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'Rauner, Madigan Removed' - Headline Of Springfield's Dreams?

Rachel Otwell
James Pepper Kelly holds a copy of his paper at the farmer's market

Over the weekend nearly 500 Springfield residents awoke to news that the state's top leaders had been ousted. Of course, it's untrue. It's a headline generated from James Pepper Kelly.

The Chicago-based artist spent hundreds of hours over a six week period interviewing local residents about what they saw as the most important issues in their town. He also pored over historical documents. The result was a miniature "fake news" paper mimicking the newspaper most circulated in the city, "The State Journal-Register."

Kelly focused his efforts on Enos Park, the location of the town's oldest art organization, The Springfield Art Association. He was one of the first residents to take part in a new artist residency program. Other topics in the newspaper include Hunter Lake and the town's deep roots with history. "History really resonates here in a way I don't think it does in a lot of other places," says Kelly.

As to whether he runs a risk by mimicking a local paper and distributing it to hundreds of residents? Kelly says he's not sure what the ramifications could be. What if the SJ-R decides to pursue this as a legal issue? Kelly answers, "If so, maybe it will give me a chance to speak about this even more." (The SJ-R has yet to comment on the matter.) Kelly says his work is a "call to action" and includes contact info for government offices. "I don't think I subtracted from anyone's experience, and that's the important thing: trying to give rather than take away."

Kelly explains, while not everyone is familiar or comfortable with this medium of art, his desire was connection with the community. "I think a lot of (conceptual) art nowadays is working with the community - I think we're getting away from this one-point perspective ... There's a push to work in a way that's much more about interaction ... it's about taking the voices one encounters and trying to honestly represent them."

Kelly's work also alludes to a long history of fake news in our nation and at home. Kelly talks about how President Abraham Lincoln once wrote letters to the local paper that expressed opposition to a political opponent, Lincoln went so far as to posture himself as a female named Rebecca. Listen to the interview above to hear more about the project and its purpose.

James Pepper Kelly will be back in Springfield next month. Artists are expected to take over Enos Park residents' houses and yards. In correlation, Kelly will be hosting a conversation to see how his work was received on Sept. 30th in Enos Park. Stay tuned for more info.

Rachel Otwell of the Illinois Times is a former NPR Illinois reporter.
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