WHIT HILER WAS not the presenter I expected to be the one to deliver my annual March jolt of “Get off your ass and create.” That shock of inspiration inevitably happens at CUPRAP’s spring conference, typically courtesy a gifted writer or determined peer. Hiler, though, is not only an agency guy but also a partner in a side project called Kentucky for Kentucky, whose goals include rebranding the Bluegrass State with the tagline “Kentucky Kicks Ass.”
Cringing, I expected a shallow, annoyingly bearded dude in skinny jeans and black European shoes who used phrases like “disruptive forces” and “guerrilla marketing.” I expected someone whose belt cost more than my car and whose professional life involved promoting luxury brands, not the liberal arts.
While Hiler was a genial, clean-shaven fellow in what appeared to be normal clothes, his initial description of Kentucky for Kentucky had me skeptical. Replete with references to George Clooney, bourbon, horses, marijuana, Colonel Sanders, and the Judds, it emphasized just the kind of HIP and IN YOUR FACE advocacy that goes with higher education marketing like death metal goes with “Pomp and Circumstance.”
It was Hiler’s explanation of his project’s “how” and “why” that made me stop shaking my head and start listening.
He and his partner didn’t hope against for hope for inspiration to reach them. They didn’t focus-group their ideas. They didn’t worry about whether their unorthodox work would offend anyone. They weren’t looking to make money.They just wanted to do something they loved. And they went out and fucking did it, as well as they could and as hard as they could.
Kentucky for Kentucky swung for the fences, doing the very best, most creative work they were capable of, and they tried to have maximum fun while they did it. That’s why their effort succeeded.
There’s an enormously pertinent lesson there for my professional and personal creativity.
My institutional work necessarily involves compromise, and always will. At the same time, I know I can and should push at boundaries harder than I do. Colleges and universities are struggling against external forces as never before; if ever there were a time to try something truly bold, it’s now. Let the powers that be say no, but at least give them something to say no to.
In the writing I do for myself, there is even more reason to let it rip. I strongly suspect that my soul’s dark corners and inner demons are what will inspire my best, most honest work. If I want to feel fulfilled creatively, that’s where I need to go, as scary and risky as that is. Whit Hiler went there and lived to tell the tale — irreverently and effectively. Why can’t I do the same?
In other words, why can’t I go kick ass? | DL