The 'Merica art campaign is throwing apathy in your face 

A local art campaign is turning stereotypical Americana on its head

click to enlarge CS Stanley in front of his piece at the First Church of Cannabis - RHONDA BAUGHMAN
  • CS Stanley in front of his piece at the First Church of Cannabis
  • Rhonda Baughman


When artist CS Stanley, born and raised in Greenwood, tells me that "everybody is running behind on sleep" I know he's specifically referencing those I've just met at the First Church of Cannabis. But it's 2015 — and I happen to think everyone, just about everywhere, is probably running behind on proper rest — especially artists. Artists all over the world, from all eras, have needed to give up sleep, as well as take risks and create their own opportunities — and they still need to do these things if they plan on being noticed or sufficiently employed. CS Stanley knows this, but like some of the rest of us, this completely self-taught artist once believed he would never be able to make a living doing what he loved.

I first saw the work of Stanley on the 'Merica 2015 Art Campaign trail — both his work and that of fellow artist Shannon McKeon, were so visually arresting, I couldn't stop talking about it for days.

The 'Merica campaign plays off of the idea of being the stereotypical American. The ideas range from surveillance to consumerism and even some elbow shots at celebrity idolization. The show changes locations and runs until the election this fall. A variety of artists come together for popup visual art shows with each round and will continue until voting day.

click to enlarge Work by Pamela Ashton at the 'Merica campaign. - SUBMITTED
  • Work by Pamela Ashton at the 'Merica campaign.
  • Submitted

I must say, as a former art gallery owner myself, I came from a town that did not have (and is still clumsily laboring toward) that strong sense of community needed for a thriving arts district. You can have an art scene without community, but it is often a cold, lifeless, almost perfunctory endeavor — and it fades quickly. A community, however, is not complete until it contains a vibrant arts network, as opposed to just a scene. Indianapolis and its plucky Hoosiers seem to understand this.

"I love Stanley's sense of humor in some of his pieces, like 'Swine Flew,' with that flying pig attached to the drone," says McKeon as we stood in the midst of the first 'Merica show. "I also love the detail in his work, too. Stencils piss me off: I don't have the patience to chisel away all those pieces of paper and then spray. So kudos to CS Stanley for being able to master that craft. And his mural work at the Cannabis church is absolutely brilliant! I have to make a visit there some time to check it out in person."

click to enlarge One of the walls in the 'Merica show. The pig painting is 'Swine Flew.' Get it? Idk we are still giggling about it. - SUBMITTED.
  • One of the walls in the 'Merica show. The pig painting is 'Swine Flew.' Get it? Idk we are still giggling about it.
  • Submitted.

And she's right, so I did.

I've seen a few online photos of Stanley's mural work at the Church and while good, it's easier to appreciate in person. Stanley's marbling of the sanctuary, along with a respectful, yet tongue-in-cheek recreation of the hands from Michelangelo's fresco "The Creation of Adam," are perfect for the First Church of Cannabis — as is Stanley's re-imagining of David. It was the Renaissance, after all — and the First Church of Cannabis definitely qualifies for our own modern equivalent.

I soon caught up with Stanley at The First Church of Cannabis, where he was recently appointed as the Minister of Art, on a sunny Monday afternoon.

CS arrives, looking quite dapper for someone running on 20 minutes of sleep, and before we head to the sanctuary, Bill Levin (the FCoC Grand Poobah) needs me to know something.

"In the deluge of people coming in and out — we got to know each other," says Levin. "I love artists — been in that business for years. I asked for his portfolio and CS brings his canvases in from the car — and I thought, oh yes, a real artist. And I found a piece I had to have, but by the end, he gave me the piece. That was not my intention, but he has a glow of love about him, and you just know you can trust him. It's hard to put into words, but there are some people, and CS is one of them, who have a beautiful heart, and who is someone truly into what he's doing and shares what he loves without malice or hate — so I knew he was perfect for us." Levin continues, "And he started immediately, and within three days, he had his own room and set of keys. When CS told me his idea for David in the sanctuary, I was blown away. He pulled that from nowhere, from everywhere."

click to enlarge CS Stanley - SUBMITTED
  • CS Stanley
  • Submitted

"It was only about four years ago when I decided to do something I enjoyed," says Stanley. "I was working 60 hours a week, I rarely saw my children, and I just knew it was time to do something different. I saw Bill in the news, and I totally support the cause."

But marijuana legalization isn't the only cause that Stanley is getting behind. He has been apart of the 'Merica campaign since the beginning. Today he hopes that the show will reach into a tri-state area in the next few years.

"I see it as an opportunity to discuss some of the harder topics that America is faced with," says Stanley. "Topics that should be the focus in every day discussions until they're solved. It permits me the chance to share my opinions with others in hope that they'll take something new away from the experience. I'd like to believe that information is contagious and reaching a few will eventually affect the masses. This campaign reflects that goal."

click to enlarge Live performances (spoken word and music) at the 'Merica Art Campaign - SUBMITTED
  • Live performances (spoken word and music) at the 'Merica Art Campaign
  • Submitted

Exhibit: 'Merica Art Campaign

Oct 1, 6 pm Fountain Square Brewery
Oct 2, 6 pm Fountain Square Brewery

Tickets: FREE


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Dr. Rhonda Baughman

Dr. Rhonda Baughman

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Dr. Rhonda Baughman loves to travel, eat, write, watch movies, go to concerts, and play with her vinyl record collection. Her latest novel is about an English teacher who's also an assassin. Follow her on Twitter, not in real life, because she's actually an English teacher, but probably not an assassin - although... more

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