We're planting our flag in Newport.

Art has the power to transcend the everyday, and to universalize the fun and the happiness that we might be feeling, as well as help all of us to overcome together the pain and suffering that’s in our lives. Unfortunately, most public art is decorative and static: there’s almost no interaction, nothing intimate or personally meaningful about it. Which is a shame, because we think art, especially dynamic installations, are the perfect way to engage and empower people; to make art something they care about, that echoes their voices – what they’re passionate about and what they want to express. We all have something we want to shout out to the world, and there’s almost no place to do that anymore.

Social media is a faux forum for public discourse because it’s virtual, impersonal, unaccountable and often impolite. You can’t grab a hold of it. Graffiti isn’t the answer either. We have one whole wall in our kitchen painted like a chalkboard, which we call “The Wall of Knowledge,” and everyone who comes into our home is eager and welcome to write something on it. And they do: some draw incredible art, others sign their names and when they visited; others make lists of movies or write down recipes. We’d prefer actual knowledge, but some geniuses just want to draw smiley faces. Seriously, it’s the center of our family gatherings and is a great reminder of the fun we’ve had long after the holiday/party’s over. Every so often we’ll wipe it off, and then start with a clean slate, so-to-speak.

Our idea is for a public art installation that replicates this tactile and personal focus on family, community and sharing, but on a larger scale. This time, we’d like to call it “I HE(ART)...” and in this case it would be “NEWPORT.” This simple slab of “chalkboard” slate would be approximately 7’ high and 24’ long, and about 4” thick. We think Queen Anne Square would be the perfect place for it, since this beautiful public space is the spiritual center of Newport, visible and welcoming to everyone. We would have a chalk dispenser on site, and for $1 anyone can get a piece of chalk and leave their mark, literally, on the world. The wall will also act as a de facto public bulletin board: we imagine it covered right now with thanks and praise for our frontline healthcare workers during this Corona Virus crisis. Proceeds from the sale of the chalk will go to a rotating choice of local charities: Dr. Martin Luther King Center; The Salvation Army, The RI Community Food Bank, NAACP, Kiwanis/Elks Club scholarships, the McKinney Shelter, etc.

The best part about this art piece is that it’s self-renewing, and evergreen: every time it rains the wall’ll be washed clean and the people, tourists and residents alike, can bring out the collective, inspired art in themselves once again.



We're planting our flag in Newport. 

Cities have a fantastic opportunity to encourage civic pride by turning their citizens into literal flag wavers, but the sad truth is most municipal banners are known as SOBs (Seals on a Bedsheet). Even though Newport’s flag is historically significant, featuring the Newport Tower and the motto “Amor Vincet Omni” (Love Conquers All), it probably won’t delight the residents and tourists who don’t know its importance.



With that in mind, we thought we’d design an “unofficial” Newport flag that would capture the inspired and inspiring spirit of the City by the Sea, ignite the popular imagination, and bring more visibility and awareness than any brochure or advertisement could ever hope to achieve. According to the Vexillological Society, there are a few rules for designing an authentic and memorable flag, and we thought we’d lay them out here as guidelines for everyone to understand, and judge by.

First, a flag’s design must be simple – a six year old should be able to draw it from memory. Second, it should have meaning and appropriateness. Third, two ­or three colors, max. Fourth, no text or writing. Fifth, it should be original, and/or related to other flags or symbols associated with the city.We thought a modified swallowtail burgee would be exactly right even though most flags are rectangular – since this distinguishing shape is associated with boating in general and yacht clubs in particular – perfect for Newport given its maritime heritage and exciting sailing culture. It’s striking, and reproduces well at any size, and in any medium. We chose navy blue for trust and truth (and the ocean) and white for light and purity – the same color scheme as the Rhode Island state flag. We would like to make these flags, at least a special edition, out of recycled sails.

