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DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER: What Art Says About Us

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Don't Shoot the MessengerA month ago, three artists presented their ideas for art pieces to stand sentry at the south end of Ashland. It has been a long path to reach this point—nearly a decade in the planning and process. Shortly after those public presentations, a panel of local artists and art critics convened to consider the options—and, on September 11, selected a piece called “Gather” by Susan Zoccola, a Seattle-based artist. The piece will stand nearly 20 feet tall, and looks something like a casing from an old-fashion fan or a bulbous wire cage; it is simultaneously charming and playful, with a large presence, but also with an airiness

Deciding what art should represent a community is a tricky and imperfect process; like trying to capture fog in a jar, summarizing tastes for an entire community can be elusive and fleeting. Should the art try to please everyone? Should it follow current tastes, or try to lead a community towards new frontiers?

Without comment on the final selection, we salute the City of Ashland for the careful selection process, and for adding more art into public spaces—and, we also take this opportunity to provide another small window into the various artistic sensibilities of the Rogue Valley.

We recognize there is no perfect way to calibrate exactly what are the artistic tastes of an entire population, but we were fascinated by a recent use of technology to try to capture that ghost in the machine.

Over the year between September 2014 and August 2015, TouchTunes, one of the nation’s largest jukebox vendors, sorted data from over 60,000 jukeboxes—and pinpointed the top music selections by region; not a perfect science, but it does crowd-source an idea about what people most like—or, at least, most often selects when out at a bar; sort of like discovering what the anthem for a region is.

The results are telling: Starting at the north reaches of the Rogue Valley, the accessible folk-country Steve Earle ranks as the favorite, and is joined by Tom T. Hall and Dusty Springfield. According to whatever insights what jukeboxes are playing in the Rogue Valley, Medford has very different tastes: West of I-5 in Medford, the most selected artist is Van Morrison. (Can one interpret some sort of romantic notions of the residents through their selections of “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Moondance”?) But head east of I-5 in Medford, and the tastes are less gooey-eyed romantic and more celebrating rural life and a sense of place: The Georgia-born Jason Aldean rules supreme there. Aldean has clocked a number of hits in the past decade like “Dirt Road Anthem” and “Tattoos on This Town.”

Between Medford and Ashland is a somewhat surprise entry: Hozier, the Irish (born on St Patrick Day) blues, R&B singer, whose song “Take Me to Church” was a massive, crooning hit and perhaps speaks to the area’s rustic wholesomeness. Perhaps?

Head towards the coast, and The Devil Makes Three, a ragtime and Americana trio with standup bass and fiddles, seems to appeal set the tone of a raucous barn dance. And finally, in arguably the region’s most cosmopolitan center, Ashland most often selects the high-energy rap of Drake on its jukeboxes.

The upshot of all of this? The Rogue Valley is a patchwork of artistic tastes and wants. No single artist can possible represent everyone, but we applaud the City of Ashland for taking a considerate process to try to do so, and in finding a tasteful and timeless art piece that can represent the style and sensibility of the area.

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