CAUSE AND EFFECT: A refreshing view of the 1960\'s comes to the Alden B. Dow Museum In a New Exhibit Exploring Cultural Evolution

Posted In:   From Issue 644   By: Lauren Davis

06th September, 2007     0

"If you can remember anything about the sixties, you weren't really there."
 -Paul Katner

"Every human being on this earth is born with a tragedy, and it isn't original sin. He's born with the tragedy that he has to grow up. That he has to leave the nest, the security, and go out to do battle. He has to lose everything that is lovely and fight for a new lovliness of his own making, and it's a tragedy. A lof of people don't have the courage to do it.
-Helen Hayes

It was February 1, 1960, when four young collegiate-types approached a lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. Nervously, they each took a seat. Sitting shoulder to shoulder, in a cold sweat, they swallowed their fear, emboldened one another in their passion, and awaited the inevitable.

The very act of walking in to the diner was tantamount to an act of war. And these four souls were well aware that, taking this additional step, this sitting down, could mean terrible things for not just themselves, but for their loved ones as well.

The crime of ordering a sandwich at a diner in North Carolina in the year 1960 can only be calculated in severity based on a singular factor: the color of ones skin. As it happens, these four young college students were black. A sign hung prominently in the diner proclaimed "Whites Only", and these young people were committing a terrible offense. Whatever trepidation they felt at the time, whatever fear they overcame to take a seat where they weren't welcome, refusing to leave voluntarily, protesting peacefully; they could not have known how effectively they would spark a contagion.

Martin Luther King, who began to lead the charge of the civil rights movement in 1955, once said that "Faith is taking the first step: Even if you don't see the whole staircase". 

And so it began.

Within the days and weeks following that single brave act, other blacks began to take seats in all white diners across the country. Black people in similar diners, wanting similar sandwiches, visited Cities and towns across the country.

Capitalizing on the greater effectiveness of protesting peacefully, anti-war, women's rights, and other groups for social change took up the mantle and began to take steps to make their voices heard. For some of them, change was not meant to be. For others, the whisper became a shout.

Still, if only for a time, and if only in small doses, accountability began to factor into all facets of American life.

But for all of our claims of freedom and enlightenment, the winds of change blow slowly, painfully here. Unbeknownst to those four college students, a veritable hurricane was on the horizon.

The Sixties was a decade viewed from a thousand angles. Flower children, the birth of modern rock, the dawn of a new social consciousness. All of these things were written and spoken of at length. There was simply so much happening in that span of time, that it is an unimaginably daunting task to encapsulate it in one article, book, or video. What began with four brave black kids in a 1960 North Carolina diner, ending with four dead white kids at Kent State in 1970, and all the thousands of losses and victories in between, cannot be conveyed in mere words.

I've done radio features revolving around the 60's. I've produced documentaries about the various socio-political climates that led to so much upheaval and, as an inevitable result, change. But every time I reflect upon the decade in which I was born, I think of the very real people who took those first brave steps up the staircase. I think of a little girl taking a seat on a bus. I think of small, terrified school children, taunted by a line of angry, ignorant adults on the long walk to the entrance of a school. Of radio DJ's who played music the grown ups didn't want anyone to hear. Of the men who died on the battlefields in a war that nobody proclaimed, and nobody wanted.

I think of the leaders of our time who had enough courage to hear the call of their people, who, each in their own time, stepped in front of a bullet to make it their mission.

I think of the little revolutions, taking place in households across America, as young people of all colors broke free of parental convention, and yearned for something more. Not all of them were sure of what they wanted. The only certainty was what they didn't want.

When I think of the proclamation "One small step for Man, one giant leap for Mankind", these are the images that come to my mind.

Seeing all of this, it still must be noted that the evolution of social consciousness, while certainly not an overnight thing, yielded many positives over the span of the 1960's. The pain of change was palpable, and the inevitable spillover into the art, music, and writing of the time created a renaissance that still has an effect.  In our own, clumsy, American way, we embraced enlightenment with one arm, and beat it back with another. All of these horrible and wonderful things were happening in tandem, and a new and fascinating culture was taking root:

Nobody was anybody without a cause.

What few seem to reflect upon is the fact that, if a time machine could transport one back to that place in history, the sense of uncertainty, frustration, and anxiety in every day life would be stunning. Never mind the goofy representations you see of it on reruns of Dragnet, or the footage you've seen of hippies happily slinging mud and making whoopee at Woodstock.

