In just a few months in office, Gov. Matt Bevin has changed the way the state’s executive department does business. He’s also drawn a new kind of social protest from Kentucky artists. Whether it’s a music compilation that assails Bevin’s policies or a group of poets rejecting an award, the Republican has inspired Kentucky artists in a new way.
Frank X Walker is the former Kentucky poet laureate and founder of the Affrilachian Poets. Last week, his group rejected its Governor’s Award in the Arts. It was the first time in the program’s history — more than four decades — that an artist has declined the award.
In a public statement, they wrote: “It is the opinion of the group that the governor’s comments, positions and actions regarding education in general, the Humanities specifically, universal health care, criminal justice reform and the LGBTQ community have been reprehensible and go against the core of who we are as writers and educators and as artists committed to resisting oppression.”
Bevin’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
I spoke with Walker about the protest and the possibilities of art as political protest in a time of renewed activism.
On how the Affrilachian Poets’ legacy kept them from accepting the award:
“We’ve had a chance to look back over our 25 years — where we started and where we’ve arrived — and we are pretty pleased with several things. Some of those are our collective commitment to art activism, our collective love of Kentucky and the region, and the commitment to being teachers and being examples. Much of our work is grounded in community and family and identity and place.
“And as much as we want to have a piece of treasure that would be handmade by Kentucky artists, we would never want to be confused with supporting or endorsing some of the positions the current governor has been associated with.”
On the intersection of art and politics in Kentucky:
“Many people don’t believe art and politics even intersect, but I think we all agree that all art is political — that even silence makes a political statement. We just felt the need to say something out loud, and to be clear about which of these issues we stand on.”