Artists Encourage Kansas City Residents To Ride A Bus And 'Let It Go!'

May 20, 2016

Letting go of things can be tough, from old letters to baby clothes to extra weight. That’s why two artists are trying to live by example and encourage others to lighten their load.

You could say the Freeing Throwers art project — started by Mo Dickens, a gallery assistant at the Belger Arts Center, and artist Adriane Herman — was sparked by a string of losses, including the death of a beloved pet. 

Herman is an associate professor at Maine College of Art in Portland, Maine, where she says residents drive their trash to a recycling center. She arrived there one day, not long after the death of her dog, still grieving and disoriented.

"I was standing at the dump and I realized I had driven there without the stuff I had intended to bring there," she says.

At first, Herman says, she was an observer. And then she started taking photos, including one of a man wearing gloves, tossing a window frame. In the photo, it’s frozen in mid-air.

"I thought there’s something kind of magical about this," Herman says, "about this idea of capturing this gesture of release in that moment of suspension." 

During her Charlotte Street Foundation residency in Kansas City, Herman documented the process of letting go, and placed imagery on items, such as pillows. They're pictured here, temporarily, at a bus stop.
Credit courtesy: Adriane Herman

In her work, Herman has explored issues of consumption — of art, food, memory, and experience. And as she readied for a move to Kansas City for a residency, she continued to pare down her own belongings.

Not long after she arrived, her car broke down. She reached out to Mo Dickens, a 20-year friend since her days teaching at the Kansas City Art Institute, for a ride to an evangelical church in Prairie Village, Kansas. Herman says it was an experience that kept them coming back. Art, and letting go, were ongoing themes. 

"There's something kind of magical about this ... about this idea of capturing this gesture of release in that moment of suspension."

"Thanks to the welcoming community and uncanny coincidences, we returned 13 times, elbowing each other while coffee drinking pastors spoke about 'more than enough,'" she says. 

A Freeing Throwers event was organized for the church community as an opportunity to release something weighing them down. One member after another tossed items into a dumpster: medical bills, a cell phone, and a discarded fast food container for Mo Dickens, which he threw over his head, behind his back. And Herman documented this process of people letting go. 

"This was on March 22, 2015," says Dickens. "And when I saw the picture of my gut hanging out of my jacket as I threw away the box, I thought, huh, maybe I really should throw away junk food." 

It’s this image that’s now a poster inside 50 Kansas City buses: 

Fifty KCATA buses display this placard with an image of Mo Dickens throwing a fast food container into a dumpster. He's lost about 30 pounds since he stopped eating junk food.
Credit courtesy: Adriane Herman

Dickens and Herman applied for a Rocket Grant, which supports innovative artwork, often in nontraditional places. They decided they could reach a wider demographic on the bus.

Four recordings of Dickens will play over the loudspeaker on all 236 KCATA buses through August, some timed and some GPS-triggered. Topics include donating to a thrift shop, giving up junk food — and Dickens' weight loss: 30 pounds, cinching his belt a few holes. 

"The time was right and I think that’s the way it is for everybody," says Dickens. "Everybody always says you’re not going to change until you want to change."

Central to the project, says Herman, is this idea of creating space, witnessing and cheering others on. "It's about letting go in this overarching way," she says. 

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @lauraspencer.