We love the 5-pointed star as the main symbol because Newport, of course, is the star of the show. We think this star is also appropriate because Newport was one of the 4 original settlements in Rhode Island, which relates back to the 13 stars representing the original colonies displayed prominently on the state flag, and, ultimately, to the Stars & Stripes itself. It’s also a nod to the Navy, a welcome long-time resident and partner in Newport’s growth and reputation, going all the way back to the Revolutionary War.

The smaller, superscript star multiplies the first star’s power exponentially, and we think visualizes perfectly the multitude and awesome top-drawer wonders and events that can be found in Newport. Look what we have here: a world-class regattas and beaches; the most sublime and beautiful mansions ever built; a justly-famous jazz festival; a Concours D’Elegance that rivals Pebble Beach; and the International Tennis Hall of Fame. The exponential star is also a hat tip to the North Star, used by explorers for centuries to navigate, and the mariner at sea’s best friend.

We'd like this to become the (unofficial) flag of Newport – it'll delight everyone, native and tourist alike, with its uniqueness and cool factor, and will be the best brand ambassador our seaside paradise could imagine – long may it wave!


Can you go home again?

I first moved to Newport on May 19th, 1980 – the day after I resigned my commission in the U.S. Army – a fatuous, and ironically undisciplined twerp full of magnificent ignorance. I'm moving back on September 4th, 2019 and I'm wondering if there's going to be a noticeable difference either in Newport or in myself all these years and miles later. Doubtful.
 I'm not going to reminisce about the good old days, and they were good, and plenty, but I'll share two memories that have both kind of come full circle. I lived on Connection Street and sometimes when I'd walk home late at night there'd be a commotion at the Wellington Cafe, a lower Thames Street dive that had green corrugated fiberglass siding and a hangdog look. Usually during Fleet Week there'd be at least one bar fight that would spill out onto the sidewalk, between either two drunken sailors or a sailor and a townie. I'd just sidestep the crunch and blood and continue on my merry drunk way. 
As a sidebar note, there was also a little bakery on Thames Street and if I was going home late enough they would have already started baking bread – the smell was heavenly and maddening at the same time – it reeked of warm, spermy dreams.
Anyway, fast forward forty years and I'm at a party in Salisbury, NC and one of my brother's friends comes in packing a piece. I ask him what's going on with that. He says he's always carried since he got into the habit when he was in the navy. I asked him where he was stationed and he said he was stationed in Newport most of the time. I asked him when and he said '74 - '82 or something like that.

I told him I was there at the same time and none of the snowflakes or Vineyard Vines bros who summer in Newport now believe me when I tell them that there were bar fights on Thames Street on a regular basis, and nobody flinched or called the cops. He started laughing. He told me that at formation on Sunday mornings at the base there'd be guys with black eyes and missing teeth and nobody could remember anything that happened. No, sir, I can't remember anything. True story.

I was the dockmaster at Williams & Manchester shipyard, and Dennis Connor and his crew had their America's Cup headquarters set up there. One of the cast of characters I got to know, and know well, thanks to his and his wife Jean's friendliness and kindness was Jack Sutphen. He had a steel sailboat called the Scorpion, and they became like surrogate parents to me. Jack was a mean sailor, and became, deservingly, Dennis's trusted right-hand man. They lost the cup for the first time ever when I was there in Newport in 1983, but went on to win it several times in the following years. Jack retired to San Diego about 15 years later.

I looked Jack up about 10 years ago, found his address, and sent him a note saying how much he and Jean meant to me, and hoped he was well. He sent me a hand-written letter back saying, yes, those were the days. Jean had died a few years earlier, and he was enjoying his retirement, sailing the small sailboats of his youth once again, with other old-timers trying to recapture the thrill of indiscretion.

He also sent me a copy of his book, and come to find out, he was a hockey player of all things, from Larchmont, NY. He and Jean had honeymooned on Cockenoe, a tiny island that's part of the Norwalk chain of islands, and the one that me and my kids and friends have camped out on many a times ourselves over the years. He writes in his book that they sailed there in his little 12' class sailboat with a case of beer and a tent. What else do you need?

 Nothing. Stay tuned. Meantime, 5th Ward, gird your loins.