The undercurrent that ran beneath the Free Love, Bra-Burning, and Anti-War Protests was powerful and potent. For a time, so many lines were being drawn in the sand, that one risked tripping in every direction.

Today, of course, our post 9-11 world is filled with a far different sense of fear, of infinitely more daunting possibilities. We have a tendency to look back on these events and view them as significant, but hardly as scary as say, bio-terrorism or acts of war on our own soil. But for the people living in a time of great upheaval in our own back yard, almost fifty years ago, some of our most important transitions were taking place, and their fear was very real. 

Sure. Everyone has their own take on the 1960's, but there is a single aspect of it that we can all agree on: things were tense.

In what is as close to a time machine as we can muster, we have many reminders of the decade. Chiefly, the continued, albeit tempered, passion of those who lived every day of it.  We have art, music, and literature, which serve as preventative measures against a back peddle into the Great Ignorance.

It is rare that someone should not remember the sixties, despite the famous quote to the contrary. But these resources assure a continued awareness, and serve as an ongoing reminder that there was much more to those days than conflict and strife. There was an earnest desire to make things different, a struggle to escape repression, and a reach for utopia that was unprecedented in scope. But there was also humor, grace, and dignity.

Only the sixties, of all decades, have the status of being its own entity. There is a reason for that.

Taking it into consideration, and pooling the aforementioned resources to paint a brilliant picture of the vibe and culture of the time, a new exhibit at the Alden B. Dow Museum of Science and Art in Midland will soon present an enlightened view of the effect this decade had on art, pop culture and music.

Curator Bruce Winslow, former musician and a product of life in the sixties himself, is leading the charge in assembling a walk through time that leads one not into the foray of impassioned protests; rather, an entertaining and enlightening view of the byproduct that ensued. 

With contributions on loan from across the country, Winslow casts light on the reality not of socio-political strife, but gives a frank and earnest look at the ripple effect it created.  Entitled "The 1960's: A Cultural Evolution", the exhibit walks one through no less than six stunning exhibits in their own right, all combined to paint an incredibly brilliant picture of the Decade of Decadence.

On loan from Michigan State University's Kresge Art Museum, the first exhibit features the progressive works of artists synchronous with the time: Warhol, Johns, Lichtenstein, Raschenberg, and others. Abstract works by Pollock, deKooning, Motherwell are also featured, totaling almost 50 pieces in all.

In the Artist to Icon Exhibit, on loan from the Experience Music Project in Seattle, a collection of five photographers documents the pivotal points in the life and careers of the likes of Elvis, Bob Dylan, and The Beatles.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland is also represented here, with a breathtaking collection of artifacts detailing the British Invasion called "Ferry Cross the Mersey".

Brian Rasic,
The Rolling Stones' official photographer, has worked with the artists to create a feature on the group on display here the only United States Exhibition on display.

Additional features within this massive exhibit feature the Art of Stuart Sutcliffe, the Fifth Beatle, and another exhibit on loan from the Rock and Roll Hall of fame, featuring the psychedelic poster phenomenon.

While there are many ways to explore the 1960's, the most exhilarating aspects of this forthcoming Midland exhibit is the very frank, and unapologetic of its approach. Exploring not cause, but effect, it creates a very real atmosphere and retrospective of life in very trying times. Its exploration of the art of expression, in all its glorious, and not so glorious forms, is a refreshing take on a subject that can become mired in seriousness, in the examination of struggle.

In the great scheme of things, the sixties were memorable for many reasons, taking many steps: small and large. Looking back, there are footprints in every direction, leading all of us to who we are today, and taking us down the path we're on now for better or worse. "The 1960's: A Cultural Evolution" exhibit is just another fine example of Bruce Winslow's unofficial capacity to remain Curator of All Things Cool.

With his usual verve, he assembles a little something that reminds us that in all conflict, upheaval, and unrest, there are some very real effects. Some of them are positive, some of them, 'not so much'. 

As a positive testament to what the decade has wrought, the exhibit is open to all people, from all walks of life, beginning September 22 at the Alden B. Dow Museum of Science and Art in Midland.

For more information, you can call The Midland Center for the Arts at 989-631-8250 or 800-523-7649 or go to www.mcfta.org

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