t happen that way. I had no idea what I was actually going to do before pushing forward with the faith that the thing was out there on the street waiting to reveal itself. Making rules helped me to find it: I only used the camera in my smart phone versus a better digital camera or film. Very good phone cameras are ubiquitous and, therefore, intrinsically democratic – I’ve always preferred to make work with materials most anyone might have. Also, mobile photography is a common activity for the many, not a specialized fine arts activity like ballet dancing or playing the violin. That said, the world of contemporary art recognized the importance of mobile photography almost as soon as it emerged, and it means a great deal to me that this new campaign gives the project away to anyone who might like to participate while at the same time winning the laurels of a prestigious arts award. More on that later.
Once I shared my shots with WPLN, we knew we were on to something and that we were going to capture a particular point of view that highlighted the quirky mysteries of the pike. Mack Linebaugh, WPLN’s director of digital services, and I started talking about the online layout. Mack is my main collaborator and co-curator in this team effort. Then WPLN news director, now VP of programming, Anita Bugg suggested a four-part series including Charlotte Pike, Nolensville Pike and Dickerson Pike. Each segment has been accompanied by a short drive time radio spot. These have evolved into spoken word/audio collage works that bring original poetry to an audience stretching from northern Alabama to southern Kentucky. Mack composed and recorded the music for the spoken word pieces in our broadcasts. Gallatin Pike went live in February 2015, and I finished the original four pikes with Dickerson Pike last July.
ON THE ROAD
In 1956, the French Situationist philosopher Guy DeBord published the “Theory of the Dérive,” outlining a revolutionary exercise in exploring public spaces that involved a conscious surrender to the pull of the psychogeographical construction of a space – the “contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones.” Dérive participants “let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.” The Pikes Project takes inspiration from DeBord, and it’s always been at its best when it’s captured something more than just structures and spaces, roads, ruins and random urban textures. DeBord’s ideal candidate for the dérive is not one of Baudelaire’s idle, wandering flâneurs. DeBoard wanted dérive participants to be active and more like scientists than detached roamers. The pike doesn’t drive you. You must drive the pike, but if your eyes are open you’ll see that it rises to meet you.
EAST NASH HASHTAG
Now, I’m inviting our East Nashville and Inglewood neighbors to add to these stories by following @PikesProject on Instagram and Facebook, and adding their own photographs to the sites using #pikesproject. This campaign has been made possible by a 4K THRIVE award from Metro Nashville Arts Commission. The THRIVE program supports art projects designed to activate local communities. As I’m writing this article, nearly 300 people are already following the Instagram account and the #pikesproject is being used by artists, photographers, journalists and other neighbors to highlight our pikes with photos, videos and commentary. This is the first installment of a planned citywide campaign. In the coming months, I’ll be holding meetings with east side community groups, creating a poster campaign for the project, hosting meet-ups and installing a pikes-centric art exhibition.
Become a part of the Pikes Project! Follow @PikesProject on Instagram – we follow back! And post your pics and videos of Gallatin Pike, Dickerson Pike – or any of Nashville’s pikes – using #pikesproject. Stay in touch with us there regarding upcoming meetings, events and exhibitions. And thanks in advance for helping us to picture your Nashville.